letters, Johnson & DeVos

Sep. 24th, 2017 08:25 am
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Default)
[personal profile] truepenny
Dear Senator Johnson:

You have been saying terrible things about people with "pre-existing" conditions for all of 2017, comparing us to cars, saying that we should pay more for our healthcare, even though most "pre-existing" conditions are not caused by anything a person does or by bad choices they make. In fact, since pregnancy is a "pre-existing condition," you are actively punishing people for having families--which seems to run counter to the agenda the Republican Party has been pushing for years The Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson proposal, which callously strips all protections from people like me (and which makes it entirely possible that a premature baby will hit his or her lifetime cap before leaving the hospital for the first time), makes it clear that in fact you have no idea of what it's like not to be able to afford healthcare, or to have a chronic, incurable condition, and that you don't even have enough imagination to be able to empathize with the people whose lives you are destroying.

Moreover, given that there is astonishing unity among healthcare professionals, patients' interest groups, and major insurers (plus all fifty Medicaid administrators and a current count of eighteen governors), it is quite clear that you aren't doing this because it's a good idea. You don't care whether it will be good or bad for your constituents. All you care about--and more than one of your Republican colleagues have admitted as much--is repealing "Obamacare." You're doing this because you made a campaign promise, and you're too blindly self-centered to see that this is a promise that would be better honored in the breach than in the observance. You and your colleagues are behaving childishly, destroying something only because you hate the person who built it. The ACA is not failing, as you keep claiming it is, Senator. It is suffering mightily from obstructionism and deliberate sabotage from you and your colleagues, and, yes, it does need reform. But your proposal isn't reform. It's wanton demolition of legislation that is working, legislation that is succeeding in making the lives of Americans better, demolition which you are pushing without the slightest consideration of its effects on the people you claim you serve.

I'm not writing this letter because I expect you will change your mind--or, frankly, even read it. I'm writing this letter because I'm angry and scared and unbelievably frustrated with your deliberately cruel and blindly stupid determination to do something that no one in this country wants. You won't change your mind, but you can't say you didn't know there was opposition.

P.S. I'd still really like to see you denounce white supremacism, Senator. Because right now, I unwillingly believe you don't think there's anything wrong with it.

***

Dear Ms. DeVos:

I am appalled at your decision to roll back the protections given to sexual assault survivors by Title IX. I'm not surprised, because it's perfectly in line with the other cruel, short-sighted, and bigoted decisions you've made since being appointed Secretary of Education, but I honestly wonder (and I wonder this about a number of Trump appointees, so you needn't think you're alone) how you live with yourself. How do you justify, even if only to yourself, the damage you're doing? Do you believe the lies you tell?

I'm not going to quote statistics, because I'm sure they've been shown to you. I'm not going to try to change your mind with personal stories. I am going to ask, futilely, that you stop and truly think about the young women whose college careers, already catastrophically imperiled by the sexual assault they have survived, may be destroyed because of the policies you're implementing. And I'm going to ask how on earth you think this destruction is part of your mandate as Secretary of Education?

Everyone's civil rights need to be respected. I believe this strongly enough to belong to the ACLU. But victims' rights are historically ignored, trampled on, and outright broken, especially in cases of sexual assault, especially when the perpetrator is white and male. I also strongly believe that the purpose of government should be to ensure that privilege is not used to skew justice. It was already crushingly difficult for sexual assault survivors to report their assailants. You have made it that much harder, and that much more likely that they will simply remain silent. I cannot help thinking that that silence is your goal, and that, Ms. DeVos, is truly shameful.

Review: A Crime to Remember

Sep. 23rd, 2017 08:46 am
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Default)
[personal profile] truepenny
Not about books, but definitely a review.

Hulu has episodes from 3 seasons of A Crime to Remember, which is an Investigation Discovery show. In my ongoing love/hate relationship with true crime media, ID stands out for their high production values and for about as unexploitative an attitude as you can have. (I wonder, perhaps unworthily, if part of what makes ACtR seem thoughtful rather than vulture-like is that the executive producer and a bunch of the writers & directors are women.) I have also been very fond of Homicide Hunter, partly because the show does not try to sugarcoat Lt. Joe Kenda at all. He's very good at his job, and he is a ruthless avenging angel, but he is not a nice man. I kind of adore him. (I'm pretty sure he'd hate me, but that's okay.)

But ACtR. All the episodes are period pieces. (I joked to my therapist that they must have come up with the idea because they wanted everyone to be able to smoke on camera.) I'm not super fond of the gimmick, in which every episode has a narrator who is a minor fictional character in the real crime being portrayed, but most of the time it works okay. (It works extremely well--give credit where it's due--in "The 28th Floor" (2.4).) The actors--"character" actors all--are excellent, and most of the time they even get the accents matched up to the region. (There are exceptions.) And the producers have interview clips with true crime writers who have written about the cases; with people who investigated the cases (when those people are still alive); with Mary Ellen O'Toole and other experts in various fields; with friends and family of murderers and victims alike. They frequently featured Michelle MacNamara before her death in April 2016--pretty obviously because she was very good at conveying information clearly but without sounding scripted. And, again, because they seem to look for women. They also have gotten Catherine Pelonero more than once. (I actually haven't been able to bring myself to watch the episode about Kitty Genovese, but Pelonero does a great job in the other episodes I have watched her in.)

