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A few final thoughts about Brett “Beer Likes Me” Kavanaugh and his successful job interview:

1. I’m not surprised. I mentioned before that I didn’t really think the GOP was going to give up on Kavanaugh – partly because they clearly want him to overturn Roe Wade (Steve King is already bragging about it) and partly just to trigger the libs, I imagine. They have tended to follow Trump’s lead when confronted with criticism or protests from the left and essentially double down just to see the looks on their faces. Anyway, it seemed pretty obvious to me where all this was going.

2. Regarding the FBI “investigation”, German Lopez minces words here, but he’s on point – the only reason Flake demanded an FBI investigation (and the only reason Trump agreed to it) was so that GOP senators could say to the Demos, “Look, you wanted an FBI investigation, you got an investigation, what more do you want us to do?” That’s all. It’s obvious too that Trump limited the scope as much as possible to make sure the FBI didn’t come up with anything, but honestly I don't think it wouldn’t have mattered in they came up with actual video of Kavanaugh sexually assaulting Ford or anyone else – Kavanaugh is their boy and he’s going on that bench if they have to staple him there.

3. For me personally, what’s truly horrifying and infuriating about all this isn’t so much Kavanaugh’s past or political views – it’s the sight of the President of the United States of America openly mocking Dr Ford and essentially establishing the axiom that the real victims of sexual assault are men.

And really, that in itself isn't so horrifying and infuriating as the sight of all the people in that rally laughing and cheering him on. I’m hardly the first person to say this, but it’s true – the reason so many women don’t report sexual harassment, assault and rape is EXACTLY because of what just happened in the Kavanaugh/Ford saga.

Also, look at all these headlines here of men who actually committed sexual assault getting off light.

So yeah, the message from POTUS, his rally fans and the GOP is clear – if yr a woman who has been sexually assaulted or molested, it’s probably yr own fault so shut up and walk it off, because you might ruin the guy’s career and we wouldn’t want that, would we?

4. I also wouldn’t bank on that costing Republicans the women vote, because there are plenty of women in his crowds who either don’t believe Dr Ford or don't care, because (1) they like Kavanaugh and (2) Ford only has herself to blame for what happened. Which is depressing, but there it is. So it's probably a good idea to get out there and vote in the midterms on the assumption that the last two years do not add up to a slamdunk Blue Wave. 

5. Trevor Noah has a good riff here on Trump’s weaponization of victimhood, which of course Trump did not invent, but he uses it effectively, and men and women alike buy into it.

6. As for Kavanaugh joining the Supremes, all I can say is what I said before – his presence doesn’t automatically guarantee Roe v Wade being overturned, or giving Trump cover from prosecution or whatever. I’m not saying that won’t happen, I’m saying there’s always the chance that it won’t.

If it helps, this article from FiveThirtyEight points out that SCOTUS has a long proud history of tailoring their opinions to prevailing public sentiment – willingly or otherwise. And at the moment, public sentiment is very much on the side of protecting Roe v Wade.

That will undoubtedly upset conservatives who like to complain about activist judges who don’t stick to literal interpretations of constitutional text, but then we all know by now that those same conservatives generally as rule only really care about that when SCOTUS rules against their side, so I don’t take their complaints too seriously.

Court is adjourned,

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Following the testimony of Dr Christine Blasey Ford (which I didn’t watch, no) and the subsequent reactions, I do have a few things to add.

1. I believe her.

2. I’m not sure it matters, because the (male) GOP senators have made perfectly clear that they don’t care whether she’s telling the truth or not.

If they care about anything, it’s the terrifying prospect that their entire careers could be ended by any woman who decides to accuse them of sexual misconduct no matter how long ago it may have happened. And I’m sure the rise of #MeToo and #WhyIDidntReport has made them all too aware of the fact that women are more likely to be believed these days if they do step forward – which is a change from the good old days when you could just slut-shame them into silence and men could get on with their productive lives.

Kavanaugh’s statement pretty much encapsulates all of that. He’s not just proclaiming his innocence (which would be understandable and natural, whether it’s true or not). He’s trying to rally all men everywhere to his defense with the dire warning that if we let Blasey Ford get away with this, none of us are safe. We will all become unemployable at the mere hint of an allegation. And it will be all the fault of Democrats.

3. So, to summarize Points 1 and 2, the basic message the GOP is pushing here is: (1) we don't care what Kavanaugh did in his past or who got hurt, we want him on the SCOTUS bench and that’s all we care about, (2) a man’s career is far, far more important than the trauma of any woman he has sexually victimized, and (3) if we believe Dr Blasey Ford, we have to believe all women who make such allegations, and we all know where that leads – all men will be unemployed or in prison, and you can thank the f***ing femi-Nazi Democrats for that.

All of which is hard to take seriously, given that the GOP is perfectly credulous when it comes to allegations of sexual assault/harassment against people like, say, Bill Clinton, Anthony Weiner and Al Franken. And honestly, the notion that all of this is a plot by Democrats to keep Kavanaugh off the bench doesn’t hold up when you remember that the number of women materializing out of nowhere to accuse Neil Gorsuch of sexual assault/harassment is [checks notes] zero.

4. The other GOP message here is, of course, “boys will be boys”. And it’s a message that at least some teenage girls are hearing loud and clear.

5. Trump has (finally) instructed the FBI to investigate, which is perhaps telling, given how Trump generally seems to think the job of the FBI is to put his personal enemies in jail. Maybe he’s hoping they’ll put Dr Blasey Ford in jail for lying to Congress? Or they’ll find out Hillary Clinton put her up to all this and put HER in jail? Or maybe he wants to know what boofing is so he can know if he’s done that yet? I don’t know.

6. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that no matter what the FBI finds, Kavanaugh is going to be confirmed, simply because that’s just how the current GOP leadership works. As long as you’re onboard with their ideology, they don't care if yr a gibbering idiot, a pathological liar who pals around with ruthless dictators, or a serial philanderer who pays his mistresses hush money and brags about being rich enough to get away with pussy-grabbing at will – so long as you get results.

I dunno. It’s hard to imagine the GOP dropping Kavanaugh now, and I’m not convinced holdouts like Flake, Murkowski and Collins will vote against him when push comes to shove. At this stage, I’m afraid the only way Kavanaugh isn’t getting confirmed is if he decides it’s not worth it and withdraws.

I’ll be more than happy to be proven wrong. But, you know, given how this admin has a history of hiring the most unqualified people possible to fill job positions, I’m not optimistic.

Getting away with it,

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And so, you know, the book reports, eh?

Planet of ExilePlanet of Exile by Ursula K. Le Guin

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is Ursula K. Le Guin's second standalone novel of the Hainish Cycle (and also her second novel overall). This time, the setting is Weral, a double planet that takes 60 earth years to complete one orbit, which means its winter season lasts around 15 earth years. The Hainish colony of Landin has been on Werel for 600 earth years, and has effectively been marooned there, with no contact from the League of Worlds. Their numbers are dwindling, and they have an uneasy relationship with Tevar, a nomadic agrarian tribe that lives nearby and regards the “farborns” as witches because they have telepathic abilities.

That’s the backdrop for a tale in which the farborns and the Tevarians are forced to unite when the barbaric Gaal – who are migrating south as they typically do when winter starts to set in – make it apparent that this time they intend to raid both Tevar and Landin on the way. But the alliance unravels quickly when the de facto leader of the Landin, Jakob Agat, falls for Rolery, the daughter of Tevarian chief Wold.

I generally enjoy Le Guin’s work, but this one didn’t really come together for me. The world-building is interesting, but the romance between Agat and Rolery wasn’t convincing, and the climax was rather jumbled and confusing. I get the basic themes she was trying to get across here – cross-culture clashes, the challenges of the Hainish version of the Prime Directive and the consequences of foreigners being unable or unwilling to adapt to local culture, etc. But the narrative vehicle to deliver those ideas doesn’t quite work.

SilenceSilence by Shūsaku Endō

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of those instances where I saw the movie version before reading the book, which I admit I’d never head of until Martin Scorsese filmed it. The film was fascinating and moving enough that when I found a copy of the book, I was keen to read it.

The book is a fictionalized depiction of Japan’s persecution of Christians in the 17th century as experienced by two Portuguese Jesuit priests who travel there to discover the truth about the fate of their mentor, Father Ferreira, who reportedly apostatized under penalty of torture, which they cannot believe he would do. The story focuses on one of the priests, Father Rodrigues, who finds himself struggling with his own faith in the face of all the suffering he encounters and experiences and God’s silence throughout it all, as well as his own personal Judas, a local Christian named Kichijiro who betrays Rodrigues more than once.

The movie doesn’t stray far from the book, so there were no surprises here plotwise, but I have to say it’s still a moving story – perhaps more so in that it gets much deeper into Rodrigues’ internal struggles as he realizes the reality of Christian persecution is much different from the glorious martyrdoms he envisaged, and the impact this (and God’s apparent silence) has on his faith. I did find it odd that the narrative starts via Rodrigues’ correspondence to Lisbon about his journey, only for Endo to abandon this a third of the way through for a more conventional third-person narrative. But that’s a minor quibble. Overall I found this fascinating from a historical, literary and spiritual perspective.

The Obama Inheritance: Fifteen Stories of Conspiracy NoirThe Obama Inheritance: Fifteen Stories of Conspiracy Noir by Gary Phillips

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The pitch for this anthology sounded right up my street – 15 stories where the basic instruction for each writer was: “Pick any conservative conspiracy theory about President Barack Obama – no matter how loopy – and just run with it.”

The result – at least for me – is disappointing. For the most part, the stories here either aren’t very well written or don’t really follow the instructions – at least as far as I understood them. Maybe I misunderstood the overall premise, but it seems like at least half the stories here are less about exploring the fun fictional possibilities of Obama conspiracy theories and more wishful-thinking revenge tales where conservatives who badgered the Obamas for years finally get theirs – which is fine as far as it goes, but in my mind it isn't really in the spirit of the stated mandate. And what a Robert Silverberg story from 1982 is doing here is a mystery in itself.

