Open Thread: Tiny Wax Person

May. 26th, 2017 06:39 pm
[syndicated profile] anamardoll_feed

Posted by chris the cynic

Because who needs snow when you have cheese that comes sealed in wax?

I do note that while the traditional "stack of three shapes each progressively smaller, huge pointy nose, arms that don't match the rest of the aesthetic" style has been maintained from the clear snowman roots of the concept, the progressively smaller shapes making up the body and head are rounded cubes with some irregularities, not balls.

This was a creation of the munchkin weasel.


Friday Recommendations!  What have you been reading/writing/listening to/playing/watching lately?  Shamelessly self-promote or boost the signal on something you think we should know about - the weekend’s ahead of us, so give us something new to explore!

And, like on all threads: please remember to use the "post new comment" feature rather than the "reply" feature, even when directly replying to someone else!
[syndicated profile] bruce_schneier_feed

Posted by Bruce Schneier

The excellent Montreal chef Marc-Olivier Frappier, of Joe Beef fame, has created a squid and chips dish for Brit & Chips restaurant.

As usual, you can also use this squid post to talk about the security stories in the news that I haven't covered.

Read my blog posting guidelines here.

New Books and ARCs, 5/26/17

May. 26th, 2017 08:31 pm
[syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed

Posted by John Scalzi

As we ease into a long weekend, here’s a very healthy stack of new books and ARCs that might ring your bell. Call out the ones you’re interested in down in the comments!

[syndicated profile] captainawkward_feed

Posted by JenniferP

Hi Captain,

So, I’ve been attending a salsa dance class the last few months. The class is structured so that you are welcome to come as a single person, and the participants shuffle through partners throughout the class. It’s a lot of fun and the men are generally pretty respectful and appropriate.

My problem is that a young man has been attending the last two weeks, and while he is very polite, his body odor is HORRENDOUS. I really cannot overstate how bad it is. By the middle of class he is sweating profusely, such that there is perspiration dripping off of his nose, and yes, onto his dancing partners (or at least *this* dancing partner, which is my main concern).

I really don’t want dance with him, but I don’t know how to refuse or what to do about it without being rude. I can totally see his attendance in this class as a suggested “assignment” from a therapist or other advice giver (such as yourself!) to get out there and be around people, even if it’s something he’s not comfortable doing.

Do you have any scripts that I can use? I do want to be kind.

~Dreading Dance Class

(She/her pronouns)

Dear Dreading Dance Class,

I’ve gotten a lot of “how do I tell someone they smell” and a lot of “how do I deal with this awkward dance partner” questions that I haven’t answered yet – thanks for this question that lets me combine both!

You don’t have to dance with him (or with anyone that you don’t want to) and if his turn as your partner gets a “No thank you/Not this time/Oh, sorry, I need to use the rest room/catch my breath/make a quick phone call” for now while you work up to talking to him about it, that’s okay. This is as true for The Dance Partner Who Never Stops Talking, Too Much Perfume Lady, and The Brotherhood of the Traveling Hands as it is for Febreezio The Fragrant.

Ideally dance teachers and studios should communicate ground rules for class and issue periodic reminders, for example:

  • Dancing means getting really close to people, so we expect that you’ll wear clean clothes and freshen up before class. Don’t forget to brush your teeth/use breath mints, too.
  • Everyone sweats when they dance so please remember to blot/mop yourself up occasionally – handkerchiefs or bandanas are useful for this!
  • Please avoid strong cologne or perfume due to allergies.
  • We like everyone to dance with everyone else and feel welcome, but you can refuse to dance with anyone or sit a dance out for any reason. If someone doesn’t want to dance with you, or sits out a dance, don’t take it personally – in 5 minutes you’ll have a new partner.
  • If you feel like someone is dancing too close here is how you signal that!/Here is how you signal or ask for permission to dance closer.

Of course, posting general “for everyone” rules definitely don’t magically solve the issue. We all know that Sylvia-in-your-office-who-cuts-a-sliver-out-of-each-of-the-free-cookies-in-the-break-room definitely doesn’t think she is the problem when the office manager sends out the “Please can everyone just take the whole cookie from now on? You don’t have to eat the whole thing, but it’s gross when they’ve all been handled and look like there are bites out of them” emailThe office manager needs to send the email and have a “Sylvia, could you please stop doing that” talk.

When you join a scene or a hobby or a workplace or any social enterprise, certain expectations come with that (There is no talking in the Diogenes Club). If Febreezio doesn’t already know that “It’s okay if you are a naturally sweaty person but dancing close to people means doing what you can to manage your sweat”/”Your usual hygiene game is not cutting it for this level of close contact and physical activity” someone in that scene – you, or the teacher, or another old hand – is doing a kindness if they tell him directly as soon as possible. Communicating those expectations is not persecution.

He will definitely not enjoy the conversation and not feel good! Nobody likes to get told that they stink! It’s embarrassing! But it will also be wicked embarrassing if everyone suddenly needs to take an urgent phone call when it’s their turn to dance with him.

If you want to have the conversation, pull him aside privately (not on the dance floor) and try this script:

Hey, X, can I talk to you real quick about something awkward? Great.

I’d love to dance with you sometime, but I’ve noticed you don’t smell so great today and you don’t mop up when you get sweaty. Can you make sure to freshen up before next class, and bring a handkerchief or bandana with you to mop up sweat?

Casting it as a thing you’ve had to deal with personally can help:

“When I first started coming to dance classes I definitely underestimated how sweaty I’d get. I needed to raise my deodorant game for one thing, and I also realized I needed to bring a clean shirt with me to change into between work and coming here. I’ve noticed you having some of the same issues. Can you make sure to freshen up before next class, and bring a handkerchief or bandana with you to mop up sweat?”

Whatever you do, keep it short and treat it like a normal, reasonable request that you think he will want to follow in order to make you more comfortable as a dance partner.

If you talk to the teacher about it, try:

X is new here, and I’ve noticed that he doesn’t smell so good or mop up when he sweats, so I don’t want to dance with him. I don’t want to hurt his feelings and I want him to have fun and be included here. Can you speak to him about it or do you have suggestions for how to approach it with him?

The teacher should take him aside and say something like:

We’re very glad you’re here, but I’ve noticed* some issues with body odor and sweat today. Please take a shower, use deodorant, and please make sure you’re wearing clean clothes before you come to dance lessons next week, it’s part of being a good dance partner. Also, bring a handkerchief or bandana with you to mop up if you get sweaty.” 

Notice the list: Clean clothes, shower, deodorant, bandana to mop sweat. Now is not the time for vague euphemisms like “be more aware of hygiene.” Either the guy doesn’t know he smells, or he does know but he doesn’t have a good practice to make it stop. You’ve come this far into Awkwardtown, might as well be specific and tell him what exactly you’d like him to do.

As for your worries about driving him away from dance class forever, let’s get some perspective: What if a therapist did recommend for him to come here? What if he is really really really nervous about dancing? What if he comes straight from working a really physical job and doesn’t have time to shower and this is his only outlet for exploring the pleasure of dance? What if it’s a medical issue? What if these are his only clothes what if the closest washing machine and shower are 10 miles away from his house and uphill both ways?

Is that really your baggage to take on?

Isn’t it also patronizing to project all of those possible explanations, excuses, and reasons onto other people? After all, he is an adult man who signed up for and attends a dance class, so isn’t it likely that he can:

a) Take steps to clean himself up before doing a social activity (See Jimmy’s trunk full of wet wipes on this week’s Better Call Saul)?

b) Experiment with and adjust his hygiene strategies if it is in fact a medical issue?

c) Handle 5 minutes of awkward conversation about it?

d) Make choices about how he deals with uncomfortable feelings, whether that’s “Clean up a little better so I can enjoy dancing” or “flee forever…too mortifying…ack?”

When someone is doing something that makes you uncomfortable, it’s very easy to get lost in diagnosing all the reasons they might do it. Compassionate people try to walk in the other person’s shoes, and it’s even more pronounced when you factor in how relentlessly women are socialized to protect men’s feelings. But if you avoid a difficult conversation with someone who is making you uncomfortable because you can’t stop worrying about the reasons or stop generating possible excuses for them, it won’t help the person or solve the problem. It will just put you through a lot of emotional labor without making a single thing better for anyone.


*Important: If you are ever a peer or an authority figure who has to deliver embarrassing news to someone, and if it can possibly be avoided, don’t start with “We’ve had complaints” or “Everyone talked about this and we think ____” or “Some people have suggested that you…” I understand the temptation to displace the awkwardness onto the anonymous authority of the group, but it just makes it worse for the person and also risks derailing the conversation with “Who complained?” “What exactly did they say?” The first time you have the conversation with someone, let them save a little face by not making it them vs. the whole group or the whole world. You’re already here delivering the awkward news, so use your “I” statements and own the problem.

Appendix: I’m not a dancer but as a teacher and a manager and a dater and a person with a body, this has been my approach Private Conversations About Smells (And Other Body Awkwardnesses).

Case Studies #1-???: Conversations With Stinky College Students

Odor/hygiene problems are almost always co-morbid with the student falling behind academically, so that’s usually my angle.:

Me: “You’ve been missing a lot of class/You didn’t turn in your last assignment. What’s going on?

If The Stink has crossed to a Truly Problematic place, then I add: “Also, is really awkward and I hate to put you on the spot like this, but I’ve noticed that you don’t seem like your usual self in class lately – you don’t smell good/your clothes aren’t clean – is everything all right?

As you can imagine I find out all kinds of stuff, from “I live in a homeless shelter” to “I don’t know how to do laundry and I’m too embarrassed to ask” to “Showering wastes crucial earth resources and deodorant is just a conspiracy from Big Pharma to make us CONFORM!” … to depression, grief, sexual assault, and other really hard stuff, so I never, never assume what the problem is.


  • Obviously, deadline re-negotiation and referrals to many campus resources for the hard stuff.
  • For the “Oh, Buddy” Freshmen: “Have you Googled ‘how do I do laundry?’ “No” “Maybe try that? Oh look, here’s a couple of tutorials” “Ok!” “Cool, I don’t want to smell you next week.” “LOL, you got it.”
  • For the “I’m stinky FOR THE EARTH, DEAL WITH MY RIGHTEOUS STENCH” student I’ve had luck with “I get that but if I can smell you from here it’s gotten out of hand for what’s okay in a small classroom or working on a film crew in close quarters. Can you research some environmentally-friendly solutions or schedule the weekly bath for right before my class? I’d sure appreciate it.”