My true, serious beef with ACtR is its insistent trope of the loss of American innocence. Almost every case is framed as something that destroyed a piece of American innocence, and this is infuriating to me for several reasons:

1. America has never been innocent.

2. The idea of the Golden Age, the before time just out of reach in which everything was perfect, is a very, very old fallacy. (The Romans were all over it.) I think it is pernicious, because it validates reactionary attempts to return to "the good old days," which are "good" (in 20th century America) only if you are white, middle-class or above, and it helps if you're male. ACtR does deal with racism, sexism, and classism, but it doesn't seem to recognize the contradictory position it puts itself in thereby.

3. Casting these crimes as destroyers of American innocence erases crimes that went before. I can give one very specific example: "Baby Come Home" (2.8) about the 1953 kidnapping and murder of Bobby Greenlease, who was murdered before his kidnappers ever tried to extort ransom from his parents. Now I am not at all denying that what happened to Bobby Greenlease is vile and horrible and an expression of the worst part of human nature, but claiming that Carl Austin Hall and Bonnie Heady somehow invented kidnapping children for ransom--or even just the worst and most cruel of bad faith negotiations after the child was already dead--erases what happened to, for one example, Charles Lindbergh, Jr. Or, for another example, Charley Ross. If there was any innocence to be lost in this particular genre of crime, it was lost in 1874, 79 years before Bobby Greenlease's death.

So, yeah. That's the one thing that I really think they get wrong. Otherwise, they do a lovely job, and they have taught me about murders I'd never heard of but I think should not be forgotten: the terrible deaths of Judge Curtis Chillingworth and his wife Marjorie in West Palm Beach in 1955; Charles Whitman's sniper assault on the students, faculty, and staff of the University of Texas in 1966 (which I knew about, but knew kind of wrongly); the bizarre murder of Betty Williams in Odessa, Texas, in 1961; the murder of Veronica Gedeon in New York in 1937, and how the case was largely solved by the editors of the true crime magazines she was a cover model for; the murder of Roseann Quinn in New York in 1973, which was the inspiration for Looking for Mr. Goodbar, and I deeply appreciate the way ACtR questions the LfMG myth and suggests that Theresa Dunn is a cruel travesty of the real Roseann Quinn and the reality of her death. If you are interested in criminology or American history (because nothing tells you more about a culture than its cause celebre murders), I commend this series to your attention.

Cool Stuff Friday

Sep. 22nd, 2017 11:41 am
jimhines: (Snoopy Writing)
[personal profile] jimhines

Friday has been having trouble keeping up on the blogging lately…

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

This Week in Nazi-Punching

Sep. 20th, 2017 04:15 pm
jimhines: (Snoopy Writing)
[personal profile] jimhines

A video of a Nazi in Seattle getting punched and knocked out has been making the rounds. Responses range from satisfaction and celebration to the predictable cries of “So much for the tolerant left” and the related “Violence makes us as bad as them and plays right into their hands.”

A few things to consider…

1. According to one witness, the punch happened after the Nazi called a man an “ape” and threw a banana at him. With the disclaimer that I’m not a lawyer, that sounds like assault to me. I’m guessing Assault in the Fourth Degree. In other words, the punching was a response to an assault by the Nazi.

The witness who talks about the banana-throwing also says he was high on THC. I haven’t seen anyone disputing his account, but I haven’t seen corroboration, either.

2.Remember when George Zimmerman murdered Trayvon Martin, and people like Geraldo Rivera said it was because Martin was wearing a hoodie, and that made Martin a potentially dangerous “suspicious character”? Utter bullshit, I know. But if our legal system let Zimmerman plead self-defense, saying he was afraid because Martin was wearing a hoodie, doesn’t that same argument apply against someone wearing a fucking swastika?

We’re talking about a symbol that announces, “I support genocide of those who aren’t white, aren’t straight, aren’t able-bodied…”

3. Buzzfeed presents this as anti-fascists tracking a Neo-Nazi to beat him up. While antifa Twitter appears to have been talking about this guy, there’s no evidence that the punch was thrown by someone who’s part of that movement. And even if he was, the guy didn’t throw a punch until after the Nazi committed assault (see point #1).

Those Tweets quoted on Buzzfeed also suggest the Nazi was armed, which could add to the self-defense argument in point #2.

Is Nazi-punching right? Is it legal? As any role-player will tell you, there’s a difference between whether something is lawful and whether it’s good.

The “victim” has every right to press charges. But for some reason, he didn’t want to talk to police about the incident.

Was punching this guy a good thing? I mean, there’s a difference between comic books and real life. The Nazi was standing in front of some sort of tile wall. He could have struck his head on the corner after being punched, or when he fell to the ground. In other words, there’s a chance–albeit probably a slim one–that this could have killed him.

My country and culture glorify violence. I’d much rather avoid violence when possible. I think most rational people would. But there are times it’s necessary to fight, to choose to defend yourself and others. I think it’s important to understand the potential consequences of that choice.

