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February 17th, 2018

11:14 pm - Musings of a Hardcore Neophile
This article about how most people’s musical tastes and favorite song are from their teens finally convinced me to write about the fact that I’m not like that, and in fact I don’t truly understand what it’s like to be like that. There are books and songs from my teens that I still enjoy, but when I reread or listen to them now, most of my enjoyment comes from the fact that they contain elements I like, and that I now often like better in far newer material. I have been fascinated by Lovecraft’s mythos for a very long time, but I’d definitively say that (for now, and such things regularly change for me) my favorite two mythos works of fiction are (in order) Ruthanna Emrys Winter Tide (2016) and Caitlín R. Kiernan’s Daughter of Hounds (2007), and while I love the sense of wonder I got from Arthur Clarke’s The City and the Stars, but these days I’m far more likely to think of Hannu Rajaniemi’s The Quantum Thief, or one of many excellent novels by Alastair Reynolds when I think about my favorite novel for evoking a future that is wondrous and strange.

Even more than that, assuming roughly similar quality, I’m always inclined to like a sequel to the original for pretty much anything. Obviously, quality matters – I enjoyed The Matrix Reloaded more than The Matrix, but the last one simply wasn’t as good. Also, while my two favorite Star Wars films are (in some order that shifts regularly) Rogue One and The Last Jedi, I thought all three of the Star Wars prequel films stank when I saw them, but if the recent Ghostbusters film had merely been as good as the original (instead of IMHO considerably better) I would have said I enjoyed it more than the original, because it’s the one I saw most recently.

Similarly, while I still like music by a few artists that I discovered in my teens (primarily Al Stewart and Renaissance), I am far more likely to listen to Al Stewart’s albums from the last 15 years than I am to his older work. Naturally, this also applies to RPGs – all things being roughly equal, if there are meaningful differences between editions of a game, I always prefer the later edition.

Also, the above link about musical taste and favorite songs also mentions that musical taste as a general thing also tends to be set in the teens. This is mildly true for me – folk-rock still forms the core of my musical taste, but rap didn’t even exist when I was a teen, and there’s a moderately amount that I quite like (Flobots and Guante head that list), and I disliked punk music in my teens and disliked industrial music in my 20s, and now there’s a moderate amount of folk-punk and other forms of post-punk that I love, especially EMA’s music.

In any case, from what I’ve noticed about other people, my sort of neophilia is fairly uncommon. I’d love to know if anyone else feels the same way.

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February 16th, 2018

03:29 am - GF/DF Cooking Adventures, Puerto Rican Pastelon & Boston Cream Pie
So, I've been doing a lot of cooking of late and have created the first soft cake like gluten free cake I've ever managed (nut tortes are easy, more normal cakes are not), and have also created a version of a Puerto Rican dish called Pastelon. Pictures and recipes behind the cut. click for pictures and recipesCollapse )
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February 2nd, 2018

09:24 pm - Musings on Culture & Het Sex
This excellent article about women, men, and problems with inequality during sex is an excellent response to the issues raised by the article about the woman who wrote about her experiences with Aziz Ansari. I think it’s also an excellent depiction of the harm that rape culture does beyond encouraging criminal sexual assault.
This article also made me think about this article from 3 years ago, which discusses a study which shows that on average women are just as interested in casual sex as men if (and as I discuss in a bit, this is a huge if) “ they wouldn’t suffer the social repercussions or safety risks?”

First you have the fact that (depending on the study) 4-6% of men are serial rapists, and so that’s a definite risk and very real risk – a roughly 1 in 20 chance that someone a woman considers hooking up with will drug or get them drunk and rape them. However, there’s also well more than that going on.

As the first article points out, even when nothing that could be prosecuted as sexual assault occurs, women still risk have an exceptionally unpleasant evening:
”A casual survey of forums where people discuss "bad sex" suggests that men tend to use the term to describe a passive partner or a boring experience… But when most women talk about "bad sex," they tend to mean coercion, or emotional discomfort or, even more commonly, physical pain.”
In short, the reason that so much data suggests that women are notably less interested in sex outside of committed relationships than men are appears to be the fact that so many men are not merely inconsiderate, but actively horrid. Some of this horridness is clearly criminal, some of it isn’t, but it’s pretty clear to anyone reasonable, that none of it is humane or reasonable behavior.

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December 31st, 2017

03:24 am - Down an increasingly likely political rabbit hole
Months ago, before the first arrests began, I was talking with my partner [personal profile] teaotter about the Mueller Russia investigation, and she said that for it to be done at all well, Mueller and his team would need to not only clear 45 or prove that he was involved, but would also need to do the same thing for the line of succession, and that nothing would be released until all this had been done, since getting rid of all the corruption at once is vastly superior to either a continual string of dominoes falling, or the people not yet indicted attempting to pardon or cover up for the people who were indicted or impeached.

Three days ago we found out that Mueller is investigating whether the RNC worked with Russia, and today we find out that covfefe boy George Papadopoulos may actually have been the person setting up the initial promises of anti-Clinton leaks for easing sanctions, and he’s been cooperating with Mueller since late July.

In short, Mueller may already have 45, and while I would strongly doubt that Pence was directly involved with arranging this deal, I think it’s exceedingly likely he knew before the election, in which case he’s gone, and at this point Mueller may know this, and so now he’s trying to see if Paul Ryan is clean. If we’re lucky, we might see 45, Pence, and Ryan all fall, which would leave us with president Orin Hatch, and while Hatch is another hideous conservative, he’s not a Nazi, and he’s also not a smarmy self-serving monster like Ryan. Also, if 45, Pence, and Ryan all go (presumably along with Sessions and likely Tillerson), then the GOP is in sufficiently dire trouble, that 60% of the US will likely be associating GOP candidate for federal office and Russian-owned traitor for much of the next decade.