Case Studies: SexyTimes Stink! 2000-present day

Brevity and directness are kindness:

  • I’d very much like to put my _____ on your _____ or your _____ in my _____ but I think you/I/we both need a shower first.
  • Oof, it’s a little funky down here. Can we pick this up after a shower? Awesome.

If you’re close enough to someone that you’re going to put your ______ on their ______, then you’re close enough to say “Bodies are gross sometimes, let’s agree to take mitigating measures.

Case Studies In Which I Was A Manager Of Someone With Awkward Hygiene Stuff

Script/Mad Lib:

“Hey, this is awkward and I hate to put you on the spot, but [you don’t smell good][you aren’t wearing clean clothes to work][you’re probably not aware but when you lean over in that top your whole chest area and bra can be seen (true story!)][that white shirt is see-through please wear an undershirt][there is some other specific thing about your hygiene or physical aspect that is giving me cause for concern].”

If appropriate:

“Have you noticed that, too? That’s not like you at all, so…[Is there anything going on we should know about][Have you had a medical checkup lately][Visited a dentist to talk about that?][Do you need a couple of days off to catch up on Life Stuff like laundry?][Need to make a Target run for something that doesn’t have holes in it before our client meeting?]”

As with students, people who had difficult life reasons got referred to whatever resources could be had, and everyone got a “Hey, this is informal right now – I just wanted to check in with you and talk about it before it becomes a real issue. Please [do the stuff we talked about][take a few days to get it together][take another look at the dress code and let me know if something is unclear or seems impossible] and it will go back to being a non-issue.

By way of contrast, here’s a story about what not to do about The Stinky Guy:

Case Study: The Saga of The Smelly Hippie Guy I Shared An Office With For A Year In The Late 1990s Before I Had Therapy/When I Was Still Terrified Of Conflict

Me: :Agonizes for months about whether to say anything:

Him: :continues to stink:

Me: :Complains about him to everyone who would listen…except him.:

Him: :keeps it funky:

Me: :Tries to get my office moved: :Have a choice of sticking with stinky-but-quiet guy or sharing with a lady I hate who never stops talking: 

Me: :polls my work friends at length re: The Noise or the Funk?:

Me: (sigh) :inertia + Funk:

Him: :wavy stink lines come off him sometimes:

Me: :executes a complex series of trades with everyone in the office until I am his Secret Santa: 

Me: :gives THE GIFT OF TINY FANCY MAN-SOAP & DEODORANT: (We travel a lot for our work so this can be played off as “I got you some awesome travel supplies!”)

Him: “Sweet! Thanks! Hahaha! Are you saying I stink?”

Me: “Hahahaha no. No. Hahahaha. No. Why would you think that?

Him: “Right on!” :gift disappears into desk drawer:

Also Him: :rocks on with his funky self:

Me: :Periodically checks his desk drawer to see if the soap package has been opened or moved:

(It hasn’t moved)

(It never moves)

Him: “I’m going to start biking to work, is it cool with you if I have my bike in here?”

Me: “Sure!”

Me: :buys a scented candle and moves it slowly closer to him each day when I burn it:

Office Manager: All Staff Email: “Reminder: No candles or open flames in the office.”

Me: :buys a carved wooden incense burner and some incense from a street vendor down the block. For some reason tell him that I got it on an international trip:

Him: “I like this incense you brought back!”

Office Manager: All Staff Email: “No incense, either! No fire at all!”

Me: :sprays Glade:

Him: “Ugh, could you not spray that stuff? It’s full of chemicals.”

Me: “Oh…ok.”

Him: “Yeah, and also I just can’t stand the way it smells.”


giphy (13)

.gif of John Krasinski saying “Oh my god” and pouring wine.

Another month goes by. It’s my turn to take over our department’s “Word of the Week” email. It’s a fun game so I’ll describe it for any office workers reading: Junior staff would secretly take turns picking an unusual word and gaining bragging points by using the word as much as possible in meetings and office communications throughout the week. Points were awarded based on sophistication and correctness of usage, frequency of use (more points for being the seventh person who says “I think we’ve crossed…the Rubicon… here” in the same meeting than for being the first), whether we could say it without laughing, whether we could make the one Cool Boss who has caught on to the game laugh or (better yet!) use it, and (best of all) whether we could make the expression catch on widely among senior staff.

My words that month: noisome, malodorous, putrescent, fetid.

Him: :adopts some kind of all-rotten egg, all-compost lunch routine:

Also him: :keeps on reekin’ on:

Another month goes by. It’s almost a year to the day that we started sharing an office. In summer. In Washington, D.C. aka SWAMPY MCHUMIDPLACE.

Me: :Walks into our office and gags because it smelled like old socks have been dipped in ball sweat, wrapped around road kill, and slow-roasted over a dung fire:

Me: “DUDE, it’scoolthatyoulikebikingtoworkandeverything but it is getting RANK in here. THERE ARE SHOWERS ON THE TOP FLOOR OF THE BUILDING, PLEASE USE THEM!!!! Or bring a change of clothes with you. OR SOMETHING.”

Him: “Whoa!”

Me: (small voice) “I’msorryIdidn’tmeantoyell”

Me: (small voice) “But you stink.”

Him: :smells his own pits: “Wow yeah I am kinda stinky today. Sorry.”

Me: (almost a whisper) “Not just today.”

Him: “There are showers?”

Me: “Yeah! Top floor.”

Him: “Is there a code or a lock or anything I need to know about?”

Me: 7-2-0-1#

Him: “Sweet! I’ll bring a towel with me tomorrow.”

Me: “And…every day?”

Him: “And every day.”

Me: “Thanks.”

Him: “No worries! I hope this wasn’t bothering you all this time?!?”

Me: “Hahahaha…no, of course not. All good. Just…clean yourself.”

Him: “Got it.”

Me: “MaybethatsoapIgotyouisstillinyourdesk?

(It was)

(I had checked 2 days ago)

Him: “GOT it.”

Me: “OkI’mgoingtolunchnow…bye…can I bring you anything back…”

Him: “All good…”

Me: “Ok!”

Him: “Seriously, Jen, it’s all good.

Me: :goes to lunch, brings him back a cookie and a brownie and a coffee:

And lo, he did take regular showers, and behold, a bike makes a pretty good good rack for holding a damp towel, and indeed, when his towel started to get funky I said “Hey time to wash that towel, yeah?” and he smelled it and said “Good grief, yes, I’m sorry!” and we never spoke of it again.

Letter Writer, your conversation with this dancing guy is going to be easier than that, right? Right.






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Posted by Jeff Wood (Contributor)

Now that his playing career has wound down, David Beckham wants to build a soccer stadium in Miami that features zero parking spaces. Look at a great visualization of how China's cities have added subway systems. The recent tragedy in Times Square highlights how smart infrastructure keeps us safe, and highlights questions we should be asking moving forward. Check out what’s happening around the world in transportation, land use, and other related areas! 

David Beckham wants to build a Miami stadium with no parking: International soccer star David Beckham wants to build a 25,000-seat stadium in Miami's Overtown neighborhood to bring Major League Soccer to the city.  The developers want people to take water taxis, Metrorail, and the Metromover to the stadium because they won't be building any parking.  They hope this decision starts a paradigm shift for major events. (Miami Herald)

Watch China's subway systems grow: Check out this gif image of subway expansion in China over the last 30 years, which demonstrates the incredible amount the country has built in a very short period of time. It kind of puts the US to shame. (Inverse)

Were it not for smart design, the Times Square massacre could have been worse: Last week's fatal auto rampage in Times Square was tragic, but far more lives could have been lost were it not for bollards that the driver eventually crashed into. We should be installing infrastructure like this in more places to make cities safer for people. But beyond that, we should also consider just how frequently we downplay auto deaths. (New York Magazine)

Trump wants to sell out, literally: As part of its infrastructure plan, the Trump administration wants to privatize the country's transportation assets. As part of the plan, the administration wants local governments to sell assets to the private sector, saying it could then spend the proceeds on new infrastructure projects. Critics say that’s no way to run a government meant to serve citizens, not turn a profit. (Washington Post)

Is the “return to cities” a myth?: Using county census data and USPS household data, economist Jed Kolko lays out a hypothesis that states most American cities are continuing to sprawl while only a few “star” cities are densifying. While we often talk about a national overall trend, it appears that most growth patterns are local. (New York Times)

Quote of the Week

"I am not defending specific practices of any agency.  But the geometry remains what it is.  If you want affordable transit service, you’re going to have to walk to it.  That’s the math that makes fixed route service inevitable. Transit people all over the world have understood this since long before Uber’s CEO was born."

- Jarrett Walker of Human Transit, discussing Uber's most recent move to make their Pool service more like a bus.

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[syndicated profile] bruce_schneier_feed

Posted by Bruce Schneier

It was easy:

The hackers took a medium range photo of their subject with a digital camera's night mode, and printed the infrared image. Then, presumably to give the image some depth, the hackers placed a contact lens on top of the printed picture.

Bicycle gnomes in the Flickr pool

May. 26th, 2017 04:26 pm
[syndicated profile] gr8r_gr8r_wash_feed

Posted by Aimee Custis (Editorial Board)

Here are our favorite new images uploaded this week to the Greater and Lesser Washington Flickr pool

Union Station. Image by John J Young licensed under Creative Commons.

Civil War Camp Day at Arlington's Walter Reed Community Center. Image by John Sonderman licensed under Creative Commons.

View from the Studio Theatre onto 14th and P Street during Capital TransPride. Image by Ted Eytan licensed under Creative Commons.

Silver Spring. Image by Jordan Barab licensed under Creative Commons.

Do you have a photo depicting the best or worst of urbanism and smart growth in the Washington, DC region? If so, please join the Flickr pool and submit your own images!

Top image: Ride on, little gnome! Takoma Park. Image by Mike Maguire licensed under Creative Commons.