Multiple accounts agree this man was harassing people on the bus, and later on the street. He was a self-proclaimed Nazi. Police say they received calls that he was instigating fights, and it sounds like he escalated from verbal harassment to physical assault … at which point another man put him down, halting any further escalation.

I don’t know exactly what I would have done in that situation, but I see nothing to make me condemn or second-guess this man’s choice in the face of a dangerous Nazi.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

pameladean: (Default)
[personal profile] pameladean

This is very long and detailed, so I’m going to try to put in a cut tag.

All right, I can't get that to work, not if it was ever so. I'm sorry.

 

On Tuesday Raphael and I went to Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge. The forecast was for a sunny, almost windless day with a high of 87. The air quality was moderate. I complained about this the day before and Raphael asked if I'd prefer not to go. But Sherburne is actually a good place to go on a less than perfect day, because there's a seven-mile wildlife drive with stopping points for viewing whoever happens to be around; also a tiny oak savanna (1/10-mile loop) trail and a prairie trail with an oak grove in the middle with a bench (1/2-mile loop). And it's September; hiking season will be over at some point.

We got a late start but arrived with about five hours of daylight ahead of us. Sherburne is near Sand Dunes National Forest, and its soil is also sandy. It's a lightly rolling landscape full of marshes, pools, and prairie, broken by lines and clumps of trees. You drive through a short stretch of mature restored prairie to reach the actual wildlife drive. It was awash in blooming goldenrod and blue and white asters and rich brown grasses.

 We stopped at the Oak Savanna Trail and had a sandwich, read the list of plants presently blooming (six kinds of goldenrod, four kinds of white aster, two kinds of blue aster, rough blazing star, and boneset) and then walked out on the tiny boardwalk. We examined what looked like an abandoned bald eagle's nest through one of the spotting scopes provided, and then started looking at spreadwings (yet another kind of damselfly) in the tall grass that the boardwalk runs through.

 Here is an image of a spreadwing that one might see in Minnesota, though I don’t know if that’s what we did see.

 http://museum.unl.edu/research/entomology/Odonata/lere.html

 A flicker of motion in the distance caught my attention, and I looked up to see three sandhill cranes landing across the prairie near the road we'd come on. "A family," said Raphael, looking through the binoculars. "See the juvenile?" I did see the juvenile, which did not have all its red in yet but was almost as large as its parents. The cranes started walking through the grass, not unlike herons stalking through shallow water; occasionally they would bend their long necks down and poke around in the grass roots, and occasionally one of them would make a sharp dart and come up with food and swallow it.

It was hard to decide whether the cranes were more awesome through binoculars or just as tall shapes against the pale road and prairie, bending and straightening, wandering apart and together again. If you didn't look through binoculars you could also see meadowhawks darting around, the spreadwings rising to catch tiny insects and settling again to eat them, the unexpected wind shaking the oak leaves and the grass and the asters. From time to time a darner moved across the larger prairie, veering after prey or just powering along.

At last a truck came fairly fast along the road, raising a cloud of dust, and the cranes paused, considered, opened their huge wings and rose up, gawky but graceful, and flew away low over the grasses. We went back to looking at smaller wildlife

I was trying to spot a spreadwing through the binoculars when I saw what looked like an animated tangle of brown grass. I said to Raphael, “There’s some kind of mantis there!” and when Raphael expressed astonishment, I added, “It’s very stick-y,” which allowed Raphael to come up with the actual name: It was a stick insect. It took a few moments for me to describe its location and for Raphael to see it, and then I had trouble finding it again through the binoculars, but it was busy clambering around against the wind, so we did both get a good look at it. It was only the second stick insect I’d seen in Minnesota. The other was at Wild River State Park. That one was much larger and was rummaging around in a pile of leaves at the edge of the parking lot. This one was fascinating because its camouflage was so great, and yet it did have to move around, so you could differentiate it from the grass if you worked at it.

We’d arrived in the deep of the afternoon when smaller birds are quiet. We heard a few goldfinches murmuring, and a phoebe carrying on, and a chickadee. We left the boardwalk, admiring the asters waving in the non-foreseen but welcome breeze, and walked around the oak savanna loop. The little oak saplings tangled among the other shrubbery were already starting to turn red. White asters poked their flowerheads through leaves belonging to other plants, to startling effect. Autumn meadowhawks floated and hovered and darted, snatching up gnats from the clouds around them. We had seen a monarch butterfly in the asters while we were eating our lunch, and also a dark-phase swallowtail wandering over the grass; now we saw a painted lady butterfly.

We made an attempt to leave, but a darner landed on a drooping dead branch of an oak tree right in front of the car. The sun was behind it and we couldn’t get a good look without tramping heedlessly into the prairie, so we didn’t, but its silhouette was lovely against the brilliant sky.

