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January 8th, 2019


09:01 pm - Musings on World Government
When I was a teen and in my early 20s, I was convinced that we needed a world government. Between the threat of nuclear war, overpopulation, and of air and water pollution, it seemed that a strong world government was the best solution to humanity both surviving and thriving. Then, anti-pollution laws made air quality better across most of the planet, the USSR fell, and fear of nuclear war faded, the ozone hole began closing, and with the fall of the USSR democracies began spreading across the globe, and the demographic transition became sufficiently obvious that it was clear that in and of itself, overpopulation was no longer a threat. As a result, I ceased thinking about world government very much.

However, then other problems became more obvious. Climate change is unlikely to kill off the human species, but climate changes causing wars and collapsing modern civilization is all too possible, transnational corporations and the ultra-wealthy use national borders, laws, and currencies and tokens in their effort to devour all wealth and all resources, and fascists are being voted into office across the planet. So, I’m thinking about world government again, and it’s clear I’m not alone in these thoughts. Here’s an interesting article making similar points .

We even have one reasonable model – the EU. Obviously ditching the austerity nonsense would be a necessity, but the guaranteed freedom of movement, a single currency, and a EU-wide declaration of human rights all sound like excellent ideas worldwide. In addition, with a single world government and a single currency, tax avoidance by the wealthy and their transnational corporations becomes far more difficult. I see this not merely are the right thing to do for humanity, but very possibly a necessity for the survival of our civilization, and by extension, 80+% of humanity. Also, laws governing the implementation of sustainable energy would be done planet-wide, and would-be tyrants and fascists could be isolated and deposed far more easily. ALso, the freedom of movement would notably reduce the likelihood of local fascism.

If such a system happens at all, I don’t expect it to happen entirely peacefully. From my PoV, the most likely paths to it are either some serious catastrophe that gets most nations on board or an agreement by some nations that spreads first voluntarily, and eventually by conquest. I’m strongly anti-war, but I could accept one which resulted in a world government. I also think it exceedingly likely that one of the nations that would need to be conquered is the US, and at this point this sounds like an excellent idea.

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January 5th, 2019


03:52 pm - Fun & Light Mass Death

As I mentioned earlier, I saw Aquaman recently, and it was fun, but also problematic in a very particular and (from my PoV) important way.  It was not unexpectedly quite violent – that’s the genre, but in the climactic battle at the end, thousands (at minimum) died, for no good reason, and mass death as good light-hearted fun bothers me, especially since there’s an alternative.

The 2017 film Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was from my PoV both superior to the first Guardians of the Galaxy film, but was also notably better than Aquaman in a variety of ways, one of which was how it handled large-scale violence.  There are two things I really appreciated about the large-scale violence in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. The first is that it was used solely as a backdrop for character interactions. We saw this immediately in the first scene, where we watched baby Groot run around in the midst of a battle between our protagonists and a monster. The focus was on Groot, and the battle was background, which I found far more interesting than the alternative.

More importantly, not only did the final climactic battle do the same thing, it was also not a mass slaughter, since we clearly see that the spacecraft were remotely piloted and we get to watch more than one pilot climb out of their pod after their ship was destroyed, and most had the same look of annoyance that all of us have felt when we screwed up playing a video game. I loved that, and found that way of treating violence far superior to the violence in Aquaman. 

Obviously, that solution would not have worked in Aquaman, but there’s always the option of single combat rather than a mass battle.  I would definitely prefer if mass death was not used in this sort of careless fashion. 

None of this is to say that I object to death in light-hearted action films – Yondu’s death in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was quite powerful and well done, and Ego’s death was well earned, but that’s because we got to see and know those characters – they weren’t just random cannon-fodder. The same is (for me at least) also true for other actiony films. While it was heart-wrenching, the fact that every last protagonist in Rogue One died worked, but only because we had already gotten to know and care about those characters. The pointless death of unamed minor characters or at most characters who get a single brief line right before they are killed feels cheap and callous to me, and I’d very much like to see more alternatives to it.


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January 4th, 2019


02:50 am - Musings on Meat & Spice
So, I cooked a pork roast version of porchetta last night, using this recipe. It was technically a notable success, and everyone else enjoyed it, but I found it somewhat bland and dull, for a very specific reason, which relates to this article about how Western European cooking transformed in the 17th century going from food that tasted like spices to food that tasted like the primary ingredients, and especially like meat.

Essentially, I love cuisines that do not do this, but are instead heavily spice focused. My happy place with modern European food are the sorts of Italian sauces with lots of tomatoes, basil, kalamata olives, basil, hot pepper, and an abundance of other ingredients (middle eastern salted preserved lemons work well in tomato sauce). What I have to regularly remind myself is that with a few exceptions (such as exceptionally rare lean beef or tuna, both of which are still improved with the right sauce).

I simply not that into the taste of meat, unless it has been heavily smoked, spiced, or otherwise combined with very strong flavors, and the recipe I made was a standard modern European style recipe which used the herbs to “enhance” the flavor of the meat. I am always baffled by such dishes, because it makes no sense to me – I simply do not understand why anyone would want food to taste like this. I regularly wonder how Western European food would have evolved if it had kept using spices in the older fashion. I suspect I would enjoy it a lot more.

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January 1st, 2019


06:15 pm - Media Year In Review
 I consumed a lot of truly awesome media in 2018, here are my top contenders for books, TV, and movies.