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the red and black

May. 26th, 2017 04:01 pm
[syndicated profile] smittenkitchen_feed

Posted by deb

For many Junes, this was my favorite cocktail. Yes, I realize that I sound particularly like a weird food writer person and not a person who lives among other people because most normal, sane people do not have a favorite cocktail for each month of the year, even if you agree with me — you do, right? –that a Perfect Manhattan is the ideal way to warm up on the first cold September day and a Porch Swing is the most refreshing way to endure a sultry July afternoon, but hear me out: this is squarely June or the weeks leading up to it because it’s a celebration of strawberries, so we might as well wait until they’re overripe the moment you turn your head and muddle them in a glass.

what you'll need, plus some limes and ice

The core flavor comes from fresh strawberries, black pepper, and lime, a combination I find so likable, I turned it into a popsicle, but at times when you’re not expected to share with kids, you should definitely add some white tequila. The drink was on the menu at Back Forty on Avenue B, an early locavore restaurant that abruptly, and with absolutely no notice, closed and never came back a couple years ago. Like all breakups you didn’t see coming, I’m still a little raw about it. Was it something we did? Something we could have done? But I’m sure they’re not somewhere pouting over us.

Read more »

[syndicated profile] gr8r_gr8r_wash_feed

Posted by Joanne Pierce (Editorial Board)

A few days ago, the Trump administration released a budget proposal that included steep cuts to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, including completely eliminating the Community Development Block Grant program, which allows cities to build affordable housing and feed poor senior citizens. The program makes up about 50% of the budget cuts at HUD.

The administration also announced a transportation proposal that includes a 13% reduction to the Department of Transportation and completely ends any federal funding for long-distance Amtrak routes. Amtrak said in a statement that long-distance routes are the only kind of Amtrak service in in 23 states.

Policy experts, journalists, and urban planners took to Twitter to voice their opinions on what these cuts mean for affordable housing, transportation, and other policies:

Slashes to Section 8 may make the affordable housing crisis worse

The massive cuts to HUD affect several programs that help citizens with affordable housing, like the Section 8 voucher program. Diane Yentel, President and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, offered historic context to these cuts:

She also pointed out that HUD Secretary Ben Carson had previously expressed support for Section 8 vouchers, but that the proposal would cut funding for more than 250,000 families.  

The administration wants to focus on private investment for transportation projects

The administration’s infrastructure plan includes ideas such as privatizing rest stops, encouraging private investment through tax breaks, and issuing more tax-exempt bonds to companies. CityLab wrote that it is is a “free lunch for private investors.”

Yonah Freemark pointed out that from the administration’s perspective, private investment is preferable than spending taxpayer dollars because it considers the government to be too cheap or unable to spend that money:

After the election, I speculated that the administration would cut funding for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants, which help fund state and local transit projects like the Metroway BRT in Arlington and Alexandria. Cutting TIGER grants is still included in this budget proposal, leaving many state and local projects in the lurch.

What else is getting the chop?

Aside from housing and transportation, there are other budget cuts that will affect citizens.

For example, weather forecasting in the United States is outdated and needs improvements. Right now, the United States uses the Global Forecast System model to track weather. This system has trouble accurately predicting weather 5 to 7 days in advance. This has big implications for predicting severe weather. Meteorologists and weather forecasters expressed dismay when the administration announced cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s budget, partly to “slow” these improvements, which include upgrading the technology involved in generating weather maps. NOAA last updated its main forecasting system in 2016, and had planned to build a brand new system.

The funding cuts to the Community Development Block Grant program, previously mentioned, also affect the likelihood of states getting federal assistance after natural disasters. Last year, Hurricane Matthew struck North Carolina, which is still recovering. Governor Roy Cooper requested $929 million in aid through the Community Development Block Grant program and the federal government only approved $6.1 million. The state government estimated that $700 million alone would go toward housing.  

Additionally, the Senate was set to require the Government Accountability Office to investigate and report on why the cost of building transit was so high. When the Senate and the House had to reconcile their individual versions of their spending bills, the measure was removed (it's unclear who removed them); the government will no longer study transit costs.

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Posted by (Velveteen Rabbi)

Earlier this year I was delighted to contribute a d'var Torah to My Jewish Learning for the first Torah portion in the book of Leviticus: Vayikra - What Silence Conceals and Reveals. They've asked me to write a few more commentaries for them, and one of them has just been published. This one's for the Torah portion called Korach, which we'll be reading later this summer.

Here's a taste of what I wrote:

... It’s easy for moderns to empathize with Korach. Maybe we too have chafed against leadership, religious or otherwise, that has seemed too top-down. The modern-day legal system under which we live says that every citizen is equal in the eyes of the law, and the ancient priestly system that placed Aaron and his sons at the top of the hierarchy may offend our democratic sensibilities.

Most of all, Korach’s cry — “all of the community are holy, and God is in their midst” — speaks to us on a spiritual level. Torah teaches that when we build a space in our lives for God, God dwells among us (or within us). Being a leader doesn’t make one closer to God, and any leader who thinks that it does is in need of doing some serious internal work.

But this story isn’t as simple as it may initially seem. Korach is identified as a son of Levi — part of the “secondary” priestly caste in the ancient system that placed Kohanim (priests) at the top of the ladder, Levi’im (Levites, or secondary priests) beneath them, and Yisrael (ordinary Israelites) at the bottom. It’s possible that his rebellion wasn’t motivated by the kind of communitarian impulse that moderns might admire, but by the desire to depose Aaron and his sons so that Korach and his sons could be at the top of the hierarchy instead. Seen through that lens, Korach and his followers attempted a coup that would have replicated the same top-down use of power against which we want to think they are rebelling.

I’m also struck by the language the Torah uses to describe the incident: Korach and his followers “assemble against” Moses and Aaron. This isn’t a friendly conversation, a heart-to-heart about the direction the Israelites are taking in their wilderness wandering, or a question about leadership style and priorities. This is rebellion. ...

I hope you'll click through and read the whole thing: A Failed Rebellion.

Deep thanks to the editors at MJL for publishing my work.

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Posted by Liam Sullivan (Contributor)

The Purple Line appeal is still waiting on Judge Leon

Judge Richard Leon dealt a mighty blow to the Purple Line on Monday, but he has yet to rule on a few loose ends in the case. Lawyers for the state of Maryland say that if he doesn't finalize things soon, the project will die before they can fairly appeal the decision.   (Martin Di Caro / WAMU)

A “near miss” on Metro doesn’t ease federal safety concerns

On May 18, a Metro train nearly hit track workers. Metro has suspended one employee, and two more are up against "disciplinary action." Just a month ago, federal officials told Metro is must immediately address rail worker safety, and this incident only stokes concerns.  (Martin Di Caro / WAMU)

Prince George’s officials are concerned they’ll lose federal funding

While Prince George's County's 2018 budget includes increases for education and worker salaries, the plan is, on the whole, conservative compared to recent years. That's due to fears that federal funding will evaporate.  (Arelis Hernandez / Post)

New development in Alexandria swaps multifamily units for townhouses

A local developer is abandoning plans for multifamily units in an Alexandria development, due to rising costs. One building was slated to include 132 multifamily units but will now feature 31 townhouses instead.  (Karen Groff / Business Journal)

What’s the difference between being employed and being “employable”?

A person might have a job, but if they don't have access to transportation, sufficient health care, or social support, their situation is likely very fragile. This author argues that focusing more on "employability" than the simpler issue of employment will create a stronger, more resilient workforce in DC.  (Brian Holland / DC Policy Center)

Mistrust over house flipping continues

When a bus pulled up and 30 people filed into the vacant house across the street, "Debbie" was curious. She found out the house was owned by Helpful Investing, a firm that is buying and quickly selling properties across the region... and raising flags while doing so.  (Andrew Giambrone / City Paper)

What did DC look like in 1904?

The boundaries may be the same, but DC looked very different 113 years ago. Ghosts of DC has a map of the District from 1904, showing the neighborhoods in great detail.  (Ghosts of DC)

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Posted by Fred Clark

It is only after our heroes confess this particular sin and embrace the "Bible-prophecy" teachings of Tim LaHaye that they become Real, True Christians and receive divine forgiveness and salvation. In Left Behind, the refusal to acknowledge LaHaye’s teaching as supreme truth is the equivalent of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, the unforgivable sin that condemns one to Hell along with the preterists, the a-Millennialists and the Jews.

The World of Tomorrow

May. 26th, 2017 12:52 pm
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I'm thinking of writing something set in the mid-21st century and asked Charlie if he had any good resources for futurism on a ~30 year time scale. And lo and behold, a guest post appeared.

Now, I'm not much of a futurist, or really any kind of futurist in the formal sense. But I like to think I can see where things might be going, so here's a brief rundown of what I'm anticipating we'll see by mid-century.

TECHNOLOGY - A fractured Internet and radically decentralized social media are the name of the game. This is the cyberpunk dystopia you were promised, but without all the messy brain surgery and skulljacks. Getting data across certain national borders will be difficult. Getting news out during a blackout might, in some countries, be worth your life. Most countries that style themselves as free may resist government control of the Internet, but it’s unlikely that they will be able to do much more than maintain zones where the old rules apply. The Great Firewall of China is going to be a popular model. Alternative national networks that are inherently biased in favor of the state might prove to be another.

Even in countries that prefer to be mostly hands-off about their networks, legislation and policy changes will be put in place to harden their population against psy-op attacks like the one that has crippled America. The dream is already dead: in 30 or 40 years we’ll see what has grown from the corpse. Drones will be ubiquitous of course, as will anti-drone technologies to clear the airspace in an emergency.

POLITICS - Expect socialism, anarchism, and other direct challenges to capitalism to make a roaring comeback in the developed world.

The Washington Consensus relied upon Washington to be a reliable broker, and the loss of faith in American leadership due to the Trump Administration will be seismic in scale. By 2050, America has vastly degraded herself from her position of supremacy in January of 2001, but she is likely to retain a cultural influence that is far out-sized compared to her paltry 460 million citizens (already in fourth place after China, India, and the EU).

The global cultural impact of a resurgent Left in the famously right-wing United States may end up being one of the signature features of the new era, if for no other reason than our cultural productions might be one of our few remaining viable exports. It might not be cinema and TV shows by then. It might be hepatic enabled VR that let’s YOU fight the strike breakers in front of the Ford Motor Company gates! Feel that Pinkerton’s skull crack under your Louisville Slugger! Oh yes, the resurgent American socialism is going to be drenched in Americana, tip to tail. (At least it will be if I have anything to say about it!)

