Day One

Two brief thoughts on today’s inauguration.

I keep thinking that I should say something to mark the day, but I really don’t know what to say that hasn’t been said already by many other people, more eloquently than I’m likely to do.

So, instead, I’ll just say two things.

First, that I see this as a very unfortunate day, and I only hope that the next four years aren’t as bad as I fear they are going to be.

And second, midterm elections are in just under two years, and the next presidential election in just under four.

Vote.

Good Riddance, 2016

2016 is done. 2017 is here. Let’s make it ours.

As with many people out there, I’m very ready for this year to finally be over.

I had high hopes for 2016. Instead, we’ve dealt with blow after blow as childhood idols of stage, screen, and song died, and as fear, bigotry, racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and hatred resulted in the least qualified presidential candidate in living memory to be elected to office. Throughout the year, it felt like blow after blow, like every moment of optimism was swiftly met with a swift and severe backlash, and as if the world just got successively darker each day.

This year has been filled with tragedy on scales both large and small, and has frequently been difficult to deal with. But, of course, that’s what we do, and as the cliché goes, what doesn’t kill me gives me a dark sense of humor and unhealthy coping mechanisms (okay, so that version might actually be a Facebook meme), and it’s time to give this year a swift kick in the ass on its way out the door.

2017 is here in just a few hours (for me, at least), and we’ve got a lot of work to do. It’s said that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice — and I believe this, but I also think it’s obvious that we need to do what we can to help it along. We’ve had a hard year, we’ve weathered some pretty serious blows, and lost a number of allies. But there are still many of us here, willing and able to fight for what’s right, for ourselves, for those we love, and for those who cannot fight for themselves.

2016 is done. 2017 is here. Let’s make it ours.

Rogue One Mini-Review and Machete Order Thoughts

A brief review of Rogue One, and some thoughts on why I don’t think it should be part of the Machete Order.

I saw Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (man, that full title is clunky) last night, and really enjoyed it. Here’s the brief mini-review I posted to Facebook:

Brief spoiler-free review of Rogue One: as many have already said, it’s good, and well worth seeing in the theater. Manages to be very much a part of the established Star Wars universe while also being very different from every other Star Wars film made to date — and, yes, part of that is that it’s darker than the rest, and parents might not want to assume that young ones will be fine with this one just because it’s part of the Star Wars universe. Very effectively sits just before A New Hope while also being a very modern film; I was particularly impressed with how well they pulled this off, especially as so many of the costumes and hairstyles had to be consistent with the very ’70s aesthetic of ANH. Lots of little (and some not so little) touches, Easter eggs, and in-jokes for long-time fans to enjoy (one conversation between a couple stormtroopers made me laugh out loud, and I didn’t hear anyone else react to it; it didn’t seem that obscure to me, but maybe this Trekkie has a bit more Star Wars cred than I’d have thought). I’ll enjoy watching this one again down the line.

In another discussion, a friend asked where Rogue One should go in a Star Wars binge based on the Machete Order (which omits Ep. I, and puts Eps. II and III between V and VI, for a final viewing order of IV-V-II-III-VI). My initial thought was to just drop RO in at the beginning, since chronologically it comes just before ANH. When combined with The Force Awakens, this would make a full Machete viewing of RO-IV-V-II-III-VI-VII).

On further reflection, though, I actually think that RO (and, most likely, the rest of the forthcoming standalone films) should be omitted from the lineup, and that Machete Order should be restricted to the “primary” films (those with formal episode numbers).

(Keep in mind, the following is from the theoretical perspective of subjecting someone to a Star Wars immersion course under the assumption that they’ve never seen the films and are so divorced from popular culture that they don’t know the characters, beats, or revelations. So, basically, this is a fun little bit of geekery not very related to the real world at all.)

Spoilers for various films in the Star Wars saga up to and including Rogue One follow, so I’ll just drop the rest of this post behind a cut…

Continue reading “Rogue One Mini-Review and Machete Order Thoughts”

Ashley’s Sack (and A Small Rant on Bad Word Choices)

Neat historical work, but to the author of this PR piece: please stop using ‘females’ instead of ‘women’.