On one hand, this all looks like a premature journey down the rabbit hole. However, the facts match up remarkably well. If anything like this happens, it will be unique in US history, and will make Watergate look relatively tame and minor in comparison. This is especially true because I’m betting that one result of this will be something ranging from a moderate increase in mass shootings by far right nutjobs to a minor uprising by the same sorts of people. It’s not like 45 and Bannon won’t be fanning those flames, especially since Mueller is also investigating Russian ties to Cambridge Analytica, which is controlled by Robert Mercer, the man who bankrolls Breitbart.

If I’m correct, and I think I am, then I’m betting all this happens well before the 2018 election, likely in the next 6 months. Of course, we may have to deal with the rather horrifying specter of Mueller finding solid data and Congress not being willing to do anything about it, at which point, we’ll all need to take to the streets. We shall see.

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December 23rd, 2017

08:36 pm - Too many damn nazis
My partner [personal profile] teaotter and I are visiting my parents in McLean VA, which means watching TV news - something I never do (normally getting all my news from the online versions of newspapers like the New York Times. My parents are centrist democrats who would never consider watching faux news. Instead, they mostly watch the local NBC, ABC, or CBS news.

Last night, I learned a term I'd not heard before "chain migration" - I learned it from any ad from some nazi anti-immigration group that decried the imaginary evils of allowing people's family members to immigrate to the US. Other than the basic disgust of nazis being nazis, I didn't think anything of this, until today, on the 11 PM ABC news out of Washington DC, when the newscaster talking about the alleged terrorist attack on police officers in Harrisburg Pennsylvania, mentioned that the supposed terrorist was "part of a chain of migration going back decades" Hearing this made me sick. I'm astoundingly tired of all the damn nazis shaping US discourse.

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December 18th, 2017

12:24 am - The Shape of Water & Marginalized Heroes
[personal profile] teaotter, [personal profile] amberite, and I went with three other friends to see Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water - I utterly loved it, but with strong reservations. On one level, it is a gorgeous faerie tale of misfits and minorities triumphing over evil. However, it is also, in places, an exceedingly brutal film. Because, while I trust del Toro to make gorgeous films (of which this is an excellent example), he’s made one that was too brutal for me to enjoy (Pan’s Labyrinth), and another that was utterly terrible and dumb as a bag of rocks (Hellboy II), I don’t trust him to make films I want to see, so (as I increasingly do in such cases) I read spoilers for the film – which did not mention the brutal and bloody torture scene, which I was in no way prepared for.

Also, [personal profile] teaotter pointed out to me that setting the film in the early 1960s felt a bit cheap, since almost all of the racism, homophobia, ableism, and sexual harassment portrayed in the film still exists today, and setting it in the past gave it some unnecessary distance, while there was nothing in the film that required it be set in the 60s other than a few plot details that could have easily been changed.

That said, it was both visually stunning and visually complex in a way few films are, and while somewhat less good, and with an entirely different plot, it reminded me of my favorite novel of the last year, Winter Tide, by Ruthanna Emrys, where both have minorities and marginalized people working with aquatic humanoids. However, one crucial difference is that Winter Tide is set in 1950 for a multitude of reasons that are an intrinsic part of the novel.

In any case, I see the similarity between these two works as in large part being about the particular historical moment we are in, the same moment when The Babadook became a LGBTQ icon , and for the same reasons – the desire for minorities, the marginalized, and monsters to be (or in the case of the Babadook, be seen as) active, wonderful heroes who deserve their happy endings too, a choice that I love and celebrate. In any case, I definitely recommend this film, but it's not as awesome as I hoped it would be.

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December 17th, 2017

09:55 pm - Politics and My Visiting the DC Area
I’ve been reading about Mueller obtaining the Trump transition team’s emails:
On Sept. 1, after requests in late August from Mueller’s office, the GSA turned over a flash drive containing tens of thousands of records without informing Trump for America of its move,
Mueller has had these emails for months, and as the article mentions, the person Trump put in the GSA to “handle” this (IOW, to actively obstruct justice, because the GSA is legally required to turn over any emails on government servers to law enforcement officials) got sick, and later died.

This all means that Kushner, Don Jr., and everyone else Mueller’s people interviewed over the last 3 months has had all of their answers compared to these emails. Given that Mueller is now said to be focusing on 18 days shortly after Trump took office, this investigation is clearly about more than just obstruction of justice, it’s directly about Russian connections with Trump and who knew what when. Obviously, this has the entire White House rattled, since their whole house of corrupt cards may be about to collapse. One rumor floating around is that Trump is planning on firing Mueller on December 22 (which he can’t legally do and is clear obstruction of justice), after Congress is out of session. There are already plans for how to deal with this – by massive protests, see this site for locations and details. The basic plan is simple:
Rallies will begin hours after news breaks of a Mueller firing:
• If Mueller is fired BEFORE 2 P.M. local time —> events willbegin @ 5 P.M. local time
• If Mueller is fired AFTER 2 P.M. local time —> events will begin @ noon local time the following day
Interestingly enough, [personal profile] teaotter and I will be visiting my parents in the inner DC suburbs (McLean VA) at that time, so if this happens, I’ll be protesting outside of the White House or the Capitol (the two options for downtown DC). I’m bringing foam core so I can make a sign.

That said, I don’t expect this to happen, but it’s exceedingly difficult to know what to expect, options horrifyingly range from Trump starts a war to he fires Mueller (or indirectly fires Mueller by firing Jeff Sessions, who will be replaced by another already appointed cabinet official (since in this case, no confirmation hearing is needed) who will fire Mueller, to nothing beyond rantings about how this is illegal and all a progressive plot by the racist right media. I am now expecting Kushner & or Don Jr. to be arrested in the next month.

On a related note, [personal profile] teaotter is a forensic accountant who works in all sorts of investigations of fraud, embezzlement, and suchlike, and so she understands the basics of legal investigations. According to her, the fact that George Papadopoulos was arrested and convinced to cooperate less than 2 months after Mueller began his investigation means that there was lots of evidence to find, because having to seriously dig for enough to arrest someone takes lots of time. So, John Oliver’s calling this whole mess “Stupid Watergate” seems exceedingly apt.

