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July 16th, 2017

02:53 am - Unexpectedly Good Media
A truly excellent webcomic just finished 17776, which is ostensibly about the future of football, but is more truly about the meaning of life, immortality, and the nature of play. It's exceedingly well done SF, and I highly recommend it (despite my knowledge of and interest in football being quite low indeed). I'm told it has similarities with the web comic Homestuck, but I bounced off that hard, and I love this, in part because instead of going really slowly, it's fast paced and encompassed only 2 weeks or so of daily updates, rather than multiple years.

Here's IO9's discussion of it, which is very good, but I think diving right in is better.

Also, Here's a link to both an article about and the trailer for the new A Wrinkle in Time movie, coming out next March (2018). It looks exceedingly good, and much different from all previous versions I've heard of, but actively avoided.

The 2004 ABC movie (which I heard was impressively dreadful) is responsible for one of the best quotes I've ever heard from an author about an adaptation of their book:
When (L'Engle was) asked if the recent ABC movie of A Wrinkle in Time met her expectations: “Oh, yes. I expected it to be bad, and it is."
Watch the trailer, this one looks to be very different indeed, and unless I hear very much otherwise, I'll be seeing it.

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June 1st, 2017

02:31 am - Recent Media
[personal profile] amberite and I recently went to see Guardians of the Galaxy 2, and while Captain America: The Winter Soldier is still my favorite supers film and also the one I think that is the best, this came in a close second. GotG2 had all the send of fun of the first film, but removed a few of the action scenes and replaced them with more character interaction and fun, well done dialog. Also, it twice did something that I found both surprising and wonderful – it use a big action scene as background – both in the first bit with the huge monster and baby Groot running around, and for part of the final big spaceship battle inside the planet, we saw the battles in the background, while other (more interesting) character stuff happened in the foreground.

From my PoV, this is a brilliant decision. For at least the last 5 years, any vast battle or other fast action + explosions scene anyone could imagine can be filmed, and as a result, to get the same impact and the same visual "wow", film makers have had to go ever bigger and flashier, and eventually that gets very old and tired. Using flashy action as a background is brilliant antidote to this. In addition, it was a fun film that was humane, easily passed the Bechdel Test, and was filled with callbacks to all manner of Marvel space comics. I loved it.

I also loved the Supergirl finale (or more accurately, the last 2 episodes of the season (titled Resist, and Nevertheless She Persisted, because this show knows precisely who their audience is). As a whole, the show has its heart in the right place, but is fairly mediocre, because almost none of the cast has any acting talent, or if they do they certainly aren't demonstrating it here. However, the first 2 episodes of this season featured Tyler Hoechlin playing the absolute best Superman I've ever seen in any media, and Calista Flockhart being utterly awesome in every scene. The 2 episode finale had less Tyler Hoechlin, but Calista Flockhart made up for it by being even more awesome. In these grim days, I enjoy watching Supergirl, but w/o Calista Flockhart, it's definitely a guilty pleasure, since it's simply not all that well done.

In vivid contrast, the Lucifer finale was wonderful – I had absolutely no idea how they would resolve this season's plot, but they did an excellent job, and it remains fun, humane, impressively sex-positive, and utterly surprising, especially for a show that [personal profile] teaotter and I initially watched just to see how impressively stupid and terrible it would be. I also love [personal profile] teaotter's fan theory that the actual reason that all the murder mysteries reflect Lucifer's current emotional processing is that the fact that God put Chloe Decker in Lucifer's path is just the tip of the iceberg, and he's been putting everything in Lucifer's path to "help" him.

Meanwhile, the Arrow season finale was somewhat mediocre – this was definitely a season where they needed to kill off the big bad earlier and switch to a secondary villain, since Prometheus' main character trait was being annoyingly smug, and that got old very rapidly indeed.

In a month, Killjoys returns, and I'm very much looking forward to that, and in the meantime, [personal profile] amberite and I will watch the rest of Sense8, which remains impressively excellent.

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May 24th, 2017

01:46 am - Impressive Speech
Even more than Shrub, 45 sounds like a blithering idiot when he speaks, so it's definitely enjoyable to listen to a well done, inspirational, and genuinely good speech, all of which accurately describes the speech New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu's gave for the long-overdue removal of that city's monuments to the Slaver's Rebellion

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May 20th, 2017

08:29 pm - The Biometrics of Life
Having a health tracking band with a heart-rate monitor (a Garmin Vivosmart HR) has been interesting - while (as I mentioned previously), calculating deep vs. light sleep seems less than accurate (likely in general w/o EEG monitoring), I checked it's heart rate monitor when I went to the doctor, and it was within 1 BPM. Also, was I was specifically looking for (and why I got this device) was that it did continuous heart rate monitoring, and displayed both maximum and average resting heart rate for each day. I recently looked at it and noticed a rather impressive trend - my average resting heart rate is (presumably due to a combination of regularly light-moderate exercise and blessedly good genetics) 63-65, it does sometimes vary from that - specifically both when I visited my parents and immediately before my visit, when the average jumped up into the low 70s, which has never been true before, and clearly means that I was notably more stressed. I can tell when I visit my parents simply via my resting heart rate, which shouldn't be that surprising, but definitely is interesting.