 We drove on, past tall browning and reddening grasses, clumps of goldenrod, clouds of asters. Darners flew up from the sides of the road and zoomed away. We found at the turning that the refuge had reversed the direction of the wildlife drive since we were there last, which was momentarily confusing; but we found our way, and stopped at the Prairie Trail. I pointed out some thoroughly spent plants of spotted horsemint. We’d seen it in bloom, if you can call it that, at William O’Brien. It’s a very weird-looking plant. Here’s a photo:

 https://www.minnesotawildflowers.info/flower/spotted-horsemint

 This observation continued my inability to accurately provide the names of things; I’d just called it horsemint and Raphael reminded me that that particular weird plant was spotted horsemint. There are other horsemints, but they don’t look so strange. As we stood looking over the rise and fall of the little prairie, with folds of alder and sumac, and lines and whorls of different grasses and goldenrod, all truly starred with the blue and white asters, I said that I loved how big the sky was at Sherburne. Raphael noted that it was a slate-blue just now; we assumed that was the haze of the wildfire smoke all the way from the west coast, a somber reminder of far too many things.

 We took the grassy path, startling small grasshoppers out of our way and stirring up meadowhawks from the tall plants and shrubs. We saw a monarch; we saw a painted lady. Passing through a little grove of young alders, on almost every tip of the dead trees intermingled with the living there was a meadowhawk perched. They swept upwards, snatched a gnat or fly, landed to eat again. Raphael showed me how to identify a female autumn meadowhawk: they have a definite bulge just below the thorax, which was easy to see against the sky. Darners zipped past from time to time. If it was a green darner we could usually tell even from just a glance. The others were mosaic darners, but harder to identify in passing.

 I think it was as we approached the oak grove that we started seriously trying to identify the grasses. We’d known big bluestem, aka turkey-tail, for years. After seeing it labelled repeatedly here and there, I could pick out the charming clumps of little bluestem, just knee-high, with their pale fluffy flowers lined up and catching the light. We’d looked at an informational sign at the trailhead, but its drawings of Indian grass and switch grass didn’t look right. Raphael pulled up the photo of the sign about grasses at the visitor center at Wild River, which had struck both of us at the time as much more informative than other attempts to depict native grasses; and we could suddenly identify Indian grass after all. It has a long, narrow rich brown seed head with varying degrees of spikiness; some are quite streamlined and others are tufty and look as if they need combing. And we felt more confident about the switch grass with its airy spreading seed heads.

 Raphael pointed out a beetle on the path, maybe a Virginia leatherwing, and then realized that it looked like a moth. A little research when we reached the oak grove and sat down showed that it was a net-winged beetle, and the entry even mentioned that it looked quite a bit like a leatherwing.

 The bench we were sitting on was made from boards of recycled plastic. At some point Raphael had had enough sitting and went ahead a little way just to see what was there. I’d noticed when I sat down that there were verses from the Bible printed on the back of the bench in some kind of marker. On the left was the passage from Matthew that begins, “Come unto me you who are weary and heavy-laden,” and on the right the passage from John that begins, “For God so loved the world.” These might have been written in different hands. But the passage in the middle was definitely in a different hand, and began, “We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine.” The ending of the passage was a bit smeared and I couldn’t read all of it, but at the bottom the name “hunter s. thompson” was clear enough. I followed Raphael and relayed the beginning of the passage. “Hunter s. thompson!” said Raphael, going back to the bench with me. “It’s from <i>Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas</i>.” Raphael looked this up too, and showed me the unsmeared passage on the cellphone.

 Giggling a bit, we went on our way. We were now well around the loop and into the straight stretch back to the car. From the other side I’d pointed out a lovely layering of grasses, goldenrod, a narrow cleft of willow scrub, and a candy-red line of sumac. Now we came to the sumac from the other side. On the path in front of us was a butterfly. “What is that?” said Raphael. “It’s a Red Admiral,” I said confidently, but it wasn’t. It was another Painted Lady. Raphael consolingly told me that they were both Vanessa, very closely related, but the Red Admiral is very common in Minnesota and I was chagrined that I’d misidentified something else as that.

 We came to a little stretch of boardwalk over a marshy area. On a shrub was a shimmery amber-tinged odonate. I pointed it out to Raphael. It turned out to be another autumn meadowhawk, though it looked as if it ought to be an Eastern Amberwing, or at least a Band-Winged Meadowhawk. It had perched on a bit of red-stemmed dogwood, just to be extra-cooperative. We went on through the cattails and willow, past a minute patch of open water and up onto the grassy path again. Raphael pointed out that where the path climbed back out of the tiny marsh there was a nice view over the rest of the open water and the winding marsh with more willow, and cattails, and a shrub we should have known but didn’t. (I briefly misidentified it as more red-stemmed dogwood, because it was my day to misidentify everything; but it had deep purple stems and leaves just starting to turn reddish.)