In any case, if I am in DC protesting, I’ll take and post video, assuming that I’m not arrested and my phone destroyed. So it goes…

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December 15th, 2017

11:14 pm - The Last Jedi (no spoilers) and thoughts on upcoming films
[personal profile] amberite & I just saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi – I enjoyed the heck out of it. It wasn’t as good as Rogue One, but Mark Hamil did an excellent old cranky master mystic, and it was wonderful and very moving to see Carrie Fisher doing and excellent job in one last film about struggle and hope in these grim days. So, it appeared to shoot down my theory about Rey, but not provably so, sadly I’ll need to wait 2 more years for an answer. With a modicum of luck that will be a film I’ll see with a Democrat controlled Congress and a different president.

I also had an experience that I haven’t had in quite a while, I really want to see every film the theater played a trailer of. This was my first time seeing the Wrinkle In Time trailer on the big screen, and it both looks wonderful, and I desperately hope it will be good - it seems like an easy book to do very badly and difficult to do well, but the trailer gives me hope. I’m more confident that The Black Panther will be excellent, and after seeing this also for the first time on the big screen, I just added a line for my art notes for Trinity Continuum: Æon, for the illo of the UAN (the united, high tech 22nd century Africa), which was “the more this looks like Wakanda from the Black Panther film, the better”.

The trailer for The Post (about the Washington Post and the Pentagon Papers, which is indirectly what brought down Nixon), which looked both very timely, exceedingly appropriate to be a trailer before The Last Jedi, and also appears to be quite good. Finally, there was a trailer for Avengers: The Infinity War, which looked like much fun, although I'm looking forward to both the Black Panther and Captain Marvel films considerably more.

On Sunday, [personal profile] amberite, [personal profile] teaotter, and I, and various others are all going to see The Shape of Water, which I also except to be exceedingly excellent.

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02:29 am - RPG Setting - Dealing With Gender and Race in an (alternate) late 1950s
I’m writing an RPG project that’s set in a somewhat (but not vastly) alternate history setting where the present day is in the late 1950s, where history started diverging around 1900. I can’t go into details about the setting due to NDA reasons, so I’m being somewhat vague in places, but I can say that this game is entirely unrelated to any other projects I’m working on.

In any case, for me this automatically foregrounds questions of gender and racial equality. I think I’ve largely solved the gender equality issue with having events during the WWII analog that made women’s contributions more obvious, combined with reasons that the get displace from work and be expected to become a housewife thing didn’t happen. I’m using some of the visions of gender equality in various 1950s SF (mostly by H. Beam Piper) as a model, and the result, I think, looks mostly like early 1980s gender equality – far from perfect, but the really basic battles about job discrimination (not that it doesn’t happen, but that it’s at least illegal), access to education, family planning services, and the ability to control their own finances and property are mostly settled, at least on a legal front, and while female engineers and scientists aren’t exceedingly common, they also aren’t vanishingly rare, and are clearly becoming more common.

That all seems a reasonable compromise to me, but if someone has a different PoV, I’d love to hear it.

Then, I get to the issue of race. I was thinking of advancing civil rights by a decade or so, and while that could be an interested side-light of the game, the game isn’t about the struggle for racial civil rights, and sidelining that seems problematic. In addition, using that sort of timeline also put all the white supremacist ugliness of the civil rights struggle front and center, and for what is a fundamentally optimistic game, that sounds more unpleasant that I want to deal with, and it makes playing a person of color seriously problematic. Especially since we now have actual Nazis marching in the streets and similar sorts of ugliness, I don’t really want to dump 1950s or even late 1960s racism on people playing a game that’s explicitly about mildly pulpy heroism. Also, I’m not willing to ignore issues of race or gender, since that sort of erasure ends up with an assumption that the setting and the game is all about white men, and I’m not about to write a game like that.

However, sadly, racial equality wasn’t something I generally see in SF of the day, so using that as a model isn’t viable. My thought is to go for a similar feel as with gender equality – late 70s, early 80s, where legal equality was mostly there, and while full practical equality hasn't been achieved, lynching, segregated lunch counters, and sundown towns largely weren’t a thing anymore.

Does this seem like a reasonable approach? I’ll include a few paragraphs about both race and gender issues, but as I stated before neither of these are the focus of the setting, and so I can’t go into large amounts of detail about either.

How does this approach sound to everyone?

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December 12th, 2017

12:34 am - Spiritual Musings Of an Otherkin Transhumanist
I’ve been thinking more about my spiritual beliefs of late, and since it’s been rather a while since I’ve written about them at length, it seemed reasonable to share them. They essentially come down to my being both otherkin and a transhumanist, and how these fit together (and more generally, how being a neopagan occultist and a transhumanist fit together).

There are two factors that are part of my identification as otherkin. The first is obviously my own internal experiences, many of which seem to have been the (quite long-lasting) result of a special initiation in the eccentric Alexandrian Wicca + dragon spirits coven I trained in, when I lived in Los Angeles in the early 90s. Since that time, I can call forth the experience of being a dragon, which is both impressively powerful, includes both physical sensations, like the feel of wind of my wings, changes in thought patterns and way of perceiving the world, and bit of memory, and beyond that is rather difficult to describe.

The other aspect of being otherkin is social - as I describe in this post, the otherkin community feels like home to me. I’ve previously tried being part of several different communities – including SF&F fandom and the neopagan community, and never found a place where I truly “fit”, until I encountered the otherkin community.

However, my identity as otherkin interfaces oddly with the fact that I don’t particularly believe in any sort of afterlife that involves a continuity of identity and thus don’t really believe in reincarnation. Sure, spiritual fragments may be recycled, and in some cases fairly large fragments, but I’ve never encountered any solid evidence (either in person or via any sort of reliable intermediary) that any true sense of identity or personhood persists from one life to another.