Health Stats - Resting Heart Rate
(the days in red ones when I was with my parents)

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May 17th, 2017

01:56 pm - Say You Want A Revolution
We may be looking at the beginning of the end for 45 – dear gods I hope we are – my favorite phrase relating to the latest series of crazed actions is "Watergate speedrun". However, that won't end our troubles, we may be lucky enough that Pence will get caught up in whatever comes out regarding Russia and collusion (presumably simply because he knew what was happening, rather than he was involved, since while he's a vile grim-eyed fanatic, he's not a narcissistic idiot). However, then we end up with President Ryan (or at least some other important House Republican, who range from bad to unbelievably bad), who would thankfully be hampered by the fact that public opinion of the GOP would be in ruins, which doesn't make anything better, but would go a long way towards keeping things from getting worse.

However, we also have an electorate who are continuing to get further apart ideologically. That's been happening with "conservatives" [[1]] for the past 20 years (and even more so for the last 8 years), and has gotten impressively extreme, but for most of that time, progressives have drifted only slightly left – a trend which ended with 45 being elected. Now I'm seeing a whole lot of people on my side of things become notably more progressive and also more militant in their views. We have become a nation where the political divide is getting wider even faster than before. Also, income inequality is now almost as high as it was in the late 1920s, and the US middle class is visibly doing worse than it was 20 or even 10 years ago. None of this is good, and I've wondered periodically if this may result in some sort of large-scale revolt by one side or the other – impeachment proceedings against 45 or clear proof of knowing collusion between 45 & Russia and Congressional Republicans refusing to begin impeachment both seem like possible triggers for this – the first for the right, the second for the left.

I then thought about the 2 most recent eras when popular sentiment brought about vast political and economic changes, the Great Depression, when most of the Roosevelt reforms managed to get put into law because more than a few political leaders were genuinely worried about public revolt, and the late 1960s, when both anti-war and pro-environmental sentiments lead to large-scale public actions that scared the heck out of political leaders, and lead to all manner of fairly positive laws being passed. The key feature in both eras was that public anger got both strong and widespread enough that it scared politicians into taking action they otherwise wouldn't have (it's clear that Roosevelt would have tried to pass his various reforms regardless, but most of Congress backing them required a fair amount of fear).

I'm committed to non-violence, and think any sort of violent revolution would be horrific for large numbers of people, but it's also clear to me that while getting 45 and Pence out of office are absolute necessities, notably more is needed if we want the US to halt its gradual slide into plutocracy and other vileness, fueled by a small number of deeply evil & ludicrously wealthy white men, who don't want anything getting in the way of them becoming even wealthier and more powerful.

Thinking about it from that perspective, the path is clear, if also exceedingly far from simple – we desperately need public action that goes well beyond marches, even large marches. We need general strikes, the sorts of massive marches that disrupt traffic and commerce, and other actions that simultaneously avoid making the general public too afraid (which largely means avoiding violence), while also scaring lots of politicians (by making it subtly being clear that the next step after these actions might well be large-scale violence). Unfortunately, I have no idea how someone could organize a successful general strike or a series of the sorts of massive protests necessary to begin and keep up this sort of pressure. The various loud and aggressive town hall meetings of GOP Congresspeople are an excellent start, but we need considerably more.

[[1]] A term which has increasingly less meaning, beyond serving as an identifier for a deplorable collection of bigots, greedheads, hate-mongers, religious fanatics, socially conservative libertarians, and old people who aren't willing to accept that the fairly dubious party they used to belong to is now entirely morally bankrupt).

In any case, here's an inspirational video:

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May 14th, 2017

02:53 am - The Best TV I've Seen
After my last post, I found out that a friend of mine had never even heard of Steven Universe, and so this encouraged me to list and describe my absolute favorite TV shows. All of these are from the last 25 years, in large part because while earlier TV had good individual episodes, I found old-style episodic TV to be exceptionally limited, and wouldn't consider much of it to be particularly good or even watchable.

1990s: Note, these shows are all sufficiently old that you can expect levels of subtle (or occasionally not) racism and sexism that are rare on good modern tv – for example sexual harassment was still a topic for humor for at least the first 3 seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space 9)

Revolutionary Girl Utena: A friend once described this as the absolute best visual storytelling she had ever seen. That was almost 20 years ago, and while this might no longer be true, it's still one of the best. This anime is breathtakingly good – it starts out looking like fluff, and builds on itself, layering complexity and detail in ways that are my mark of a well done show. It's also interesting at how most of the secrets are hidden in plain sight. Watch all of it if you haven't seen it. I've watched it 3 times and have gotten more out of it each time

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: I found Firefly to be mediocre, Dollhouse to be not very good, and while Joss Whedon's Marvel films are good, they aren't groundbreaking in any way other than being supers movies that don't suck. However, Whedon earned his reputation with Buffy, and it's well deserved. I'm fairly certain that the female-focused geeky shows and the queer characters that I love would still have existed, but might not have gotten until 4 or 5 years later. This show is well worth watching, and while some of the seasons lag in the middle, it is pretty darn good – at least for the first 5 seasons. There's a lot less good in seasons 6 & 7, which can easily be skipped.