To be sure, there are a quite a lot of good ideas here – Michelle Obama as covert operative, Barack Obama leading a secret resistance movement after Trump goes full fascist, the true secret of Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s longevity, Obama and Biden as Star Trek time travellers – but not many develop into decent stories. Notable exceptions include Walter Mosley’s “A Different Frame of Reference”, which riffs on that photo of Obama sneaking a smoke (or was he?), and Christopher Chambers’ “The Psalm of Bo”, which gets points for coming up with the idea of Obama’s dog leading an army of weaponized dogs against the last MAGA stronghold in post-apocalyptic America – written in semi-Biblical language, no less.

Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin WallStasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was hipped to this book by Jon Ronson, who mentioned it in his book So You've Been Publicly Shamed. It’s an account of Anna Funder’s time in Berlin in the mid-90s in which she started interviewing people who had lived in (or worked for) the East German regime. She was inspired to do so in partly to get a sense of what it was like to live in a walled-off society where the Stasi (East Germany’s infamous secret police) ruled, and partly because up to then – six years after the Berlin Wall came down – no one had really bothered to chase down those stories, and many people seemed to want to forget the whole thing and move on.

The result is sort of a people’s history of East Germany and the Stasi, as told by various former Stasi officials, their informants, and of course their victims, including Miriam (whose husband died in a Stasi cell under mysterious circumstances), Julia (Funder’s landlady who was harassed by the Stasi because of her Italian boyfriend) and Frau Paul (whose sick infant son was in West Berlin when the wall went up). She also meets the man who painted the line where the wall was to be built, and goes drinking with Klaus Renft, East Germany’s biggest rock star.

The book is as much about Funder’s experiences during her investigation as it is about the stories she retells, which may put some people off, but I didn’t feel as though it got in the way of the overall story. This is a fascinating account of what it’s like to live in a fascist dictatorship so obsessed with control that it will micromanage people’s lives with intimidation, blackmail, lies, fear and twisted logic. And interestingly, it’s also a testament to the fact that it’s difficult for people who grew up in a strict panopticon Communist state for decades to find themselves living in a capitalist society overnight – not least those who were empowered by it.

Spies like us,

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I started writing this post back when Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement and the big concern then was (1) Trump forced him to retire because Kennedy’s son is tied to Russia somehow (which might be true but there's no hard evidence of this) and (2) Trump’s nominated replacement, Brett Kavanaugh, is a radical Trump conservative whose sole qualification for Republicans is his ability to overturn Roe v Wade and affirm the legal power of Trump to pardon himself for whatever crimes Robert Mueller eventually charges him with.

Obviously the concerns have piled on since then, thanks to Dr Christine Blasey Ford informing us what young teenage Brett used to get up to.

So, okay, a few things:

1. Roe v Wade: personally I think Kavanaugh’s political opinions may not necessarily be an indicator of how he would rule, if only because (1) it depends on the specific case brought before SCOTUS and the legal decisions that brought it to them, etc and so on, because that’s what they tend to rule on, and (2) my experience with the Supremes has been that they don’t always vote along predictable party lines (Kennedy being a case in point – he’s a staunch conservative who legalized gay marriage nationwide). So I don’t know that Kavanaugh’s confirmation would automatically spell the end of Roe v Wade. But obviously I can’t rule it out either.

2. Self pardons: Trump has been declaring loudly that he can totally pardon himself, and that sitting POTUSes can’t be indicted anyway. The thing is, he might technically be right. We don't really know for sure because it’s never really been tested. This Snopes article has a good breakdown of the legal arguments, but the upshot is that the Constitution grants the POTUS virtually unlimited power to pardon people, and there’s nothing in there that says he CAN’T pardon himself, with the exception of impeachment charges, which the Founding Fathers™ ultimately decided was the best remedy for a corrupt, criminal president. There may be a case of applying common law (i.e. you can’t be the judge at yr own trial), but there’s no guarantee any judge will rule that way, whether it’s Kavanaugh, Kennedy or anyone else on the bench.

3. Boys will be boys: All I can really say about Dr Ford’s allegations for now is that it’s helped shine a spotlight (again) on the fact that many Republican men are really, really, REALLY bad at talking about rape and sexual assault/harassment – which is especially egregious in the wake of #MeToo, which evidently convinced Republicans that the proper response to rape/sexual assault/harassment allegations is to double down on insisting it must be the victim’s fault somehow, or boys will be boys, or the perp has suffered enough and we don't want to ruin his entire life over one transgression, and we’re sure he’s sorry about it and it won't happen again – all of which basically add up to the message that the feelings of the accused man always matter more than the feelings of his female victim. (Unless the accused man is Al Franken or Anthony Weiner, in which case by all means, ruin his life and make an example of him.)

So yeah, obviously my sympathies lie more with Dr Ford at this moment, and the conservatives defending Kavanaugh have pretty much zero credibility with me.

4. The Return Of Anita Hill: We’ve sort of been here before with Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill, which some fear will be a precedent for both how Dr Ford will be treated by the Senate Judiciary and Kavanaugh’s eventual confirmation despite her allegations.

On the bright side, according to this article, two key differences are (1) there were no women on the Senate Judiciary committee in 1991, but there are several today, and (2) #MeToo has changed the conversation we usually have about these kinds of things (except for Republican men, of course).

On the other hand, a number of Republican women have stepped up to defend Kavanaugh (not counting those 65 high-school “friends”), and one even said that even if Ford isn’t lying, so what?:

… we’re talking about a 17-year-old boy in high school with testosterone running high. Tell me, what boy hasn’t done this in high school?” Gina Sosa asked.

Well, sure. Every teenage boy goes through that period where he corners a girl at a party, turns up the music so no one can hear her protest and then covering up her mouth as he tries to force her to have sex with him. Everyone knows that.

So yeah, there’s a good chance that Christine Ford is going to be the new Anita Hill in the sense that the Senators are going to do their damnedest to badger, humiliate and discredit her, and the result is likely to be that Kavanaugh gets to be the new Clarence Thomas – because it does seem as though the current stance of the GOP is: “You know what? We honestly couldn’t care less if Kavanaugh rapes every woman he meets, films them all and posts them on YouTube so long as we get a guy on the SCOTUS bench who will rule in our favor.”

I might be wrong about Kavanaugh’s chances, but to be honest I think the only way he’s not getting this job at this stage is if he drops out voluntarily.

5. For the record, even before Christine Ford came into play, I personally didn’t think Kavanaugh should be confirmed – at least not with 100,000 pages of his judicial records being withheld. The fact that they are being withheld – and by Trump’s insistence – is in itself suspicious.


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John McCain left us last month. I’ve been preoccupied with other things, but I did have a few comments.

1. Personally, I’ve always had respect for him. Which is not to say I’ve always agreed with him, or that he’s always made good choices (see: Sarah Palin). But he came across to me as someone who didn’t just follow the bullet points – he actually put some thought into the issue at hand, and would actually take the time to listen to your views and respond to them. Which is preferable to the hyperpartisan batshit nonsense that the rest of his party has embraced. Sure, his maverick reputation was overstated and his “Straight Talk Express” was mostly a gimmick. But there was a certain amount of truth behind both.

Admittedly, my assessment of McCain’s politics has to do with the fact that I’m not a party guy per se, and I’ve always figured that if you’re pissing off the extreme hardline wings of both parties, yr probably doing something right. McCain did that, and that’s fine by me.

2. That’s why I felt in 2000 that if he had managed to win the nomination and the presidency I would have been okay with it. My philosophy of POTUS elections has generally been that if my preferred candidate doesn’t win, the winner should ideally be someone who isn’t too far from the center and can at least try to be a unifying figure and work with the opposition (assuming the opposition is willing to do likewise). I think McCain would have been such a POTUS. He certainly would have been better than the one we ended up with in 2000.

3. That said, I was less sanguine about a McCain presidency in 2008 – partly because he admitted having never sent an email (which I seriously felt ought to be a basic requirement to be POTUS in the 21st Century), and partly due to his running mate.

Some people have argued that we basically have McCain to thank for Trump because he gave Sarah Palin a national platform to demonstrate that what the conservative base really wanted in a POTUS was a clueless, xenophobic demagogue whose sole qualifications for office were blatant political incorrectness and insulting liberals. But I don’t think it’s fair to pin that on McCain – the Tea Party/MAGA base was already there, as was Fox News, the Koch Brothers and Breitbart, etc, and the GOP had been quietly courting them for years. Given all the Obama conspiracy theories and racist memes already in circulation during the 2008 campaign, I think the GOP would be exactly where it is right now, sooner or later, with or without Palin as poster girl.

4. Granted, selecting Palin wasn’t exactly good judgment on McCain’s part (which he would later admit). On the other hand, when McCain was handed a golden opportunity to exploit conservative xenophobia over Obama’s heritage, he refused. And he got booed for it, if memory serves. But he didn’t change his answer even when he saw it was backfiring. The same can’t be said for most of the rest of the GOP. So I have to give him points for that.

5. As an aside, it’s interesting in retrospect to note that one of the main arguments against voting for McCain in 2008 – namely his age, which meant that Sarah Palin was “one heartbeat away from the presidency” (translation: if McCain dies in office she gets to run the country) – turned out to be unfounded. Turns out McCain would have lived long enough to serve two full terms. So it goes.

Of course, we can never know that for sure, and given the pressures of the job, his health might not have held up as long as it did. I’m just saying.

6. This article in The Guardian is a pretty good overview of McCain’s many personal and political contradictions. Put simply, he was a complex person and he leaves behind a complex legacy that doesn't fit into anyone’s oversimplified partisan socio-political litmus test. He did good things, he did bad things, and he did neither consistently, but he did most of them out of what seemed to be a genuine desire to change things for the better. And if it wasn’t genuine, he was extremely good at faking it.

7. As for his funeral, it says a lot that he received such a huge send-off. And yes, it also says a lot that Trump wasn’t invited (at McCain’s own behest), and why should he be, all things considered?

And as for Meghan McCain’s dig at Trump, I think she’s more than entitled. 


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Burning through the to-read pile like Mario Andretti, y’all.