In part, that belief is why I’m a transhumanist. Instead, I believe that there are connections between different entities (both human and not) that go across time and worlds. I ran into this fascinating theory of what being otherkin means more than a decade ago, and it still makes sense (although likely as not the only explanation). In it, the author states:
The crux of my own argument is that people who call themselves Otherkin (and that term refers to the humans, not the spiritual forces acting upon or through them) are in fact the unwitting channel through which the psychic aspects of these forces are working to make themselves known.
This makes sense to me, except perhaps in some cases for the “unwitting” part, since in many ways, my draconic initiation can be seen as a deliberate and voluntary version of this.

As for being a transhumanist, there are again for me two aspects. On a personal front, I have absolutely no interest in ever dying, I believe in souls, reincarnation, and suchlike, but it is clear to me that retaining even a fraction of one's memories after death is exceptionally rare and I firmly believe that my personality w/o my memories is in no useful way me, so I believe that death is a final ending for me. As such, I have no desire for it to ever occur.

Also, the world is full of many wonders and joys and it seems to me that I would require a minimum of several thousand years to experience them (at which point, I would likely be very different than I am now, at which point I am almost certain that the me I will be then will find many other interests to pursue. In addition, I would strongly prefer to be able to do complex math in my head and to never forget anything unless I wanted to. Also, I want everyone to have access to the same options and firmly believe that if we can change or improve something in a way that would aid both ourselves individually and our species as a whole, then we should do so.

The final aspect of my spirituality is how otherkin and my overall mystical interests relate to my interest in transhumanism. The answer, unsurprisingly is that my interest in both is identical. On the purely practical side, I am interested in the uses of both magic and technology to extend my physical and mental capacities, and more importantly, on a spiritual level, I am interested in using both magical techniques and transhuman technologies to enhance my spirituality. More specifically, I am seeking to understand and encompass more of the divine, and am interested in both using various spiritual practices and (when they become available) technologies for improving my intelligence, memory, and ability to access and process information to enable me to understand both the physical world around me and the spiritual dimensions of existence.

However, my fascination with transhumanism is more than simply a desire to be smarter and live forever. I think it is the best path for our species as a whole. Far too many people do not sufficiently consider the consequences of their actions and short-term thinking is disturbingly widespread, even among the heads of governments and transnational corporations. Increased intelligence and increased lifespan would almost certainly improve both. Our world is changing increasingly rapidly and w/o some sort of horrid disaster, these changes aren't going to slow down anytime soon. I do not believe in paradise or utopia and in fact find the entire concept stifling, since nothing is ever perfect and everything can be improved and tinkered with in some useful fashion, but the world can clearly be far better than it is now and transhumanism seems to obvious path.

Also, I think intelligence enhancement is important in a larger sense because my worldview is in some ways Lovecraftian. Not in any depressing or nihilistic sense, instead, for me, the universe is not only vastly complex, it is far more complex than our limited minds and brains can possibly understand, resulting in all manner of seeming contradictions that actually make sense when viewed from a larger perspective. I believe the world is full of all manner of wonders, terrors, and strangeness and all manner of unexpected surprises of all sorts. As a result, I believe that only by drastically expanding both our brains and our lifespans can we understand far more of both the spiritual and the physical cosmos around us, which looking to both wondrous transhumanist technologies and also to various forms of spiritual practice.

Also, in my odder and most hopeful moments, I like to think that some of what otherkin is about is reflections back through time of what we (as a species, and perhaps/hopefully as individuals) become in a transhuman future more strange and wondrous than we can now imagine or understand. We shall see...

In any case, when I think about transhumanism and spirituality both, two quotes come to mind: When I think about such topics, two quotes come to mind for me – the first by David Zindell from his novel The Broken God:
"What is a human being, then?'
A seed'
A... seed?'
An acorn that is unafraid to destroy itself in growing into a tree."

The second is my own from more than a decade ago – "I have no interest in worshiping gods, what I want to is for more people to play god." To me the idea that "playing god" is thought by some as something bad or wrong baffles and saddens me.

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December 8th, 2017

05:52 pm - Thoughts on a likely mistaken study about autism
I recently ran into this article about a study that supposedly shows that people with autism regularly misread social cues, including unconscious scent cues (which was the focus of the study). The key result was:
“Two groups were then exposed to either to the "smell of fear" or to a control odor. The smell of fear was sweat collected from people taking skydiving classes, and control odor was sweat from the same people, only this time it had been collected when they were just exercising -- without feeling fear.

This is where differences emerged: Although neither group reported detecting dissimilarities between the two smells, their bodies reacted to each in a different way. In the control group, smelling the fear-induced sweat produced measurable increases in the fear response, for example in skin conductivity, while the everyday sweat did not. In the autistic men, fear-induced sweat lowered their fear responses, while the odor of "calm sweat" did the opposite: It raised their measurable anxiety levels…

In other words, the autistic volunteers in the experiment did not display an inability to read the olfactory social cues in smell, but rather they misread them.”
That sort of consistency doesn’t look at all like misreading social cues, but instead it looks like reading them just as well neurotypical people, but reacting to the cues differently. I talked with my partner AJ, who has Asperger’s, and they confirmed what I thought, that in their experience (of both themselves and of other people they know who are on the autism spectrum) seeing other people being stressed/afraid tends to make them unconsciously calmer and more focused on dealing with the problem that causing this stress – something I specifically noticed in 2008, when we were kicked out of the duplex we were renting with 30 days’ notice because the owners wanted to sell it. Becca and I panicked a lot (in amidst getting a whole lot done), while AJ became notably more focused and effective than usual.

In essence, the study sounds like it may have had a solid methodology, but the conclusions seem to have been based on the idea that autistic people are merely bad at reading and responding to social cues rather than being (from what I’ve seen) socially different.