Babylon 5: I gave a lot of thought about whether to include this show in the list. It has major problems, not least of which the first commander is not all that good, and while Bruce Boxleitner does a good job as his replacement, when the show recasts Boxleitner as a messianic religious figure, he's laughably bad – while the show is notably less good, Star Trek: Deep Space 9's Avery Brooks plays a very similar role and does a vastly better job. However, Sinclair and Sheridan aren't why you watch Babylon 5. It has an ensemble cast and most of the other major characters are brilliant. Susan Ivanova is an excellent character as is Michael Garibaldi, and both G'Kar and Londo Mollari are brilliant. Londo Mollari's story arc is the finest classical tragedy I've ever seen on TV. Much of the 5th season isn't good (especially everything to do with the renfairesque telepaths), but the conclusion if Londo's tragedy is well worth watching.

Farscape: The first half of the first season is merely generic SF showing up awesome puppetry, but from there the show goes rapidly and impressively uphill. It's the first SF show I saw where at various points, half and occasionally more than half of the protagonists are female, and it's visually wonderful. Also, I love how they handle the two major villains - Bialar Crais & Scorpius was brilliant. The show ends of a cliffhanger, but is all worth watching, but ignore the made for TV movie The Peacekeeper Wars – it's not very good.

2000s & 2010s: This is modern TV, and while some of these shows are far from perfect, in general they have fewer problems than most earlier shows.

Doctor Who: I no longer watch it, and hate-watched it for a number of seasons, but the first season, with the 9th Doctor (brilliantly played by Christopher Eccleston), is astoundingly worth seeing. I'd also recommend the 3rd season with the 11th Doctor, and Donna Noble (played by Catherine Tate) is quite good, except for the last episode. From my PoV, you miss nothing by not watching the rest of the new Doctor Who.

Fringe: Not a perfect show, but parts of it are excellent. I've only watched a few bits of the first season and have no interest in watching more, and season 5 wasn't good and ended badly, but seasons 2 & 3 form a single ongoing story that has a level of depth and complexity that rivals Utena and is brilliant. Season 4 is mostly good (except for the last episode), but lacks the same level of brilliance. I love it for the complex layering of detail. Smart storytelling which doesn't underestimate its audience isn't common, and like Utena, this is a good example.

The Vampire Diaries: The first few episodes are stunningly terrible, but then it gets vastly better. Start at episode 8, and by 11, it's very good and remains so until the end of Season 3. Season 4 isn't quite as good, and after that it goes downhill rapidly. It's another ensemble cast, with well done female characters. It takes a while, but it also becomes clear that Nina Dobrev is quite an impressive actor.

Orphan Black: It's another show that gets less good with each season, but dear gods was season 1 amazing. Tatiana Maslany is incredible, and it's difficult for me to describe how much I loved the first season, it grabs you in the first episode and doesn't let go.

Hannibal: I didn't watch most of the third season, and I didn't like much of what I did watch, but the first two seasons were amazing. The first episode was brutally grim and I almost didn't watch any more, but after that it went from horrific to ludicrously bizarre in impressively peculiar and stylized manner. If you love food & beautiful decadence, this is the show for you.

Steven Universe: It's deeply humane and makes me feel good, but it's also excellent with many of the same complex storytelling found in Utena. Some of the first few episodes were rocky, but after that almost all of them have been excellent.

Killjoys: It's advertised on the Syfy channel as complete fluff, but it's very good. Also, with the exception of two of the three leads, most of the important characters are female, and are very well done. There are also levels of worldbuilding detail that I find very impressive, especially everything surrounding the scarback monks and their faith.

Lucifer: So Lucifer leaves hell, he runs a nightclub in LA, and then finds a plucky female police detective and together they fight crime. Becca and I watched the first episode merely to see just how terrible it was – it wasn't. It's complex, thoughtful, funny, and impressively sex positive (in a wide variety of ways). For most of the first season, I kept waiting for when the writers would lose whatever bizarre brilliance they had and the show would start to suck, but it never did, and now the second season is almost over, and it remains very good indeed.

Jessica Jones: I find the other Netflix Marvel shows to be too graphically violent to want to watch, and Jessica Jones is almost at the edge of my tolerance for grim TV, but dear gods it's good. It's not easy to watch by any stretch of the imagination, but it's exceptionally well done, and I'm looking forward to the next season.

Sense8: I like almost everything the Wachowskis have done, and this is particularly good. Almost all of the protagonists are interesting and complex, and I love the storytelling. I haven't watched the second season yet, but I'm looking forward to it.

The Good Place: I'll preface this review by saying that I actively loathe comedy TV and movies. I mostly only know of comedy TV by fragments I catch before or after shows I watch, and from what I've seen that's all I ever want to know. I only watched this show because after the season ended Becca read a discussion about it that included a massive spoiler about the last episode and convinced me to watch it with that spoiler, because it made the season actually make sense and not simple be (to me, and to Becca) standard comedy. However, with that in mind, it's very good indeed. I very much doubt I'll watch more comedy, but I'm eager for the second season, despite having absolutely no idea how they'll handle it.

Legion: It's as oddly stylized as Hannibal, but far less grim and also better. I have no idea what season 2 will be like, but I loved season 1. It's fascinating to watch a show where the difference between reality-warping and having a seriously unreliable narrator can blur into invisibility.

