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Herewith is my somewhat-abbreviated schedule for Windycon:

VillianCon Submissions - Saturday, 11-11-2017 - 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm - Lilac C
What if writers of dystopian stories are really submitting their world domination plans for peer review?
L. Antonelli
S. Burke (M)
C. Gerrib

3pm Readings - Saturday, 11-11-2017 - 3:00 pm to 4:00 pm - Boardroom
3:00pm Chris Gerrib 3:30pm Tina Jens
C. Gerrib
T. Jens

Windycon Writers Workshop – Section 2 - Sunday, 11-12-2017 - 9:00 am to 12:00 pm - ISFiC Suite
Entries: “The Palace Hotel” by Amy Woolard “Dreaming” by Daniel T. Miller “Penance of the Sea Queen” by Jason Evans Critiques from: Elizabeth Anne Hull Richard Garfinkle Chris Gerrib
R. Chwedyk (M)
R. Garfinkle
C. Gerrib
E. Hull
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This weekend I attended the Chicago Shakespeare Theater (CST). They presented The Taming of the Shrew, one of what I call Shakespeare's "problem plays." Shrew is a problem for modern audiences in that the basic plot is "abusing your wife can be fun and profitable." The other problem play is A Merchant of Venice AKA "let's all pick on the Jew" which has obvious issues.

Now, I don't know what Shakespeare's views were on women and Jews. I'm not sure anybody knows. The man didn't keep a journal and he wasn't in his life important enough for somebody to ask him. I also know that as a writer, just because your character says something doesn't mean you agree with it. Having said all of that, there's no particular reason to think Shakespeare was any more enlightened on these matters than the average dude in the cheap seats. We modern audiences may want him to be more enlightened, but wants are not equal to reality.

Despite this problematic play, Shrew has been performed twice by CST in my career attending their plays. Both times they used a "framing device" - a play within a play. This last time, it was a woman's club putting on Shrew during the battle for suffrage, so all the parts were played by women. This allowed the cast to make a statement on the play. Perhaps un-ironically, Shakespeare's version had a framing device, that of a beggar being tricked into thinking he was a noble and the play being performed for his amusement.

In any event, its a case of the frame putting the picture in a different light.
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As you may have heard here, I recently visited The Old Soil, AKA Lithuania. It's a cute country in Eastern Europe with a bad history of getting absorbed by Russia. It's also a small country, with around 2.8 million people, roughly the same population as Kansas.

Lithuania never built any overseas empires, so other than those 2.8 million Lithuanians, there aren't very many people who speak Lithuanian. If you want to get ahead in Lithuania, you learn English, something that's helped by the fact that there's an FM radio station in Kaunas that plays American Top 40 music. (My cab driver was listening to it.)

But people have a strong urge to create. So strong that the Lithuanian folk restaurant I ate at was able to create a several-hour-long mix tape of songs in Lithuanian, including rock-and-roll. The people who recorded those songs couldn't have made a lot of money off of the recordings, but the urge to create was strong enough that they did it anyway.
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We are at the moment engaged in yet another round of debate on gun control, American-style. Without getting too deep into the argument, I would like to point out a very irritating debate point. Call it the Woo Bum-kon.

This post, by a person against gun control, points to the case of Woo Bum-kon, South Korean policeman who killed 56 people. In my previous post, somebody else pointed to Anders Breivik in Norway. Both were being cited as cases of "gun control didn't work."

Here's the thing: the arguments are bullshit. Woo did his thing in 1982. How many mass shootings have there been in South Korea from then until now? (Answer - not very many if any.) Breivik did his thing in 2011. How many mass shootings have there been in Norway since then? (Answer - zero.) Before these two men did their thing, how common were mass shootings in their countries? (Answer - really rare.)

The problem is, in the United States, we have had 273 mass shootings this year. There's only been 275 days this year. Yep - almost as many mass shootings as days. (source.)

Nobody thinks we can get to zero mass shootings, no more than we can get to zero plane crashes. But we can surely reduce the number of shootings and deaths.
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Here we go again - lone wolf white dude gets a collection of guns and decides to hose down a crowd. Given that he was shooting from 400 meters away (per here) any security measure that didn't involve counter-sniper teams at full alert would be useless.

We'll hear a lot about "thoughts and prayers" and how attacks like these are unavoidable, but "thoughts and prayers" aren't very helpful and attacks like these are in fact avoidable. The harder it is to get high-capacity semi-auto weapons, the harder these attacks are. And yes, I'm aware that this appears to have been done with a full-auto weapon. It's a lot easier to hide a full-auto weapon in a forest of cosmetically identical semi-autos.
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The Orville - I watched this week's episode of The Orville on DVR-delay. The "we forgot we're on a spaceship" plot is a really stupid one. (Somebody's got to change the water filters below-decks, guys.) Having said that, this was a bit better than the average of such plots. I really do hope they eventually do something with the Blob Crewman, though. His jokes with the doctor are getting very old.