Invisible PlanetsInvisible Planets by Ken Liu

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Most of my early SF/F intake originated from either the US or UK, so for a long time now I’ve been interested in how writers in other countries approach SF/F, especially here in Asia where I live. Chinese science fiction is generating a lot of interest outside of China, thanks mainly to the success of Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem. This anthology – edited and translated by SF/F author Ken Liu, who also translated The Three-Body Problem and other Chinese SF works – collects 13 stories from seven contemporary Chinese SF writers (including Cixin Liu, who contributes two stories here). There are also short essays from three of the authors regarding SF in China.

What’s most notable about this collection – apart from getting an interesting glimpse into how Chinese writers approach SF, and the fact that four of the featured authors are women – is the variety. Like western SF (which has been an influence on SF in China from time to time), Chinese SF is pretty diverse, covering hard SF, alien contact, cyberpunk, Big Brother dystopias, bio-horror, post-apocalyptic robots, Gaimanesque spirit worlds, surrealist mythology and interplanetary travelogues, among others. Like many anthologies, there’s something for everyone, but not everything may be your cup of tea. Personally, the highlights for me were the contributions from Cixin Liu, Ma Boyang and Tang Fei, and a couple of the stories from Xia Jia.

AutonomousAutonomous by Annalee Newitz

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve known about Annalee Newitz for years via her work as founding editor of io9 – between that and the rave reviews I’d read about this debut novel by her, I was keen to pick this up. The jacket synopsis sounded promising too – in the year 2144, Jack Chen is a pharmaceutical pirate who violates ultra-strict patent laws by making and distributing cheap copies of drugs to benefit poor people. When her pirated copy of pre-release Zacuity – a drug that literally helps you love your job – starts killing people, she races to find an antidote whilst on the run from two international patent enforcers – one of which is an indentured military-grade robot named Paladin that starts to develop an unexpected relationship with his partner Eliasz.

The chase plot is ostensibly a vehicle for Newitz to explore several ideas – the corporate notion of intellectual property taken to extremes (i.e. not just in terms of pharmaceuticals and sentient robots but even people who are born as corporate “property” – slaves, in other words), the emotional relationships between humans and robots (to include sex and even gender identity), and the meaning of true autonomy in such a world. Ultimately Newitz raises far more questions than answers – which is good in the sense that many of them are questions worth asking (even the uncomfortable ones), but some questions were the result of me not being able to buy into a couple of plot points, from aspects of the Eliasz/Paladin relationship to the rationale of the indenture system – to say nothing of the hackneyed “corporations are one-dimensionally evil just because” meme. Even if you frame it as a "what if" scenario rather than a predictive one, parts of her 2144 were a little unconvincing for me.

Another problem is that there are few likeable or sympathetic characters, apart from some of the robots – which may have been intentional, and if so, point made, but still. On the other hand, for the most part they’re believable characters, even if I had trouble identifying with most of them. As debut novels go, it’s pretty good and decidedly provocative – and Newitz demonstrates a gift for dialogue and pure inventiveness (I particularly love how she structures her robot-to-robot conversations), and it’s good enough that I’m likely to try her next novel. But ultimately it does come off to me as preaching to a particular choir, and people like me who aren’t full-time members might have trouble getting into it.

The GamblerThe Gambler by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

According to legend, this short novel from Dostoevsky was not only based on his own experience with gambling addiction, but also written quickly under a strict contract so he could pay off his gambling debts. The narrator, Alexei Ivanovich, is a tutor for a Russian family living in a hotel in Germany, all of whom are living a wealthy lifestyle but massively in debt in some way or other. The head of the family, referred to only as The General, is banking on his wealthy but ill grandmother in Moscow kicking the bucket soon to pay off his debts, which will also enable him to marry a French noblewoman who will only marry him if he’s loaded.

As for what all this has to do with gambling, part of it is related to Alexei Ivanovich being in love with the General’s stepdaughter Polina, who has debts of her own. She sends Alexei to the local casino to earn some money for her, and having never gambled before, he eventually gets hooked. There’s more to it than that, but I wouldn’t want to give away the big surprise in the story.

I have to admit this turned out to be a different novel than I was expecting – in a good way. What I thought might be a miserable road-to-ruin cautionary tale of gambling addiction turned out to be more of a satirical comedy of fiscal responsibility. For all Alexei’s manic behavior towards Polina and his eventual obsession with gambling, he’s arguably the most level-headed person in the story compared to almost everyone else, who are so obsessed with wealth and nobility that they’ll rack up massive debts to achieve both. I don’t know if Dostoevsky intended this to be a comedy, but it does have a mapcap quality to it. Once you work through the thicket of background/set-up to get up to speed with who everyone is and why they’re there (endnotes are your friend), it’s a strikingly entertaining story.

The Economics of Innocent Fraud: Truth for Our TimeThe Economics of Innocent Fraud: Truth for Our Time by John Kenneth Galbraith

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I picked this up partly because it was dirt cheap (as part of a charity sale), and partly because I read and liked John Kenneth Galbraith’s The Great Crash of 1929 a few years back. This is Galbraith’s final book before he passed away in 2006 – a 62-page essay that is essentially a summary of his previously stated views on economic life circa 2004. In essence, Galbraith maintains that proper capitalism has long been replaced by a market economy in which corporate bureaucracies rule with power that is not held in check by sufficient regulation, consumer sovereignty or even the actual owners, and that most of the tenets of what politicians, Wall Street and the business press routinely laud as free-market capitalism – the invisible hand, market forces, the clear division between the private and public sector, etc – amount to a revered mythology that is nowhere close to reality. Galbraith describes this as “innocent fraud” – with tongue planted firmly in cheek, as he notes the degree of “innocence" regarding certain practices varies.

Obviously, what you make of this will likely depend in part on your current political affiliation and the degree to which you subscribe to the very mythology Galbraith criticizes. Personally – and as someone who (1) knows very little about economics and (2) considers himself more or less a centrist – I think he’s not wrong, for the most part. Hindsight goes a long way here – Galbraith wrote this just after Enron happened but before the 2008 economic meltdown, the root cause of which seems to retroactively validate a lot of Galbraith’s criticisms.

Where the book goes wrong – and the reason I’m not giving it more stars – is that Galbraith’s whimsically staccato writing style makes it a lot harder to read than is arguably necessary, even for a Harvard intellectual. Also, Galbraith offers little to back up most of his observations – it’s as though he felt his own career, experience and reputation as an economist to be all the empirical evidence you need that he’s right. It doesn’t mean he’s wrong, necessarily – but if you’re going to declare “conventional wisdom” a fraud (innocent or otherwise), it’s usually advisable to provide evidence to back your case.

The Night Masquerade (Binti, #3)The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is third instalment of the Binti series, and the first thing I should say is that I’m impressed that overall story arc didn’t follow the path I expected. The original novella (which I loved) seemed like a set-up to follow Binti and her alien enemy-turned-friend Okwu as they studied far-out science at Oozma Uni. Instead, the series has focused on Binti’s struggle to understand her increasingly complicated identity, and how difficult it is to cling to cultural traditions whilst simultaneously trying to move beyond them – which is far more interesting.

The Night Masquerade takes place where Home left off, as Binti – transformed by her experience in the desert – rushes home to her family, who are in danger as the ancient war between the Earth-based Khoush and the Meduse (Okwu’s people) threatens to reignite, with Binti’s tribe (the Himba) caught in the crossfire.

The resulting story is both fascinating and somewhat frustrating – one key plot twist just seemed too obvious a thing for the characters to have overlooked, while another key plot twist was not only predictable but came off as a little contrived to me. Which might not count against it except that the first two books didn’t have that particular issue, so it’s a little disappointing in that regard. That said, warts and all, it’s still an exciting, page-turning finale to an excellent character-driven series.

The DispatcherThe Dispatcher by John Scalzi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novella was initially written as an audio book, then later released as a print/e-book, rather than the other way round. I read the e-book version, and on the one hand I can sort of tell it was initially written to be heard rather than read – the narrative skews towards dialogue over action and doesn’t spend a lot of time on description. On the other hand, Scalzi’s books almost always tend to be dialogue-driven, so I’m not sure I would have guessed it started life as an audio book if I hadn’t already known that.

Apart from the format experiment, this is also something of a departure for Scalzi as he tries his hand at urban fantasy/police procedural with a weird but interesting premise: people who are killed by other people – intentionally or otherwise – come back to life unharmed (or at least in the condition they were in a few hours before they were killed), although 999 times out 1,000 they stay dead. One eventual result of this new reality is the creation of an agency that employs ‘dispatchers’ – agents authorized by the govt to humanely kill critically injured or ill people in order to save them.

Scalzi explores this concept via Tony Valdez, a dispatcher roped into a police investigation when one of his fellow dispatchers goes missing. The mystery itself is interesting – can you get away with murder in a world where your victim won't stay dead? – but so is the background world and the societal consequences that result in such a world. Scalzi leaves a lot of potential ground uncovered and doesn’t dig too deeply – mainly due to the length and audio-format limitations, I presume – but he does manage to cover quite a bit of ground within those limitations, such as the ethics of dispatching and the return of duelling. In any case, it’s an entertaining and thought-provoking story, and it’s a world I hope Scalzi returns to one day, because there’s a lot to play with here.

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I shall return,

This is dF
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I am in an episode of The X Files, tagging along with Mulder and Scully as they investigate strange events occurring in a grocery store in Stockholm. The store is part of a national chain of grocery stores, which operates under several different brands targeting different clientele (upper market, deli, import brands, etc).

Mulder and Scully discover that in fact, the mysterious occurrences are not limited to that one store, but across the entire franchise. Finally in one store we encounter a talking border collie who looks at Mulder and says, “It’s time to go home, Fox.”

“Do I know you?” Mulder asks.

“No, I’m just the emissary. But they’ve been waiting for you to remember.”

“Remember what?”

“Who you are.”

“Who am I? And who are they?”

“So you still don’t know. No wonder it took you so long to find your way here. You’d better follow me.”

The dog leads us to the back of the store, where I expect to find a stockroom or loading bay or something. Instead it’s a high-tech operations center with lots of screens – it’s also apparently automated, as there is no one inside. The dog barks a command and a large screen displays a map of Sweden that shows every store in the grocery chain.