But, of course, America will as usual be a trailing indicator.

This shift is well underway in Europe already, and with a few more decades to develop it may become a big deal, historically speaking. I haven’t seen much discussion of how this dynamic will play out in Asia. It may be in places where the economy is still developing to a Euro/American level, these appeals will be less persuasive, but I kind of doubt it. It’s going to be a major controversy everywhere. International boundaries will continue to blur but will not disappear.

WAR - Modern war is horrifying in its expense and violence. This will be ever more true, and the extreme costs of the highest end weapon systems might paradoxically make them less vital in a strategic sense. Sun Tzu identifies the highest form of strategy as learning how to win without fighting, and when a single squadron of fighters costs a sizable fraction of a country’s GDP, their incentive to get creative with how they achieve their contested objectives has never been higher. We see that with Russia’s campaign of election meddling already. This will formalize as new type of international conflict. Perhaps there will be a new word for it, or perhaps we will simply change the definition of war to “a political conflict in which one side has decided the other’s interests are immaterial and not to be considered.”

When it does come to violence, I think we will see a pattern where much of the fighting will be conducted with low to medium cost weapons systems, and a few high end bits of kit meant to act as a force multiplier. How might this look in practice? Consider an urban guerrilla outfit which manufactures its own ammunition out of smuggled raw ingredients and feeds this into their 3D printed infantry weapons. They have as many riflemen as they want, but for antitank defense they rely on foreign missiles dropped off in the night by friendly special forces helicopters.

One caveat to this: many of the world’s most powerful economies have been sheltering under the enormous US defense budget for generations. With Washington no longer reliable, that may not be the case for much longer. But 2050, we may see large standing armies with fully modern equipment in places where they haven’t been seen in generations. If that’s the case, expect the first three weeks of any major conventional war to be an absolute bloodbath…and then the guerrilla phase starts.

For a historical example, look at the Battle of the Frontiers in World War 1. A lot of illusions were shattered at enormous cost of human life, and both sides then scrambled to improvise new tactics and technologies to counter the revealed status quo. Think of that, but without the trench warfare. Imagine instead if France had been conquered, and then immediately gone into a kind of medium-high insurrection against the occupation forces instead of surrendering. Now add in the Internet, foreign meddling, long-standing internal conflicts coming to a boil, and that will be the pattern for major conventional conflict.

And if fourth generation nuclear weapons ever get off the drawing board…it’s not gonna be pretty.

ENVIRONMENT - The shift to renewables will be all but complete, and pollution cleanup technologies might be a big growth industry, pushed heavily by China, who have a real strong incentive to figure out how to pull heavy metals out of the water and soil.

Antarctica is past the point of no return. Many coastal cities have flooded. To openly be a global warming denialist in some places on Earth is to take your life in your hands. By 2050, I expect at least high profile one climate related assassination to have occurred. Carbon capture technology is one of the highest priority areas of research, and scientists are also scrambling with a way to capture the other greenhouse gasses as well. Geo-engineering initiatives have significant political clout by now. People see the problem and they want it FIXED. Animals are being sampled so they can be cloned back into being after they go extinct. In some places, eco-preservation is almost a mania. The last few stubborn hold-outs in denial are likely to be radicalized and violent by now. See above for how that’s gonna work out for them.

I don’t expect the panic reactions to the Earth visibly starting to fall apart to work. We’re gonna get several nasty surprises. Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 had a plausible future history for how this argument might play out. Green cities of vertical farms, a smaller human population living in automated comfort, and a re-wilded countryside is an ideal that’s already attractive to some. It will only get more attractive as time goes on.

HEALTH - The permafrost has already begun to melt. Surprise, it’s smallpox! Or if not smallpox, some other damn thing nobody’s had to have antibodies for at any time in the past half million years. The death toll might be high, but one hopes a crash program of inoculation keeps this from being the civilization killer that some fear and others hope for. See the movie Contagion for what I’m thinking will happen. We get pandemic scares all the time (We’ve had like three just since I graduated college nine years ago) and sooner or later the bugs will get lucky. Stem cell therapy, 3-D printed organs, CRISPR, etc, are really coming into their own and helping people live longer and at a higher quality than ever before, if they have the money.

I do not expect much in the way of sci-fi flavored biotech, if only because the real problems that these technologies will be bent toward will be more subtle, but more important. Developing a new way to culture bacteria, for example, would be an obvious application of biotech that doesn’t exactly move the average heart to excitement, and yet would be as consequential as the discovery of penicillin.

Look for several medical breakthroughs of this sort in the next few decades, but be warned you may not live to see their full benefit because immortality isn’t fucking happening for people who are already alive. Who is the most enthusiastic about cheating death? Silicon Valley types who have never met a real limit in their life, that’s who. Don’t let their privileged delusions pollute your thinking. What is much more likely to happen is that upper class people will begin living much longer than has historically been the norm, but lower class people will find their life expectancy cut. Hey, remember when I said socialism was gonna make a comeback?

And that’s it. That’s my list of thoughts about where we will be by mid-century. I think there’s going to be at least one really big black swan event, and probably at least one major conventional war like the one I suggested above. What did I leave out? What did I get wrong?

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Posted by Samira Nadkarni

When I originally sat down with Zombie Talk (2016), a selection of reflections on the undead and contemporary culture, it was early 2017 and I read it through and made my notes accordingly. Circumstances and life being what they are, I wasn’t able to actually flesh out those notes into this review until more recently, requiring a reread of not only the book but my previous notes. I mention this here because I realised during my reread that my responses to the book, while still running along similar lines, are divided by the lens I use to engage with them—whether through the academic lens I would use when considering this as a piece of work, or my own political and social ideologies that I use to guide me within my life inside and outside of academia. While for many these might be the same, I increasingly find that I struggle to reconcile these two halves of myself without compromises on either side. What this means is this: if I reviewed this book for an academic journal, the tone I'd take would be markedly different from the tone I take here, at Strange Horizons. Though both of these are spaces that rely on critical acumen, I would pretend to more objectivity in the former (pretend, of course, because the personal is always the political and vice versa, and objectivity is sometimes a synonym for duty, sometimes for cowardice, sometimes for genuine agreement, sometimes for various combinations of these); in the latter, I am more open about what my impressions comprise and that these are influenced by what I personally am invested in calling out, celebrating, and working towards.

The result of this was that while I found Zombie Talk theoretically sound for the most part, I felt the book at times lacked a sort of basic empathy I would want to see expressed in any academic discussion, but particularly in discussions of the post-apocalyptic. As I mentioned to my editor halfway through my first attempt at a review, it felt like the collection had theory, but little soul. It’s more than a little odd to admit this but I realised when sitting down to write the first draft of this review (later scrapped) that I don’t necessarily judge academic books by their expression of empathy because empathy doesn’t necessarily equate with objectivity. And yet I would probably be deeply frustrated if anyone were to tell me that academic spaces do not need empathy and consideration. It’s hardly the first time that I’ve expressed frustration with how academia is an institution, is itself increasingly neoliberal and nationalistic, how it benefits visibly and invisibly from prevailing structures of neo-colonialism/racism/sexism/ableism/xenophobia and other exclusionary factors, but it’s perhaps the first time I’ve come to admit that, within academic settings, I do feel a form of pressure to excuse misgivings regarding a lack of empathy under the presumed frame of taking the text as it is and with authorial objectivity.

When my editor questioned whether theory necessarily had to have soul, I didn’t think twice about my response—if we’re creating frameworks by which to assess culture, by which to engage with culture, empathy is everything. Culture is of people, for people, from people. If theory doesn’t acknowledge its debt, its responsibility to people, what use is it? I realise I must sound more than a little naïve, and this has already become more a review of my reception of the book than the book itself; but if your theory or if your work isn’t always pushing towards empathy, what is its value other than echoing a status quo many admit isn’t working?

Zombie media as a contemporary genre isn’t necessarily US-centric or Eurocentric; as the collection acknowledges, it has roots in Haitian folklore and its expression tells transnational stories about power and about slavery. In so many ways, it is a postcolonial framework co-opted within the US and Europe, and much of global popular culture, to tell specific stories about cultural anxieties that center on white heteropatriarchy. Zombie media rarely features characters who are traditionally in/visibilised as parts of existing communities—immigrants, trans identities, alternative sexualities, people with visible or invisible disabilities (unless these develop later and become the focus of a traumatic loss, usually specifically focused on a white American male), or other marginalised identities. Traditionally, this media is usually a sort of parable about the loss of the North American nuclear family while validating a worldview held primarily by white American gun owners who won’t get shot for something as simple and unthreatening as holding a toy pistol like Tamir Rice, or a BB gun like John Crawford III.

When speaking of HIV/AIDS (another acknowledged metaphor that zombies stand for within the book) to the International Center for Research on Women in 2000, Geeta Rao Gupta noted that situations of social stress tend to reveal and exacerbate fault lines already present in society, resulting in even more stringent forms of control, inclusion, and exclusion. Within post-apocalyptic scenarios, it’s telling how those marginalised into invisibility are presumably “already gone”—a sort of already acceptable loss within the systems under consideration as we then invest in the survivors—those already strong enough to be visible and recognisable in contemporary representation. This is the framework of the genre the book works within, and to evaluate it, I have to accept some of these aspects as given without attributing these to the authors. And I do. What I am perhaps less willing to accept is David R. Castillo and John Edgar Browning’s introduction to this book, titled “Introduction: Our Zombies, Our Remnants,” which engages with Evgeny Morozov’s New York Times article “The Perils of Perfection” to state:

Morozov discusses the futurist plans of digital technology moguls including the development of reality-altering devices such as smart glasses or contact lenses that would ideally serve to edit “disturbing sights” like “homeless people.” The point we make here is that in our mass-media culture the human and material debris generated by global economic structures is already virtually invisible. Could it be that the undead masses that come back to haunt us in zombie movies represent, in some way, this human and material debris that has been edited out of our field of vision? This would be consistent with the standard psychoanalytic explanation of horror fiction as the site of the return of the repressed. (p. 4)

The juxtaposition of these sentences implies the homeless people Morozov speaks of stand in for their term, “human debris”; a sort of quiet, unthinking callousness of word choice. The emphasis here is on these people as the psychoanalytic “return of the repressed,” yet this point is never explored again, nor is any attempt made to acknowledge a reality of community building amongst the homeless. It goes on to acknowledge that most zombie media creates its greatest moments of trauma when someone the audience recognises returns as a zombie, yet doesn’t acknowledge how this speaks to this notion of who is left as “human debris” even in the analysis. If I pause and think about homeless people framed in this manner, placed alongside zombies used to express fears of a neoliberal middle class about becoming dirty, ragged, discardable, viewed as less than human, living “off their flesh,” with survival and food as singular goals, I think I’d start to scream. It’s half a paragraph but this introduction is creating context for the book. Even with a claim to be Marxist and intersectional (without acknowledgement of Crenshaw’s creation of the term), the introduction is in effect creating its own in-groups and out-groups and reinforcing existing hierarchies.