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November 29th, 2017

02:20 pm - Runaways on Hulu - Excellent TV
As of yesterday, my partners and I have watched the first 4 episodes of the new Marvel series Runaways, which is on Hulu. I love it, I read the comic, and it’s an excellent adaptation, with some interesting changes (one of which is making Molly Gert’s adopted sister, which was clearly done in part to reduce the number of parents, but also works well). The series focuses a bit more on the parents and their motives, and while they’re all basically evil people, they are also very different people.

It has excellent acting, good writing and plots, and I highly recommend it. It also has something I haven’t seen in a MCU show before – it is neither dismally terrible, like Inhumans or Agents of SHIELD, or sufficiently grim and brutal that it’s either difficult to watch (like Jessica Jones) or something I’m simply unwilling to watch because I do not wish to see characters slowly beaten to death on screen (like all of the other Marvel shows on Netflix). Instead, Runaways is solidly done TV that’s not graphically violent, but manages to be intense and powerful without that. It’s also an interesting discussing of wealth and privilege.

It’s also fascinating to me that Runaways isn’t the best new show of 2017, because from my PoV, that’s hand’s down Legion, which is both unlike anything else and exceptionally brilliant, but I’d definitely put Runaways second, and I highly recommend it.

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November 24th, 2017

07:01 pm - RPG Art Guidelines
I’m currently reading over and editing the art guidelines I’ve written for Trinity Continuum: Æon, the SF game I’ve developing for Onyx Path (the second edition of the late 90s game Trinity), which is set a century from now and is very much a game with characters and organizations from all over the planet (as well as interstellar travel and similar niftiness).

After reading over my rather huge art guidelines (13,000 words and a basic world map that I did in GIMP (because national boundaries are rather different in places), I decided in the interest of representation to see what my numbers were for different sorts of characters that I’d mentioned (I specified sex and ethnicity in all of the descriptions so as to avoid having them all be white men). I wrote down every mention of white women, white men, women of color and men of color, and was pleased to see that my numbers for white women, white men, and men of color were all almost identical, while my number of women of color was half again as high as any of them (roughly 16 for each of the other 3 and 24 for women of color).

Other than attempting to be representative, I had not previously kept any sort of count, and so I’m very pleased that the only bias I had was a positive one. I’ve definitely decided not to alter this ratio

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03:32 pm - Thanksgiving 2017
My yearly Thanksgiving with what at this point can best be described as my Portland tribe was excellent. This year, there were 32 people and truly amazing amount of food. It’s also been interesting to consider how things have changed over the years.

21 years ago, Becca and I had our first Thanksgiving with the collective household known as the Ennead (then consisting of 6 people), after we'd recently met them via the brilliant and much missed usenet group rec.games.frp.advocacy. This has been our Thanksgiving tradition ever since, except that now it’s far larger. A few people have kids, but mostly we’ve accreted more people. In 2004, AJ has their first Thanksgiving with us, and at that time, we were the first poly family in this social circle.

Yesterday, one of the people there remarked that our gathering needs a poly grouping of 5, since we have a pair (who live together and each have partners living elsewhere), a trio (Becca, AJ, and I), and a quad (an awesome poly family consisting of one old friend, and some very nifty people I’ve met far more recently), and several other poly people were also present.

Also, the Ennead’s collective household very recently budded off a second collective household, who has among its members, Winnie, my partner AJ’s best friend and writing partner who moved to Portland a few months back, Ben, a fellow RPG designer who is also now my partner Becca’s office assistant (essentially performing Becca’s previous job, before she became a CPA and took over her previous boss’s business), and Jenna, a exceptionally brilliant RPG designer who I’ve known for many years, but who moved to Portland in the last few years.

With luck, in a few years this tribe will grow even further, since there’s a moderate chance that another poly triad (who are somewhat intertwined with AJ, Becca, and I) will move to Portland.

In any case, it was wonderful, and remarkably unlike many Thanksgiving stereotypes, since everyone present was fairly to exceptionally geeky (with comics writers and artists, RPG designers, and SF authors all being well represented), and with the political range from lefty Democrat to socialist, as well as containing a fair number of pagans of various sorts, an unknown to me, but not small number of atheists and agnostics, and at least one far lefty Christian.

It was also sufficiently social, that even a (albeit shy) extrovert like myself ended up somewhat over-socialed afterwards, but as well as having something that can best be described as a mild version of “con drop”.

In any case, despite a federal government run by monsters who seek to ruin the planet and pauperize almost all of the inhabitants, there’s definitely joy, freedom, and wonder in Portland.

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November 14th, 2017

01:45 am - Musing On The Sexual Harassment Scandals
Like pretty much everyone I know, I’ve been both horrified (that it was so common) and heartened (that it’s finally being taken seriously) about all of the sexual abuse in the entertainment industry. More recently, I’ve also taken a more personal interest in this, because one of the abusers I’ve seen strong evidence against is an RPG author whose work I know, and had (or perhaps still has, it’s unclear) as some of his defenders people I know, like, and respect in the gaming industry, but who is this case, seem to me to be definitely on the wrong side.

All this got me thinking about both portrayals of sexual harassment in media, and also about appropriate responses to abusers from people who find out about the abuse.

Since I’ve enjoying Star Trek: Discovery, and have recently written quite a bit for the new Star Trek Adventures RPG, I’ve also been thinking a lot about Star Trek. When my partners and I rewatched Star Trek: Deep Space 9 in 2015 we noticed that that in the first two seasons (1993-1994) sexual harassment were still a (deeply uncomfortable from a modern PoV) source of humor, with both Dr. Bashir and Quark harassing Jadzia Dax being passed off as funny, mostly at the expense of Dr. Bashir and Quark, but it was still deeply unpleasant. However, by season 4 (1995-1996), this sort of humor was (thankfully) largely absent from the show, which indicates to me that some sort of social change took place during that time.

It’s also interesting going forward and backwards from that show. There were also more than a few uncomfortable episodes in Star Trek: The Next Generation, some, but not all involving Commander Riker.

