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Posts Tagged ‘ranty’

further thoughts on The Mandalorian

Yyyyyyyeah. I’m not going to bother watching any more, and I can’t find any particularly good reason to recommend that anybody else start.

It isn’t actively bad. The music (done by Ludwig Göransson, same guy who scored Black Panther) is great. But the second episode — of eight — had zero screen time with female characters, leaving us at a mere two minutes in over an hour of TV, and a quarter of the season. And furthermore, the pacing is glacial: the second ep, which is thirty-two minutes long, spent most of that time on a series of fight scenes. I can sum up the entirety of the meaningful plot by saying “he finds out that the bounty he’s been hired to bring back can use the Force, and then they leave the planet.” Everything else? It’s filler. Spectacle. Re-iteration of stuff we already know (like “there are other bounty hunters on the trail”) or else stuff that does absolutely nothing to forward the narrative. It just gives our nameless Clint Eastwood expy more reasons to be a badass and fight things. However well-executed the filler may be, at the end of the second episode I had even less interest and less reason to care than I did at the end of the first.

Penny wise, megaton destructive

Our household of three people has at present ballooned to six people and four cats, courtesy of Pacific Gas and Electric.

I don’t know how this is being reported elsewhere in the country (or elsewhere in the world), so I want to be clear about what’s going on. There are multiple causes for California’s wildfire problem, ranging from climate change to flawed forest management policy in past decades to the expansion of settlement into at-risk terrain. But part of it, especially here in northern California, is the direct fault of our electrical companies.

PG&E has, for years, prioritized making massive payouts to their shareholders over investing in basic maintenance and safety. The equipment that started last year’s devastating Camp Fire — the most destructive in the state’s history, the fire that destroyed the town of Paradise — was built in the early 1900s. It was over a hundred years old. PG&E knew damn well their equipment was out of date and in need of refurbishment or outright replacement. But doing that cuts into the quarterly profits, so it got put off, and put off, and put off — until there was nothing left to replace, because it had all been destroyed by the fire.

This is true all over the areas they serve. It’s why this year PG&E is aggressively cutting power to areas considered to be at risk when we have conditions of dry weather and strong winds — a common occurrence these days, thanks to climate change. Initially all of our house guests (call them what they are; refugees) were here because power was cut to their homes. But then two of them made a run up to Vallejo to rescue their four cats, because while there hadn’t yet been a mandatory evacuation order issued for their area, there was a “precautionary” evacuation underway. This was why. Fires bracketed Vallejo on three sides. We don’t know yet whether any of them were started by PG&E’s power lines, but the Kincade Fire burning up in Sonoma almost certainly was. Because PG&E may be cutting power to areas . . . but they aren’t necessarily shutting down their main transmission lines. And if your immediate thought is “they should do that!,” be aware that part of the problem in Vallejo yesterday was that PG&E shut off the power to the water-pumping stations. Which makes fighting a fire rather more difficult.

I don’t want anybody to walk away from this thinking PG&E is the sole cause of the fires. If we didn’t have such dry conditions and such high winds, coupled with sporadic wet winters that encourage the growth of new brush which then turns into tinder a few months later, the fires wouldn’t burn as hot and as far; that’s thanks to climate change, and humanity is collectively responsible for that one. And it’s true that for a long time forestry officials thought it was best to prevent all forest fires, whereas now we know it’s actually better for the environment to let (smaller) blazes sweep through periodically to clear things out. We could change our urban planning to put fewer homes and people at risk.

But PG&E unquestionably shoulders some of the blame. And so does the overall corporate culture that encourages short-term thinking, boosting quarterly profits at all costs, deferring expenses again and again so you can look “fiscally responsible” (while someone else pays a heartbreaking bill down the road).

That’s finally, maybe, a little bit, beginning to change. Corporations are starting to admit that maybe shareholder dividends should not be their first, last, and only priority. The new Long-Term Stock Exchange was founded to encourage companies to think on time scales longer than three months. We might — we can hope — eventually see a world where we once again know how to plan for the future, investing in infrastructure and building a world future generations will want to live in.

The road there, however, is currently leading through a burned-out hellscape.

Moderation in all things

The more time passes, the less patience I have with the notion that “a real writer writes every day.”

Try subbing in some other words there and see how that sentence sounds. “A real teacher teaches every day.” “A real programmer programs every day.” “A real surgeon performs surgery every day.” These are all patently absurd. The teacher, the programmer, and the surgeon are all better at their jobs for not going to work every day. For taking some days off.