Guardians of the Galaxy V2 - I found this one very enjoyable. it was a nice romp with the right emotional tone. I'm looking forward to V3.
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For the first time in months, I'm having a slow day at work. This is mostly because I'm either waiting for people to get back to me or waiting until Saturday to make some network changes. Since I have a bit of time, and I can't see that I talked about this, two deep thoughts.

Statues of Confederate Generals

The South is littered with statues of Confederate generals, politicians, and "Soldiers of the Lost Cause." These statues were built, as Virginian and US General George Thomas said, "as a species of political cant" to cover the crime of treason with a "counterfeit varnish of patriotism." They were also erected in the period 1880 to 1920, when the Southern whites had regained political control in the South and instituted Jim Crow. They were specifically intended to remind the blacks who was back in charge.

This is why there are no statues of Confederate General James Longstreet, Lee's long-time #2. After the war, Longstreet became a Republican and worked to help freed blacks. In fact, Longstreet became the Benedict Arnold of the Lost Cause movement. This movement attempted to paint the Confederacy as noble, and ended up accusing Longstreet of throwing the battle of Gettysburg. In short, the statues are no more "historic" than those of Lenin and Stalin which used to line the streets of communist countries.

Fetishism of the Military

Here I steal a bit from Josh Marshall, who notes that many of the people opposed to the take a knee protests are insulting the troops. One of the reasons the Founding Fathers were against a large standing military (such as we have now) is that they could be used to suppress democracy.

Now, the American Revolution was a case where the British standing army was used forcefully against democracy, but we're seeing how it can be used in an indirect way. Protests that take place as public events where the flag is displayed are deliberately misinterpreted as against the flag and therefore against anybody who fought for it. The symbol becomes more important than the reality of a constitutional right. It's no accident that a lot of military veterans are speaking out in favor of the protests. We value the real, not the symbolic.

What ties the statues and kneeling together is the attempt to paper over reality. The statues paper over the reality that the Civil War was fought so that rich people could keep their slaves, and the kneeling controversy attempts to paper over perceived police injustices.
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For the record:

1) Donald Trump, private citizen, can express whatever opinion he wants. President of the United States Donald J. Trump cannot call for people to be fired for public speech. It's unconstitutional. He took an oath to defend and protect the Constitution and faithfully execute the laws. That includes the law allowing for NFL players to peaceably petition for redress of grievances.

2) It is amazing that a protest involving neo-Nazis and murder-by-car leads to Trump saying "good people on both sides" but a protest involving not standing yields "fire the SOBs."

3) It is sad that, as this kerfuffle continues, the Republican Party manfully struggles yet again to take away health insurance from millions of Americans.

4) It is also sad that, as this kerfuffle continues, 3.5 million US citizens are without power and many are still flooded out of their houses and businesses.
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I watched the third episode of the new TV series The Orville on DVR-delay. The plot was that two members of an all-male species reproduce and their offspring is a female. They immediately want "corrective" surgery, which the human ship's doctor won't do. Complications ensue.

What I first liked about the episode was that they twice dodged the Hollywood ending. (I won't give away such ending, but if you watch the episode you'll recognize it.) The second thing I liked about the episode, something I didn't immediately realize, was that the first two episodes had been laying the groundwork for this one. Everybody's reactions were within the established character arcs, something that was a switch from the usual "somebody suddenly gets smart" approach to characters. Overall, I saw much to like in this episode.
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On Saturday, I had a dinner party. It was one I had sold in a Rotary auction as a fundraising item. One of my fellow Rotarians, Joan Wayman, brought the dessert and I cooked the ribeyes. The event went over well.

On Sunday, I did a bit of writing and then watched this week's episode of The Orville. The show is still trying to find itself. I like a lot of Seth McFarlane's worldbuilding in this series. So far, humans don't have transporters and there are two enemy races, one of which is so much more powerful that the Planetary Union is willing to write off a ship's captain and XO rather than attempt a rescue. I also find a lot of the crew interactions more entertaining then typical. There's a "we're real people" feel to them, if a bit less military-like then one would expect from a fleet. Lastly, the ending of this episode really saved it.

Having said that, I still struggled with much of the plot. The green Lieutenant was too green, the ex-married couple fell back into the old ways too easily and were too passive. In short, this episode again felt more like a live-action cartoon than a live show.
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One of the panels I wanted to see but missed at this year's Worldcon was entitled "The Ethics of Generation Ships." The panel description ran to the effect of: "was it ethical for people to consign their children and grandchildren to a voyage they had no choice in?"