Books

Under One Banner by Graydon Saunders

The latest of his wonderful Commonweal novels, it was a humane, thought provoking, fascinating, and wonderful fantasy novel

Deep Roots by Ruthanna Emrys

I was utterly blown away by the The Litany of Earth (read online for free) and Winter Tide, and Deep Roots was just as good. 

I loved Caitlin R. Kernan''s mythos novel Daughter of Hounds, but Emrys' work is definitely my favorite mythos fiction, both because it's brilliant, and also because it's most definitely not horror, which In general I avoid (it's closest to urban fantasy).

The Murderbot Diaries (Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol, & Exit Strategies)

A wonderfully engaging character, and well told stories - highly recommended - not that these 3 are the sequel to the first Murderbot novella.

Finders by Melissa Scott

I love Scott’s writing, and this is her first solo and her first SF novel in quite a while, and I not unexpectedly loved it

TV
We're definitely in the golden age of awesome TV

Returning

The Good Place

Steven Universe

There’s nothing I can say about these that’s clearer than that they are hands down the best things I’ve seen on TV in at least the last decade, if not considerably longer.

New

Impulse (Youtube Premium, but the first 3 episodes are freely available)

Runaways (Hulu)

Both of these are surprisingly similar in a variety of ways. They are both brilliant, and I’d say they are about equally excellent,

Doctor Who, The Marvelous Maisel, & Star Trek: Discovery are all wonderful, but not quite as good as the above shows)

 Movies

Black Panther

Solo: A Star Wars Story

Both movies were quite good, but (as is typical for both modern movies and my own tastes) not as good as either the TV or the books.


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December 27th, 2018


02:25 am - Christmas & Zombies
This was an especially difficult holiday season, because my parents are quite elderly and my dad has Alzheimer’s and is largely a shuffling zombie who on a good day can manage one or two sentences with up to five words, while my mom is deeply stressed and alternates between being pathetically grateful, simply pathetic, and her more previously typical evil self.

My parents are a study in contradictions. They are kind to animals, staunch (if deeply centrist) Democrats, who are strongly pro-union, but also people who treat service personnel like crap – being rude and demanding, making unreasonable requests and then getting angry and offended when these requests were not instantly granted. Today, my mom only tips well because I spent the entire 1990s leaving extra money when the shorted people on tips, which eventually shamed both my parents into doing better (at least when I’m around, I have no clue about other times). This is one of the various reasons I have little respect or love for either of them (although my mom has always been the worst for these sorts of tactics). The rest of this post is going to be me discussing what my parents are like, why I find it deeply problematic, and how this plays into what things are like now.

Watching my parents when we were on vacation together 11 years ago finally allowed me to understand the origin of my phobias about asking for anything out of the ordinary from any sort of service personnel, both by phone and in person. Watching my parents at their worse caused me to realized that I witnessed enough of that sort of vileness growing up, that I unconsciously decided that I never wanted to be like that

I was also taught that family honor was very important, but that it was largely defined as what other people thought of you. This is much of why my parents considered the idea of being considered "weird" or not "normal" such a bad thing, but it went far beyond that, and had to do with being known as someone who was honest and who did not commit crimes or otherwise perform actions that caused people to think badly of you. This sort of thing was a major part of my growing up and was frequently trotted out whenever I did anything my parents didn't approve of.

However, there was another half of this, which was spoken of less often, and never in the same context, which was all about success and "getting ahead". A lack of concern for others, or at least others who were not family or very close friends was regarded as a positive aspect of being successful, and any such concerns were considered "soft". Moreover, if someone made a mistake that benefited you, which could range from a clerk giving you too much change, a bank error in your favor, or a corporate report that credited you with some positive action that you did not do, doing anything other than accepting this as a pleasant windfall was considered incredibly foolish and self-destructive. The basic mode of thought is that everyone is out solely for themselves and that life was a completely zero sum game - someone gain is always your loss, at least for people of a similar social and economic class in your environment.

The basic idea seemed to be that if you helped others in any way other than offering charity to people much poorer and less well off than you, the people you helped would use this aid to "get ahead" of you, which would result in you losing out due to the help you offered. I was taught this both by example and on the few occasions that I faced such a dilemma and mentioned it to my parents. This general attitude is clearly at least somewhat related to how consistently rude by parents are in certain situations, but also extends to many other areas of life.

In any case, result of the mixture of the focus on honor and the emphasis on "getting ahead" and the result was very clear – doing anything that did not physically injure someone else was largely acceptable if it allowed one to improve their social or (especially) financial position, but getting caught doing something illegal, immoral, or even something that most people would disapprove of was considered to be exceedingly shameful. Thus, what you had was a situation where various nasty behaviors were perfectly fine – as long as you didn't get caught. Getting caught was exceptionally shameful and was considered so because of some combination of being someone who performed dubious actions, being someone who was insufficiently clever to avoid getting caught, and letting people see the dirty underside of their world. Thus, actions like writing a bad check was always considered wrong since getting caught was fairly inevitable.

However, actions where one was unlikely to get caught and where you got away with what you did were considered some mixture of perfectly fine and worthy of acclaim. An unspoken, but exceedingly obvious consequence of all this was that it was clearly easier and safer to take advantage of people who were poorer and had fewer opportunities for recourse than people with wealth and power. Honestly, if they’d done the reverse and been generally good to minorities and people less well off than they are, and only tried to fleece the rich, I’d had admired them, but that’s very far from how they were - social climbing was very important to them, and stepping on others who were less well-off was clearly perfectly fine for them.