The introduction moves from this forcible confrontation with realities we are unwilling to acknowledge or change to argue that a zombie apocalypse then offers the perfect traumatic zero-point from which to restart any framing of an individual and collective consciousness. This segues almost smoothly into the manner in which zombies, as the inevitable result of neoliberal capitalism or expressing the deeply held fears of globalisation (as David A. Reilly’s chapter “The Coming Apocalypses of Zombies and Globalization” argues), offer a case for individuals making choices simply for their own survival while being accountable to no one else. Within a philosophy of the end of the world many might say that these concepts make perfect academic sense, and yet I struggle to infer any actionable meaning from it outside of a theoretical framework.

It might make sense at this point to point out that I’m quite emphatically not a fan of Slavoj Žižek and the ideology of many of the underlying arguments in this collection felt closest to Žižek’s ethos, so it’s quite possible that other readers could get a lot more out of this than I did. Žižek argues (and this volume repeats) that it’s simpler to imagine the end of humanity than the sort of changes we would require to keep functioning. Within that same framework of understanding and anti-neoliberal ethos, he endorsed Trump over Clinton in the 2016 US presidential election, arguing that Trump would forcibly bring change to the basic structure of politics, while Clinton would simply continue an unforgivable status quo of North American warmongering and neoliberalism without confrontation. This is the non-zombie equivalent of a traumatic zero-point from which to jump-start North American consciousness.

It’s possible to argue that Žižek's Trumpish gambit has worked in the sense that there are regular marches against Trump, people are more politically involved than they’ve been in a long time, and there is an attempt at community and collective consciousness building— Žižek was not wrong to predict this. But what his prediction ignores is the scores of people who will die in the space of this traumatic zero-point, the fact that it has done nothing to endanger or change North American neoliberalism or warmongering, and, inevitably, the results validate a sort of incredibly white semi-jubilant individualist libertarianism (disconcertingly echoed in Reilly’s conclusions about individual choice and accountability). When confronted with what the collection is willing to term the “human and material debris” of this metaphorically post-apocalyptic setting in 2017, these conditions and people are far less invisible, yes; but advocating the creation of this moment is as much a part of this horror, especially when the person making the call is a white man of considerable privilege (as Žižek is). All this is very much a matter of personal choice, and we’re all going to have our favourite philosophers to quote, so it’s hard to point to this as a legitimate flaw with the collection; I can only note that, for me, using someone like Žižek as an early framing in this collection assessing a broken world doesn’t work because it feels like the equivalent of arguing in favour of a planet-wide takeover by Skynet because we all know that the Resistance escaped neoliberalism to the true freedom of individual accountability. I’d rather not, thanks.

(Perhaps I’m the wrong person to be given a collection of essays of this nature—I’m vehemently socialist, very brown, and terrified of guns, knives, and heights. None of this will stand me in particularly good stead if we go by most of the media quoted in this book.)

However, the book opens up to some interesting and valuable discussions as well. The product of an expanded and subsequently published set of papers from a symposium organised at SUNY-Buffalo entitled “The Zombie Phenomenon: An Interdisciplinary Conversation,” Zombie Talk opens with John Edgar Browning’s contribution, titled “Survival Horrors, Survival Spaces: Tracing the Modern Zombie (Cine)Myth through the Postmillennium.” Browning’s contribution seeks to establish an idea that Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend (1954) sets up many of the themes attributed to George A. Romero’s films, primarily that of the “survival space” and the threat of the hoard or “massing” of threatening bodies, while “de-orientalising” these threatening bodies by moving them from little known European villages to modern cityscapes. I’m sure many zombie scholars may find this interesting (I didn’t), but Browning’s discussion of “survival spaces” as an evolving ethos was fascinating—the “survival spaces” act as a porous public performance space wherein different facets of individual and collective life are enacted, weighed, and discarded. Browning traces this ethos of “survival spaces” through three generations of zombie media: through Matheson’s individually occupied “survival space” which eventually collapses at the close of the novel, to Romero’s shared “survival space” which eventually collapses once (utopian) collective action is discarded for the seeming benefits of re-privatisation, and a more recent third generation of zombie media which have ambulatory “survival spaces” wherein the space itself no longer connotes safety, refuge, or permanence.

In “Zombie Masses: Monsters for the Age of Global Capitalism,” David R. Castillo explores connotations of monstrosity, particularly that of the vampire and the zombie, in order to reflect on what zombie media specifically, outside of a general fascination with monstrosity, might have to offer. Castillo’s later subsections felt particularly distinct and fruitful to me, and I was actually quite enthralled with his brief description of Victor Conde’s Naturaleza muerta (2009) as a sort of zombie eco-criticism. I’d have liked to see more of this as it was particularly unusual, and set itself apart from what was otherwise a fairly standard theoretical exploration of monstrosity as a term with a history of positive and negative connotations. I did enjoy that Castillo’s work explicitly engaged with postcolonial and racial frameworks, and looked outside of what is otherwise a fairly singular fixation on US media in Zombie Studies.

I found Reilly’s chapter that followed, however, deeply frustrating. While I understand that the zombie ethos is the sort of framework that reinforces libertarian and pro-militia ideology, an analysis that leans into this under the guise of rejecting neoliberalism is basically the antithesis of everything I hold dear. Add in a section in which Reilly argues that, post-apocalypse, survival is no longer linked to morality or communal action—and so leaving behind a wife that “dilly dallies” (good lord) as Alice does in 28 Weeks Later (2007) is OK, and I spent a great deal of my time rubbing my temples to prevent a headache. There is also a quote from the Zombie Research Society that purportedly supports a line of argument that one should not live in India and China because of dense populations and dictatorial governments or something which added nothing to the analysis other than a sort of odd glancing “well, you’ll die, hey” to this moment. He also states at one point in his analysis:

Take, for example, the promotion of democracy abroad. Knowing that the United States has been a strong (vocal) advocate of democratic change in the world, we can anticipate where democratization would be likely to occur based on where the US wants democracy to happen, the cost the US is willing to pay, the tools the US has available to bring about democratic change, and so forth. (pp. 82-83)

This is never contradicted, nuanced, or mentioned further—the United States as a bastion of democratic change in the world. My response at the time was a full five minutes of disbelieving laughter, but it also says everything about the critical social and political understanding undergirding this chapter.

One of Reilly’s early points drawn from these films is to argue that in an extreme situation, morality and rationality become extraneous to the need for survival; essentially an argument that suggests that when the going gets tough, leave people you love to die. It seems crude and nonsensical to have to state this but if a person’s reaction to an extreme global situation is to suggest that everyone except themselves is expendable in their return to “a state of nature” (p. 76) because this is about “the process of surviving” (p. 81), they’re hardly worth listening to or using as a means for social engagement (which is how I employ most theory and culture texts). Reading a chapter that spends the grand majority of its time setting up reasoning for constant justifiable self-interest is the critical equivalent of watching dishes dry—I know what the end result will be, and I genuinely don’t care.

It all ends up being a very thinly veiled discussion of why community is essentially pointless in an extreme situation and self-prioritisation is essential. I have many reasons for why I think libertarianism is bunk, primarily the fact that it eschews all history (racist/sexist/classist/colonial) for some assumption of singular selfhood and freedom that refuses to recognise oneself as a historical being while touting some notion of “pure choice.” For me, it is the sort of individualist ideology that requires a sort of stratospheric amount of privilege to conceive of as viable, let alone implement. In a world that feels increasingly broken, the idea of someone arguing that morality is a luxury and community is unnecessary since individual choice is all—while Republicans, Tories, and other right-wing governments strip public spending to the bone—feels particularly unnecessary. Frankly, I’d rather be a zombie than live with those people; forgive me the pun but I’d have more brains that way.

Easily my favourite chapter in this collection—and the perfect antithesis to Reilly’s analysis—was David Schmid’s “The Limits of Zombies: Monsters for a Neoliberal Age.” It argues that focusing anxieties on zombies as an expression of fears felt by the rapid advance of neoliberalism—instead of ones occasioned by the corporations and CEOs that make up its ranks—transfers monstrosity from the true monsters who benefit from the advance of neoliberalism to these massed and non-individuated hordes. It gave me one of my favourite quotes from the book, which states:

If we want to maximize the potential of a monstrous critique of neoliberalism, it might ultimately be more helpful to think of the monstrous as a process rather than a figure of any kind, be it zombie, vampire, psychopathic CEO, or financial institution. In other words, although monstrosity undoubtedly resides in a bewildering array of figures all of whom are symptomatic, in one way or another, of their respective political and cultural contexts, if we are to keep up with the flexibility and pace of neoliberal exploitation, we need to conceive of monstrosity not only as a symptom but also as a highly mobile, endlessly mutating, and extremely specific set of discourses, technologies, and ideologies, able to both adjust to local circumstances with great rapidity and abject (that is, render monstrous) anyone and anything that forms a barrier to capital accumulation. To counter this threat, our conception of the monstrous must be just as mobile and flexible. (pp. 104-5)

It seems good to end here, on Schmid’s quote—though the essay has a conclusion titled “Afterword: What Are We Talking About When We Talk About Zombies?” by William Egginton that roughly summarises the collection once more—because it brings me back to the point I began with: the notion of monstrosity (good and bad, as Castillo notes), the idea of things being in process (as Schmid notes), and the ethical concerns of discourse with soul. Barriers aren’t simply a matter of neoliberalism, they’re the language we use, the ideas we share, what we validate and what we swallow instead of say. As our conceptions of monstrosity evolve to be mobile and flexible, refusing barriers and singularity, so too should our empathy in the work we do. It's complicated to acknowledge how invested in structural violence academia is, but this work needs to be done, particularly when we pride ourselves on engaging in conversation and debate. Engaging in theorising in academic circles is often to assume that violence done in the name of learning is still worthy of respect—because it stems from objectivity or peer review, without considering how deeply entrenched academia is in a structural violence that excludes so many. These conversations so rarely produce apologies or acknowledgement, and we’re all guilty of this to some extent. I certainly am. But if academia is really the space from which resistance can be built, rather than merely co-opted from those invisibilised and marginalised, and if we genuinely want to build communities that are viable alternatives to the fear of neoliberalism which this collection is built around, this anti-empathy needs to be seen and changed. I have to keep reminding myself that this, too is a process—do the work, learn when you fuck up, always apologise, do better work next time.