 On our right for the end of our walk was the brilliant sumac and the cleft of alder saplings, all their leaves fluttering and twinkling in the wind and sunlight; on the left a long slope of prairie grasses interrupted by goldenrod and asters. More darners sailed by. The sky had lost its smoky cast and was a fine late-summer deep blue. We came back to the car and Raphael began to drive away, but I exclaimed at the sight of a big clump of stiff goldenrod covered with pollinators. We didn’t get out, but looked our fill from the car. Big bumblebees, a Ctenucha moth, beetles, ambush bugs. Once Raphael started reading it, I had to edit this entry to correct the Ctenucha moth's name and type, so have another link, since they are very handsome:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ctenucha_virginica
 
There’s one more trail you can actually walk along, near the end of the wildlife drive, but there was a sign at the beginning saying that it was flooded. Before that we drove past long stretches of marsh, open water, and rolling prairie, all patched with clumps of trees. From time to time there would be a wider spot in the road, sometimes a formal space big enough for three or four cars, with a bench or two, or a platform over a low spot with spotting scopes and some informational signs about the wildlife; others just a metal platform with railings, where you could stand and look over the water. We tentatively identified the spot where we’d once common moorhens, which are not so common that we weren’t deeply excited. We’ve also seen muskrats and various ducks in these locations, and once there was a gigantic cloud of mosaic darners all brown and yellow – I seem to recall that some of them were lance-tipped darners, but I may be wrong. This time we heard water birds making a ruckus, but couldn’t see them. Darners came by in about the density that they had been all the while. Over one platform we saw what turned out to be a northern harrier; these guys have an amazing acrobatic flight, and they’re reddish on the underside and bluish on the back. I excitedly called this one a kestrel, which would be smaller and have the colors reversed: bluish on the underside and red on the back. We also very clearly saw a nighthawk with its white wing bars, though the sun was still up.

 We also saw some cedar waxwings fly-catching from a tree with a dead top, and heard a yellow warbler.

 At last we came to a stretch of water, islands, and snags so large that it had two separate viewing-spots. From the first we saw several groups of large white birds. I thought the first were swans, but they were white pelicans. There were also some swans, however. We came finally around a curve of the gravel road to an observation station in a little oak grove, overlooking the far side of this large sheet of water. This is where most of the dead trees are, and here, to our delight, we saw as we’ve seen before several times a very large number of cormorants. The sun was setting by then, off to our right. The sky was pink and the water reflected it. Many cormorants were roosting already, but some were still coming out of the water; they would land on a branch, sometimes settling and sometimes glancing off several different trees before finding one that suited them, or one in which the other cormorants accepted them. It was hard to be sure. Then they would spread their wings out to dry, looking as if they were practicing to be bats for Halloween.

 We found the swans and pelicans we’d seen from the other viewing station, though it was getting pretty dark by then. Cormorants still flew up into the trees and spread their wings. Through binoculars you could see the ones that had folded their wings now preening their breast feathers. Some of them had pale necks and brown fronts rather than being entirely black. I mentioned this to Raphael, who looked it up in Sibley and confirmed that those were juvenile cormorants.

 It was getting quite dark by then and the mosquitoes were starting to think about biting us in earnest. We drove past two more pools; beside one two groups of people we’d seen pass earlier, a third car I didn’t recognize from before, and a man using a wheelchair were standing and gesticulating. We pulled up and got out. The water and trees were lovely in the twilight, but we didn’t see any wildlife. The solitary man went away in his wheelchair, the unfamiliar car left, and we followed, watching the varied texture of the grass and flowers fade away into the dark.

 

Pamela

truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Default)
[personal profile] truepenny
Dear Senator Johnson:

I have been reading about the Graham-Cassidy ACA repeal bill, and the more I read, the more horrified I am. The premium hikes it allows for "pre-existing conditions" are unconscionable, and if you don't think Wisconsin will exploit those hikes, you have no understanding of your state's governor. Moreover, it's estimated that 32 million people will lose coverage within 10 years. Remember when you were arguing that 16 million was "better" than 22 million? Because I remember that very clearly.

Senator, this bill is a DISASTER. I am forced to choose between believing that you did not read or understand the bill that you have co-sponsored and believing that you understand it perfectly and just care that little about the well-being of your constituents and the rest of the American people.

Your party's obsession with repealing the ACA has been wasting time, energy, money, and other resources since the beginning of 2017--not to mention the resources and opportunities wasted by your party's childish obstructionism throughout the Obama administration, in which you are fully implicated. Repealing the ACA is fantastically unpopular and has failed repeatedly. And, honestly, the worst thing that could happen to the Republican Party is for this repeal bill to succeed. If it weren't for the catastrophe that would be brought down upon millions of people, I would almost want to let you have this monkey's paw. By all means, Senator. GET WHAT YOU WISH FOR.

However, I would much prefer it if you would join those of your colleagues who are trying to REFORM the ACA, even if you won't go so far as endorsing Medicare for all. In fact, I thought you HAD joined them, since you were participating in hearings about healthcare reform, and I am bitterly disappointed in you (yet again) by your co-sponsorship of the Graham-Cassidy bill.

I know nothing I say will change your mind, and certainly nothing I say will convince you to vote against your own bill. But I cannot remain silent and allow my silence to be counted as consent for this abhorrent, inhumane, and unethical bill. You cannot say you did not know that there was vehement opposition to the Graham-Cassidy bill among your own constituents, to whom, in theory, you are supposed to listen and whose interests, in theory, you are supposed to represent.

I am frankly ashamed to have you as my senator.