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May 13th, 2017

01:26 am - Home Again
I'm home - cuddling with my beloved [personal profile] amberite & [personal profile] teaotter, having my cat Josie sit in my lap, and watching two of this week's 5 episodes of Steven Universe has me feeling far happier - I have any awesome family and feel very loved. I also discovered that Steven Universe is impressively good for detoxing from dealing with my parents.

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May 12th, 2017

03:25 am - Visit Thankfully Over
Today I'm headed home, after having flown to Northern Virginia on Monday to see my parents – I came for my dad's 85th birthday. I'm very pleased with the fact that I won't be back until December, and at that time my partner [personal profile] teaotter will be with me, but sadly not my partner [personal profile] amberite. I visited because while I loathe my mother, at this point I pity her about as much (my analogy for her remains one of those exceedingly mean and aggressive cats that has gotten sufficiently old to be far less aggressive and simply pathetic), since my dad has Alzheimer's and is to the point of forgetting what he's saying halfway through a sentence a moderate portion of the time – having any sort of conversation with him is at best difficult and at worst impossible. At this point, all my mom's friends are either dead or live far away, and so my near daily phone calls are pretty much her only lucid human contact most days.

I've never understood my father (who was always an excellent example of repressed 1950s masculinity and thus even more alien to me than my mother), so I don't miss him, but thinking too much about his state is horrifying. I'm fairly certain that his 2 heart attacks brought on by decades of smoking (which he then quit), triple bypass surgery, seemingly mild, but problematic head injury 11 years ago, depression, Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam, and 25 years of various heart medicines puts him in a vastly different risk category than me, but thinking about ending up that way is appalling. Thankfully, no other relative of mine has ever had Alzheimer's, and almost tend to live anywhere from their 80s to early 100s while being exceedingly lucid.

In any case, I can't wait to get on a plane and return home to people who I love and surroundings that are not quite so epically grim. Once again, I remain both proud and overjoyed that I deliberately rejected my parents' grasping and greed-drive upper middle class culture as well as their their generally vile ways - while even with being an only child who will inherit their money, I'll never be as wealthy as them, but I have been and will be a hell of a lot happier and with a far larger social circle.

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April 21st, 2017

02:23 am - Musings On Machine Learning and My Lovecraftian Worldview
Here's a fascinating, and to me at least, extremely wonderful and hopeful article: Our Machines Now Have Knowledge We’ll Never Understand It's about machine-learning, and the fact that computers win at go by playing in ways that humans don't, and that this is true of pretty much all modern machine learning and AI problem-solving, they don't do things like humans would, and more importantly, they don't create relatively simple laws and formulas from which they can make predictions. Humans do that, but machines don't. Here's one of the key insights: click here for a moderately long, but nifty quoteCollapse ) In short, there's every reason to assume that the universe is too complex for us to understand, but we can use machine learning to discover insights, and techniques for working with it that would be impossible for humans to ever find except by chance, and perhaps not even then.

I can see some people finding this idea disturbing or depressing, but I find it exceedingly exciting. I'd honestly be sad if human brains were capable of encompassing the truths of the universe – that would imply a pretty simple, and from my PoV, rather dull, and likely deterministic universe. Instead, we may have a wildly complex. As J.B.S. Haldane wrote The universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine. In part, this seems obvious, because as I discuss here, it seems likely that all lifeforms have conceptual limits, and there's no reason to suppose we do not.

I find this exciting both because it implies wonders and complexities that will challenge even the post-human beings I hope and rather expect us to become, and also because I describe my worldview as fundamentally Lovecraftian (but definitely not in any sort of nihilistic manner – I find the idea of a carefully ordered universe with an inherent purpose that we did not choose to be vastly more nihilistic than one full of wonder, near infinite possibilities, and just as many choices. I also rather love to idea of gaining insights into the world, which can both provide information and useful technologies, which are based in working with data in ways that humans both don't and can't fully understand. With luck, as we change ourselves to become smarter and capable of deeper insights, the world would continue to be complex beyond our understanding, but also susceptible to ever more sophisticated analysis.

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April 20th, 2017

01:38 pm - Musings About Sissies & Butches
Here's an interesting and thankfully entirely non-transphobic article about a woman and her butch but definitively female-identified daughter

This article reminds me of various comments [personal profile] teaotter has made, that one huge problem with modern constructions of gender is that definitions of male and female have become increasingly narrow, and while we are both pleased that there's increasing awareness of transgendered, non-binary and bi-gendered people, there's absolutely no reason that acknowledging their existence needs to narrow gender categories.

Also, it doesn't look like that's the causation. Instead, it appears that both male and female gender norms began narrowing prior to the most recent surge in transgendered, non-binary and bi-gendered awareness, presumably as a backlash or reaction to both social pressures towards gender equality and growing acceptance of people who are not heterosexual. I'm assuming that at least part of the reason is straight cis people's fear of being assumed to be something other than straight and perhaps cis given that other options are now possible to openly discuss *sigh*.

However, despite such fears, not all male bodied people with gender presentations that don't conform to masculine norms (like me *waves*, with my proud self-definition as a fop and a sissy) are transgendered, non-binary, or bi-gendered (but some definitely are), and in fact, not all such male-bodied people are even gay (although many are).