I wonder if what’s going on here is a weird collision between the romanticization of ~art~ and the #@$*%! “Protestant work ethic.” On the one hand you have this sense that writing, or any art, is a ~calling~. And if it doesn’t call to you every day, why, then, you’re not a real writer, are you? On the other hand you’ve got Max Weber frowning over your shoulder and questioning whether what you’re doing is Real Work — so you have to silence him by keeping your nose to the grindstone every day, without respite, because otherwise clearly you’re just a good-for-nothing layabout.

(I’d like to pause and appreciate the value of the tilde for indicating a kind of vaporous awe around a word. Italics just don’t convey the same effect, and neither do quotation marks.)

Writing is Real Work. It may be fun work (a thought that would probably horrify the Calvinists Weber had in mind), but it requires effort, concentration, hours of your life. Some days it’s easier than others. But it’s also weird work, in that sometimes the most vitally useful thing you can do is go for a walk or wash some dishes, because while you’re not looking, your brain sneaks off and figures stuff out. When people ask me how many hours I work each day or week, my response is to give them a baffled shrug, because there aren’t clean boundaries around it; I’m definitely working while I’m drafting a story or answering emails or going over page proofs, but I also may be working while I’m vacuuming the rug or brushing my teeth or reading a book. Which means that days in which I’m not at the keyboard may still in some fashion be work days — but thinking of them that way is pernicious. If an idea comes to me, awesome, but in the meanwhile I’m going to have a life.

Because contrary to what corporate America wants us all to believe, we can have lives outside our jobs, and we should. We will not just be better employees for the time off; we’ll be better people, too. And that’s just as true of writers as it is of anybody else.


On the recommendation of several friends, I recently started using Duolingo to study Japanese. The tldr; of my reaction is that Duolingo seems like a great way to practice a language — I’ve been doing at least small amounts of Japanese daily for over two months now, which is more than I’ve managed for years — and an absolutely abysmal way to learn a language.

I don’t know if that’s just because I’m doing Japanese, which, as a non-Indo-European language with a super-complicated writing system, is especially heinous. But I doubt there’s any massive difference with, say, Spanish, unless the format of the lessons is totally different, because Duolingo makes precisely zero attempt to explain anything to the user. (Including how to use the program. Maybe that would be different if I were accessing it via a web browser, but the phone app doesn’t even have a “here’s how Duolingo works” how-to.)

And yes: immersion is a way to learn a language. But immersion requires substantial commitment; five minutes a day with a phone app ain’t gonna get you there. The Japanese lessons do not tell you that there are hiragana, katakana, and kanji, and that kanji can be pronounced multiple different ways. They don’t tell you about -te forms or the difference between polite and plain speech (and they just start randomly salting the latter in eventually, so that somebody not already familiar with that concept will be looking in vain for their です option). They tell you nothing: they just fling sentences at you and assume you’ll figure it out by trial and error.

[EDITED TO ADD: Okay, so it turns out there are profound differences between the mobile app and the website. As in, the website provides short lessons, which are entirely missing from the app. And the website also gives you a way to provide feedback on a sentence or its translation, if you think there’s an error. Which doesn’t remove the problems I discuss below; those things should have been caught before this ever went live. And I am utterly croggled that the app not only doesn’t include more functionality, but doesn’t make it clear to you that there is more functionality available, because in these days of “let’s make everything mobile,” in the absence of evidence to the contrary, I assume that what I’m getting on my phone is what I’d get in my browser. But my overall impression of Duolingo is improved somewhat by knowing that lessons are available if you look in the right place, and that they do have a method of letting you go “omgwtfbbq this is wrong.” Back to the post now.]

But that isn’t what really grates my cheese. No, I have massive issue with the fact that whoever coded this appears to have no fucking clue how Japanese works.

I don’t mean the sentences are ungrammatical — though there are places where I take issue with their translations, especially when they translate one Japanese word with variant English ones, or vice versa, in ways that muddy the distinctions between the words they’re teaching you. No, this has to do with the way the app works, and the way Japanese works, and the flat-out wrong way those two things interface sometimes.

Three pieces of context, for those who aren’t already familiar: first, many of the Duolingo questions operate by giving you a sentence in either English or Japanese, and then asking you to assemble the translation from a set of pre-determined blocks. For example, I might have to select [My] [older] [brother] [is] [tall] to translate the sentence 私の兄はせが高いです. Second, as you can see from my Japanese there, the language does not natively have spaces between words; in fact, determining where to put spaces is not simple, and people don’t agree on how best to do it. And third, for Reasons, the hiragana character は is normally pronounced “ha,” but when it’s being used as a particle — a piece of grammatical equipment — it’s “wa” instead.