Sincerely,
Sarah Monette

Derek Jarman's The Last of England

Sep. 16th, 2017 03:46 am
rushthatspeaks: (altarwise)
[personal profile] rushthatspeaks
Derek Jarman is probably my favorite film director-- the only serious competition is Ulrike Ottinger-- and in several of his books he speaks about The Last of England (1987) as his masterpiece, which of course means it's the one of his films that is impossible to get for love or money, especially if you live in the U.S..

The Brattle just screened it as part of their currently ongoing Tilda Swinton festival. Tilda Swinton, very young at the time, turned out to play England. (I probably should have expected that, but somehow I didn't.)*

He was quite right about it being a masterpiece, and, again as I should have expected from Jarman, it has had me thinking very hard about the nature and purpose of art ever since.

The Last of England is definitely a movie. It's a post-apocalyptic dystopia shot entirely using the decay of the civil infrastructure present in Thatcher's England, and I could identify a narrative-- a pair of brothers, one of whom is subverted by his attempts to subvert a balaclava-wearing, machine-gun-toting agent of the state, so that their romance causes him to wind up in a mask with a gun himself, and the other of whom winds up shot by said state agents-- and there are a lot of interesting allusions to other works of art (the opening narration at one point quotes Howl and then veers crashingly into T. S. Eliot in what is either complete literary blasphemy or the way that line was always meant to end, possibly both).** There's a year-king thing, kind of, except he doesn't get up again, and the childhood of the brothers is portrayed using home videos from Jarman's own childhood, which is fascinating because his parents were among the latest chronologically of the dyed-in-the-wool servants of the British Raj and it shows. There's a vitriolic intellectual critique of just about everything about the concepts "England" and "British".

But the thing that had me reeling and trying desperately mentally to cope is that above all, and with absolute intentionality, The Last of England is not a movie. It is a curse.

I have spent a lot of time considering evil and its relationship, if any, to art, because I try to create art myself and I feel it is a responsible thing for any artist to consider. I could get into a long digression about what I believe about evil and what I don't, but suffice it to say I do believe in evil, and the principle way I have seen evil interact with art is that subset of art which actively attempts to harm the audience, for no reason other than that it can. That sort of art can do a great deal of damage, if one runs into it at the wrong time. The other major way I have seen evil interact with art is art that is promulgating an ideology of evil, a set of beliefs which make the world decidedly worse, such as the racism of D. W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation.

I had never contemplated what I would think of a piece of art which is definitively opposed to an evil ideology-- Thatcherism, fascism, totalitarianism-- and which is doing everything in its power to harm, to hurt, to wreak havoc on, to destroy, and, if possible, to damn in the Biblical sense-- a set of people who are not the viewer.

When I say curse I mean it in a very old way. I mean that Derek Jarman was a great scholar, and he knew more about sixteenth- and seventeenth-century magic and alchemy than most academics, and he knew more about English witch-lore than any other authority I have ever encountered. And I don't know nearly as much about either as he did, but I know enough that this movie consistently raised the hairs on the back of my neck. I am... not quite sure that there is an attempt in and by this film to summon a specifically demonic presence. They may have been aiming for neutral. Or for angelic, and... missed, but I doubt that. I don't mean summoning in an obvious way, it's not like there are pentagrams on the floor, quite. It's done with light and fire and movement and the visual invocation of archetypes. It's done with dance and cross-dressing and other very careful costume.

And it's the precise kind of anger and pain turned into hatred that would cause a pastor to make serious inquiries as to the state of one's soul, and which might cause less theologically minded persons to mutter things about the abyss gazing back. Which is a concern Jarman eyes, and then discards, because this ideology, this thing that had happened to England under the rule of Thatcher and those around her, was to him worth that kind of hatred. And I think he came out of it all right as a human being and an artist himself, because he was objectively correct about that. But possibly only because he was objectively correct about that. The anger and pain and hatred here were so lacerating, so gorgeously done, so implacable and so beautiful that I kept wanting to hide, and it wasn't even aimed at me, he kept throwing in things to remind the audience that it isn't directed at us and honestly that does not help all that much.

Because with that sort of curse witnessing it is part of what drives it and makes it active.

I spent much of the film with some part of my mind trying to figure out if I thought it was moral to do this, to make this thing. Then I came down firmly and forever on the side that it is, because Tilda Swinton came in and played England.

We initially see Swinton's character in the memories of the one of the brothers who gets executed. She's wearing a sundress, and she's sitting in a field full of so many daffodils that it cannot read as naturalistic, even though, unlike most of the rest of the movie, the scene is shot in natural colors. She's his idealized love, that he won't ever be coming back to, and she's England itself, in both nurturing and colonialist aspects. "Don't be sad," we hear her say matter-of-factly as the bullets strike him: John Barleycorn is, after all, dead. She comes in next in full wedding dress and bridal veil, surrounded by attendants who are large and burly men dressed pretty much as Marie Antoinette, wedding a placeholder of a groom (the camera never focuses on his face) in a burned-out, rubble-strewn wreck of an industrial hangar. No dialogue, just the movements of the wedding, jerky smiles, everyone congratulating everybody else, Swinton eying a pram with an odd mixture of fear and longing. Earlier iconography has made it clear that the pram, though it does, of course, represent a baby, should also be taken to represent not a baby, but a cathexis of other ideas around fear and change and darkness.