Essentially, the stores serve as outposts for aliens to monitor Earth’s activities and determine when First Contact is feasible. Each brand of the grocery store chain represents a different alien species, identifiable by a slight difference in sign design (at the top of the sign is a cross, a circle, an “S”, etc). All the different species coordinate with each other and share information.

“Why did you tell me it’s time to come home?” asks Mulder.

“We’ve been looking everywhere for you, but we were unsuccessful. We took shapeshifting into account but your memory loss complicated things, to say nothing of your career choices.”

“Okay, enough of this vague riddle crap,” says Scully. “For once, just tell us straight – what is going on.”

The dog shakes her head. “That never works. You’re humans. You won't believe anything outside of your preconceptions unless you see it for yourself. Go to the produce section and pick up a vegetable. Any vegetable. Then all your questions will be answered.” She looks at Mulder and adds, “Your sister will be so pleased to see you.”

Mulder looks at Scully and dashes out of the control room into the store. He arrives in the produce section, picks up a stalk of broccoli, and suddenly transforms into a triffid.

The triffid turns to a shocked Scully. “I remember everything,” he says.

What he remembers is this:

Fox Mulder and his sister are both triffid-like aliens who can also shapeshift to imitate other lifeforms. They were visiting Earth with their family when suddenly the US government discovered the existence of aliens on their turf and dispatched agents to capture some and kill the rest. This triggered a mass evacuation of all alien species, and somehow in the confusion Mulder was left behind. The memory of his sister being abducted is a distortion of the truth – he saw her get on the ship but was too late to get onboard himself.

To evade capture, Mulder was forced to maintain his human form for so long that he eventually forgot that he was a triffid and the memory of his sister was distorted over time. His decision to become an FBI agent and hunt for UFOs was a subconscious effort to return home, and he never knew.

It was only years later that the aliens set up the monitoring outposts, having learned the hard way that humans were not ready for alien contact. The triffids searched for Mulder, but because he was disguised as a human and had no idea he wasn’t a human, this made him difficult to find. Once they did find him, extraction was complicated by the fact that the US govt was watching him extremely closely because of his investigations that threatened to uncover its various conspiracies.

The produce shelves slide aside to reveal a hidden tunnel that leads to some kind of teleportation device. Mulder turns to Scully and holds out his hand. Scully takes it and they step into the tunnel together. The shelves slide back into place.

And then I woke up.

I want to believe,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
Picking up the pace again. Isn’t that exciting?

Fierce: Women of the Bible and Their Stories of Violence, Mercy, Bravery, Wisdom, Sex, and SalvationFierce: Women of the Bible and Their Stories of Violence, Mercy, Bravery, Wisdom, Sex, and Salvation by Alice Connor

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is one of those books where I was sold on the premise alone: an exploration of various females mentioned in the Bible (the famous and the not so famous) that not only puts them front and center in whichever narrative they’re a part of, but takes a closer look through a feminist filter and reveals them to be much tougher, resilient and important than traditional takes on these stories make them look. It’s all that – and it’s a lot more personal, passionate and often angrier than I imagined, as Connor is pretty fierce herself (to the point that this is easily the first Christian book I’ve read to date written by an ordained priest with lots of salty language). Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does sometimes distract from the stories she is trying to tell (or retell) and their theological message – at least if yr expecting a relatively straightforward Bible-study book, which this isn’t.

In any case, between Connor’s retellings, sweariness and feminist viewpoint, this book obviously isn’t for everyone – people of certain religious and/or political persuasions (and associated opinions about feminism and LGBT issues) probably wouldn’t make it past the first 20 pages. Personally, my two main problems with this book are (1) Connor tends to overdo it with the snarky humor and pop culture references for my taste, and (2) occasionally she pushes her luck by trying to shoehorn otherwise valid points where they don’t necessarily belong (the chapter on Asherah being a case in point). Both of these issues make it all too easy for even well-intentioned readers to misunderstand the overall point she’s trying to make. Starting an argument is great, but it’s pointless if people think you're making a completely different point from the one you're actually making. (Then again, it could just as easily be my problem, not hers, so, you know.)

That said, where the book really succeeds for me is bringing these women to life and humanizing their experience, which is (for me) an important tool for really understanding the deeper point of these stories (through which we understand God) and how they relate to us today. That in itself makes it worth reading – but as I say, it’s best to approach this with an open (and critical) mind, and a willingness to have your preconceptions challenged.

Rocannon's WorldRocannon's World by Ursula K. Le Guin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve become a fan of Ursula K Le Guin over the past few years, so I was keen to start on Worlds of Exile and Illusion: Rocannon's World, Planet of Exile, City of Illusions, which collects her first three SF novels of the Hainish cycle. This is the first – and it's also her debut novel. The premise: Rocannon is an ethnologist for the League of All Worlds surveying the various indigenous races of the planet Fomalhaut II. His team is killed and his ship destroyed when rebels who oppose the League set up a base on the unsurveyed south side of the planet. As the rebels now possess the only ansible (interstellar radio) on Fomalhaut II, Rocannon must find them so he can access the radio, warn the League and call for a rescue ship.

It sounds like a classic SF yarn, except that it reads more like a fantasy novel, due to the fact that the Angyar – the human-like aliens who aid Rocannon in his quest – are a primitive feudal society, with princes, castles, swordplay, giant flying cats (see book cover) and whatnot. There’s also a legend about a princess seeking a lost family jewel that kicks off the book. Most of the story covers Rocannon’s journey and the aliens he encounters along the way (many of them dangerous). It’s pretty good, but it does suffer in comparison to Le Guin’s later work in that it's a pretty basic adventure story. That said, it’s not dull, and even this early in her career Le Guin could deliver reasonably believable characters, particularly Rocannon. Also, credit for blurring the lines between the SF and fantasy genres instead of sticking to the rules.

Occupy MeOccupy Me by Tricia Sullivan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve read Tricia Sullivan twice before and was really knocked out, so I has keen to try this, even though the jacket blurb sounded a bit derivative – operative with no memory of her past chases a killer who occupies other people’s bodies. I should have known better – what Sullivan delivers here is an “angel” named Pearl with hyperdimensional wings working undercover (as a flight attendant) for a secret organization trying to make the world better through small acts of kindness. Then she meets Dr Sorle, the man responsible for hijacking her into our world, and all hell breaks loose. As does a pterosaur in a briefcase.

The resulting story is imaginative, surreal and just plain weird, with the narrative shifting to first, second and third person as required, whipping back and forth through time and hyperdimensional realities as Pearl tries to find out what happened to her and who/what she really is, and what Dr Sorle is up to – or at least the being occupying his body. Sullivan has an accessible, snappy, humorous writing style to keep things as grounded as they can be in a story this weird, but her ideas and concepts are so out there that it does take effort to keep up with her, and a few bits do seem underexplained. Also, I confess the parts with Alison the bad-ass Scottish veterinarian required somewhat more suspension of disbelief than the hyperdimensional physics – and yet Alison is such a likeable character that I didn’t mind giving her the required leeway. Occupy Me certainly isn’t for everyone, but personally I enjoyed this.

The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real LifeThe Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life by James Martin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had several motivations for reading this: (1) my bride is also reading it for an assignment, so she’s the one who hipped me to it, (2) I’ve always been curious about the Jesuits, and (3) I just happen to follow the author on Twitter. In any case, this book is basically a summation of the practical spirituality taught by St Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society Of Jesus (a.k.a. the Jesuit order), and how you can apply it to your own life. It’s also written for a mainstream audience, not just Jesuits, Catholics or Protestant Christians – in fact, according to Father Martin, you don’t have to be a Christian or even religious to understand and apply Ignatian spiritualty, and he intended to write it so that even non-believers could get something out of it.

That said, this isn’t a secular book by any stretch, so while it’s not preachy, non-believers will have to reconcile themselves with lots of talk about God and Jesus – if that’s a roadblock for you, then you're not going to get much out of this, although if nothing else you’ll learn a lot about St Ignatius and the Jesuits (and you’ll learn some good Jesuit jokes). I'd recommend it for that alone, but personally I got much more out of it in terms of spiritual guidance and development, so I’ll recommend it for that, too.

Maigret and the Headless Corpse: Inspector Maigret #47Maigret and the Headless Corpse: Inspector Maigret #47 by Georges Simenon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In which Inspector Maigret investigates the discovery of a man’s dismembered corpse in a canal. All pieces are recovered except the head, which makes identification tough. And the only lead (and a weak one at that) seems to be Madame Calas, an alcoholic who runs a nearby bistro whose husband is away on business. As is true of most of the Maigret novels I’ve read so far – but particularly the later ones in the series – the emphasis isn’t on the crime so much as various characters Maigret encounters, their psychological makeup and the situations they find themselves in. For Maigret, the real mystery isn’t whodunit but why – or rather, what makes the suspects tick, particularly Madame Calas, whose mannerisms don’t fit in the context of the case at all if she were the culprit, and yet Maigret can’t help thinking she’s involved somehow. As always, Simenon provides an entertaining read if you like yr detective stories laconic and ponderous as well as/rather than hard-boiled action-packed melodrama.

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Don't lose yr head,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
Well this is embarrassing. Evidently I was so busy last month I totally forgot to post this entry, even though I'd already had it written and ready. 

Oh well, it's not like yr paying a subscription to this thing.

And so.

The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected NonfictionThe View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As the tag line suggests, this is a collection of Neil Gaiman’s non-fiction works, including essays, newspaper articles, speeches, book introductions and interviews (as in him interviewing people, not the other way round). As you’d expect, the topics are generally about books, comics, writing, art, libraries, horror, faerie stories, mythology and music, although there are a few other odds and ends to be found. Also as you’d expect, it’s written with the same contagious enthusiasm and dry humor as his fiction, though it’s not all fun and games (for example, his article about a Syrian refugee camp is as harrowing as it is moving).