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posted by Neil Gaiman
I met Sara Benincasa eight years ago, when she interviewed me in a bathtub. (I was in the bathtub. Sara wasn't even wet.)

She's an author and comedian and the sort of person who has strange ideas and acts upon them. So when she tweeted me the other night and asked me if I would read the Cheesecake Factory Menu live, if she raised half a million dollars for the charity, I did not ask any of the obvious questions (like, why would I read the Cheesecake Factory Menu aloud? or Who would want to hear this? or even How would you ever make that much money for something so unlikely?). Instead I said I'd like the money to go to Refugees, please, and sure. ( And I added, "If you get to a million dollars, I'll also read the entirety of Fox in Socks after the Cheesecake Factory menu.")

And then Sara did something even more unlikely. She set up a page to allow people to donate at and people started to donate. Lots of them.

It's been up a couple of days since then, and we are (as I type this) 8% of the way to the target at over $42,000. It's started to be picked up by newspapers -- here's the LA Times,  and the Boston Globe, and even the Guardian.

And I will do my own bit for it. I will put up something unique to this blog.

Probably you are thinking, will he write about his time on the Red Carpet at Cannes for HOW TO TALK TO GIRLS AT PARTIES?

It is not that. (But here are costume designer Sandy Powell, channeling Ziggy Stardust, and star Elle Fanning eating colour-coordinated macaroons.)

Perhaps you are thinking, Will he perhaps post photographs of Gillian Anderson as Media in the next episode of American Gods incarnated as Ziggy Stardust also eating colour-coordinated macaroons?

I will not. I do not believe such photos exist. 

Instead I will put up photos of my elf-child, Ash. I will see him on Saturday, and the Cannes red carpet would have been much more fun if he had been on it.


Whether or not I get to read the Cheesecake Factory Menu in public (or Dr Seuss's tonguetwisting Fox in Socks) I will be doing a few more readings and talks this year. Tickets are going fast:

07 Jul 2017
Dallas, TX
09 Jul 2017
Washington, D.C.
10 Jul 2017
Hartford, CT       

Each of these should be links to the event -- all of them are solo me just reading and talking and answering your questions, except for the Hartford one, where I'll be interviewed by the NYPL's very own Paul Holdengraber.

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Posted by Fred Clark

Every day of the "Trump Era" it's something new -- something completely new that you've never seen before and can't quite process because you never expected such a thing and have no experience responding to it. And before you can manage to wrap your head around this strange and unbelievable thing, you're forced to consider something else -- some other horror or astonishment you've never seen before either.
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Posted by Ana Mardoll

[Wrinkle Content Note: Fascism, Hypnotism, Captivity]

Wrinkle Recap: The kids have gone into a very big building, asked questions of strangers there, and are now being detained by a random man.

A Wrinkle in Time, Chapter 7: The Man with Red Eyes

I realized today I haven't been including recaps at the top of each entry in this series like I do with Narnia. I apologize and have added a recap now, though coming up with the recap was a bit jarring. I'd not noticed as a child just how much this sequence feels like a railroaded plot from a harried dungeon-master.

The kids were dropped on a hill and told to wander around until something happened. They walked through a village, interacted with a couple of NPCs, then came to a city that seemed strangely featureless except for one enormous building that is bigger than the biggest thing ever. They went into the imposing building after pursuing a line of logic familiar to most gamers: why is the building there if we're not meant to go into it? Then they asked an NPC who they are and what they do here and the NPC is now taking them to the level mini-boss (The Man With Red Eyes) and the boss behind the mini-boss (IT).

Unfortunately for our children, they're about to learn why you need to grind a level or two before you meet up with the boss. All that magic equipment on your character sheet will only get you so far.

   The man took from his pocket a folder filled with papers of every color. He shuffled through them carefully, finally withdrawing one. [...] “You may be detained for a few days,” the man said, “but I’m sure they won’t be too hard on you because of your youth. Just relax and don’t fight and it will all be much easier for you.” He went back to his seat, leaving the children standing and staring at the blank wall.
   And suddenly the wall was no longer there and they were looking into an enormous room lined with machines. They were not unlike the great computing machines Meg had seen in her science books and that she knew her father sometimes worked with. [...]
   Calvin muttered something.
   “What?” Meg asked him.
   “There is nothing to fear except fear itself,” Calvin said. “I’m quoting. Like Mrs Who. Meg, I’m scared stiff.”
   “So ’m I.” Meg held his hand more tightly. “Come on.”

I am amazed at how much I edited books as a child, apparently without any consciousness of doing so. If I remembered the Central Intelligence building at all, I remembered the children bravely exploring it, not just walking meekly down a corridor when told to do so by the first adult they interacted with. This gets the job done narratively, of course, yet I can't help but wonder: was this what the angels intended?

SPOILERS: We're never really told what the angels intended for the children to do and this bugs me. It seems like the plan really was for them to just walk into the room with IT, get imprisoned with their father, pull their father out with the Magic Glasses, and then tesser away. This part goes to plan but as a downside they accidentally leave Charles Wallace behind because his pride was his downfall (as the angels warned).

But... this seems incredibly risky? What if IT decided to kill them instead of imprison them? What if IT imprisoned them but not in the same cell as with their father? I have so many questions as to why this plan was the absolute best plan for rescuing Mr Murry--as well as why we needed these three children to do it and not, I don't know, a professional rescuer chosen from among the angel ranks. I feel these children's presence should be at least sort of justified by the narrative?

Anyway. The children walk down the hallway of computers.

   After they had walked for what seemed like miles, they could see that the enormous room did have an end, and that at the end there was something.
   Charles Wallace said suddenly, and his voice held panic, “Don’t let go my hands! Hold me tight! He’s trying to get at me!”
   “Who?” Meg squeaked.
   “I don’t know. But he’s trying to get in at me! I can feel him!”
   “Let’s go back.” Calvin started to pull away.
   “No,” Charles Wallace said. “I have to go on. We have to make decisions, and we can’t make them if they’re based on fear.” His voice sounded old and strange and remote. Meg, clasping his small hand tightly, could feel it sweating in hers.

This is the second time in as many chapters where we've seen a character experience intense dread only for the group to decide to ignore it, and I feel like we have to tackle this problem because I... don't understand the philosophy here.

Outside the Central Intelligence building, Calvin received a premonition--which we've been led to understand are never wrong--that going inside would be dangerous. Despite the fact that the angels didn't tell them to go there, the children have no reason to think Mr Murry is inside, and they have a whole planet to explore first before tackling this particular building, they went inside anyway. Now Charles is feeling something trying to psychically attack him and again, for no reason, the kids just push on ahead. This doesn't feel like bravery, it feels like railroading.

Charles Wallace, child of scientists and smartest five-year-old on the planet Earth says, "We have to make decisions, and we can't make them if they're based on fear." That makes no sense! This series is happy to embrace evolution as a scientific fact--a rare and welcome thing in a Christian novel--but in that case Charles must surely know that fear is a valuable evolved trait. Making decisions based in fear is why humans in general exist, and arguably why Charles Wallace in particular is alive. At some point in even his short life, he must have made a decision--not to cross the road until it was clear, perhaps, or not to put a dodgy mushroom in his mouth out of curiosity--"based in fear" that kept him alive. Fear is a good thing. Fear is what keeps us from walking up to lions and petting them. Fearless people often do not live long in our world.

Now, okay, yes, sometimes we need to do certain things in spite of fear, and that's arguably the definition of bravery: being afraid of a thing that needs doing but doing it anyway. But... the thing needs doing for the person to be brave and admirable to do it in spite of their fear. You don't get bravery points for just being like "cripes, this seems dangerous and scary, let's do it because we're afraid!" That's not bravery, that's foolhardiness: the act of foolishly throwing caution to the wind and taking reckless chances and engaging in dangerous impulsive behavior.

I can't tell if L'Engle just outright forgot that the children don't actually know Mr Murry is in this building--there's no reason for him to be, and just because it's the biggest building they've seen so far doesn't make it the biggest on the planet; there's an entire planet to explore just outside the door and I can't get over that fact--or if this is supposed to be some kind of philosophical statement on fears and faith. But a statement of faith would make far more sense if the angels had told them to come to this building.

As it is, they've wandered here on their own and both Calvin and Charles have felt a tugging in their hearts telling them this is a bad idea. In any other Christian literature, that would be divine guidance from God that they're ignoring. And yet I think we're supposed to see this as brave, not stubborn or reckless. I would be happy to view their actions as brave if they had a reason for walking in like this and ignoring all their fears saying this is a bad idea. Any reason will do! Instead I'm left wondering why they don't go back outside and do a little more reconnaissance. Maybe they could ride in hidden inside a laundry cart and get Mr Murry out that way.

   As they approached the end of the room their steps slowed. Before them was a platform. On the platform was a chair, and on the chair was a man.
   What was there about him that seemed to contain all the coldness and darkness they had felt as they plunged through the Black Thing on their way to this planet?
   “I have been waiting for you, my dears,” the man said. His voice was kind and gentle, not at all the cold and frightening voice Meg had expected. It took her a moment to realize that though the voice came from the man, he had not opened his mouth or moved his lips at all, that no real words had been spoken to fall upon her ears, that he had somehow communicated directly into their brains.
   “But how does it happen that there are three of you?” the man asked.
   Charles Wallace spoke with harsh boldness, but Meg could feel him trembling. “Oh, Calvin just came along for the ride.”
   “Oh, he did, did he?” For a moment there was a sharpness to the voice that spoke inside their minds. Then it relaxed and became soothing again. “I hope that it has been a pleasant one so far.”
   “Very educational,” Charles Wallace said.
   “Let Calvin speak for himself,” the man ordered.
   Calvin growled, his lips tight, his body rigid. “I have nothing to say.”