Similarly, not all female bodied people with gender presentations that don't conform to feminine norms (like [personal profile] teaotter) are transgendered, non-binary, or bi-gendered (but some definitely are), and in fact, not all such female-bodied people are even lesbians (although many are).

Once again, we face the fact that there are no simple answers or formulas for human behavior – living creatures are complicated, and sentient ones are ever more so.

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April 18th, 2017

12:03 am - One Film I Won't See, and One I Definitely Will
I remain impressed at how terrible Zach Synder is at making superhero films, I saw Man of Steel, and found it mediocre, and I actively avoided Batman vs. Superman and Suicide Squad, because they both sounded deeply terrible.

Now we have two very different supers films coming out this November: Justice League, and Thor: Ragnarok. I haven't loved all of the Marvel supers films, but they've all been watchable and at least mildly fun (even, shockingly Ant-Man, and some have been excellent. The difference in sensibility could not be more clearly revealed than by watching these trailers for the two upcoming films. I'm putting the trailer for Thor: Ragnarok second as a chaser to clear the grime of the first trailer out of your mind.

Justice League

Thor: Ragnarok

For me, one of these films looks like a lot of fun and the other looks ponderous, grim, and simply bad.
I also am fairly certain I know the reason Zach Synder's supers films suck so much – Batman, or (as [personal profile] teaotter, who is a big fan of Batman was quick to point out, specifically Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, a graphic novel that I failed to finish when it came out because I have never been impressed with Frank Miller, but I read enough of it to understand that this particularly grim and ultra-gritty view of Batman has informed far too many movie and TV portrayals of Batman (the IMHO impressively terrible TV show Gotham leaps to mind), but no one has taken Miller's ideas as much to heart as Zach Snyder – as I see it, Man of Steel looked and felt like it did both because Snyder was setting Superman up to meet Batman, and more importantly because like too many other, he has decided that if supers media doesn't both look exceptionally bleak and come with extra helpings of grim ultra-violence, then it's "just embarrassing kid stuff", and that any trace of fun is some sort of admission of weakness and (worst of all) immaturity.

Contrast that with all of the Marvel films, from the more serious and impressively excellent films like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, to fun goodness like Guardians of the Galaxy. These are films made by people who aren't embarrassed by superheroes and who don't think fun is bad.

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April 15th, 2017

05:33 pm - Awesome Fanfic or Film Idea
[personal profile] teaotter and I both very much enjoy the Fast & Furious films, and we also both enjoyed the latest trailer for Thor: Ragnarok. After talking about that film and what we hoped it would be (and the fact that it introduced 2 new important female characters, that looked like a hell of a lot of fun, and that it would be even better if it included Thor, Bruce Banner/the Hulk, and maybe Valkyrie on a road trip around the galaxy), [personal profile] teaotter had an idea for a crossover between Thor and the Fast and Furious films.

I immediately ran with that, and together we came up with an idea for a film that would never be made, but which would make a truly awesome novel-length fanfic. You start out with Thor and Valkyrie wandering around the universe, and then the Fast & Furious crew get kidnapped into space, where they need to win a race to save the Earth from alien conquest or some similar (not particularly relevant to the story) goal, because some villain has a plan, and the race is part of it.

Obviously, Thor & Valkyrie are driving in the same race. You'd also want Loki in the race, where he seems to be working for the villain, but is in actuality being threatened into working for the villain (like one popular theory for what Loki was actually up to in The Avengers). For extra fun, toss in Darcy from the Thor films – in this case she was kidnapped by the villain and both notices that Loki is far more the villain's pawn than their ally, and helps convince Loki to get himself (and Darcy) out from under the villain's thumb.

The film or fic would then include car races though all manner of SF & fantasy terrain, presumably including a race along the back of the Midgard Serpent (with a few of the villain's actual allies' cars getting eaten by the serpent), as well as a climactic scene where Dom, Mia, and Brian (who you'd need for this) talk to Thor and Loki about the importance of family. When Loki objects that he's not actually related, Dom says something about how "family is about more than just blood" – extra points if Thor and Loki both bond over the fact that Odin is an abusive jerk.

Ideally, either Valkyrie manages to enchant the Fast & Furious team's cars ([personal profile] teaotter suggested that perhaps any steed Valkyrie uses becomes enchanted, maybe she helps out by taking each of the cars for a short spin) or (for a more gonzo approach) some of the cars end up with Infinity Stones (which by the end, stay with the cars, as Dom and Mia suggest that no one will think of looking for the Infinity Stones there). As a fic, there would also be some awesome Dom/Thor slash.

[personal profile] teaotter and I agreed that we'd watch or read the hell out of the result. Sadly, such a film will never be made, and I don't write fiction and it's outside the range of [personal profile] teaotter's fic, but it's impressively fun to think about.

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April 14th, 2017

09:13 pm - Musings On Charisma and Leadership
I found this article on charisma and humble vs narcissistic leaders sad but not at all surprising.