Shortly after the start of the Great Recession, I read an article about the predatory behavior of the corporate scumbags who took advantage of people during both the Enron scandal of 2001 and the economy crash, and the quotes from these people matched similar comments I’ve heard from my parents horrifyingly well, which makes sense – I come from the same upper middle class east coast background and the bankers, stock brokers, and other individuals who used suck tactics.
In any case, I regard them both as horrible people, and my mom is viciously mean whenever she is too stressed or if I do anything she regards as “improper” (according to the definitions above). Naturally, being poly, pagan, and being handfasted to each of my partners in a magical pagan ceremony all counts as deeply “weird”, so much of the version of my life that I told to my parents and now tell to my mom is a vast and elaborate tapestry of lies. I was amused that almost 20 years ago, my parents stopped asking my partner [personal profile] teaotter questions about our life or me, because [personal profile] teaotter was inclined to tell the truth, and it was clear that my mom preferred lies (and I very much prefer avoiding vicious tirades about what a pathetic, worthless, ungrateful son I am).

I vividly remember one time 16 years ago, when [personal profile] teaotter’s mom was visiting, and I forgot to call my dad for father’s day. My mom left a horribly vicious rant on my answering machine, and [personal profile] teaotter’s mom heard it, warned me about it, and mentioned she thought it was appalling and completely out of line. I mentioned this to my mom when I called back, and she initially yelled at me more for letting [personal profile] teaotter’s mom hear her message, and while she never apologized, she was somewhat embarrassed when she found out that [personal profile] teaotter’s mom had merely heard it on her own.

However, ever since my dad hit his head after being knocked down by a car in 2006, he’s had memory problems, and (as is not uncommon with head injuries, especially when already elderly) he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s 4 years ago and has been going down rapidly since then. Their few local friends are all dead (they were antique dealers doing antique shows all up and down the upper East Coast for 20 years, and most people they know were both at least as old as them, and from elsewhere, and were never that social). So, my mom is profoundly alone, and I feel sorry for her – until she goes off on one of her tirades.

In any case, being around someone with advanced Alzheimer’s is also exceptionally creepy – my dad wants to continually be in my mom’s presence and while barely mobile, gets up and shuffles along looking for her whenever she goes into another room for more than (at most) 10 minutes, he’s barely and only intermittently verbal, but the two times he’s looked at me (I think he still knows who I am, but it’s difficult to tell) and said “help me” and has first been unable to elaborate and then has forgotten what he said is definitely the creepiest. Also, the degree to which mobile advanced Alzheimer’s patients resemble classic slow zombies is rather disturbing.

I’m guessing he won’t be around much longer, and I have no idea what my mom will be like after he’s gone – although I presume she’ll be more vicious, both because of grief and more importantly because she won’t be exceptionally sleep deprived and exhausted from looking after him, and thus will revert from mostly pathetic to mostly vile. I’m exceedingly glad I live across the US from them, and only have to see them 2-3 times a year (which I continue doing because they are fairly wealthy and quite generous if I do what they want). [personal profile] teaotter and I head home tomorrow, and I’m even more grateful to be doing so than usual.

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December 17th, 2018


12:40 am - She-Ra & Musings on Gender

 [personal profile] teaotter and I have been watching the new She-Ra animated series, and are now most of the way through the season. As I’d heard, it starts out fairly slow, but gets deeper and more interesting around 2/3s of the way through. I’m also very pleased that the show looks like it’s addressing my one notable criticism, which is anyone with arthropod, reptile, or simply carnivorous animal features is part the Horde. They may now be going for the idea that such people have been systematically excluded from Etherian society, which I think is a fascinating direction to be headed.

However, watching Episode  8 “Princess Prom” also got me thinking about modern gender and media.  I’m completely overjoyed that we get to see Catra in a very dashing suit, and that the show is very much in line with the idea that girls and women can dress and appear either butch or femme, either all the time or they can shift back and forth as they wish, without the choice needing to have any deep meaning.  We need more of that, and it’s honestly wonderful to see.

However, as I was happily watching Catra in a suit, it also occurred to me that we would never see any of the male characters like Bow or Seahawk in a gown, because while girls and women dressing butch or femme are both equally acceptable in reasonable (aka non-nazi) media and society, boys or men dressing or otherwise appearing too femme is still unacceptable, and that’s not merely sad and limiting for boys and men, it’s also continuing to perpetuate the same problematic attitudes about men, women, masculinity, femininity, and power — the underlying, and often entirely unconscious attitudes associated with this often comes down to the idea that masculinity is superior to femininity, and so while it’s perfectly fine and understandable for women to appear butch, men appearing too femme is men in some fashion diminishing themselves, and that’s unacceptable. The better portions of US culture are now well on our way to tossing out half of the gender baggage, but it’s all hooked together into one nasty mass, and half of the attitudes are sadly still thriving.

It’s very important to note that I’m not criticizing the show, which is fun and good, I’m criticizing media and society as a whole. Here’s an awesome quote that sums up the issue perfectly.