CWU Professor Mark Auslander has researched and proposed likely identities for the names on Ashley’s Sack, a piece of embroidery from 1921 tracing one family’s lineage through slavery. Really neat work digging into American history.

For almost a decade, a slavery-era artifact known as “Ashley’s Sack” has intrigued historians unable to identify Ashley—the girl’s name preserved in needlework. The Smithsonian, where the sack is on display, may now attribute the recent discovery of Ashley’s identity to Central Washington University Professor Mark Auslander.

Auslander, who teaches in the department of Anthropology and Museum Studies and is director for the Museum of Culture and Environment spent the last year researching the lineage of the three women whose names were needle worked into the cloth. Research led him to North Carolina and Philadelphia where he searched slave, court and estate records, as well as early bank and census data.

“The object has become a kind of obsession for me during this past year,” said Auslander.

His findings were recently published in the article “Slavery’s Traces: In Search of Ashley’s Sack,” in the noted academic journal Southern Spaces.

Ashley’s Sack, on loan from Middleton Place in South Carolina, is currently on exhibit in the newly opened Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. 

However, reading CWU’s writeup of the news has one unfortunate bit that really stood out to me (emphasis mine):

The original object was found in 2007 at a flea market in the small town of Springfield, Tennessee. Little was known of its history, but it gained great attention by historians and academics. Even less was known about the females listed on the sack.

This really, really should have read, “Even less was known about the women listed on the sack.”

Using “females” instead of “women” is rude and dehumanizing, and to do so within the context of a historical artifact of the slavery era makes it even worse. Just don’t do it (especially if you’re writing for an institute of higher learning, and again especially if your writing about an artifact of an era where the dehumanization of an entire race, let alone gender, was the norm).

Resistance is Not Futile

The day we accept ANY of this as normal, we have already lost. Fascism accumulates power by pushing people, by testing us, by testing boundaries.

Danielle Muscato, in an interview after her Twitter rant following Trump’s latest SNL whine:

We must resist. Bottom line, resist. That’s why yesterday, I was using the hashtag #RESIST. The day we accept ANY of this as normal, we have already lost. Fascism accumulates power by pushing people, by testing us, by testing boundaries. We must call him out literally every time he says or proposes something that is unacceptable; we must actually label it as “unacceptable”; and we must demand change. From access to health care, to LGBTQ rights, to international relations, to so much more, complacency is literally death in this case, for potentially millions of people around the world, and also for people here in the USA. If you do not already, I encourage everyone reading this to start identifying, personally, as an activist, and to work toward that end accordingly. Resistance, en masse, is our only hope.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

If you’re not a fan, I totally understand — but for me, it will remain a staple of my winter playlists.

We’re once again in the holiday season, which means it’s time for everyone’s favorite winter song debate: Is Baby, It’s Cold Outside acceptable or not?

Personally, while I certainly understand why lots of people today find it objectionable (and are even rewriting the lyrics), particularly due to the “hey, what’s in that drink?” line, I think it’s important to look at the original context of the song:

I’ve heard the take on “Baby” as “rapey” a couple of times over the years and the concern about the song usually centers in on one line: “Say, what’s in this drink,” which many contemporary listeners assume is a reference to a date rape drug. But narrowing in on this particular line divorces it from its own internal context, and having only passing familiarity with the song divorces it from its cultural context.

The structure of “Baby” is a back and forth conversation between the male and female singers. Every line the woman utters is answered by him, until they come together at the end of the song. When we just look at “Say, what’s in this drink,” we ignore the lines that proceed and follow this, which are what indicates to the listener how we’re supposed to read the context.

Personally, I’m a fan of the song. And thanks to that Wikipedia article I linked up above, it turns out that though written in 1944, it was broadly popularized in the 1949 film Neptune’s Daughter (which I’ve never seen), in which it’s performed twice: once by Ricardo Montalbán (Khan!) and Esther Williams, which in staging, I have to admit, seems to hew fairly close to today’s interpretation of the song, with Montalbán coming across as predatory; then again by Red Skelton and Betty Garrett, in which the roles are reversed as Garrett tries to keep Skelton from leaving.

If you’re not a fan, I totally understand — but for me, it will remain a staple of my winter playlists.

Talk About What We Are Actually Talking About

Don’t let the apologists and obfuscations dominate the conversation. Name things for what they are.