Almost more than anything wrt politics, I wish that charisma had at least less of a place in politics than it does, especially in the US. As I've mentioned before, I simply don't trust charisma in politicians, and am not particularly inclined to trust or respond positively to a charismatic leader than one who isn't, even a charismatic leader who shares many of my views. I thought it was nifty that Barack Obama was a geek who seemed to have a genuinely happy and loving family, and I think he's quite attractive, but none of that had anything to do with why I voted for him in both 2008 & 2012 – I voted for him because Republican candidates are (at least at a federal level) universally evil and horrific, and I agreed with many (but definitely not all) of Obama's policies. I didn't find Hillary Clinton to be particularly charismatic, but I voted for her with equal enthusiasm, and was dismayed to understand that she would have almost certainly won by a landslide if someone with the same positions and liabilities who was a tall charismatic man would have won almost certainly won by a landslide.

I love seeing charismatic actors and performers on screens both large and small, but their job is to entertain, not to make decisions governing the lives of millions or even hundreds of millions of people. My ideal political system would be one where people voted for parties and not individuals, and would greatly prefer one where the party in power selected a prime minister from among their number than to have people voting for what far too many of them feel to be their sacred-king-for-4-to-8-years. Sadly, most US voters like the idea of charismatic leaders, and most voters across the world pick representative for qualities like "likability" or being "a person like them" in terms of background, interests, or subcultural identification, rather than what policies they vote for – which is how you got situations like our current idiot in chief, or the fact that most Americans didn't support the positions Ronald Reagan supported, but they found him likeable and so they voted for him anyway. I'll never understand that sort of thinking, and I'm not certain I want to. My ideal politician is a rather boring policy wonk who has good ideas, but knows when to change them if fact and circumstance dictates that they won't work.

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March 27th, 2017

02:42 am - Anime, Me, and A Very Peculiar Old Show
Despite my age, as a small child I watched a fair amount of anime, and in general they were my favorite cartoons (although I had no idea many of them were from Japan, they were merely better than anything else I was watching). The very first cartoon I can remember watching, was when I was around 4 or 5, and was Kimba the White Lion, and a bit later, I watched Astro Boy (which I thought was pretty bad), and Marine Boy (which I loved). Of course, all were dubbed in English, and likely edited.

Recently, while looking up information about when anime first started getting long-term story arcs (a question I still have no clear answer to, other than definitely by the 1980s), I looked up a cartoon I remember particularly loving. In the US, it was called Tobor the 8th Man, about a police officer who was killed, and his mind transferred into a truly awesome robot body, which even when I was less than 10 years old, was something I loved the idea of – to digress a bit, when I learned the term transhumanism in the 1990s, my reaction was "So that's what my oldest and most enduring interest/belief set is called".

In any case, in reading the linked article, I learned why I don't remember seeing much of Tobor the 8th Man - I didn't remember until looking at the link, that the robot body recharged by smoking "energy cigarettes" (which may have seemed like a reasonable idea in 1960s Japan, but today sounds like a covert ad campaign by Japanese cigarette companies), and when US laws regarding portraying smoking on TV changed, the show was dropped, because the protagonist smoking was an essential part of the show. Thankfully, watching that show had no propagandistic effect on me, since (because both my parents smoked), I always found it to be utterly disgusting.

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March 15th, 2017

01:23 am - My Hugo Nominees
So, the deadline for Hugo Awards Nominations is in 2 days, so I thought I'd put up my list. I looked at the list of nominees for the Nebula Award, and mostly agreed with their choices for the various short fiction pieces and honestly don't read that much short fiction. However, my choice for best novel differs drastically from the Nebula Nominees, and with one exception (noted below) I think all of my choices are superior to those

Best Novel
  • The Raven and the Reindeer, by T. Kingfisher; Red Wombat Tea Co.
    Her best work to date. I quite like Vernon's books written at T. Kingfisher, but this one goes from good and fun to truly wonderful
  • Memories of Ash, by Intisar Khanani; Purple Monkey Press
    Excellent fantasy, this and the previous (and first) novel in the series Sunbolt are rich and wonderful
  • Four Roads Cross, by Max Gladstone; Tor Books
    My favorite of his novels so far, I particularly enjoyed seeing how things have progressed in Alt Coulumb and how that interacts with the rest of the setting so far. Fantasy is not typically a genre with lots of political and social commentary, but these books do an excellent job of it.
  • Occupy Me, by Tricia Sullivan; Gollancz
    Strange, wonderful, and unexpected. I read it last month and revised my entry after I read it, it's up there with The Raven and the Reindeer and my two favorites of the five here.
  • False Hearts, by Laura Lam; Tor Books
    Excellent and powerful near future SF
If there was space for a sixth nomination, I'd definitely put Ninefox Gambit byYoon Ha Lee on this list, and honestly it's as good as any of the books on this list, and I only didn't list it because it's up for a Nebula Award and the others on my list aren't.

Best Novella
  • The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, by Kij Johnson (Tor.com Publishing)
  • Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing)
    Both of these are both brilliant and wonderful.
I haven't read any of the other Nebula Award nominated novellas, but these two are quite excellent.

Best Dramatic Long Form
Arrival, Paramount Pictures
Definitely the best SF film of the year, and Rogue One (which was very good) doesn't need more votes, so I'm just voting for Arrival.

Best Dramatic Short Form
  • "The Adventures of Supergirl", from Supergirl</em>, on The CW
    This season, I enjoy this show notably more than before, but the first two episodes are by far the best, with both Calista Flockhart doing a wonderful job as Cat Grant, and Tyler Hoechlin playing the absolute best and most perfect Superman I've ever seen in any film or TV show.
  • "Vertical Mobility", from Incorporated, on SyFy
    An excellent and disturbing modern cyberpunk show sadly perfect for the state of the modern US.
  • "First Contact", from Cleverman, on Sundance TV (US)
    Even more disturbing, just as relevant, and really good.