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December 16th, 2018


03:36 am - Fandom Nostalgia For Smallville
I’ve been watching the Elseworlds crossover between Supergirl, Arrow, and The Flash, which has some nice callbacks to mid 80s DC with Crisis on Infinite Earths, and a number of fun bits, like an awesome Batwoman, but what really got me was the intro for the scene with Clark, Kara, and Lois Lane on Clark’s farm in Smallville, which used the same farm and the same intro song (Save Me by Remy Zero, from their album The Golden Hum, which I purchased because of that song, which was sadly the only worthwhile song on the entire album) as the show Smallville.  I used to love that show (primarily the first 2 seasons), and it was my first serious on-line fandom – as an older Gen-Xer, I’d previously loved a multitude shows, but this is the first one I read *lots* of fanfic for, commented about at length on usenet, and left lots of comments for the better fic I read.  I was seriously into the whole Clark/Lex pairing, read a wealth of sappy romantic Clark/Lex fic, and also loved the tiny amount of Clark/Lex/Chloe poly fic I found. Hearing that song and seeing the set for the farm brought all that back. Much of why I loved the show was Michael Rosenbaum’s amazing portrayal of Lex Luthor. In addition to doing a wonderful job playing a character who was both trying very hard to escape his hideous upbringing, while also being fascinated by and potentially in love with Clark, this was the first show I saw where one of the male actors who clearly played to the slash fandom, and while tame now, it was quite surprising 18 years ago.

 
Seeing this bit also reminded me of both how terrible Smallville eventually became, and more importantly, that the Clark Kent from Smallville was not someone who would have become any remotely recognizable version of Superman, but that Tyler Hoechlin (who plays Superman on Supergirl) plays Clark and Superman as the sort of genuinely kind and humane individual who loves deeply, sees the good in everyone, and always stands true to his principles – much like Benoist plays Supergirl. While I thought Christopher Reeves was awesome (and from my PoV, the less said about Henry Cavill’s monstrous Superman the better), Tyler Hoechlin plays the best Superman who has ever been seen on any form of video. In any case, I’m a serious neophile who is drastically anti-prone to nostalgia, but hearing that song and seeing the Kent farm managed this rare feat.    


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December 13th, 2018


12:39 am - Looking forward to an awesome book
I'm well on my way to getting my work finished for this week, which is awesome, because when I'm done I get to read Melissa Scott's latest SF novel Finders, which is an expnsion of a novelette of hers I read a couple of years ago (also called "Finders"), which was about a poly triad of tech scavengers in a starfaring civilization, where the highest tech was all based on and powered by relics from the previous posthuman hypertech civilization which crashed 1,000 years ago, where the plot had one of the characters becoming immortal due to exposure to exceedingly rare tech, and wanting to find more to make the other members of the poly triad immortal. That novelette is now the first 1/4 of the novel, and there will at least 1 direct sequel, in addition to other novels in this setting.

As anyone who knows me remotely well understands, poly families, ancient hypetech, and immortality tech are all things I love in my fiction, and all three in one novel, written by Melissa Scott is wonderful, and having read the first 1/4, I already know I'll utterly love it. I'm exceedingly pleased (and surprised) that I've so made my willpower roll and didn't find myself starting this book at midnight and going to bed when the birds started chirping as the sun came up.



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December 8th, 2018


06:18 pm - Trinity Continuum: Aeon - At Long Last!
I didn't post about it yesterday, because I hadn't actually seen the result, but the PDF release to kickstarter backers of Trinity Continuum: Aeon is *finally* out. I first started contracting authors for it in early 2013, more than 5 years ago. There are a couple pieces of art still to come in, and the index and suchlike aren't done, but it's 99% complete, and it looks *fabulous*.

Back in the 90s, Trinity was a wonderfully diverse setting where the major world powers were China, a united Africa, and various South American nations, but the first edition also had more than a few problems typical of gaming in the 90s. Now we have a book with inclusive art, which truly showcases how diverse, rich, and wonderful the setting is.

I've contacted authors for and started my own writing for the 2nd supplement, and I'm looking forward to selling and (if people are interested) signing copies at GenCon 2019. Here's a mockup of what the book will look like:




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05:53 pm - Awesome Recent Dinner - Georgian Red Bean Soup + Potato Wedges

Soak 12 oz of small red beans in water for 6-12 hours and drain

Then cook the soaked beans in an InstantPot with 4 cups of high quality chicken stock (I used homemade of the sort that solidifies in the fridge), and add 1 TBS fresh thyme, 2 tsp fresh rosemary, and 1 tsp fresh sage.  Cook in the InstantPot for 40 minutes at high pressure.

Coarsely dice one large onion and saute in 3 TBS olive oil until golden brown

Combine ½ cup walnuts, 1 TBS crushed or minced garlic, 1 tsp freshly ground coriander, and ¼ cup red wine or sherry vinegar in a food processor and process until smooth and reserve.

When the beans are done, scoop out with a slotted spoon, put the beans (but not the liquid) in the food processor and process for a few seconds until coarsely ground. Return beans to the InstantPot, which should be in warming mode. Then add 1.5 tsp salt, black pepper to taste, and the onions and walnut sauce.

Serve with roasted Yukon gold potato wedges

  • 1-1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes (about 3 medium), cut into wedges
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup dry bread crumbs
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons paprika
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tsp crushed garlic

In a large bowl, toss potatoes with oil. Combine the remaining ingredients; sprinkle over potatoes and toss to coat.

