Thursday, December 27, 2018

The End of an Era

While watching the grandkids tear into their Christmas loot, I realized that the world has changed.


And without my permission, dammit!

When our kids were toddlers, we spent way too much on Christmas presents for them and then watched as they ignored the actual presents in favor of playing with the shredded wrapping paper and the empty boxes. Really, there were some years when I thought we'd have done better to give them nothing but cardboard boxes; no toy we ever bought could complete with the joy of squashing your little sister into a packing carton for immediate shipment Elsewhere.

No longer. The baby hasn't even figured out how to rip off the wrapping paper yet, but with a little help from her big brother she got hold of her toys. There were at least two large plastic objects with big buttons to push and big wheels to turn, and when armed with the appropriate batteries they rewarded her aimless explorations with flashing lights, nursery rhymes, and obnoxious noises. She was fascinated!

For a while I wondered, Grinch-like, if we'd ever be able to interest her in something as plain as an actual book -- not this Christmas, but a few years hence. But you know, I think we will. Because there's one thing those flashing, beeping plastic devices don't do.

They don't tell a story.

And humans always need stories.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

The hazards of black bag jobs

(I'm polishing A Revolution of Rubies for release and having some fun with it in the process. The CIA has decided to send Thalia and her topologist colleagues to Europe, to bug diplomatic offices and apartments for them. Even for people who can teleport, it's not always as easy as you'd think:)

Sheng was visibly nervous about our mission – I guessed he was one of those people who’s really only happy in a basement full of computers and electronic gadgets – but at least he’d been able to accept the reality of teleportation better than his predecessor, Screaming Geek. Now I took his (sweaty) hand, slipped my free hand into the pocket with the stars, thought about the Brouwer Fixed-Point Theorem, pictured the two glowing surfaces and slid us from one surface to the other via the single point they had in common.

We had time to take just one deep breath before the barking began.

This time I didn’t bother with half measures like hiding in a bathroom. We were in the Egyptian cultural attaché’s apartment and I already knew there was only one bathroom which the whole family shared. We zipped down a spiraling trail of stars through the in-between and back to the apartment Lensky and I were using.

My legs were shaky; I sat down on the cool marble floor. “That wasn’t supposed to happen!”

“No shit, Sherlock,” Sheng sniped. “I thought you’d been to a dinner party there.”

“I was. Just day before yesterday.”

“How did you not notice that he had a dog?”

“He didn’t have a dog. Not then.” I thought back over my briefing. “They told me Egyptians don’t like dogs!”

“They don’t not like dogs nearly as much as I don’t like dogs,” Sheng groused. Then a puzzled look crossed his face. I had the feeling he was counting negatives on his fingers, trying to figure out what he’d just said. “I thought that monster was going to take a chunk out of my ass.”

“You could be grateful for the quick reflexes that got us out of there!” Truth be told, I had been possibly a little more alert to the need to exfiltrate quickly than I had been before Screaming Technical Officer had fainted on me in the Polish embassy.

We learned later that Said, the cultural attaché, had been dog-sitting for just one night as a favor to a Parisian neighbor of his who’d been called out of town unexpectedly. Just our luck that we tackled Said’s apartment on that night.

We never did find out how a fashionable Parisian living in the center of the city managed to keep a dog the size of a small moose as a pet. But then, that wasn’t part of the assignment.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Color explosion

I've been browsing in Cecile Meraglia's blog, Aventures Textiles. She's posted some white-on-white embroideries that are breathtaking in their austere beauty... but they're not good inspirations for me at
this time of year. Too bleak!

The Christmas season has been difficult for me ever since my father died on a Christmas Eve. It was a long time ago, but... well, he did not have an easy or a peaceful death, and in the days leading up to Christmas each year I tend to get hit by flashes of memory that I could well do without. So I'm in a mood
for color and noise and lots of it. This piece of Cecile's, titled, "Red Sun," suits me today. I like the bright colors popping out against the black.

And it reminds me that even a black mood can be overlaid with brightness.

Sunday, December 16, 2018


"Mom, she's crawling!"
"Yeah, right."
For the last month the Youngest Grandchild has been getting up on her knees and elbows and rocking back and forth as if putting all that energy into the project will magically create forward motion. I've stopped holding my breath in anticipation of this particular milestone.
"No, she's really crawling! Wait till you see the video! She figured out how to move her knees and she went right across the room and filled both hands with her big brother's toys!"
(thoughtful pause)
"Lego blocks. Crayons. Choking hazards everywhere to be picked up...I'm screwed, aren't I?"
"Yes, dear."