Now we get into the meat of the chapter and all the creepiness we've been missing up to this point: this is creepy and I love it, yes, good. Creepy man with a creepy gentle voice that creepily deposits directly into their brain, check. And he creepily knows (I guess?) that Mr Murray has two special children (although it's odd that he doesn't know about the twins or assume Calvin could be one of them) and he creepily loses hold of his facade of nice reasonableness when faced with insubordination and a detail he'd not expected. GOOD. This is an excellent fascist villain, well done.

   Meg stared at the man in horrified fascination. His eyes were bright and had a reddish glow. Above his head was a light, and it glowed in the same manner as the eyes, pulsing, throbbing, in steady rhythm.
   Charles Wallace shut his eyes tightly. “Close your eyes,” he said to Meg and Calvin. “Don’t look at the light. Don’t look at his eyes. He’ll hypnotize you.”
   “Clever, aren’t you? Focusing your eyes would, of course, help,” the soothing voice went on, “but there are other ways, my little man. Oh, yes, there are other ways.”
   “If you try it on me I shall kick you!” Charles Wallace said. It was the first time Meg had ever heard Charles Wallace suggesting violence.
   “Oh, will you, indeed, my little man?” The thought was tolerant, amused, but four men in dark smocks appeared and flanked the children.

Yes. Good.

Well, not good, obviously. But creepy! And yet... I keep returning again to the angels. Was this how this meeting was supposed to go? I understand why it goes the way it does from a Doylist perspective, of course, but I am still hung up on the Watsonian perspective: is it supposed to be a good thing or a bad thing that the children are standing in the lair of Evil Incarnate, flanked by faceless bodyguards and in danger of being hypnotized? Is everything going to plan or has shit hit the fan? As a reader, this isn't exactly an academic question; it sets expectations for the scene as well as a sense of how nervous I should be for the characters.

   “Now, my dears,” the words continued, “I shall of course have no need of recourse to violence, but I thought perhaps it would save you pain if I showed you at once that it would do you no good to try to oppose me. You see, what you will soon realize is that there is no need to fight me. Not only is there no need, but you will not have the slightest desire to do so. For why should you wish to fight someone who is here only to save you pain and trouble? For you, as well as for the rest of all the happy, useful people on this planet, I, in my own strength, am willing to assume all the pain, all the responsibility, all the burdens of thought and decision.”
   “We will make our own decisions, thank you,” Charles Wallace said.
   “But of course. And our decisions will be one, yours and mine. Don’t you see how much better, how much easier for you that is? Let me show you. Let us say the multiplication table together.”

The Man With Red Eyes (MWRE) tries to hypnotize them with the multiplication tables and it's a very nicely creepy scene, but I'm wrenched back to the realization that Meg has stopped being a point-of-view character and has started being one of those little GoPro cameras mounted on a helmet for easy recording. Charles resists by yelling nursery rhymes and Calvin resists by reciting The Gettysburg Address. Meg, at long last, resists by... yelling "Father!"

   “Father!” Meg screamed. “Father!” The scream, half involuntary, jerked her mind back out of darkness.
    The words of the multiplication table seemed to break up into laughter. “Splendid! Splendid! You have passed your preliminary tests with flying colors.”
   “You didn’t think we were as easy as all that, falling for that old stuff, did you?” Charles Wallace demanded.

The effort to resist wasn't easy so this is either admirable bravado in the face of danger or Charles' pride acting up again (or both/and), but I'm left wishing we had a mental response from Meg on this subject to clear that up. Is she panting? afraid? worried? triumphant? drained? Possibly a little of each, and yet she's silent as a protagonist. I remember liking these books for having a girl protagonist (so rare!) and yet I'm struck by how little Meg has actually been allowed to do in the first half of the book.

L'Engle seems at last to notice that because after a little more chat Meg gets to talk. She's not the communicator of the group--Calvin is--but this is more than she's been allowed to do so far on this planet so I'm happy.

   “If you please,” she said, trying to sound calm and brave. “The only reason we are here is because we think our father is here. Can you tell us where to find him?” 
   “Ah, your father!” There seemed to be a great chortling of delight. “Ah, yes, your father! It is not can I, you know, young lady, but will I?”
   “Will you, then?”
   “That depends on a number of things. Why do you want your father?”
   “Didn’t you ever have a father yourself?” Meg demanded. “You don’t want him for a reason. You want him because he’s your father.”
   “Ah, but he hasn’t been acting very like a father, lately, has he? Abandoning his wife and his four little children to go gallivanting off on wild adventures of his own.”
   “He was working for the government. He’d never have left us otherwise. And we want to see him, please. Right now.”
   “My, but the little miss is impatient! Patience, patience, young lady.”
   Meg did not tell the man on the chair that patience was not one of her virtues.

This is good and as an adult I find myself wishing it were explored a little more. I identified very strongly with Meg's loyalty to her father and her insistence that you don't want a father for a reason, you want him because he's your father, but it's worth noting that I loved my own dad so this made sense to me. I can well imagine other children having a very different reaction.

But I would especially love to see this explored because this is a Christian novel set in a universe with a very distant divinity. This isn't unusual--we never see the Emperor Over the Sea in Narnia, after all--but if there's a Father God analogue in Wrinkle, he's so distant we don't even have a name for him. Flying centaurs sing verses from Isaiah on unfallen planets, but no Father God walks in their Edenic gardens with them, or at least not while we are there. We see angels and later in the series we'll see more, but never any God--and Jesus is mentioned in the same context as Leonardo da Vinci in terms of great movers and shakers against the Black Cloud of Sin.

"He hasn't been acting very like a father lately" is an accurate, if unfair, assessment of Mr Murry; he hasn't been acting like a father because he was imprisoned and rendered unable to return to his family. But it's an accurate, and possibly fair, assessment of any god this universe might contain. Where has he been all this time that the Murry children and O'Keefe children have been suffering? Why does he send his angels to put these children in danger rather than rescuing Mr Murry any other way? Why, in the next book, will he be content to let many people die of a new and serious illness but send supernatural intervention to save Charles?

There are no easy answers to these questions. They concern the nature of God and the problem of evil in our world. Theologians have struggled with them for centuries, so I don't expect L'Engle to have a pat answer to the question. But it is disappointing to see the question so tantalizingly raised in the context of one father without seeing it applied to the other Father that goes unremarked upon in the picture. And it's not like I made the author include passages from Isaiah as world-building flavor! Once you do that, I feel you've brought these questions and expectations on yourself.

Back to the text, Meg--having been allowed to talk too much--now goes silent as the MWRE tells them they can communicate with him telepathically. Charles refuses to do so, then runs up and hits him.

   Suddenly Charles Wallace darted forward and hit the man as hard as he could, which was fairly hard, as he had had a good deal of coaching from the twins. [...]
   The man gave a wince and the thought of his voice was a little breathless, as though Charles Wallace’s punch had succeeded in winding him. “May I ask why you did that?”
   “Because you aren’t you,” Charles Wallace said. “I’m not sure what you are, but you”—he pointed to the man on the chair—“aren’t what’s talking to us. I’m sorry if I hurt you. I didn’t think you were real. I thought perhaps you were a robot, because I don’t feel anything coming directly from you. I’m not sure where it’s coming from, but it’s coming through you. It isn’t you.” [...]
   “Try to find out who I am, then,” the thought probed.
    “I have been trying,” Charles Wallace said, his voice high and troubled.
   “Look into my eyes. Look deep within them and I will tell you.”
   Charles Wallace looked quickly at Meg and Calvin, then said, as though to himself, “I have to,” and focused his clear blue eyes on the red ones of the man in the chair. Meg looked not at the man but at her brother. After a moment it seemed that his eyes were no longer focusing. The pupils grew smaller and smaller, as though he were looking into an intensely bright light, until they seemed to close entirely, until his eyes were nothing but an opaque blue. He slipped his hands out of Meg’s and Calvin’s and started walking slowly toward the man on the chair.
   “No!” Meg screamed. “No!”

Charles doesn't hear her so Meg does a flying tackle and drags him to the floor. (Side-note: Why are there even bodyguards here? They're almost Chekovian in their failure to ever meaningfully go off.) He bonks his head on the floor and she cries and he snaps out of it and the MWRE threatens their father.

   The man on the chair spoke directly into Meg’s mind, and now there was a distinct menace to the words. “I am not pleased,” he said to her. “I could very easily lose patience with you, and that, for your information, young lady, would not be good for your father. If you have the slightest desire to see your father again, you had better cooperate.”

This is interesting to me because we have another example of plot-railroading here: they have to participate in the hypnotizing of Charles Wallace because otherwise Mr Murry will be harmed, or at least kept indefinitely away from them. Again I have to wonder if this is all going to angelic plan? If so, it's hard to see Charles' decision as hubris when they apparently have no other choice if they want to proceed. We get some back-and-forth that drags out this already long chapter. Here's the gist:

1. Meg says she's hungry and that the MWRE should feed them. He offers to feed her if she stops interfering. Meg rejects both the deal and the idea of his food, saying "I wouldn't trust it."

2. Charles says “Okay, what next? We’ve had enough of these preliminaries. Let’s get on with it.”  The MWRE points out that they were getting on with it before Meg interrupted. Meg insists that she or Calvin be the ones to brain-meld with the MWRE, but only Charles' brain is advanced enough to try; it would be fatal for Meg or Calvin.

3. The MWRE has food brought in on a room service cart. Meg finds a turkey dinner suspicious and the MWRE notes the smell is artificial and a trick of the brain. Charles can smell nothing. The children decide to eat in spite of their earlier suspicions.

4. The food tastes delicious to Meg and Calvin, but to Charles it "tastes like sand" because "You’ve shut your mind entirely to me. The other two can’t. I can get in through the chinks. Not all the way in, but enough to give them a turkey dinner."

5. Charles points out that they don't really have a way to make the plot move along except to walk into the obvious trap and perform the brain-meld as requested / subtly-demanded.