I have thoughts, or rather a thought. My great-grandfather was born in Lithuania, and at the age of 14 decided to remain in America. I recently went back and visited Lithuania. As a practical matter, there is no way I could live there. I don't speak the language, I'm not wealthy enough to not require a job, and I'm culturally distant from Lithuanians.

Was it unethical for my great-grandfather to stay in America?

I am alive

Sep. 11th, 2017 02:51 pm
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I am in fact alive, just finding myself not having a lot to say. There is nothing particular I wish to add to my previous remarks on 9/11, so I won't. I'll confine myself to lighter topics.

Specifically, The Orville, FOX's new SF series. I watched it last night (on DVR-delay, of course) and found it, well, odd. There were more than a few humorous moments, but this was not a comedy. It was more like a live-action cartoon than anything I've seen recently. I'll give it a few episodes.

Dreamers

Sep. 4th, 2017 04:48 pm
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Comes news today that President Trump plans to repeal Obama's protection of illegal aliens brought here as children, AKA "dreamers." Also comes news is that Trump will delay action on this for six months. I find this the most nakedly political, albeit heartless, action of the Trump presidency.

I start with the assumption that Trump really couldn't care less if these people stay or go. He's just not empathetic enough to get worked over people not likely to give him money. His whole tough on illegals stance was a pander to a section of the Republican base and an applause line at his rallies, not an actual policy desire.

By this point in his presidency, even an idiot could see that whatever action Trump took on the dreamers would be criticized by Congress. Kick 'em out, Trump's heartless. Let the stay, Trump is usurping authority. But my taking action and starting a countdown clock, Trump forces Congress to put up or shut up.

Even better, from Trump's point of view, he's set up a "Xanatos Gambit" (warning - link leads to TvTropes) in which no matter what Congress does, Trump wins. Congress does nothing - Trump pleases his base and Congress can't criticize. Congress acts - any bad consequences are on them and Trump gets to campaign against Congress.

Now, in truth, it's much easier to set up a Xanatos Gambit if you really don't give a damn what the outcome of an event is. Since Trump cares little about outcomes and much about being seen to win, expect more of these.
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One of the things I find frankly appalling about the current state of American conservationism is their willingness to follow obvious flim-flam men. For example, David Clarke, the (just-resigned) sheriff of Milwaukee County. I can't find it at the moment, but there was a nice article by the State's Attorney of Milwaukee County noting how, under Clarke, the sheriff's office had withdrawn into doing little more than guarding the county courthouse. (This was made possible by the fact that Milwaukee County has only a couple of square miles of unincorporated terrority, mostly on or along one Interstate.)

Another example is the "minister" Joel Osteen of recent Twitter fame. The man, who is personally rich, had to be shamed into opening his church for the refugees of storm-flooded Houston. (Since when does a Christian minister get rich while being a minister?)

These men and others are clearly flim-flam artists, all talk and no cattle. Yet modern conservatives hold them up as examples and invite them to their conventions. Why?
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Thoughts on a Monday:

The Pardoning of Joe Arpaio

Sad, immoral, but not unexpected. Trump rewards personal loyalty above all else, and Arpaio has been nothing but loyal. The fact that 99% of the tin-pot dictators of the world also reward loyalty above all else is left for the consideration of the reader.

Houston

Two thoughts:

1) I'm sure Houston could have done something better to allow for floodwaters to drain. Having said that, I doubt anybody could have engineered their way out of the four or five feet of rainwater the city's going to get.

2) It's easy for people like me to pick up and evacuate if need be. Simply put, I have spare cash and a reliable vehicle. But if you don't have a several hundred dollars immediately to hand (Motel 6 costs $50+ per night) then you maybe can't leave.
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From somewhere else on the Internet, I give you this article about Donald Trump. Key takeaways:

1) Is Trump a racist? Probably, because he's not very smart and that's the default setting of not-smart people.

2) Does he really care about Confederate statues? No, but he's upset that people expect him to care about them (or anything other than himself) so he'll take a contrary opinion out of spite.

3) Trump's core beliefs are: "Give Donald Trump Your Money and Donald Trump Should Really Be on Television More." He is, in short, completely self-focused.

4) Trump's attraction to his allies is largely that of having the ability to not care about anybody else.

Go read the whole thing.

Collision!

Aug. 21st, 2017 08:29 am
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Comes news today of yet another collision between a US Navy ship and a merchant vessel. One wonders why, especially since, after the first collision, everybody in the Navy involved in ship driving would huddle up and say "we need to get smarter."

Here's a thought - Russian GPS spoofing. Apparently already done on large scale in central Moscow, there was a recent incident in the Black Sea where 20+ merchant ships were fed badly erroneous data into their GPS system. Like, "you're actually at the airport" erroneous data.