Arrange potatoes in a single layer in a baking sheet coated with cooking spray.

Bake, uncovered, at 425° for 40-45 minutes or until tender.

Here's what it looked like:
Here
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November 28th, 2018


02:55 pm - I miss hippie Jesus
I’ve never been a Christian, but I miss hippie Jesus. Yesterday, I was randomly listening to music on my phone and heard Amber Cascades by America, written in 1976. It contains the line:

“Then we call to the man who walks on the water
We talk of a plan to stop all the slaughter in view”


This brought back memories of the early 70s, when there were many popular portrayals of Jesus as a peace & nature-loving anti-authoritarian hippie. We can see this in an abundance of music, in the musical "Jesus Christ Superstar" (1970), and even more clearly in the musical and then film "Godspell" (1971/1973).

We’ve lost that entirely – now, most people I know are agnostics or atheists, and the most common view of Jesus comes from the fundys, with their devotion to a stern and wrathful god and their love of “Muscular Christianity”.

If this view of Jesus and Christianity was still popular, I’d still be a weird otherkin-Wiccan dual class, but I’d certainly not object to people holding such views as neighbors, judges, or politicians. I’m again reminded of the fact that both Congress and the nation as a whole was becoming slowly more progressive up until the end of the 70s, when the fundys and Reagan changed all that, and transformed the GOP from a party I disagreed with, but was slowly becoming less bad, into a hate group and most US Christianity into a vile and reactionary horror.



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November 26th, 2018


12:02 am - New Doctor Who & Other New TV
I’ve been utterly loving the new season of Doctor Who, I think it’s as good as 1st season (with Christopher Eccleston) or Season 4 “(with David Tennant and Catherine Tate) – neither season was perfect, but both were quite good, and so is this season. So far, this season has had two weak episodes – episode 3 Arachnids in the UK, which just felt flat, and episode 7 Kerblam!, where seemed like they were attempting to do a criticism of modern corporations, but they flinched or something and so had the villain be an idiot terrorist, rather than a heartless CEO. However, The Woman Who Fell to Earth, The Ghost Monument, The Tsuranga Conundrum, and The Witchfinders were all solid episodes, and both Rosa and Demons of the Punjab were excellent – Doctor Who at its best.

Of course, there’s a very specific reason I love this season – it’s far more like the seasons with Jon Pertwee’s 3rd Doctor than anything previous on New-Who. The Witchfinders was a perfect 3rd Doctor episode, and could easily have had Sarah Jane Smith and The 3rd Doctor in an otherwise almost identical episode.

We’re also watching She-Re and the Princesses of Power – it’s fun and good (at least so far, we’ve watched on episode 4) – I was hoping for something like Steven Universe, but few shows can manage to be anything like that good, and She-Ra isn’t, but it’s worth watching for fun fluff. Also, we’ve seen the first 2 episodes of A Discovery of Witches – the first episode was dull, the second was notably better, but it’s still not good.

Also, one thing to keep firmly in mind is the books are far better researched than most urban fantasy, and the characters are professors, physicians, and similar members of the well-educated upper middle class, rather than the standard urban fantasy selection of service workers, cops, and private detectives, but the tropes are all the same, and are at least as cheesy, and the show is very much that way too. I’m not sure we’ll make it through this entire season, but for now it’s fun.

Finally, we’re continuing to watch the new Charmed, which has gotten better – it’s not awesome, but episodes 6 & 7 were notably better than before and it’s gone from mediocre to good.



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November 23rd, 2018


08:17 pm - Thanksgiving 2018
Here's me ready to go to our Thanksgiving gathering, and here's the pumpkin-pecan pie I made and the two pans of stuffing (apple-sausage and apple-chestnut) I made. I (thankfully) have no had Thanksgiving with any relatives for decades. Instead, for the last 22 years, I and Becca, and more recently, [personal profile] teaotter, [personal profile] amberite, and I have all been getting together with friends. This years gathering was a bit smaller than many and only had 22 people at it. It was a lovely time, reconnecting with wonderful people I haven't seen in a month or two, as well as people I see far more regularly.

This year featured most of us (myself included) finding out that one friend who was there has come out as trans (complete with new name and pronouns). Also, I tasted another friend's (Ben Lehman) absolutely delicious homemade nocino (walnut liqueur) - Ben has walnut trees and tried making it, as did [personal profile] teaotter and I (since he has lots of walnuts). His was utterly delicious and a bit lower proof than what [personal profile] teaotter and I made (which meant that I like his a bit better, though, I tried ours when I got home and it was also wonderful. Definitely a wonderful time among people I care deeply about.

Me about to head over to Thanksgiving
Pumpkin-pecan pie
Apple chestnut stuffing & apple sausage stuffing



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October 1st, 2018


01:37 pm - Musings on the Worlds I Create
I was thinking about the games where I’ve come up with the idea and then either written it, or (in the case of Blue Rose, worked with a bunch of other talented people to create it), and also about my ideas for future games. I have no interest in creating entirely new rule systems for games – I’m generally against the idea of any rule system that’s custom built for a single game and setting, and there are many excellent game systems out there already. Instead, what I love it creating settings for existing rule systems and in the process, fitting the rule system and the setting into a single (I hope) excellent whole. I’m very pleased to have managed these without having to become my own gaming company, since doing this would involve many skills I neither enjoy nor excel at.