And then we cut to Tilda Swinton outside, alone, by the water, by what looks like an industrial canal. There's a fire burning in an oil barrel next to her, a bonfire. She has scissors, and she tries to hack her way out of the wedding dress. It does not want to go. (It's really a lovely dress, by the way, in legitimately good taste, with about sixteen layers of veiling.) She rips at it with her fingers. She claws. She bites off parts of it. And these motions, without ever quite ceasing, turn themselves into a dance.

A line from a short story by Tanith Lee was running through my head during this scene, and it's still the only thing that comes to mind as anything resembling an adequate description: "... when she danced, a gate seemed to open in the world, and bright fire spangled inside it, but she was the fire."***

Have you ever seen something so transcendentally beautiful that you don't know how to think about it?

It's not just that this is the best thing Tilda Swinton has ever done on film, though it is, by such a distance that it's difficult to fathom. It's that I suspect it's one of the best things anyone has ever done on film. I am not exaggerating. Watching it is the kind of experience where you don't come away as exactly the same person.

Which she did, in full knowledge, in the service of Derek Jarman's curse.

All right, then. I consider it a moral action. Those few minutes are, by themselves, sufficient justification, and I don't see how the two of them, Jarman and Swinton, Tilda and Derek, could possibly have produced those few minutes out of hatred unless the hatred itself-- well-- to some degree contained within it all of that. Magical curses are, all the books say, perilous things, liable to come back on the caster unless their motives are completely pure. I have to take that dance as demonstration of impeccably pure motivations. I can't see what else it could be.

There are a lot of interesting things about this movie that I haven't even mentioned, of course. I finally understand why Jarman hated Peter Greenaway so much, because it turns out that for Prospero's Books, years later on, Greenaway swiped the aesthetic of some bits at the beginning of this movie that are set in Jarman's actual house and have Jarman playing himself. In fact, Greenaway even swiped Jarman's handwriting for use in his page overlays on the screen. I can see being upset by that. I would have been, too.

And there's the way almost all of the soundtrack is classical, except when it very much isn't. And the way that Jarman on several occasions intercuts between two separate scenes so quickly that persistence of vision forces you to believe that you are somehow watching both of them at the same time (well, and you get rather nauseated, which I don't think could be helped). And there's a scene with a man eating a cauliflower that totally defies all description; never had I imagined such a thing could be done with an innocent cruciferous vegetable. It's not remotely sexual. I'd almost prefer if it was.

But I've summed up the major things I've been pondering since watching the movie, and also it's five in the morning, so. A masterpiece. You should absolutely see it. But be wary.






* It occurs to me only now, writing this, that Swinton's role as both an allegorical England and a theoretically real young woman is an homage to Anna Magnani's stunning performance as the city of Rome in Pier Paolo Pasolini's Mamma Roma (1962). Somehow, all of the critical writing I have encountered on Mamma Roma fails to realize that she is the entire city incarnate and it gets shoved in with Pasolini's Neo-Realist period, which I am starting to think he never actually had. But I digress.

** I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness starving hysterical naked not with a bang but with a whimper

*** From Tanith Lee's "When The Clock Strikes". Worth noting that the character described has sold herself to Satan, and is also the agent of promulgating a curse.

Fox update

Sep. 15th, 2017 02:30 am
rushthatspeaks: (parenting)
[personal profile] rushthatspeaks
At one day shy of eleven months, Fox is definitely both walking and talking.

Over the last few weeks, the walking has gone from very determined cruising to one or two steps without falling down to chains of three or four steps connected by moments of serious arm waving, or squatting and standing back up again. They don't really fall down at all, and never have, but they would sometimes cease forward motion. Now we've just gotten to walking across a room, and I haven't seen them crawl in several days. They also climb much better-- can get onto the back rail of the futon, or actively pull themself up onto my shoulder when I'm sitting on the futon. They don't seem to distinguish yet between standing on/climbing on somebody and standing on/climbing on inanimate objects. We need to give them a real shot at stairs sometime here, as there aren't any in our house and they could probably use the practice.

The talking... I guess many people's first words are... more readily distinguishable? I mean, either Fox has been talking for like a week, or Fox has been talking since about April, and I legitimately do not know. They've been saying 'Hiiiiii' to people all along, literally since birth, and they've been saying 'Ma! Ma!' to Ruth and 'Da! Da!' to me and 'At! At!' to the cats for some months, but they also said those syllables to things that aren't me or Ruth or the cats. I just wasn't able to tell babble from intentional speech, and I don't really think there was a way to.

However, what we're getting now is Fox saying 'Ma! Ma!' at Ruth in the morning when they want Ruth to get out of bed and feed them, which is pretty clearly intentional, and they say 'At!' when they see a picture of a cat in any of their books. (I haven't seen them hold a book upside down in a couple of weeks, either. Something about pictures has clicked.) Also today they hugged me and then put the final d on 'Dad' for the first time, which was just as heart-melting as I could possibly have imagined. We've also had 'Es' for a while, which means general agreement, though, and this fascinates me, we have nothing even vaguely resembling no as a word, just yelling. And 'Ba' means ball or book, but 'Ba' in a different tone means bottle; I can't really duplicate this but can hear the difference clearly.