If there’s a weakness to this collection, it’s that it gets a bit repetitive at times, as some pieces are variations on a particular theme (Gaiman’s childhood obsession with libraries, how great Will Eisner was, etc). And it’s fair to say that what readers get out of this might depend on how much they share Gaiman’s love for the topics, genres and creators he writes about. In any case, this collection demonstrates that Gaiman is an engaging storyteller whether he’s writing fiction or nonfiction. The title track alone (about his experience of attending the Oscars when the film Coraline was nominated for Best Animated Film) is worth the price of admission, but then so is the Lou Reed interview, and … well, there’s a lot to love here, really.

Who Fears DeathWho Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Who Fears Death is set in a post-apocalyptic African country being torn apart by ethnic cleansing as the light-skinned Nuru enslave, oppress, abuse and murder the dark-skinned Okeke. The story follows Onyesonwu, an Ewu (mixed-race) girl whose Okeke mother was raped by a Nuru sorcerer. Onye – who is an outcast because of her Ewu heritage – soon discovers she has magical abilities as well, and seeks to develop her powers and become a sorcerer, not least because someone is trying to kill her.

By luck rather than design, I read the prequel (The Book of Phoenix) to this book first, so I came into it with a little bit of background, although the two stories do stand alone, as the events described take place decades or perhaps centuries apart. That said, one similarity is that both books feature an impulsive and perpetually angry protagonist driven by sheer rage at the injustices around them. Onye is a hard character for me to like – she’s short-tempered, impatient and generally angry most of the time. On the other hand, she has plenty to be angry about – Nnedi Okorafor uses the future setting and magic/fantasy tropes to address historical and contemporary horrors and injustices in various African cultures (genocide, slavery, ethnic cleansing, weaponized rape, mob violence, sexism, even female circumcision). She doesn’t pull any punches, which makes this a harrowing and emotionally exhausting experience – but an undeniably powerful one.

And it works thanks to Okorafor creating believable characters and a believable world that isn’t beholden to genre rules. While the narrative follows a familiar template, it’s the imaginative details that make it seem fresh, as well as Okorafor’s fearlessness in not shying away from the dark places it logically has to go. It’s not the kind of book I’d want to read again – but then I arguably won't need to, since much of the book is probably going to stick with me for a long time.

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Desert blues,

This is dF
defrog: (mooseburgers)
I am in Singapore, sitting on a street corner listening to “Freewill” by Rush in my headphones and trying not to play air drums to it.

When the song finishes, I get up to go back to my hotel. I pass a Jumbotron screen that is displaying Fox News. Sean Hannity is arguing with some female guest about something, but I don’t pay attention.

I take a shortcut down a side street, and when I re-emerge on the main road, I hear some kind of commotion. I look to see what’s going on and I see Hannity chasing the woman he’d been arguing with on TV. He is brandishing what looks like bright orange toy lightsabers –one in each hand – and swatting her across the back, shouting, “Insult me on MY show, will you, you liberal Commie bitch!!!”

One of the Fox News women (not sure which one, so we’ll say Laura Ingraham to keep it simple) is right behind him, apparently egging him on. They are all being chased by a stray dog who thinks they’re playing and wants Hannity to throw one of the lightsabers to play Fetch.

I get out my phone to take some pictures, because wouldn’t you? It’s hard to get a good focused picture, of course, because Hannity and the woman are running up and down the street. Also, Laura Ingraham is running interference, trying to block the lens and shouting “No pictures!” But by now a crowd has gathered and they’re all taking pics and video now.

Finally Hannity gives up, lets his guest go and tries to push his way through the crowd, presumably to get back to the studio and finish his show. The dog follows him, barking, still hoping Hannity will throw a lightsaber for him to chase. Hannity turns angrily and kicks the dog. The crowd boos him and starts to chase him down the street.

I don’t bother to follow them. I head back to my hotel and stop in the convenience store next to the lobby to buy some drinks and snacks. But it’s a small store and the line is very long.

When I fnally get back to my hotel room, I turn on the TV, open my laptop and get online, and I see that all of the pics and videos of the Hannity incident have gone viral, especially the dog-kicking scene.

Just about everyone at Fox goes on air to defend Hannity’s behavior, claiming that the lightsabers were inflatable, not plastic, so he wasn’t really hurting his guest when he was whacking her with them. They also blame the Liberal Media for making a bigger deal out of it than it is, and how it says a lot about liberal priorities that no one cared what Hannity was doing until he kicked the dog, which by the way is okay and unhurt. (Luckily this has been verified by independent news sources.)

And then I woke up.

Bonfire of the Hannities,

This is dF
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Now that Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Kirstjen Nielsen and Stephen Miller can’t get a table at restaurants, the GOP is now up in arms about the lack of civility in public discourse.

Ironically, the subsequent “debate” about this on social media is sort of proving their point, though not in the way they probably think.

And … well, look.

1. Lack of civility in public discourse has been a problem since at least Twitter was invented. It’s certainly been a problem since at least Rush Limbaugh got a talk radio show – or really since Reagan was elected. Or maybe since the 60s. We can certainly trace it back to William F Buckley and Gore Vidal.

Point being, it sure took Republicans long enough to notice.

2. That’s admittedly besides the point since I don’t really believe the GOP cares about civility for its own sake. Because let’s be honest here – you can’t really support Trump, Fox News, Ted Nugent and the NRA and expect me or anyone else to take you seriously when you complain about lack of civility in politics. They only care that the incivility is being directed at them.

3. However, as the saying goes, two wrongs don’t make a right. And personally speaking, if the choices are being a dick and not being a dick, I choose not to be a dick. I’m more than happy to let the MAGA Party be the dick. It’s a differentiator I’m happy to let them own.

4. That’s basically what the “civility” argument boils down to, for me. I don’t define “civility” as avoiding arguing with MAGAs or telling them to their face how wrong and terrible their ideas are, or not protesting and calling out injustice when we see it. By all means we should. And it doesn’t mean you have to be friends with people you’d rather not be friends with. It’s really about to what extent you make it personal, and to what extent yr willing to be a dick to people you disagree with.

And when you start actively calling for incivility, it's valid to ask just how far you want to take that incivility, given that the Left has already established quite clearly that it's morally and socially acceptable to punch a Nazi in the face simply for being a Nazi. So if we also postulate that Trump is Hitler and the GOP are Nazis, does that mean we’re good to punch Republicans in the face? How about Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Kirstjen Nielsen? How about the next time they try to get a table, someone decides to punch their lights out?

To be clear, I’m not advocating that. And I’m not saying anyone else is (that I know of). I’m just posing the question. Because given the amount of fury and anger and hatred being projected at the GOP right now – no matter how understandable it might be – I’m not convinced that incivility will stop at politely denying the GOP entrance to a restaurant. Sure, it may not get to the point where the Left starts shooting up baseball games – but we can’t rule that out, either.

Point being, when you meet incivility with incivility, it tends to escalate, not the other way round. And when it gets out control, it’s on you.

5. The main argument in favor of incivility towards the GOP is that they have finally gone full-on Nazi, or close enough as makes no odds. In other words, we are not talking about the usual political disagreements over taxation, social programs or foreign policy. We’re talking about Trump’s implementation of hateful, savage and increasingly cruel policies that are racist, fascist and disastrous on so many levels that – according to the Left – civility is no longer an option. Because we tried civility with Hitler and look what happened.

Honestly I think that’s just an excuse to scream and yell obscenities at anyone who votes GOP, and to justify whatever actions end up being taken against Republicans, whether it’s refusing them service in restaurants, punching them or worse. All it does is reduce everyone to cartoon supervillain stereotypes rather than human beings. You know who else does that? Nazis.

6. On a purely tactical level, personally, I don’t think Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Kirstjen Nielsen or anyone else should be denied service in a restaurant just for supporting Trump’s policies because (1) it just gives them an excuse to play the victim card without having to actually make something up, and (2) it’s stooping to their level of vindictiveness. Michelle Obama once said, “When they go low, we go high.” I don’t believe kicking Republicans out of restaurants fulfils that instruction.

7. Some have argued that being civil to Repubs is pointless because they’re not civil already, and they won’t change if we play nice. The first part is true – the second part will likely be true in many cases. But here’s the thing: being dicks to them won’t change things either. Being dicks to Repubs generally results in them doubling down and ratcheting up their own dickishness, and they’ll feel 100% justified in doing so.

8. And here’s the other thing: for all their whining, a lot of MAGAs would much rather the Left be dicks to them. Stephen Miller certainly would. He lives to “trigger the libs”. So does Trump. So does his hardcore MAGA/NRA fanbase. They want the Left to be angry, and they don’t mind if it escalates because that’s an arena they are very comfortable in.

John Lennon told us this decades ago:

“When it gets down to having to use violence, then you are playing the system’s game. The establishment will irritate you – pull your beard, flick your face – to make you fight. Because once they’ve got you violent, then they know how to handle you. The only thing they don’t know how to handle is non-violence and humor.”

The same goes for incivility in this case.

So basically I’m not falling for this whole “we must be uncivil” kick. I’m not going to play their game on their terms. Civility must be a differentiator if we’re ever going to claw our way back from the cesspool of polarization we’re wallowing in now. The alternative may well be zero tolerance for the opposition, in which case the next election may be the last if the losing side refuses to accept their loss because Too Much Is At Stake.

And if that happens, then that’s the ball game.

Don’t be a dick,

This is dF
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The GOP has gone so far off the rails that George Will is urging conservatives to vote Democrat this November.

Which would be significant if not for the fact that George Will’s opinion doesn’t really count for anything in conservative circles anymore.

Why am I blogging about this?

Mainly because I have a soft spot for George Will. To be sure, I rarely agree with him on anything, but I do see him as one of the last of his breed – an intellectual political commentator with a journalistic approach, a well-read understanding of the issues, and a deep sense of classical party loyalty and a firm belief in what the party stands for (or at least should stand for). When I was growing up, Will was among that class of newspaper pundit who not only had a good grasp of the political issues of the day, but could put together a decent and logical argument for his opinions of them – complete with stats, studies and anecdotes to back up his point.

Again, that’s not to say he was right. But you knew where you stood with him, and you knew that he had at least put some thought into whatever point he was trying to make.