It’s been longer ago that I watched Star Trek: Voyager, but I don’t remember any incidents of sexual harassment that were anything other than a few that were clearly shown to be wrong.
I didn’t watch most of Star Trek: Enterprise (because I found it fairly bad), so I’d appreciate any info there, but it also didn’t seem to have much sexual harassment of any sort. Meanwhile, Star Trek: Discovery has been quite good in this regard.

Of course, one thing that’s fascinating to me is that both from recently rewatching some Original Series Star Trek a few years ago and reading this excellent article, it’s clear that there was actually far less sexual harassment of women in that series than in TNG or DS: 9.

I think I understand one reason for this fact – I think the various Star Trek series provide a useful measure of anti-feminist backlash. The original series (1966-69) was an era that wasn’t particularly enlightened wrt gender relations, but it was a deeply progressive and groundbreaking show in many ways, and so the people making it tried, and often succeeded in making a show that did OK with gender relations (with a few notable failures, like this deeply problematic episode. In part, this happened because this show was made shortly before 2nd wave feminism arrived in popular consciousness, and so it was a relatively safe topic for SF set centuries in the future.

In vivid contrast, by 1987, when Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered, anti-feminist backlash was in full swing, and this continued through the mid 90s, at least in the more progressive sides of mass media. However, shows like Xena (1995), and then Buffy (1997) changed ideas about TV, and we see the results reflected in Star Trek (which had sadly ceased being a ground-breaking show with the end of the original series). Later Star Trek series took place in a mass media climate where massive sexism still happened behind the scenes, but the content of the better shows were notably less problematic.

As for appropriate responses to learning about allegations of sexual harassment, I’ve encountered a repeated type of comment in response to allegations of sexual harassment, which is either that we “can’t know” in the absence of a criminal trial, or (more commonly) simply comparing proposed boycotts, firing, and banishment from professional organizations to criminal convictions and claiming that there simply isn’t the evidence necessary for such a conviction and so the action is unfair and unjust. While it’s abundantly clear that most instances have been from reactionary concern trolls, responding to one such troll got me thinking about this issue more deeply.

Because my partner [personal profile] teaotter is a CPA who testifies in court, I now know rather more about criminal and civil trials than I did before, and I have a useful answer to this, which I believe can entirely discredit such claims. Given that criminal trials often involve drastic penalties like depriving people of their freedom for years, standard of evidence are quite high and are (in the US at least) that the jury must believe the defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt”. However, I’ve never seen any personal or professional actual proposed for handling revelations of sexual abuse that looked remotely like imprisonment.

However, there is another sort of US law, which (to me at least) looks exceedingly comparable to boycotts, firing, and similar actions – civil law. A successful lawsuit typically involves the defendant losing money or property, which seems exceptionally comparable to a boycott (losing sales), being fired (losing money), or being kicked out of an organization (losing status). Unlike criminal trials, the standard of evidence require for conviction in civil trials is a “preponderance of the evidence”. I think is also reasonable basis for decision regarding boycotts, firing, voting, or similar actions.

Recent events have also caused me to consider what (in general) I personally to believe to be a preponderance of the evidence, which is a single report by someone I know or trust, multiple reports by people I don’t know, any sort of direct evidence (like texts or emails from the abuser, or videos). This is why (for the moment at least) I’m uncertain about the allegations against George Takai, but am convinced of all of the other allegations of sexual abuse that I’ve heard about in the entertainment industry (and as I mentioned earlier, within the RPG industry specifically).

As an odd but perhaps hopeful side-note even neocon scumbag David Frum, “has something shockingly reasonable to say about the recent sexual harassment scandals

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November 12th, 2017

05:23 pm - A relatively small but important to me TV milestone
As I’ve mentioned before, I watch Supergirl, and largely regard it as a guilty pleasure that is more fun than good (the acting and writing aren’t bad, but that also are far from excellent), and I enjoy the rather ham-handed political commentary, like the evil real-estate developer (Morgan Edge) arranging for Lena Luthor to appear guilty of a crime, followed by a scene with people holding signs and shouting “Lock her up”. As I said, ham-handed fun.

Also, like Star Trek: Discovery (a far better-done show), Supergirl has a queer couple in the main cast, which is awesome. But, they had something I didn’t expect – last episode, the queer couple on Supergirl (Alex & Maggie) broke off their engagement and broke up, because over the last couple of episodes, it had become clear that Alex really wanted children and Maggie didn’t. When the show first brought this up, I expected the standard TV response of Maggie changing her mind and deciding she also wanted to raise children, because that’s what *always* happens on TV.

It didn’t. Instead, the show made it very clear in the show that both Alex and Maggie had valid points of view and that neither of them was a bad or damaged person for their opposite desires. As someone who is vehemently childfree, that was huge. I’ve almost never seen similar sentiments expressed on TV. Characters making the decision to only have one or two children, or perhaps to only adopt children have become relatively common, but a character, and especially a female character deciding they don’t ever want to have or raise children and then sticking with this decision because this choice is important to them is something I can’t remember seeing on TV before. I’m halfway expecting Maggie to change her mind and for the two characters to get back together, but for now I’m very pleased.

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October 31st, 2017

01:16 pm - Masses of Media
In these last few weeks I’ve seen two concerts, one movie, numerous new TV show, and read a couple of novels. Here are my thoughts:

On Saturday, [personal profile] amberite, their awesome friend (newly moved to Portland) Winnie and I went to see folk-punk performer EMA at Mississippi Studios. What I hadn’t thought much about was that it was a dual show, of EMA and a group I’d never heard about called The Blow. Amusing, we also saw my friend Brad there, and when I said that I had no idea he also liked EMA, he responded that he was here to see The Blow, and that he knew nothing about EMA.

The Blow went on first, and it was nothing like I’d experienced before. The best simple description was performance art reminiscent of Laurie Anderson-like performance art + lesbian folk-punk, but that only captures a small part of the wonders I saw. Their music is quite good, but the performance aspect was phenomenal. It started with what was billed as a slide show + monologue, except that the “slides” were simply rectangles of light, where the leader performer described what was on the slide, which was impressively powerful and amazing, and reminded both [personal profile] amberite of various sorts of ritual magic.