Now, Yours Truly learned to navigate ships back when GPS was new, and so we'd check GPS for accuracy against other navigational means, but there are large numbers of people (military and civilian) operating ships and planes strictly on GPS. This spoofing appears to have gone from the plot of a James Bond movie to real life. Yippee.
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Over on his blog, Scott Adams insists I am in a mass hysteria bubble. Perhaps obviously, I disagree. Scott makes many statements, and herewith I take issue with two.

1) Scott says of Trump [choice 3 of 4]: A mentally unstable racist clown with conman skills (mostly just lying) eviscerated the Republican primary field and won the presidency. He keeps doing crazy, impulsive racist stuff. But for some reason, the economy is going well, jobs are looking good, North Korea blinked, ISIS is on the ropes, and the Supreme Court got a qualified judge. It was mostly luck.

I say, except for:
- The economy was doing well before Trump, and jobs were going up. In fact, Trump's signature job "save" at the Indiana Carrier plant proved to be a lie (plant's closing anyway).
- North Korea hasn't blinked. They were threatening this week to drop missiles near Guam.
- ISIS in Iraq was on the ropes before Trump. This "on the ropes" organization has also just this week staged attacks in Spain and Finland.
- The Supreme Court got a judge because Mitch McConnell blocked Obama's nominee.

2) Scott says of Trump (and this his Scott's preferred answer) [choice 4 of 4]: The guy who didn’t offer to be your moral leader didn’t offer any moral leadership, just law and order, applied equally. His critics cleverly and predictably framed it as being soft on Nazis.

I say, except for:
There was no violence on both sides. The right committed murder and assault, the left defended themselves.

Methinks I know who suffers from a mass hysteria bubble, and it ain't me.

Thursday

Aug. 17th, 2017 04:22 pm
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I'm back home in the USA and back in the saddle at work. The past few days have involved:

1) Waiting for Air France to deliver my luggage. When I had to clear customs and take a bus an mile at de Gaulle airport to catch my second flight, I had suspicions my bag would be MIA. What was irritating was, when it didn't show, there was an Air France agent standing at the luggage carousel with a clipboard with my name on it. They knew my luggage didn't make it, but made me wait to ask about it! Not happy.

2) Got the first real American steak in 19 days. It was delicious.

3) Got the first real American hamburger in 19 days. It was also delicious. The place I visited for the burger, Shanahan's, also installed a piano bar. I sat and partook for a while.

Now home and thence to my first personal training session in three weeks.
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I'm writing this in Helsinki airport, specifically in the Air France Business Class lounge. It's another nice place with help-yourself food and drink. Herewith, various random thoughts.

Vilnius, Lithuania and Roads

After my trip to The Olde Sod (Rietavas, for those not following along) I drove to Vilnius, the historical capital. It's just over 100 kilometers from Kaunas, or a bit over an hour. Well, until I had my Griswold-esque "European Vacation" and got completely lost trying to find my hotel. I succeeded on the third try, only to find the hotel had no elevator. Fortunately for my overweight bag, they got me a room on the first floor. Small room, but with functional air conditioning and nice bed.

Vilnius is (to my view) nearly impossible to drive in. I can understand the old town being a snake pit of roads, but one would have thought that in the modern parts somebody would have imposed a grid. Nope. Snake pit all the way. Also disconcerting is that the main expressway, once it hits town, becomes (with little warning) a regular street. Nor are any of these streets (modern or historical) well-marked. Fortunately I got set of good directions on how to get out of town, although for a minute or two, as I drove through a residential area, I was concerned I had missed a turn.

Helsinki

Having no reason to attempt to drive in Helsinki, I didn't. I don't think it would have been any easier, and my hotel does not appear to have parking. I stayed in the Hotel Arthur which proudly notes that it was founded in 1907 and expanded in 1957. Except for light bulbs, they haven't changed a thing since. I kept expecting to see a couple of torpedoes from Chicago, snap-brim fedoras and pinstripe suits, step out of the woodwork and ventilate somebody. But it was clean, safe, cheap and well-located, so it met my needs.

I found the Finns a very helpful, friendly and just nice people, who went out of their way to make tourists feel welcome. On my last night here, I ended up hanging out with a group of them at a bar near my hotel. Two of them were staying at my hotel, and explained that part of the building was designated as the YMCA, and so signed (in Finnish, of course).

I was getting tourist-ed out, so I did not visit any of the local tourist spots. I went to the convention, and most of my sight-seeing was looking out the tram window. I note that Finnish cuisine is rather boring, consisting of potatoes, fish, sausages and root vegetables. It's boring enough that it can be hard to find a traditional Finnish restaurant in Helsinki. For example, last night I ate at a Mexican restaurant. (Pretty good, actually.) I did a lot of my drinking and some eating at Sori Brewing, an Estonian micro-brewery. (Try the Baltic Porter.)

Well, today is travel and tomorrow is back to reality.

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