The first game I did this with was Blue Rose, which is thriving and is now in its second edition. My initial idea was loving the fantasy novels of Andre Norton, Diane Duane, Elizabeth Lynn, and Mercedes Lackey, and wanting to change the fact that there were no romantic fantasy RPGs. Also, after years of anti-heroes and grim settings, I wanted to see more RPGs where the characters were heroic people that defended a setting that was worthy of defense. Green Ronin did an awesome job with it, and I’m proud to be associated with it.

Next was Eldritch Skies – I wanted to do a mythos game as sense of wonder SF rather than horror. If you drop all the later ideas about imminent doom (which aren’t in Lovecraft’s work at all) and root out all the racism and misogyny (which is unfortunately found throughout Lovecraft’s work), Lovecraft’s mythos is an absolutely wondrous SF universe filled with truly alien creatures, grand civilizations, and a whole lot of wonder.

I love how the setting turned out, but unfortunately it was don’t before anyone had much experience with RPG kickstarters, and I’m sad that it’s no longer available for Cinematic Unisystem. I’d love to do another edition with improved layout for a system other than Savage Worlds (which is a fine system, but not one I love) – ideally Ubiquity or perhaps Traveller. Also, reading Ruthanna Emrys utterly brilliant Innsmouth Legacy series – “The Litany of Earth”, Winter Tide, and Deep Roots has changed my ideas somewhat, and so I’d likely tweak Eldritch Skies a bit if I ever get a chance to do a new version.

After that, there’s After the Vampire Wars. Having read the Anita Blake vampire hunter novels, the Sookie Stackhouse novels, watched True Blood, and read Robyn McKinley’s utterly brilliant novel Sunshine, I wanted to do an urban fantasy game with a setting where the supernatural was all out in the open, and where the various supernatural beings and people using magic were to a fair degree subject to the rule of law and actually part of the larger culture. The first version, with Chaosium was a bit of a mess, because it happened when Chaosium was a bit of a mess, before Greg Stafford and others stepping into to restore it to glory. In the midst of all that, I got the rights to it back, talked with Design Mechanism, and did an awesome very for Mythras that I’m very proud of.

My next version isn’t out yet, but should be out in a few months, and is one of my older ideas – I wanted to create a setting and a game set at least several decades after Well’s The War of the Worlds, when humanity begins making use of all the Martian tech lying around after the invasion. So, I talked about this with Design Mechanism, we agreed to set it in 1959, I added an inhabited jungle-covered Venus, incorporated Well’s short story “The Crystal Egg”, and the psychic powers it implied, included a dash of Afrofuturism, and Worlds United was born.

I have two current ideas that I’d love to work with – a version of the first looks likely in a couple of years. I’ll keep looking for someone to interest in the second. The first is vast expansive space opera filled with interstellar trade, a few deeply alien species, lots of modified humans, and a fair amount of weirdness. It’s a setting where conventional technology isn’t too far in advance of our own. Instead, FTL travel, antigravity, force fields, and similar space opera wonders are all magic and psychic powers – AIs might even be bound spirits. I’d also include various mythos touches (again not focused on horror, because horror holds little interest for me).

The second idea is Steam Age Hellenistic Greece. In a world with magic, nature spirits, and fantastic creatures like centaurs, the Ptolemaic city of Alexandria is the center of an ongoing technological revolution that started 160 years previously, when Archimedes invented steam engines and steam cannon to defeat Rome. Then Ptolemaic Egypt acquired some of this technology, built on it, and the Mediterranean is now about at the mid-Victorian age in terms of technology. However, after suffering defeat in all of the Punic Wars, Rome under the command of Julius Caesar is looking to try to again conquer the Hellenistic eastern Mediterranean.

I’m not certain what these various settings say about me other than that I like weird settings, settings where the characters are actually part of the larger culture and settings that are not doomed or grimdark, but these are the sort of ideas I think of and make into games.



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September 11th, 2018


02:56 am - Worlds United Cover
One of my many recent projects that I'm exceptionally pleased with is Worlds United a setting for the rpg system Mythras by Design Mechanism. It's an atomic age + psychic powers & post War of the Worlds RPG setting set in a nuclear powered, non-racist & gender egalitarian 1959 where the primary foes are blood-sucking Martians and a USSR that's run by kleptocratic social darwinists (including a longevity-enhanced Stalin), and which includes a high tech Zambia that got early access to Martian technology.

It also now has a lovely cover, which includes the train with an art deco t-rex head as the front of the engine: here's the coverCollapse )

Also, here's a link to a full-sized (quite large) version of the cover.



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August 22nd, 2018


04:46 pm - Awesome chicken & waffles
I’ve made chicken and waffles before, but never quite this awesome. The basic are easy.

1) Marinate 3 half chicken breasts for at least 2 hours in: 5 TBS lemon juice, the zest of 1 lemon, 1 TBS crushed garlic, 1 tsp salt, ¼ tsp ground nutmeg, & ¼ tsp cinnamon

2) Sous vide the chicken for 40 minutes at 62 C (each half breast in a separate bag with 1/3 of the marinade), and then remove, dredge in flour (I use America’s Test Kitchen’s GF flour blend). Then, beat 2 eggs, and dip each half breast in eggs and fry in a wide pan filled with 1” of 350 F oil for 3 minutes, flip chicken and fry for another 3 minutes.