For me, I always felt his main weakness is that his worldview often seems to come more from reading about it rather than experiencing it (particularly when it comes to baseball). That comes across in his writing – typically for Will, his latest column reads like an A- answer to a essay question in a university class. If he was a liberal instead of a conservative he could contribute song lyrics to Bad Religion. Who else but Will would quote The Federalist papers and A Man For All Seasons in the same column, much less use words like “vitiate”?

But that's exactly why I doubt anyone in Trump’s MAGA base cares what George says. For one thing, many of them probably wouldn’t understand half of it. For another, the MAGA clan has openly and frequently ridiculed intellectual elitists for the sole crime of thinking they’re smarter than everyone else. The fact that Trump is POTUS (Electoral College weirdness and Vlad Putin’s cyber-troll action team notwithstanding) is strong evidence that the modern conservative movement prefers opinion leaders who eschew intellectual reasoning in favor of people who shout a lot, insult their opponents personally and blame liberals, feminists and ethnic minorities for all their problems.

Also, Will quit the GOP over Trump’s nomination. He also bad-mouthed Bill O’Reilly to his face. Both of which are virtual treason in Trumpland.

In other words, George Will is one of many classic GOP loyalists who have been left behind by refusing to compromise on principles. Indeed, that’s why he quit the GOP – it’s no longer the party he once supported. Will is from that classic school of post-Vietnam conservatism embodied by William F Buckley’s National Review (of which Will was editor for something like eight years) and the Reagan-era GOP that had a specific ideological vision of what conservative govt should be and could accomplish – but was also rooted in a spirit of bipartisan deal-based practicality necessary to a two-party system.

Thanks to the Dubya Bush era and the Tea Party movement – enabled by the bullhorns of Fox News and conservative talk radio (and eventually Twitter) – the current GOP now embodies almost none of those principles and has morphed into something completely different and horrible. The GOP is dead. Long live the Trump Party. They kept the brand, but it’s a completely different company now. Etc. 

Consequently, no one in the current party is going to listen to his plea to vote the GOP completely out of power in Congress. The truth is, the majority of Republicans like this version of the GOP. Also, as other people have mentioned before (and correctly), the GOP wasn’t exactly dragged unwillingly into Trump’s hate-fueled xenophobic universe of dumb vitriolic race-baiting conspiracy theory batshit. 

The bigger problem is this: convincing conservatives to vote against the Trump Party means convincing them to vote for Democrats. Any given poll shows that most Repubs would vote for Trump all over again even knowing what they know now because they believe Hillary would have been be far, far worse. So I don’t see any of these people taking a chance on a Demo – much less to punish a party they don’t think needs fixing.

Ironically, of course, this is one of those times I agree with Will – to a point. I do think that the only thing that can stop the GOP in its sycophantic tracks and trigger some kind of self-reassessment is having its collective ass handed to it in the mid-terms – badly. Ideally they should lose enough seats that not only make the Demos filibuster-proof but will also take Republicans a good 20 years to try and take back at least one Congressional house.

However, Will seems to think this would force a rethink of GOP leadership that will bring it back to its Reagan-era ideology. He sees a mid-term routing as shock therapy to save the patient.

Remember the scene in Indiana Jones & The Temple Of Doom when Indy is under the spell of Kali and Short Round snaps him out of it by burning him with a torch? Like that.

However, my personal diagnosis is that it’s too late for that. The GOP as we know it is gone, and it is not coming back. It’s now the Trump-Fox-Alt-White Party. A mid-term defeat will cause plenty of soul searching, for sure, but the result will be either doubling down or figuring out how to better package their message, not a return to classic Republicanism.

And it’s a moot point anyway, since – again – most people who consider themselves Republicans would much rather vote for this trash fire than for any Democrat.

Still, you can’t blame George for trying.

Will the circle be unbroken,

This is dF
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ITEM: D.Trump has issued a decree executive order putting an end to the policy of separating child immigrants from their families at the border – this being the policy that he and his staff have simultaneously said was (1) not his policy, (2) totally legal, (3) entirely the fault of Democrats, (4) Biblically justified, (5) intended as a deterrent to illegal immigrants, (6) upholding the law of the land, (6) something that only an act of Congress could stop and (7) non-existent.

(NOTE: To be clear, the policy wasn’t specifically to separate families. The policy was to arrest everyone and try the adults as criminals – which resulted in families being separated. And baby jails tender age shelters.)

As you may know, the good news is ICE won’t be separating families anymore. The bad news: kids will still be put in jail (albeit together with their parents), and most of the kids who have already been separated are probably going to stay that way for awhile, because nothing in the EO provides for it.

This Vox explainer and this article from New Republic covers the basics of what the EO does and doesn’t do. A few extra comments from me for bloggery purposes:

1. It’s important to understand that that what Trump actually wants is the ability to arrest every single illegal immigrant (regardless of age), prosecute them as criminals and keep them jail together for as long as it takes to process and deport them. The Flores Settlement apparently prevents that, and Trump wants to get rid of Flores so that he can detain immigrants indefinitely. In fact, as I understand it, the EO is essentially designed to ensure a court case to challenge Flores, provided Congress doesn’t overrule it first.

So the EO isn’t really about reuniting families or ending a barbaric practice – it’s about giving the Trump admin legal powers of indefinite detention for illegal immigrants.

2. That’s important to remember because let's never forget that the Trump admin does not care one bit about kids being ripped from their families, and doesn't see that as a bad or immoral thing in itself.

I feel confident in saying this because they were perfectly fine with it until it turned out to be a political liability that even Fox News couldn’t mitigate. And since this admin typically doubles down on unpopular statements and decisions (not least because Trump’s MAGA base loves his hardline – womp womp), I’m assuming they’re only changing gears now because (1) Trump wants to force the aforementioned legal battle, and (2) they realized quickly it was too expensive and troublesome to build tent cities or find places to put all those kids. Put simply, for TrumpCo, this is not about doing the right thing – it's about the cold logistical fact it's cheaper and easier to keep families together.

3. Which is another thing – apart from the policy being morally vile, it was also badly planned and incompetently executed. Apparently it never occurred to anyone in TrumpCo to work out the logistics of arresting literally every illegal they caught, the caseload involved, and just where they would keep these people in the interim. It seems pretty obvious no one in charge of this bothered to think beyond “arrest ‘em and deport ‘em”.

4. In any case, the EO does not excuse in any way what TrumpCo has done to these families so far, why they’re doing it, and how they’ve sold it to the MAGA base. They still own that, and they will continue to do so long after these families are reunited (if they ever are – and it doesn’t look so good right now).

5. As for Melania Trump’s jacket … I think the only reason to pay any attention to it at all is to point out that it was intended as a sideshow distraction. Because let’s stop to think for a moment of just who in the POTUS/FLOTUS ecosystem thought that jacket was a good idea, and why.

I mean, seriously – yr sending FLOTUS to the Texas border to visit the separated families that the left are making so much noise about. And she has this jacket that she is going to be seen wearing in plain sight in the midst of all that fury. It’s inconceivable to me that it never occurred to anyone involved that the jacket might be controversial or send an unintended message.

Which is why I’m assuming that was the entire point.

I do wonder just where Melania fits into this – did it ever occur to her wearing that jacket at this time would be a bad idea? What did she think people would say about it? What did she want them to think? Did Trump make her wear it? Did she wear it to gaslight Donald?

I don’t know. And the answers aren't important right now in the context of the bigger issue at hand. But I don’t believe for a second it was an unfortunate coincidence. And I don’t believe for a second it’s a comment on “fake news”.

We care a lot,

This is dF
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We need to talk about DJ Trump and Jeff Bo Sessions and their zero tolerance immigration policy.

Because, damn.

1. The first thing to understand is that the legal situation and the process involved – and US immigration policy in general – is a lot more complicated than a lot of media reports make out. I recommend this Vox explainer and this NYT article for a reasonably detailed rundown of the nature and the history of the current policy.

The upshot: (1) This is an extension of a problem that’s been ongoing since at least the Bush II admin, (2) while there isn’t literally a policy instructing ICE to separate families at the border, there is a policy that treats all immigrants without papers as criminals, which is resulting in having their kids taken away (because you can’t keep yr kids with you in federal jail), and (3) the US govt isn’t set up to handle the logistics issues that this policy creates, which is a reason why they’re now looking at concentration camps tent cities. (More on that last point here.)

2. History aside, obviously it’s a monstrous policy for a couple of reasons: (1) obviously it's traumatic for the families, especially the children, and (2) it shows a distinct lack of empathy and humanity on the part of the Trump admin. They’re treating these people as (at best) statistics on a chart and (at worst) subhuman criminals who might as well be honorary members of MS-13 or whatever. It’s the kind of policy you'd expect from a guy who has been spewing rhetoric for the last few years about immigrants being terrorists, rapists, drug lords and animals.

3. Even if it’s just rhetoric to Trump, it’s practically gospel to his fan base who defend his policy as a law and order issue only – literally, if you happen to be Jeff Sessions, who can’t seem to keep a grin off his face when he talks about the admin’s current immigration crackdown. All I have to say about his Romans 13:1 crack has already been covered by Stephen Colbert. (Also, as others have pointed out, Romans 13:1 is irrelevant in a country that’s supposed to separate church and state.)

The whole law and order thing, for me, is mostly people trying to win an argument on a technicality – the law is the law, and if you don’t want to suffer the consequences, don’t break the law, what could be simpler? As if the “consequences” are justified no matter how extreme. All that says to me is these people see having yr kids taken away from you as just punishment for having the gall to take a shortcut in seeking a better life in the USA – and they’ve given no thought to what this actually involves doing to other human beings.

(I’ll add too that many people who deploy the “law and order” argument are also using it mainly because they do see immigrants as terrorists, rapists, drug lords and animals.)

4. For people whose fallback position is, “Look, like it or not, illegal immigration is a real problem and we need to fix how we deal with it," my response is this:

Yes, illegal immigration is a real problem (though not to the extremes that Trump Co claim), and the US needs to reform its policy to deal with it. The Big Question is how you deal with that problem, and the lengths (or in this case, depths) yr willing to go to “fix” it.