I enjoyed EMA’s show, but she was an oddly restrained performer, and so listening to her excellent set was more like listening to one of her albums than I’m used to with live music. She performed pieces from all three of her albums and did a wonderful job, but it was honestly a bit of a letdown after the unexpected wonder of The Blow.

Tonight, [personal profile] teaotter and I went back to Mississippi Studios to see folk-pop artist Mary Lambert. This was also a wonderful show, it a very different one. Lambert is a wonderful in-person performer, and unlike the previous concert, this was an excellent standard concert that I greatly enjoyed.

[personal profile] teaotter and I also saw Professor Marsden and the Wonder Women on Sunday. It was a biopic about the creator of Wonder Woman and his poly triad. It was good, but at 108 minutes it felt quite sparse and needed more story. However, seeing poly representation in film remains a good and powerful thing for me.

TV has been a mixed, if mostly good bag. The one utter failure I’ve been watching is Inhumans, which can best be described as astonishingly bad – I loved the Inhumans in comics, much of the acting is fairly good, but overall the show is dreadful. The 3rd and 4th episodes got a bit better, but then it got even worse in a why should I care about any of these characters fashion.

Meanwhile, we’re also watching The Gifted, which is very good, and is confronting prejudice and oppression in our society quite well. I highly recommend it. At this point, only [personal profile] amberite & I are watching Star Trek: Discovery, because the fact that the captain is essentially evil makes it feel insufficiently like Star Trek for [personal profile] teaotter. However, I’m definitely enjoying it. From my PoV, it’s very nice to see actual Star Trek, rather than the three terrible movies that put a gloss of Star Trek over some generic space action films.

We’re also watching the latest seasons of Riverdale, Lucifer, and The Good Place. Riverdale still seems good, but uneven and les tight than its excellent first season, and so after two episodes we’re letting it accumulate on the DVR, and will pick it back up later. Meanwhile, Lucifer continues to be very good, and The Good Place is wonderful. I actively avoid all comedy made in the last 25 years, and most earlier comedy, and the bits I’ve seen of other modern comedies have not impressed me, but The Good Place is simply incredible. Most of the most recent episode consisted of two characters talking, and it was simply brilliant.

Meanwhile, I’m the only one of the three of us watching Supergirl, which can best be described as a guilty pleasure. It’s not merely openly and unabashedly lefty, but pretty much shoves this in viewers faces, which is a welcome relief to me in the US of 2017. OTOH, it’s also fairly hackneyed and the acting is overall fairly mediocre, but it’s definitely fun.

As for books, I read Steven Brust’s latest (15th) Dragaeran Empire novel (Vallista), and like the last one, I actually enjoyed it (which has only been true of about half of his last few novels in this series). This was a very tight novel, with the protagonist spending most of his time trapped in something much like a haunted house, and while not excellent was fun and reasonably good. It also had some bits that suggest that there’s going to be a big finish and that we make actually see the last 3 novels in what will eventually be an 18 book series.

In contrast, Ann Leckie’s Provenance was simply wonderful. Set in the same universe as her Ancillary series, it has an interesting number of surprises and twists, and is very well done. I remain amused that until someone I know mentioned it, I entirely did not notice that it exclusively used gender neutral pronouns. Both because I taught myself to write in a gender neutral fashion 35 years ago (and then had to unlearn it for most RPG writing), and my social circle, it seems entirely outside my notice.

I also very much enjoyed K. B. Spangler’s short novel Stoneskin, which was well done and had the sort of mixture of space travelling SF and magic that I’m very much inclined to love.

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September 6th, 2017

02:26 am - Musings On My Personal Genetics
A couple months ago I send a sample into 23andme for genetic testing, going for both ancestry and health. I recently received my results. The 23andme results contained few surprised, my ancestry is 2/3s UK, with almost all the rest being northwest European, and 0.2% native American from more than 200 years ago, which I suppose isn’t surprising given that my dad’s side of the family came over to the US quite a long time ago. The 23andme health results were similarly unsurprising, no bad genes, and not much in the way of information.

I was interested in more info, so I paid $5.00 to Promethease.com and uploaded my genetics results, and received what amounts to a focused literature search on my genetics (all from the genetics wiki snpedia).

The health info contained a bit more, single copies (2 is better, but 1 is still pretty good) of 2 extreme longevity genes, a hodgepodge of cancer and cancer protective genes, a gene that might be associate with DNA repair (one crucial aspect to the service that Promethease provides is that all this info is very much a work in progress, and many results are pretty darn speculative). The only notable downsides are increased prostate cancer risk, and a 3.75 x normal risk of dropping dead from a heart attack if I have high blood pressure. Thankfully, no one in my family has ever had cancer, except my grandmother who worked as an x-ray technician in a dentist office in the 30s-50s, and my blood pressure is very good.

The personality genes were rather more interesting and surprising. I have rs53576 (A;A). This is a gene I’d actually seen an article about before, having it means you have a somewhat decreased response to oxytocin. A few early papers made it sound like it was associated with less social bonding, but one from two years ago did an exceedingly careful study of the effects of this gene, and the results seemed far more focused – it has not effect on close relationships, but a notable effect on feelings and reactions to humans you aren’t close to. I’m betting that this gene explains at least some of my mild to moderate social anxiety with strangers ( which I discuss in greater detail in this post), including my very strong preference for arranging my life so that I only need to deal with exactly the sorts of people I’m was extremely comfortable dealing with.

Perhaps even more clearly is the fact that until I became a part of the otherkin community and actually found a community, which seems particularly set up to aid people with unusual socialization needs and strategies), I had never found any sort of larger community where I felt apart. Regardless of where I lived and what I did, I felt close to my friends, and small groups like the coven I trained with in LA, but larger communities like the pagan community, or SF&F fandom never felt like home to me, like they did to many others I’ve known.