3) Make waffles – I use the recipe from the America’s Test Kitchen How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook (which makes fabulous waffles that are indistinguishable from ones made with wheat flour). I use a waffle maker that makes thick Belgian waffles.

4) Make the honey mustard sauce, which my partner Becca suggested the idea for. I didn’t measure the honey, but use roughly 1/3-½ cup wildflower honey, 2 TBS Dijon mustard, 1 TBS softened butter (or in my case Earth Balance buttery spread), and mix until thoroughly combined.

5) Serve and pour sauce over both chicken and waffle. The result was amazingly delicious.

Chicken & Waffles With Honey Mustard Sauce



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August 16th, 2018


02:43 am - Books that are important to me
Here are some of the books that were important to me when I read them and remain important to me.

Books From My Childhood
Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon & The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke exposed me to ideas about deep time and the wonders of the universe.

Witch World, Web of the Witch World, and Ordeal in Otherwhere all by Andre Norton gave me early glimpses into how wonderful mixing SF & fantasy can be, while also providing me with a model for egalitarian romantic relationships that hold up to rereading.

Dreamsnake by Joan Vinge provided me with more insights into truly egalitarian gender interactions as well as a model for fantastic stories that were not about fighting.

The Halcyon Drift (and the rest of the Hooded Swan series) by Brian Stableford showed me that fun fast-paced actiony SF could have a pacifist as a protagonist.

The Starkahn of Rhada by Robert Cham Gilman/Alfred Coppel provided me with my first exposure to the idea of the idea of profound psychic linkages between different individuals creating a mental fusion that’s more than the sum of its parts while also helping the individuals involved to become part of a chosen family, which is a trope I still find wondrous and powerful and something I would love to find a way to fit into more RPGs.

Waystation
by Clifford D. Simak is a deeply humane & hopeful novel that I’ve read many times and that still moves me every time I reread it.

Books I Read as a Young Adult
Godstalk & Dark of the Moon by P.C. Hodgell (as well as the many novels in the same series that have followed) both showed me that there is fantasy about fate and prophecy that I actually love (this is typically exceedingly not the case) and was also one of the first examples of fantasy I encountered which had truly excellent worldbuilding where the entire world, including animals, and plants, and even geography was magical and wondrous, rather than just another fantasy story set in a dull world too like Earth’s pre-modern past. It also doesn't hurt that these books are how I met my beloved <user name=teaotter> 

Consider Phlebas by Ian M. Banks – Gloriously wonderful space opera that also showed me how space opera could not merely be not conservative, but wonderfully progressive.

The Door Into Fire & The Door Into Shadow by Diane Duane – powerful early romantic fantasy that I read act exactly the right time in my life, which provided me with both a vision of a world where not only were humane romantic interactions the norm, but where bisexuality was also the norm. The second book also introduced me to an idea of what dragons could be that was far more interesting and deep than most portrayals of them.

Recent Books That Touched Me
Daughter of Hounds by Caitlin R. Kiernan despite loving well done mythos fiction and enjoying well done urban fantasy and paranormal romance I avoid almost all horror. This novel straddles the line between dark fantasy and horror and is a complex and wonderful gem that showed me that at least some horror could be truly excellent.

The Quantum Thief
by Hannu Rajaniemi used language and concepts in ways that I had never seen before and was a gloriously complex and fascinatingly allegorical joy to read (avoid the two sequels).

Winter Tide & Deep Roots by Ruthanna Emrys showed me how Lovecraft’s mythos could be used not merely to explore diversity and weirdness, but also to actively celebrate it in positive and humane ways while also remaining true to the mythos' weirdness and focus on deep time. The fact that it also has a magically bonded chosen family makes me love it even more

The Craft Sequence by Max Gladstone provided me with a vision of fantasy that both had the same social commentary aspect that all good SF does and also integrated magic in the world and cultures in ways that I loved, while also providing a very different take on combining aspects of fantasy & SF.

The Raven and The Reindeer & Summer in Orcus by T. Kingfisher/Ursula Vernon both made me profoundly happy to read, and since Summer in Orcus was serialized in late 2016 and early 2016, reading the installments helped me through the election-related despair.

A Succession of Bad Days (and the other Commonweal novels) by Graydon Saunders, which combined amazing worldbuilding, fascinating magic, a fascinating and humane culture, and chosen family.

Also, looking at this list and thinking about the many books that almost made it also got me thinking about the factors in novels that draw me too them and have done so since I was quite young:

• Characters with magical or psychic powers or significant technological enhancements.
• Chosen family
• Magical or psychic bonds between individuals (especially in the context of a chosen family or a romance)
• Deep time
• Complex and detailed worldbuilding that involves creating worlds very unlike our own.
• Stories where violence is not the preferred solution
• Stories that at their heart are either humane and kind.

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July 6th, 2018


01:34 am - Television Old & New – Lucifer, Legion, Cloak & Dagger, & Pose
Since I last wrote about TV I’ve been watching, several shows have had their finales and I’ve started watching several new shows. I’m not worrying about spoilers for Luciferor Legion, so skip if you care, but you likely really want the Legion spoilers – it got seriously problematic and bad.