As it stands, our “fix” seems to require a certain amount of cruelty (see here, here and here) to carry out. And that means the people who carry it out – or support it – have to be okay with that level of cruelty. Whether cruelty is the intention or simply a consequence of zero-tolerance – or, even more cynically, an unfortunate but necessary political bargaining chip – it means these people think it’s okay to do this to illegal immigrants and their children. Trump can go on all he likes about having no choice because the law won’t let him keep families together – the prospect of separating them didn’t stop him from okaying the policy that is resulting in cruelty.

5. Also, regarding Trump’s claim that this is all the Democrats’ fault – that’s horseshit. What he’s saying is, “I wouldn’t have to do this if you’d give me an immigration reform bill that overturns the Flores Settlement, makes it harder to apply for asylum, allows indefinite detention and gives me my Wall™ money.”

Which is basically the same mentality as the average movie bad guy who takes people hostage and tells the hero, “Give me what I want and no one has to die – and if they do, it’s yr fault, not mine.”

It’s even more incredulous given that (1) the Democrats don’t control any branch of the govt, and (2) the current MO of the GOP is to slap together bills with no Demo input at all and force a vote (preferably in the middle of the night). And in any case, it’s insane to force Demos to vote for a bill they otherwise wouldn’t support simply to end Trump’s own cruel practice (which, by the way, it wouldn’t).

So, yeah – the situation is more complex than it looks, but regardless, Trump’s zero-tolerance policy is cruel political theater rooted in xenophobia and enabled by populist fear and racism that relies on denigrating the victims to sub-human status to justify it. It’s not just about the policy itself – it’s about the fact that too many people (from the Trump admin to its fan base and most if not all of the GOP) either don’t care about the consequences of that policy on real humans, or think that’s a small price to pay to achieve the fulfillment of their political ideology.

Theatre of cruelty,

This is dF
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There’s been a lot of shouting about the SCOTUS ruling about Colorado baker Jack Phillips demanding the right to refuse service to gay couples who want a cake for their wedding – which, as you may know, the bakery won.

The case was seen as a litmus test of sorts to settle the broader issue of business owners being able to discriminate against prospective customers (but especially gay ones) for religious reasons.

Despite crowing from the right and screaming outrage from the left, the SCOTUS decision didn’t actually do that.

I recommend reading SCOTUSblog’s explanation of the ruling, but the upshot is this:

Like a lot of SCOTUS cases, it’s not about the broader issue you want resolved but the specific details and context of the case before the court. And it’s not about the final score but the legal reasoning of the majority, which is key because it sets the precedent for reviewing future cases.

In this specific case, Justice Kennedy was careful to point out that what you have in these situations is two constitutionally protected items: the right of LGBTs to get married and generally not be discriminated against, and the right of people with sincere religious beliefs to lead their lives based on those beliefs. Kennedy also made it clear that the latter is not (and has never been) absolute.

The way to resolve this (such as it is) is to have a neutral third party evaluate the case under state anti-discrimination laws to fairly and neutrally determine if the religious person has a case. According to SCOTUS, the baker – Jack Phillips – didn’t get a neutral hearing. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission that ruled against Phillips treated him unfairly by being too openly hostile to his sincere religious beliefs.

I’m sure people on both sides of this argument will take umbrage to the idea of balancing LGBT rights with 1A rights, and argue that their side (and their side only) is non-negotiable. The point is that from a strictly legal POV, that ain’t the case. But in the case of Jack Phillips, it's really just a question of how this specific case was handled, not whether his religious beliefs took precedent over LGBT rights. 

So basically, the SCOTUS ruling didn’t really resolve the broader issue of whether businesses can use their religious beliefs as an excuse refuse service to people. It’s basically still a case-by-case scenario. For now. 

Which might be for the best, since I seriously doubt in these polarized times that the losing side of any eventual definitive ruling would accept it graciously and move on. We don’t really do that anymore.

As for me, my own take remains the same as before when this came up in Indiana:

If the law says a business owner can discriminate based on sincere religious beliefs – and if changing the law is not an option in the short term – the best response is for all of his/her competitors to step up and say as loudly as possible, “Hey victims of bigotry, we’ll totally take your money – in fact, we’ll give you a special discount!” We’ll see which business lasts longer. Even if it doesn’t result in bigots going out of business, it will at least assure LGBTs and other victims of bigotry that their needs are served.

If I knew you were coming I’d have baked a cake.

This is dF
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And while I was typing the last post, Samantha Bee is in trouble for calling Ivanka Trump the c-word. And naturally conservatives want TBS to fire her and cancel her show – allegedly in the name of fairness since Rosanne Barr was sacked by ABC for doing the same thing.

Also bloggable!

1. It’s not the same thing at all. Barr’s tweet was not only offensive, but also racist, which is bad enough on its own terms, and worse in the context of the times – racism is ascending in power with the aim of disenfranchising everyone who isn’t a white Christian male. Bee’s rant wasn’t racist or sexist, and didn’t contribute to Ivanka’s (or anyone’s) disenfranchisement in any way. It was just rude and offensive.

2. Assuming Bee keeps her job, it’s only a double standard if the “standard” being applied is civility and decorum. Which it’s not – we know this because (1) their favorite POTUS insults their political enemies almost daily and they love it, and (2) my Facebook/Twitter feeds are full of conservative memes about Obama being an ape, Michelle Obama being a man (and an ape), Chelsea Clinton being ugly, Rosie O’Donnell being fat, and libtards being stupid, little easily-offended snowflakes who can't take a joke.

So all this conservative handwringing about Samantha Bee is so much schadenfreude to me. They don't care about Bee’s use of the c-word – they only care who she said it about. If Bee had said it about Hillary Clinton, she’d be getting a White House invite by now.

(To be fair, too, I think a lot of liberals don’t really care about double standards either – I know plenty who loved what Bee said and think she has nothing to apologize for. Same old story – it’s truthful when I say it about yr side, and an offensive smear when you say it about my side, blah blah blah.)

4. All that aside, should Bee have said it? Probably not – partly because political discourse is toxic enough as it is, but mainly because it provided the perfect excuse for everyone to ignore the overall point Bee was trying to make regarding the insensitive obliviousness of Ivanka Trump posting a sweet photo of herself and her child when ICE is busy forcibly separating immigrant kids from their parents. Bee herself has said as much.

5. Some sponsors are boycotting Full Frontal as a result – and, you know, fair is fair.

6. I’ve seen people claim that Trump demanding that TBS fire Bee is a clear First Amendment violation because it’s the government ordering a show off the air – which is something the 1A explicitly forbids.

Personally, I don’t agree with that evaluation (yet) because Trump doesn’t have any actual power to force TBS to cancel the show. It would only be a 1A violation if he actually succeeded in enforcing his demand with government power. For example, if he directly targets TBS with blackmail or an executive order, or has Bee or TBS’ head of programming arrested, then yes, that would be an egregious 1A violation.

If he uses the White House as a bully pulpit to actively encourage advertisers to boycott the show – or to encourage his fan base to boycott the advertisers – that’s a grey area, but I don’t know if it would pass muster in a constitutional court case.

Anyway, until any of that happens, it’s just more of Trump’s usual autocratic bluster.

To Bee or not to Bee,

This is dF
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She had a sitcom. Now she doesn’t. Blog topic acquired!

1. I should say upfront I never watched either of her sitcoms, and that I never found her 80s standup to be all that funny.

2. Conservatives are of course getting themselves into a lather over Roseanne being “silenced” for exercising her 1A rights, etc. Tra la la.

I think what I said before about Kevin Williamson and the Intellectual Dark Web applies here: (1) yr 1A rights don’t entitle you to a TV show, or talk radio show, or NYT column section or any mass media platform, and (2) saying offensive things invites pushback and has consequences.

In mass media in particular, if you cross a line, the people who gave you that platform can take it away. We can argue all day about where the line should be – but that’s a non-starter these days, since most people tend to argue that wherever “the line” is, it should be in your favor and not your political opposition.

3. Some argue that ABC's move was Draconian because it dropped Barr for what she said on her personal Twitter account, not what she said on the show.

That's a fair point – it does seem unfair and alarming that you can be sacked for speaking yr mind on yr own time. On the other hand, we do live in a world now where if you are employed by a company and you suddenly become a Twitter sensation by – oh, let's say – being videotaped screaming at Spanish-speaking people in a restaurant, you’re not doing your company any favors by suddenly making them The Company That Employs Racist Jerks. If you become a liability to your company’s ability to do business, the company is going to sack you. Which is what happened with ABC – Roseanne’s tweet was toxic enough that ABC decided she was a liability to ratings and advertisers.

It's also worth pointing out that Rosanne Barr isn't just a clueless private employee whose racist comment happened to go viral – she's a famous person with a big fan base who has made a career out of saying outrageous things in public and on purpose. 

4. While ABC’s decision to drop the show completely may be extreme, it’s worth remembering the context in which all this is happening. Barr made a tasteless racist joke at a time when America is seeing a resurgence of white supremacists and neo-Nazis emboldened by the apparent backing of both the current presidential admin and its biggest megaphone, Fox News (which also just happens to be the most-watched TV news outlet in the country) – which understandably is alarming and infuriating to all the ethnic and religious minorities those groups want to oppress.

Consequently, when you make ape jokes about black people, you’re helping to legitimize and empower the white supremacist cause – especially when you’re someone who has Barr’s level of influence as a reasonably famous celebrity. Barr may or may not have intended that, but that’s the context in which ABC has to decide what to do about it.

5. As for Roseanne’s Ambien excuse, sorry, but no. I’ve heard that one before – “it wasn’t me saying that, it was the alcohol/drugs”. No, it was you. Alcohol and drugs don’t put those thoughts in yr head or yr heart – they release what’s already in there.

That joke isn’t funny anymore,

This is dF
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Which is not all that fast, but it’s been kind of a hectic month, see?