Excellent piece in the New Yorker by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie:

America loves winners, but victory does not absolve. Victory, especially a slender one decided by a few thousand votes in a handful of states, does not guarantee respect. Nobody automatically deserves deference on ascending to the leadership of any country. American journalists know this only too well when reporting on foreign leaders—their default mode with Africans, for instance, is nearly always barely concealed disdain. President Obama endured disrespect from all quarters. By far the most egregious insult directed toward him, the racist movement tamely termed “birtherism,” was championed by Trump.

Yet a day after the election, people spoke of the vitriol between Barack Obama and Donald Trump. No, the vitriol was Trump’s. Now is the time to burn false equivalencies forever. Pretending that both sides of an issue are equal when they are not is not “balanced” journalism; it is a fairy tale—and, unlike most fairy tales, a disingenuous one.

Now is the time to refuse the blurring of memory. Each mention of “gridlock” under Obama must be wrought in truth: that “gridlock” was a deliberate and systematic refusal of the Republican Congress to work with him. Now is the time to call things what they actually are, because language can illuminate truth as much as it can obfuscate it. Now is the time to forge new words. “Alt-right” is benign. “White-supremacist right” is more accurate.

Now is the time to talk about what we are actually talking about.

Don’t let the apologists and obfuscations dominate the conversation. Name things for what they are.

Fighting Authoritarianism

Important lessons from history to keep in mind over the upcoming years.

Yale history professor Timothy Snyder posted this list of twenty lessons to consider when fighting authoritarianism. These are just the bullet points, I highly recommend reading the full thing (either the original post, or this mirror by Jason Kottke).

  1. Do not obey in advance.
  2. Defend an institution.
  3. Recall professional ethics.
  4. When listening to politicians, distinguish certain words.
  5. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives.
  6. Be kind to our language.
  7. Stand out.
  8. Believe in truth.
  9. Investigate.
  10. Practice corporeal politics.
  11. Make eye contact and small talk.
  12. Take responsibility for the face of the world.
  13. Hinder the one-party state.
  14. Give regularly to good causes, if you can.
  15. Establish a private life.
  16. Learn from others in other countries.
  17. Watch out for the paramilitaries.
  18. Be reflective if you must be armed.
  19. Be as courageous as you can.
  20. Be a patriot.

Giving Tuesday

For Giving Tuesday, I’m adding two more organizations to my monthly donations.

Today is Giving Tuesday, “a global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration.”

Celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) and the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday kicks off the charitable season, when many focus on their holiday and end-of-year giving.

Earlier this month, I set up recurring donations to Planned Parenthood, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the ACLU. Today, I’ve added Lambda Legal and the NAACP to my list of recurring monthly donations.

As before, it’s not a lot at once; $5/month to each of them, for a total of $25/month in donations. But I know I can comfortably do that, every little bit helps, and it will add up over time.

If you’d like to donate — one-time donations or recurring — but aren’t sure where to go, in addition to those above, this is a good list of worthy organizations that can use support.

Edited to add: I also volunteer for Norwescon, donating time throughout the year to help produce this Seattle-area science-fiction and fantasy convention, and have done so for most of the past decade. It’s a different focus than the organizations listed above, but it’s an organization I’m very glad to be a part of. Keep local organizations in mind as you look for ways you can help your communities.

Wishlists

For holiday considerations: my Amazon wish lists, or a few organizations that I think are worth donating to.

Because…well, why not? My Amazon wish lists are more a way for me to keep track of things I’d like to pick up someday, and not really kept with any expectations that some random person out there will spend money on me. But I’ve been surprised a time or two in the past. So here, in roughly ascending order from “most likely to be reasonable gifts” to “not at all likely”, here are my lists:

Random Nifty Bits: A catch-all list for stuff that catches my eye but doesn’t fit into one of the other lists.

Print Media: Books; things to read.

Movies: Movies and TV shows; things to stare at while sitting on my butt.

Lego: Little colored plastic bits to assemble.

Electronic Gagets and Gizmos: Right now, just a DJ controller.

Photography Bits: Cameras, lenses, and other accessories.

I’d also be quite happy to hear of donations to organizations like Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, the EFF, the SPLC, Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders, or other such groups.