I haven't heard them babble any of the phonemes yet that would allow them to use the names of various grandparents or their third parent, and we're all actually pretty sure they consider their third parent's name too hard right now, given the timing of various looks of frustration.

Their favorite toy right now is the photo album Ruth got them with pictures of extended family, friends, and various significant occasions in their own life, which they will pore over with devoted concentration for long stretches of time. They haven't liked an object so much since they first noticed their mobile at five months. Sometimes we'll go through and say again who various people are and what the event was, though I have no idea if they remotely have or can have the idea yet of a picture of themself.

They do have the idea now of doorknobs, but not the reach. I have seen them try to follow somebody out the door by going over and batting at the knob from below. So far they are about as good at this as our smarter cat, and I devoutly hope those two never team up. I will also be shocked if Fox doesn't start climbing over baby gates rather sooner than us parent-types would like, although at least we have one more level to lower their mattress inside its enclosure if they start getting out of their bed anytime soon.

Solid food clicked some while back, and while they're still having four or five large bottles a day, they also eat two or three solid meals, things like mango puree, applesauce, avocado, yogurt, Cheerios, and/or semisolid oat cereal. Sometimes we mix some of those together. We also give them bits of what we're eating, though we're trying to avoid large quantities of sugar and salt till they're past a year old. They have two and a half teeth, the bottom front two and one I think I see lurking partially emerged in the back bottom left. They can drink through a straw, and they can drink from a sippy cup and, actually, from a regular cup, though I don't let them very often because after they drink from it they'll just toss it down like they do the bottle.

We have never cut their hair, because that's a decision they'll be able to make for themself in not all that long, so they strongly resemble a Beatle, or possibly an emo rocker circa 2004. Putting a barrette across the bangs works until they take it out and try to eat it. Pigtails actually work but are not remotely my aesthetic preference. Fortunately they don't seem to mind hair in their face-- I've never seen them push at it or get frustrated with it.

Ruth took them to a baby swimming class over at MIT for a while, so we now have some notion of how to work with a swim diaper and how to interact with an infant in the water, which is great because we're going to the beach next month.

And their first birthday approaches apace, though milestone-wise-- toddler. I'd say we have a toddler.

Links, Reminders, and Misc

Sep. 14th, 2017 01:51 pm
jimhines: (Snoopy Writing)
[personal profile] jimhines

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Default)
[personal profile] truepenny
Dear Senator Johnson:

Today you unveiled your proposed health care legislation. I am not impressed by it, especially in comparison to the health care legislation of Senator Sanders and Senator Baldwin. I know I cannot change your mind, or convince you that removing federal regulations is a catastrophe, not a solution, or that block grants to states, while perhaps a workable solution in some states, will be misused in every way possible in others to ensure that the money does not go where it is most needed. I count Wisconsin as one of those states. I do not believe the state government has its citizens' best interests at heart any more than I believe you do.

Republican senators have been trying and failing to repeal the ACA for all of 2017, despite intense opposition from their constituencies, while Senator Sanders' Medicare for All plan creates the reform you claim to want. You are wasting time, energy, money, and other resources that would be better spent on almost anything else--perhaps the opioid crisis you also claim to be concerned about.

I am disappointed and angry. You have betrayed your constituents again, Senator. And although this is just one more chapter in a book you are making longer by the day, I am still appalled by the stupidity and cruelty you continue to endorse. Even though Wisconsin is not my native state, I have lived and voted here for more than twenty years. I am ashamed that one of my senators has put his name on this bill.


P.S. You still have not made a public statement denouncing fascism, either.

UBC: Rosner, The Anatomy Murders

Sep. 13th, 2017 12:33 pm
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Default)
[personal profile] truepenny
The Anatomy Murders: Being the True and Spectacular History of Edinburgh's Notorious Burke and Hare and of the Man of Science Who Abetted Them in the Commission of Their Most Heinous CrimesThe Anatomy Murders: Being the True and Spectacular History of Edinburgh's Notorious Burke and Hare and of the Man of Science Who Abetted Them in the Commission of Their Most Heinous Crimes by Lisa Rosner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


[library]

Up the close & down the stair / But & ben wi' Burke & Hare / Burke's the butcher, Hare's the thief / And Knox the boy that buys the beef.
--Anonymous doggerel

Read more... )

The Tick, Season One

Sep. 13th, 2017 11:43 am
jimhines: (Snoopy Writing)
[personal profile] jimhines

My introduction to The Tick came in the late 90s, with the animated series. A few of my grad school friends and I would get together each week, eat Pillsbury cinnamon rolls, and watch The Tick (and a few other shows.)

I loved it. I loved the humor, the silliness, the undermining of superhero tropes, and the overall sense of fun.

This was my background as I logged onto Amazon Prime to watch their live-action take on The Tick.

It felt like the entire show was filmed using the same Gritty Angst Filter they used on Batman v Superman. They managed to make The Tick almost entirely joyless.

Spoilers follow…

Read the rest of this entry » )

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

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