   The man lifted his lips into a smile, and his smile was the most horrible thing Meg had ever seen. “Why don’t you trust me, Charles? Why don’t you trust me enough to come in and find out what I am? I am peace and utter rest. I am freedom from all responsibility. To come in to me is the last difficult decision you need ever make.”
    “If I come in can I get out again?” Charles Wallace asked.
   “But of course, if you want to. But I don’t think you will want to.”
   “If I come—not to stay, you understand—just to find out about you, will you tell us where Father is?”
   “Yes. That is a promise. And I don’t make promises lightly.”

To Charles' credit, he does at least try to arrange a promise that he can get back out again. IT promises that he will be able to, and this is another interesting aspect of the text I wish we could explore in more depth. IT says he doesn't make promises lightly and--if we're meant to believe him--that would suggest he's telling the truth and Charles can get out from the brain-meld. Yet later, he will not emerge even though he (apparently) wants very much to leave.

So what does this mean? Is it as simple as the bad guy being willing and able to lie? Is IT pulling a Jedi Truth like the director in the movie The Truman Show? That movie is about a man placed in the most insidious manner of captivity possible: Truman's entire life is a controlled television show for the entertainment of others and he doesn't realize that all of reality around him is constructed. His captor states Truman can leave any time, eliding how difficult it is to leave a cage you don't know is there:

CHRISTOF: He could leave at any time. If his was more than just a vague ambition, if he was absolutely determined to discover the truth, there's no way we could prevent him. I think what distresses you, really, caller, is that ultimately, Truman prefers his "cell," as you call it.

Christof continues to insist that Truman "could leave" even while he summons apocalyptic winds and storms--nearly drowning Truman in the process--in an attempt to keep him caged and controlled. Is Charles Wallace buffeted by storms while IT claims he "could leave" if he just really wanted it bad enough? And yet... we recognize that "Jedi Truths" are effectively lies in situations like this. So what does it mean when IT says it doesn't make promises lightly?

   “Listen,” he said to Meg and Calvin. “I have to find out what he really is. You know that. I’m going to try to hold back. I’m going to try to keep part of myself out. You mustn’t stop me this time, Meg.”
   “But you won’t be able to, Charles! He’s stronger than you are! You know that!”
   “I have to try.”
   “But Mrs Whatsit warned you!”

Mrs Whatsit did warn him, but can an angelic warning against hubris make sense in a context where Charles is right and they have no other way to proceed? They're captured, their father is inaccessible, and they'll be hypnotized sooner or later--their captor already threatened to starve them into submission, for goodness' sake! If anything, it seems like Charles is making the sensible choice to go into the brain-meld while he's strong as opposed to later when he's weak after time spent in captivity.

This troubles me. I feel if you're going to have a warning about hubris, the characters should have had a chance to choose differently. Perhaps that choice came and went back when they decided to plunge headlong into the Central Intelligence building, but if that was the event horizon for the Hubristic Fall, then I wish that had been made clearer at the time.

   “I have to try. For Father, Meg. Please. I want—I want to know my father—” For a moment his lips trembled. Then he was back in control. “But it isn’t only Father, Meg. You know that, now. It’s the Black Thing. We have to do what Mrs Which sent us to do.”
   “Calvin—” Meg begged.
   But Calvin shook his head. “He’s right, Meg. And we’ll be with him, no matter what happens.”
   “But what’s going to happen?” Meg cried.
   Charles Wallace looked up at the man. “Okay,” he said. “Let’s go.”
   Now the red eyes and the light above seemed to bore into Charles, and again the pupils of the little boy’s eyes contracted. When the final point of black was lost in blue he turned away from the red eyes, looked at Meg, and smiled sweetly, but the smile was not Charles Wallace’s smile.
   “Come on, Meg, eat this delicious food that has been prepared for us,” he said.
   Meg snatched Charles Wallace’s plate and threw it on the floor, so that the dinner splashed about and the plate broke into fragments. “No!” She cried, her voice rising shrilly. “No! No! No!”
   From the shadows came one of the dark-smocked men and put another plate in front of Charles Wallace, and he began to eat eagerly. “What’s wrong, Meg?” Charles Wallace asked. “Why are you being so belligerent and uncooperative?” The voice was Charles Wallace’s voice, and yet it was different, too, somehow flattened out, almost as a voice might have sounded on the two-dimensional planet.
   Meg grabbed wildly at Calvin, shrieking, “That isn’t Charles! Charles is gone!”

That's it! That's the end of the chapter! A very nice cliffhanger to pick up on next time.

The Poverty “State of Mind”

May. 25th, 2017 10:19 pm
[syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed

Posted by John Scalzi

Ben Carson, our HUD Secretary of somewhat dubious expertise, recently burbled on about how he thinks that “poverty, to a large extent, is a state of mind,” a statement which earned him some well-justified push-back and which prompted several people, knowing of my general thoughts about poverty, to wonder if I had any thoughts on the matter.

My thought on poverty in the United State being a “state of mind” is that what it really is, to a rather larger extent, is a lack of access — to money, to education, to opportunities, to adequate housing, to networks of expertise and help, among many other things, and most importantly (and as often a consequence of all the others noted and more) to the margin of safety that people who are not in poverty have when any individual thing knocks them off their stride.

It’s the last of these, in my opinion, that illustrates the gormlessness of Carson’s thoughts on poverty. You can have the most can-do spirit in the world, but your state of mind doesn’t mean jack when confronted with, say, a broken-down car you can’t afford to repair, which means that you can’t get to your job, which means that the job goes out the window, putting you at risk of not being able to pay the rent (or other bills), increasing the possibility of putting your family out on the street, making it more difficult for your kids to get and maintain an education. Your “can-do” spirit doesn’t mean shit to a worn-out timing belt or transmission. Your “can-do” spirit doesn’t mean shit to the landlord who decides to raise a rent you can barely afford, because he knows he can get more from someone else. Your “can-do” spirit doesn’t mean shit to the ice outside your home you slip and fracture your arm on when you head off to your second job. Your state of mind is not telekinetic. It can’t fix things that are out of your control, and which by dint of poverty you have no immediate way of addressing. When you’re poor, so many things are out of your control.

Conversely, if you have margin, your “state of mind” matters even less — because you have the ability to address problems as they arise. It doesn’t matter what my state of mind is if my car stops working; I can afford to have it taken to the shop and fixed. My state of mind is not relevant when I crack my arm; I have good health insurance with a low deductible. My state of mind is neither here nor there to my housing situation; my mortgage is paid off. My margin is considerable and will be regardless of what state my mind is in.

Yes, you might say, but you, John Scalzi, have an industrious state of mind! Well, that’s debatable (more on that later), but even if it is true, is it more industrious than the person who works two shitty jobs because they have no other choice? Am I more industrious than, say, my mother, who cleaned people’s houses and worked on a telephone exchange while I was growing up, so that I could eat and have a roof over my head? My mother, who barely cracked a five-figure salary while I grew up, worked as hard as hell. Tell me her “state of mind” was less industrious than mine is now, and I’ll laugh my ass off at you. Tell me any number of people in the small, blue-collar town I live in, who make significantly less than I do, and who are one slip on the ice away from tumbling down the poverty hole, have a “state of mind” substantially less industrious than my own, and I’ll likely tell you to go fuck yourself.

I happen to be one of those people who went from poverty to wealth, and because I am, I can tell you where “state of mind” lies on the list of things that have mattered in getting me where I am. It is on the list, to be sure. But it’s not number one. Number one is access to opportunity, which I got when my mother — not me — decided to chance having me apply to Webb, a private boarding school that cost more than she made in a year (I was a scholarship kid), with immense resources that allowed me entree into a social stratum I might not have otherwise had access to.

Number two is a network of people — mostly teachers at first — who went out of their way to foster me and nurture my intellect and creativity when they saw it in me. Number three is luck: being in the right place at the right time more than once, whether I “deserved” the break I was getting or not. Number four is my creativity, my own innate talents, which I then had to cultivate. Number five are the breaks I got in our culture that other people, who are not me, might not have gotten. Number six would be Krissy, my wife and my partner in life, who has skills and abilities complementary to mine, which has made getting ahead easier and building out our family’s margins much simpler than if I had to do it on my own.

Number seven — not even in the top five! — I would say is my “state of mind,” my desire and determination to make something of myself. And let’s be clear: this “state of mind” has not been an “always on” thing. There have been lots of times I was perfectly happy to float, or fuck around, or be passive, because times and opportunities allowed me to be so. There have been times when I have been depressed or apathetic and not interested in doing anything, and I didn’t — but still got along just fine because of my margin of safety. There have been times I have been overwhelmed and barely able to make any decisions at all. “State of mind” is a changeable thing, and importantly can be deeply influenced by one’s own circumstances. It’s much easier to have a positive “state of mind” when you know that no one thing is likely to knock your entire life askew. It’s easier not to give in to fatalism when not everything has the potential to ruin everything else. It’s easier to not feel like nothing you do matters, when you have to ability to solve many of your problems with a simple application of money.

I have seen people with what I’m sure Carson would describe as the correct “state of mind” fail over and over again because their legs are kicked out from them in one way or another, and who never seem to make it no matter how hard they try. I’ve seen people who definitely don’t have the right “state of mind” succeed and even thrive — have seen them fail upward — because on balance other things broke their way. “State of mind” as a predictive factor of economic mobility is, bluntly, anecdotal bullshit, something to pull out of your ass while ignoring the mountains of evidence showing that economic mobility in the United States is becoming more difficult to come by. It’s not “state of mind” that’s the issue. It’s long-term systematic inequality, inequality that’s getting worse as we go along. Ignoring or eliding the latter and pinning poverty “to a large extent” on the former means you’re giving everyone and everything else that contributes to poverty in the United States — from racism to inertia to greed — a free pass.

I’m well aware that Carson has his own anecdotal rags-to-riches story, as I do; we both even have mothers who sacrificed for us so we could succeed. Good for him! I applaud him and his effort to get where he is now. But this doesn’t make his story any more than what it is, or what mine is — a single story, not necessarily easily replicated at large. Certainly my story isn’t easily replicated; not every poor kid can be given a break by a private boarding school catering to the scions of wealth and privilege. I think it’s fine if Carson or anyone else wants to lecture or opine on the poverty “state of mind.” But until and unless our country makes an effort to address all the other long-term issues surrounding poverty, Carson’s opinion on the matter is bullshit.

Control for opportunity. Control for access. Control for margin. And then come back to me about “state of mind,” as it regards poverty. I’ll be waiting, Dr. Carson.


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