And now, having watched the video a mere five or six times, I think I'll get down on my knees and elbows and rock back and forth for a while. Who knows, maybe it'll magically create forward motion in this morass of a half-plotted book.

Friday, December 14, 2018

The death of humor... plus ça change...

By Adolf Schrödter -

IdahoBeauty's comments to the last post caused me to reflect that although she didn't put it quite like this, the proportion in so-called "news" publications of actual news to opinion, innuendo, and repetition is like the proportion of bread to wine in Falstaff's inn tab. Then, because my memory is failing, I had to look up the "bread and sack" quotation so as to be sure I got the words right. And that search led me to a magazine article from 1780 that might have been dictated by one of the humorless scolds we were decrying.

In a comment on the "bread and sack" scene the writer says, "The effects we feel at what I next quote, are sufficient to convince us how dangerous wit and humour are in the power of knaves. They take our hearts in despite of our senses. Although we know them to be all that is bad, yet we cannot withhold our affections."

Oh, okay, we could go back to Plato for examples of the ruling classes distrusting artists. Heck, there's probably something to that effect in the epic of Gilgamesh. But for today, The Lady's Magazine suffices to remind me that the scolds are always with us. God forbid anybody should be funny. Humor is too dangerous to be allowed out.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

I cannot tolerate these intolerant songs!

I was gonna do a Christmas songs post... but somebody beat me to it! (Stumbled upon this at Bookworm Room, lack the twitter/internet skills to trace it back and give credit to the originator.)

All I've got left is a few words of censure for the incorrect attitudes implied by traditional Christmas carols.

Royalist: "Hark the herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King"

Elitist: "The little Lord Jesus, asleep in the hay"

Misogynist and transphobic: "Round yon virgin mother and child" - privileging chastity? And why celebrate Mary for doing something so trivial as giving birth? This attitude is hateful towards childless women, women who want to shout their abortions, and most of all, womyn without wombs or even X-chromosomes.

Anti-Satanist: "To save us all from Satan's toils, when we were gone astray" - blatantly prejudiced. Why does no one ever speak up for the Prince of Darkness?

Oh, sorry about that last. I guess I forgot. The entire outrage mob is already speaking up for him, all the time. Or should that be "xim?"

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Wonderful...Witches?... of Oz

It's one of the perks of marriage: the First Reader reads the Guardian, so I don't have to. He sent me this brilliant commentary on The Wizard of Oz. I must admit to being surprised by the timing. I mean, it's December. I thought we were supposed to be outraged by racism and bullying ("Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer), date rape (Baby, It's Cold Outside) and more racism (I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas). But no, the outrage industry isn't busy enough banning creche displays and pushing African "traditions" like Kwanzaa. They have to go after nonseasonal outrages as well.

"...the film revels in the violent deaths of “ugly” women, who have houses dumped on them or drown in water that melts them like acid, while the greatest deceiver, the Wizard, simply shrugs and floats away at the end of the film."

Because, I guess, nothing says "empowered woman" like sending your flying monkeys to capture a little girl and her dog and kill her friends.

(Toto could not be reached for comment.)

Read the whole thing here.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

The insufficiently woke Mr. Tolkien

The First Reader found this parody conversation from McSweeneys recently -- I have no idea how, because he's not a Tolkien fan. It's old, but I hadn't seen it before. Here's a sample:

ZINN: You view the conflict as being primarily about pipe-weed, do you not?

CHOMSKY: Well, what we see here, in Hobbiton, farmers tilling crops. The thing to remember is that the crop they are tilling is, in fact, pipe-weed, an addictive drug transported and sold throughout Middle Earth for great profit.

ZINN: This is absolutely established in the books. Pipe-weed is something all the Hobbits abuse. Gandalf is smoking it constantly. You are correct when you point out that Middle Earth depends on pipe-weed in some crucial sense, but I think you may be overstating its importance. Clearly the war is not based only on the Shire’s pipe-weed. Rohan and Gondor’s unceasing hunger for war is a larger culprit, I would say.

CHOMSKY: But without the pipe-weed, Middle Earth would fall apart. Saruman is trying to break up Gandalf’s pipe-weed ring. He’s trying to divert it.

ZINN: Well, you know, it would be manifestly difficult to believe in magic rings unless everyone was high on pipe-weed. So it is in Gandalf’s interest to keep Middle Earth hooked.

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