Best Series
  • The Craft Sequence; Max Gladstone; eligible novel: Four Roads Cross; Tor
    This series is here for the same reason that I nominated Four Roads Cross, excellent world-building, wonderful characters, and wonderfully done social and political commentary
  • The Commonweal; Graydon Saunders, eligible novel Safely You Deliver; Tall Woods Books
  • The Lady Trent Memoirs, by Marie Brennan, eligible novel In the Labyrinth of Drakes; Tor
    Pseudo Victorian natural history with dragons, it's fun, well written, and wonderful
All three series are wonderful and well worth reading.

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February 22nd, 2017

06:24 pm - Musings On Basic Income
There are a number of excellent arguments against basic income including this one from the UK, and there's the simple fact that if you want a solid social safety net, paying everyone, including the majority of the society who don't need it isn't necessarily the most efficient or effective method. I thought a lot about basic income a couple of years ago, and after considering these arguments decided it might not be the best course of action. However recently considered one counter-argument that (to me at least) makes all of these objections irrelevant – resentment.

The politics of bitter, hate-filled resentment is much of the reason the US and the UK are both now having considerable problems, and much of Western Europe may be headed in the same direction. It's more difficult for me to talk about anywhere else, but in the US at least, the data is clear, the rise of President Puppet wasn't due to economic deprivation, it was due to the fact that white bigots felt that other people (immigrants, people of color, urbanites, and in fact anyone who isn't a white bigot) were doing better than before (despite that fact that many of them still weren't doing as well as the white bigots), while the white bigots were mostly doing about the same, and they (the white bigots) were both jealous and afraid they'd lose out. This resentment (fueled by President Puppet and his white supremacist traveling show) motivated them to get out and vote. Until we manage to improve humanity in some global way (better education is a good start, and breaking any sort of moral link between money and human worth would be an equally good one), these sorts of resentment will continue to exist. As a result, it's far too easy for people who aren't benefiting from social safety net programs to vote to cut them. Also, one of the continuing problems with all social welfare programs is that the ultra-rich (who mostly loathe paying taxes) spend money on propaganda campaigns aimed at fueling working class resentment against social safety net programs for people poorer than them, using the time-honored tactic of "How about you and them fight".

Basic income utterly defangs all that. Sure, many 1%ers and 0.1%ers who would need to pay notably higher taxes to make this work care more about the taxes they lose than the $10,000/year they gain, but in addition to vastly helping out someone who makes $5-10,000 year, an extra $10,000 is going to be pretty noticeably to someone who makes $40,000 year. As a result, any vote to decrease basic income is a vote to get less money yourself, and that's simply something that most people aren't willing to do. Thus, I've again changed my mind and am strongly for the idea of basic income.

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January 30th, 2017

02:01 am - New TV - Riverdale
I have no words about the current madness in the US that others haven't said better, but I can perhaps speak more eloquently about recent TV. [personal profile] teaotter and I tried the new CW show Riverdale, based on the Archie comics, but with a dark brooding sensibility. The premier was surprisingly good and also simply surprising. When was the last time you saw a (well done) reference to Truman Capote's work on any TV drama, but less a teen show on the CW? Also, unsurprisingly for the CW, but a feature I quite like, the plot seems to be moving rapidly along. I have no idea where the show is going or even what it's mostly going to be about, but the first episode was interesting and well done. It was also very surprising in an unexpected way – it felt exceedingly and quite deliberately mid 20th century, from the Truman Capote reference, to the look at feel (which was both definitely modern day and also had touches of the mid 1950s), to one character who was very much the Serious Young Novelist of precisely the 1950s young intellectual author stereotype.

All of this was all clearly done by conscious choice, and the show was trying very hard to get a particular feel and mood, and mostly succeeded. The mid-century feel was also pleasantly and well modernized with the inclusion of a canonical queer character who is openly and cheerfully gay, as well as the female characters being clearly important, treated seriously, and at least a numerous as the male ones.

However, there was also one rather obvious and major downside to the 1950s feel – the mythic/cinematic 1950s being evoked is exceedingly white and while it may include some black characters, it's a milieu largely devoid of any other people of color, and that was sadly also true of the show. There were two black characters with speaking parts, two other black characters who may be important later, and a vast sea of whiteness. Of course, it was also the first episode and there's plenty of opportunity for them to introduce additional characters. Definitely worth looking at, but also not without problems.

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January 20th, 2017

01:42 am - Thoughts on Ways To Hack the Puppet
Yesterday, my partner [personal profile] teaotter had an interesting idea about incoming President Puppet, that he might not be lying in one of his recent statements – that he really is a germaphobe. Then, she did some research, and it seems to be true, up to the level that he avoids pushing elevator buttons and such. [personal profile] teaotter thought that this might be one of the reasons that he is so impressively unwilling to travel in planes and sleep in buildings he doesn't own. Naturally, my first thought is that people could weaponize the hell out of this. The easiest tactic would be foreign leaders to make certain to have some people sneezing or coughing around President Puppet, to both distract him and also to make him wish to cut the visit short and this give them anything they want to he can escape their germs. However, we might also be able to use this ourselves.