FiddleheadFiddlehead by Cherie Priest

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is the fifth and final volume in the Clockwork Century cycle, Priest’s alt-history steampunk Civil War saga (with zombies!), and it basically serves both as a standalone story and a vehicle to tie up all the loose ends from the previous books. Here, former CSA spy turned Pinkerton agent Maria Boyd is assigned to help former POTUS Abe Lincoln protect Gideon Bardsley, who has invented a computer that has calculated that the Civil War (which has been going on for over 17 years) ends well for neither side due to an ever greater threat – and someone is trying to kill him to keep this information secret. Meanwhile, arms heiress Katherine Haymes is trying to convince President Ulysses S Grant that she has developed a superweapon that can end the war once and for all – or will it?

I should mention I haven't read the whole series – I loved the first one, Boneshaker, but I felt let down by the follow-up Dreadnought, so I wasn’t in a hurry to read the rest. Fiddlehead is somewhat better, but Priest has a tendency to gum up dialog and action sequences with exposition and/or internal ponderings, and the dialog itself can get too clever (particularly a cat-and-mouse scene between Grant and Haymes as he tries to figure out what her game is). And as antagonists go, Haymes is just too one-dimensional for my taste. The actual storyline is entertaining adventure stuff, but the pacing is really uneven. For fans of the series it’s a decent ending, but for me, I don’t think I’ll try reading the episodes I’ve missed.

Journey Into FearJourney Into Fear by Eric Ambler

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve read Eric Ambler twice before, and was entertained both times. This one follows the same basic template – average middle-class mild-mannered Englishman suddenly finds himself up to his neck in spy-thriller shenanigans and completely out of his depth as he struggles to comprehend his situation and what to do about it. In this case, armaments manufacturing engineer Mr Graham – in Istanbul circa 1940 to help consult the Turkish military on naval guns – is shocked to discover someone is trying to kill him. The Turkish secret police – who need him alive to compete his work – try to get him back to England safely via a steamer ship, but Graham soon discovers that he is anything but safe as some of his fellow passengers may not be who they seem to be.

It’s classic Ambler – Graham swerves between incredulous indignation at the very idea that anyone would want to kill him (where his biggest fear is looking foolish for believing such nonsense) to paranoia (as he tries to figure out who he can trust) and desperation (as his well thought out, logical plans keep falling apart because he really has no idea what he’s doing). In other words, he’s no James Bond or John McClane – he’s a normal person placed in a terrifying position. The twists aren’t necessarily surprising, but they’re entertaining as hell. Of the Ambler novels I’ve read so far, this is the best of the bunch.

Faerie ApocalypseFaerie Apocalypse by Jason Franks

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ll be honest – I’ve never been a fan of the faerie genre as a whole, although there are a few exceptions (Neil Gaiman and Charles de Lint come to mind). And I might not have tried this, except that (1) Franks’ first novel Bloody Waters was so good, and (2) this ain’t yr average fairy story. In fact, as the title implies, the whole point of the book is to set up the usual tropes of faerie fiction – the quests, the royalty, the magi, the tricksters, the endless walking, and mortal humans finding themselves in this magical alt-reality – and take an Uzi to them. Literally, in at least one case. It’s not a parody so much as an excuse to break every genre rule there is just to see what happens.

The story follows four different mortals (most of them unnamed) who enter the Lands Of The Realm for various reasons, and wreak havoc upon it, intentionally or otherwise. I won’t say any more because part of the appeal here is seeing where Franks goes with this – and it’s not where you might think. The chief criticism I have is the lack of a sympathetic main character – not a hero, which would defeat the purpose of the story, but someone who could at least offset the senselessly destructive nature of everyone else. The faerie playwright Nentril Revallo is the most likeable character here for my money, and while he plays a key role in the story, he’s still a minor character. Overall it’s rather bleak and nihilistic for my taste … and yet it has to be for the story to work, and I do appreciate what Franks is ultimately shooting for here. So if yr interested in seeing someone take a chainsaw to the whole faerie-fiction paradigm, this may be just the thing.

View all my reviews

Fractured fairy tales,

This is dF
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The internet is aflame over Trump’s latest race-baiting immigrant comment – namely that he called immigrants “animals”.

Or did he?

Which is the main takeaway of this Vox explainer about the whole thing, which is worth reading, because it makes a few very important points regarding the state of political discourse in the Trump era:

1. Context matters
2. People are basically talking past each other to make political points
3. Trump is a babbling idiot who doesn’t know what he’s saying half the time.

Okay, the article doesn’t say that last one explicitly – but it does make the point that a major problem with divining what Trump supposedly intended to say vs what we all heard him say is that he has a tendency to veer off on tangents that perhaps only make sense in his own head.

Have you ever had a conversation where the other person switched topics in their head but didn’t signal this to you, and so you think they’re still talking about what you were talking about previously but they’re actually talking about or referring to something else?

Trump is basically like that. Anything he says doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the immediate topic, or indeed the previous sentence. Which is why, when you review the conversation in which he made his “animals” comment, it’s in no way obvious that he is talking about MS-13 gang members exclusively. Even if he thought in his head that’s who he was referring to, you can’t tell that from the transcript.

And this is a problem because, of course, he’s the POTUS. What the POTUS says matters. And when you have no idea what he means when he says something, you invite misinterpretation on both sides to the point that it can become a distraction from real issues – such as the fact that Trump’s aggressive immigration policy is not as focused on “the worst of the worst” like he claims. (Or the fact that statistically, the Obama admin deported more non-criminal immigrants than the Trump admin has, although Trump is certainly trying to beat that record.)

So if there’s a takeaway worth remembering, it’s that the current head of the USA – and the person currently and enthusiastically backed by the GOP – is an inarticulate boob who says whatever pops into his head as if it’s true (which it frequently isn’t), and real policies are being carried out based on this.

For example, Trump may have been referring only to MS-13, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that some ICE agents are trying to justify arrests of DACA kids by pretending they’re gang members. Which is not to say Trump specifically ordered them to do so – I think the more racist ICE agents are hearing what he says and interpreting it to mean that as far as Trump is concerned, they’re all potential gang members, so why not use that as a pretense?

It’s like all the racists and Nazis and alt-right characters who feel that Trump has their back, even though he’s never really specifically said that he does, and has never explicitly said pro-racist/Nazi things. But it sure can be interpreted that way. (Yes, I’m aware that Trump allegedly uses coded language, but that only works if you KNOW it’s coded language, and I swear at least 60% of the ‘code words’ racists use to say racist things without sounding racist are things I had no idea were code words in the first place – so it’s plausible to me that Trump doesn't know them either.)

And of course all of this is why it's so easy to conclude that Trump meant all (non-white) immigrants are animals, because it's not like he doesn't have a history of saying things like that.

What’d I say,

This is dF
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When I first saw the Twitters light up about the “Intellectual Dark Web”, I thought they were talking about the “dark net” – the fabled part of the internet where hackers and child pornographers and 409 scammers and the like all hang out. (Not that the internet works that way, but why ruin a good metaphor?)

Turns out it’s not that. It’s a collective of pundits whose main mission in life appears to be coming up with extreme ways to make liberals hopping mad by proposing non-PC ideas and opinions: Sam Harris, Dave Rubin, Jordan Peterson, Christina Hoff Sommers, Ben Shapiro, Milo Whasisname, etc and so on. Whether they really believe their own schtick or not, they’re basically “professional controversialists” (as The Guardian puts it) who make a living promoting conservative/libertarian views about race, gender, religion and other sensitive topics that appear practically designed to offend liberals.

Which is nothing new, of course. What is new is that they’ve somehow united under this “Intellectual Dark Web” concept, which is basically: intellectuals who have been oppressed and silenced by liberals and their mainstream media for the crime of saying non-PC things.

And, you know. LOL?

I don’t take them seriously, of course, for a couple of reasons:

1. As mentioned above, these people are being intentionally provocative. Or at the very least they know what they’re saying is provocative, and they seem to thrive on it. So does their fanbase, which is considerable. Which brings us to:

2. For people who have been “oppressed” and “silenced” by the liberal mainstream whatever, they sure seem to have a huge audience.

So to me, this whole IDW thing looks like market positioning where one of the selling points is “the liberals are out to silence us all!” It’s an incorporation of the Bill O’Reilly Free Speech Defense, in which criticism of speech is exactly the same as denying yr right to free speech.

It’s also from the same branch as this whole conservative victim mentality that everyone hates them, mocks them and insults them for simply speaking their mind – which happens to involve hating, mocking and insulting everyone who isn’t a Trump fan with the knowledge that every branch of govt will pretty much back them up, which I already covered here.

The latest version of this: simply wearing a MAGA hat is like being openly gay in 1950. Which just goes to show how much MAGA hat wearers know about the LGBT experience in America all the way up to (checks notes) now.

Anyway. Ha ha. No.

The “Intellectual Dark Web” is a marketing stunt and nothing more. Not a single one of these people are being denied the right to say what they want, and none of them are having trouble finding an audience to hear what they have to say, or making a living by saying it.

As for the PC liberals shouting at them for saying provocative and offensive things … well, look. When you say provocative and offensive things, they tend to provoke and offend people. It kind of goes with the territory. You can’t reasonably expect provoked and offended people to not call you on that. Because would you?

I know some IDWs say: “Of course I want a response, but I want them to debate my idea intellectually, not scream at me that I’m evil.”

Which is fair. On the other hand, there’s not a lot to debate about when when yr intellectual proposition is that women should be hanged for having abortions, or that black people chose slavery and are intellectually inferior, or that the Holocaust didn’t happen (or wasn’t as bad as the Jews make out), or that liberals should literally be arrested and tried for treason, or the way to deal with incel violence is to redistribute sex so these guys can get laid, etc and so on.

To be clear, I do think one of the problems with PC culture is that too often it’s a kneejerk response with no debate at all. I still believe that if yr against racism, sexism, homophobia, etc, you need to be prepared to articulate why, because there will always be people who don’t understand what racism is and why it’s a bad thing – and if they’re being courted by the IDW or other demagogues, it’s good to be able to effectively counter their arguments. 

Then again, it’s admittedly a pointless exercise, since the IDW has a whole alt-reality information bubble to fall back on to make its case – things that are not true but they choose to believe are true. You can’t effectively debate someone when you can’t even agree on the basic sociopolitical reality in which you live. So why waste the energy? 

I’m not going to debate you, Jerry,

This is dF


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