Luciferhad what was supposed to be a series finale, because it was cancelled, and while I’d previously heard it ended on a cliff-hanger, I was OK with how it ended, because what we were left not knowing was simply an emotional reaction – how would Chloe deal with seeing that Luciferwas in fact the devil? This is (IMHO at least) vastly better than cutting the series off with the season 2 finale, which ended with Luciferin the desert with his wings back and where the audience has absolutely no idea why this had happened.

I’m pleased the show was picked up by Netflix, but I’m also concerned. Season 3 was very uneven. I quite liked the mid part of the season when Pierce/Cain & Luciferwere working together, but the seemingly endless jealousy plot before and after this was exceptionally tiresome. OTOH, the last two episodes were very good, and the show’s handling of Charlotte Richards’ death was (for me at least) very well done. OTOOH, the showrunner has some big choices to make now. I’ll be exceptionally annoyed if the end result of Chloe seeing that Luciferis the devil is some sort of amnesia caused by a blow to her head or some similar cheezy crap, but I’m also not certain what the show looks like if they let her know the truth. However, it has moved to a new and quite different network, so maybe the showrunner won’t have her forget or ignore what she saw. If so, then I’ll be exceptionally pleased, since I always love it when shows are willing to move beyond their initial premises and be daring. So, I’m (very) cautiously hopeful.

In vivid contrast, I’m utterly done with Legion barring some astoundingly major changes that the showrunner seems uninterested in making. The season started off exceptionally well, but first we saw notably less of all the female characters except Syd, Melanie was largely eliminated. Then one of the few characters of color was likely eliminated, and at that point I was dubious and annoyed, but hopeful that the show would do better with the last few episodes.

Then, Melanie was completely reduced to a pawn, the Shadow King managed to turn everyone against David, and effectively out of nowhere, in the last two episodes David went from being a fairly kind and humane individual who was also mentally ill and had been seriously abused by the Shadow King for all but the last few weeks of his life to a rage-filled murderous rapist, and we are told (by the Shadow King, but in a way that was clearly intended for the audience to believe) that David was always like this. I found this ending repugnant – rather than a mentally ill guy with vast power struggling to be a good person despite both his mental illness and the massive abuse he suffered, he’s just another hideously evil guy, and the most villainous individual in the entire series (and David’s abuser) is shown to be entirely correct about David. My take on the season finale is that the Shadow King understood David better than anyone else (having lived in his head for decades) and knew both how best to turn people against his and how to break him in ways that would make him act like a monster.

This ending was terrible in several ways. If they’d want to make David a villain, they needed to foreshadow this a bit with his behavior before the last two episodes. Season Six of Buffy stank in the middle portion, but from the very first scene, with Willow standing on a crypt with her eyes jet black and doing exceptionally powerful magic, it was clear that she might well be the season’s big bad.

This ended felt more like the ending of Season 1 of Hannibal – except instead of Hannibal convincing everyone that Will was an insane serial killer, while the audience knew this wasn’t true, Will was actually an insane serial killer. Given that the showrunner has talked at length about how pleased he was with the ending and having David be the villain, and also the fact that there’s really no way to excuse what David did, I’m utterly done, barring some cheap nonsense like making the last two episodes a dream or alternate world sequence that never actually happened.

The new shows have been notably better. Cloak & Dagger definitely isn’t as good as Runaways (which remains by far my favorite Marvel TV show – Jessica Jones is second, but I prefer media that I don’t find painfully difficult to view), but it’s also vastly better than Agents of SHIELD or Inhumans. I’m interested to see where it goes. I also think giving both characters limited touch telepathy was an excellent idea, since it gives them something to do with their powers other than fight people.

Also, Pose is completely awesome. It’s odd to remember where I was in 1987 (Madison Wisconsin). I was heavily involved in the local bi community, but AIDs was something happening elsewhere (there were only a handful of cases in Madison in the 80s), then in 1990, I moved to LA and met lots of people with AIDs, including one in my coven.

In any case, I love Pose and find myself listening to 80s music again (which I largely haven’t done since the mid 90s). Also, one of our current theories is that Stan is actually a transwoman in serious denial – it would be interesting if this was true, and it fits with what we’ve seen so far, but I’m betting it won’t be.



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July 4th, 2018


01:18 am - Adventures in Baking
I was about to make my cherry blueberry pie for tomorrow, I knew I had 1 can of sour cherries, before I went to the store today I had seen a second large glass jar of organic cherries, that I didn't remember buying, but which looked good - then I got them out and saw the jar actually read "organic cherry tomatoes", so no pie making tonight - thankfully the store nearby is open tomorrow morning, and our gathering isn't until the evening, so all is well. Also, when making the pie crust (which is already made and in a ball in the fridge, awaiting being rolled out), I had my regular double check with my three clear plastic spice jars of bulk ingredients - xanthan gum, cream of tartar, and onion powder are all fine white powders, but are not remotely interchangeable when cooking. I have never mixed them up, but I always double check before using one.



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June 29th, 2018


01:13 am - RIP Harlan Ellison
I have read and enjoyed quite a number of stories by Ellison. Before meeting my partner [personal profile] amberite, my favorite was Jeffty is Five, which I first read a very long time ago. AJ introduced me to Ellison's 1993 story "Susan". Upon reading of his death, I briefly went looking for a copy to reread and discovered that doing so would take more searching than I felt like doing, and so I looked online, and found a video of Ellison reading it. It's quite a short piece, the video is less than 8 minutes long and is, I think, quite worth your time.





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