In any case, one result of this genes seemed to be reduced empathy with humans in general, with two tests being used, one for discerning emotions from looking at pictures of people’s eyes, which I tried a number of years ago online and did slightly better than average, and the other being the Interpersonal Reactivity Index, which has 4 categories:

  1. Perspective Taking – the tendency to spontaneously adopt the psychological point of view of others.
  2. Fantasy – taps respondents' tendencies to transpose themselves imaginatively into the feelings and actions of fictitious characters in books, movies, and plays.
  3. Empathic Concern – assesses "other-oriented" feelings of sympathy and concern for unfortunate others.
  4. Personal Distress – measures "self-oriented" feelings of personal anxiety and unease in tense interpersonal settings.

I score equal to or above the average female range (which is slightly higher than the average male range) in Fantasy, Empathic Concern, and Personal Distress, and well below average in Perspective Taking, which definitely fits my own experience, especially for people I’m not close to.

The other notable gene was the rs1800497 (C;T). People with it seemed to learn notably less well from punishment, but where positive rewards worked just as well as normal. Here’s one link about it. According to what I read in a variety of places, it has a potential association with increased verbal creativity, and also with increased addictive behavior. I mostly seem to lack the second, but given a complete lack of depression and similar mental health problems, and a lack of anything like that in my family background, I’m not surprised by the lack of addictive behavior. It does seem a bit at odds with my one experience with gambling for money – in High School playing blackjack for quarters, where I realized that losing money sucked and even supposed winning strategies, like being sober when everyone I was playing with ranged from moderately tipsy to drunk, could still result in my losing money. It never occurred to me to gamble again, and in fact doing so baffles me. Similarly, both my parents smoked, and it smelled utterly vile, so I never developed an interest in it.

OTOH, as as this post of mine discusses, yelling at me, and other forms of punishment do little or nothing to encourage me to act in a particular way (and even less at getting me to change how I feel about anything other than resenting the source of punishment), while rewarding me is an exceptionally good way to get me to act in a desired manner. This gene may also partly explain why I personally regard all laws as optional. There are a great many things (mostly involving harming others) I actively avoid doing, but the existence or lack of laws has no influence on this, and my only reason for not breaking laws that do not violate my morals is a highly likelihood of getting caught.

In any case, I find this fascinating because it seems to explain a number of quirks of my personal psychology in two gene variants. Obviously, life-experience is at least as important, but both of these do correlate well with my personality and behavior. Also, if given my choice, I’d definitely choose the variant I possess, since I find the idea of punishment being effective on me quite troubling. Also, I suspect that these gene also helped create my overall sense of optimism (obviously, in combination with both my utter lack of any sort of clinical depression and the rather notable degree of privilege I grew up with as a white, well-educated member of the upper middle class).

I also wonder if one or both of these genes are connect to the fact that I don’t hold onto negative feelings, and tend to rapidly extricate myself from negative personal relationships. I’m also interested in how much of this might related to the results of this personality test I took a number of years ago, but which still seems to apply to me today.

Finally, I also have the intermediate version of rs4680 (A;G), which I’d previously heard referred to as the Worrier/Warrior gene – I’m exceedingly pleased not to have either of those variants, but instead to possess the intermediate one.

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August 26th, 2017

02:41 am - Birthday + Interesting Articles
Today (Friday) was my birthday, and I quite enjoyed it. I went out to an excellent Ethiopian restaurant within walking distance with my awesome partners [personal profile] teaotter and [personal profile] amberite. Wisely, since I was completely stuffed afterwards, dessert is tomorrow. The three of us and a number of friends are going to a dessert bar which has vegan (since I can’t eat dairy) gluten free (for [personal profile] amberite) desserts, and while I haven’t been there before, I have been to an associated food cart, and desserts are utterly delicious.

Tomorrow, I'll be turning in my latest project for the Star Trek game and finishing my 2nd (of 3) review passes of the psychic powers rules for Trinity Continuum: Aeon, both of which I'm very much enjoying. I hope all of your lives are as good.

Also, I just read an excellent article about progress written in January by the brilliant Ada Palmer, I highly recommend it (and her blog in general). It’s both hopeful and thoughtful in all the best ways.

I also encountered two very well written (and interestingly similar) articles comparing free speech laws in the US and Western Europe, both written by people from Western Europe with experience in the US, which had opposing (and in each case well-considered) views. Both are worth reading. One is from the New York Times. The other is from a blog I'd never encountered before, but which was also excellent.

The focus of both is on differences between US and EU free speech laws. I’m definitely more of a fan of the EU approach, where protecting privacy and limiting hate speech are in a some cases seen as being more important than unlimited free speech. In these days of people (especially women, LGBT people, and people of color) being targets of massive, organized online abuse, such limits seem to me to make sense, and we already know they work. Sadly, I don’t see any such changes happening in the US w/o a fairly drastically different Supreme Court.

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August 22nd, 2017

01:47 am - Eclipse Pictures
My awesome partners, [personal profile] teaotter & [personal profile] amberite, and I all went out to Madras Oregon (which lies at the center-point of the totality, and had over 2 minutes of visible corona). We went with friends, most of whom went out there on Saturday, we ventured out on Sunday, because we were all camping in a soccer field (the campgrounds was a fund raiser for the local Little League). We were worried about traffic, but were only half correct. Driving out to Madras took the normal 2.5 hours in minimal traffic. We left 30 minutes after totality and getting home took us 7.5 hours, and it would have been longer if [personal profile] teaotter had not suggested I download a map of Madras offline onto my phone (since all data and phone services were mostly overloaded to uselessnes), and we located farm roads on Google Maps that got us past one of several accidents that brought traffic to an actual stop. OTOH, the experience was amazing.

Madras is in eastern Oregon, in the desert, and the sunset on Sunday night was incredible. Click here for 2 images of Madras sunset, and 7 of the eclipseCollapse )

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