I'd dearly love to see people throwing dirty diapers at him (and to watch his reaction afterwards), but that would result in arrest and possibly being shot, so that's a terrible idea unless someone can figure out how to manage it and not get caught. However, if he goes with his (horrifying sounding) plays for frequent public rallies, then he'll likely need to be somewhat near the public when coming or going, and sneezing or coughing on or at least near him might be possible.

My ideal would be to reduce him to a babbling & terrified bundle of panic, but unsettling him would be a good start, and would make him more likely seem angry, weak, and also be more inclined to fight with Republicans in Congress, which is clearly to our benefit. Also, both because this is more of an issue for conservatives (according to Jonathan Haidt's research on "moral foundations"), and also because President Puppet seems to be a germaphobe, he almost certainly has unusually strong disgust reactions, and so promoting images of (especially of him) that include various disgust triggers might also help us.

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January 17th, 2017

05:36 pm - Bitey Cats
So, [personal profile] teaotter and I were sitting on the couch, and my cat Josie was in my lap (her preferred location). Josie is a very loving lap cat, but is (presumably in part because she's a tortie) also somewhat inclined to bite, especially when she gets overstimulated. She never bites exceedingly hard, but often well into "Oww! Stop that." territory. She had that look, and was facing me (seeing the hand that's petting her makes Josie more inclined to bite it, since according to Josie, all moving things can be attacked and played with), but also clearly very much wanted me to pet her.

[personal profile] teaotter: then said "Josie is now all 'I want love, but I may hurt you.'"

Me: That's like the lyrics of at least a quarter of all pop songs.

[personal profile] teaotter: If many of the people in those songs would admit when they were getting overstimulated and that they might bite, we'd likely live in a better world.

In any case, here's one of my favorite pics of Josie:

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January 10th, 2017

01:41 am - Images of Nigeria & of Africa in general in SF&F
In the past several months, I've read two novels set in Nigeria, one by a Nigerian living in the UK (Tade Thompson), and the other by someone whose parents moved to the US from Nigeria and who has repeatedly visited Nigeria (Nnedi Okorafor). Thompson's novel Rosewater is SF set in a near future Nigeria and which I decided to buy after a review by James Nicoll as well as (correct) assurance on his LJ that it wasn't too grim (although it was very far from an optimistic novel).

I'd heard many positive things about Nnedi Okorafor's writing for a number of years, after she won the World Fantasy Award and much acclaim for her novel Who Fears Death, but I didn't read it, and never plan to, because by all reports it's impressively grim and bleak, and that's remarkably far from my preference. I avoided her work for that reason, until last year's Hugo Awards, when her novella Binti was nominated, and won. It was brilliant and pleasantly non-bleak, and I happily voted for it. I was unaware that she had written other novels that I was willing to read, but recently ran into mention of her novel Akata Witch, because it has a sequel coming out sometime relatively soon.

I loved Akata Witch, in large part because it's both a very standard YA novel of the sort where a teen learns she can perform magic and begins studying it with several other teens that she becomes friends with. It's well written, fun, hits all the tropes quite well, but it is also set in Nigeria, that style of magic is Nigerian, and these facts are deeply woven into the fabric of the novel.

It's also fascinating and nifty for me to have a (small) data set of novels set in Nigeria, written by people who know this nation to some degree as an insider, and to see how they differ. The two versions of Nigeria in the two novels are very different, in large part because the protagonist of Rosewater used to be a petty criminal and has first hand experience with that nation's criminal subculture and with lethal vigilante justice, and the protagonist of Akata Witch is a middle class urban teen who has no contact with any of this.

Discussing these novels also reminds me of a prior post I made about novels written about non-white protagonists by people who and aren't members of that race, but in this case, I'm thinking about novels by people who are and aren't (to at least some degree) people who are part of a particular nation's culture. Although the author is white, South African author Charlie Human's two novels & Apocalypse Now Now & it's sequel Kill Baxter provide a very vivid sense of life in Capetown and other parts of South Africa, but it's more difficult for me to judge, because I haven't read novels set there by anyone else.

Prior to reading any of these novels, the best SF&F novels I'd read set in Africa were both by white residents of the UK, Evolution's Shore (published as Chaga in the UK) & it's sequel Kirinya, by Ian McDonald, and the Poseidon's Children trilogy by Alastair Reynolds. I think all of these books are excellent and I loved reading them (and very much hope that someday Ian McDonald finishes what looked to be another book in his series, since I can definitely see room for one), but they are very much novels written by outsiders. McDonald's novel has a white woman from the UK and her daughter as his protagonists, and Reynolds' novels are all set several centuries in the future in an Africa that doesn't resemble anyplace in our world all that much.

As with my previous post, there's a depth and a sense of culture and connection that I find in the novels by Tade Thompson, Nnedi Okorafor, and Charlie Human that I don't find in those by Ian McDonald or Alastair Reynolds, and also a different perspective on race in those by Thompson and Okorafor.

It sometime feels a bit odd to me to look at the far greater diversity now available in media while awaiting the incoming US government, but I highly recommend both Rosewater & Akata Witch.

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