So that “there’s no clear system for where to break words” thing? There might not be a right way to do it . . . but boy fucking howdy are there wrong ways.

Early on in using the app, I hit an English sentence I think was something like “The book is here” — 本はここにあります, or in romaji, hon wa koko ni arimasu. Note the は there. So I start assembling the blocks of Japanese, only I can’t find ここ among my options.

Because the blocks it’s offering me are [本] [はこ] [こ] [に] [あり] [ます].

I can accept those last two, because there is (faint) merit in splitting a verb ending off from the verb stem, even if every romanization system I’ve ever seen would write that as “arimasu” rather than “ari masu.” But the beginning of that sentence is flat-out wrong. The app helpfully plays the sound for what you’re selecting, and it read out “hon” followed by “hako” followed by “ko.”

Hako means “box.”

They split the word for “here” in the middle and slapped the particle on the first half of it, turning what should have been “wa koko” into “hako ko.” And this is not the only time they’ve done crap like that. I hit one sentence in a later lesson that used the word 郵便局 (“post office”), only it was written in hiragana, ゆうびんきょく. All well and good — right up until the point where they offered me blocks saying [ゆうびんき] [ょくに行きました]. You can’t do that. Not only does it literally split the word for “post office” in half, it does so in a manner that amounts to [postof] [ficeIwentto]. That ょ can’t start a word, not when it’s shrunk down like that; the whole reason it’s shrunk down is to show that it modifies the preceding character, き. On its own, that one is “ki,” and the other is “yo.” Together, they’re not “kiyo,” they’re “kyo.” Which is a meaningfully different sound — as in you can literally change the meaning of a word by swapping one for the other.

There are lower-grade problems like this all over the Japanese lessons. Because kanji can have multiple pronunciations, 中 can be pronounced both “naka” and “chuu” (among other options) — but when the app asks you to match characters to their pronunciations, the one it provides you is “chuu,” while the voice cheerfully reads out “naka.” Yeah, ’cause that’s not going to confuse the hell out of someone who hasn’t already mastered hiragana and learned about the difference between kun’yomi and on’yomi. If I assemble the phrase for “man” in a sentence, the audio it gives me for 男の人 is “otoko no jin” instead of “otoko no hito” — the exact opposite of the 中 problem, because “naka” is the pronunciation you generally use when that character is on its own, but “jin” is the one you use in a compound word (like “gaijin”). When you put a number with a counter, you get audio like “ichi hon” instead of “ippon,” because that’s how those parts are pronounced separately, and the app doesn’t take into account the fact that together they undergo a sound change.

. . . except it does. That’s what’s so infuriating. Duolingo does a good job of hitting the same material from all the angles; it will give me English and ask me to assemble the Japanese, or the Japanese and ask me to assemble the English, or I’ll have to do listening comprehension and provide either the transcription or the translation. And when what it’s giving me is the Japanese sentence in full, it’s correct. It will say “otoko no hito” rather than “otoko no jin,” and “ippon” instead of “ichi hon.” So they have that audio. But whoever put the Japanese lessons together utterly failed to notice that, oh hey, they kept giving us wrong things whenever they break it up. (A fact that manifests in a small, mildly hilarious way any time you need to put together a negative polite verb, because the final -n is its own block, and the audio pronounces it with the kind of rising intonation you’d use when you’re asking a question — not the way you’d pronounce it as a normal verb ending.)

So basically, I find Duolingo pretty good for studying Japanese because I already know the language. I’m learning new vocabulary and getting lots of practice in things like word order, which is a thing I never really internalized very well — i.e. when you have a complex sentence, what bits of it should go before what other bits. But if you’re trying to learn from it, what it’s providing ranges from “unhelpful” to “straight-up wrong.”

I’ve sent in feedback (once I figured out how to do that; see above re: the app isn’t even helpful in telling you how to use the app), so maybe it’ll be fixed. Right now there’s only one basic Japanese course, and I’ve gone through the first level of all the lessons, so now it’s just rinse and repeat until I internalize some of this stuff. But dear god: if they want to continue with this language, they need to get their grammatical and phonetic house in order, because otherwise it’s going to be a trash fire.

From Zero to DNF in 3.6 Seconds

There’s a book I was almost done with and about to put on my list of Books Read — until it managed to drive me off in no time flat. And I want to post about why.

Content warning for sexual assault, including upon dead bodies. Which right there is the tl;dr of why I stopped reading, but I want to unpack the situation a bit more.


This should haunt them until the end of time.

Last night my temper snapped. I pulled up the website for every single congressional representative from Texas who voted for the atrocity they call a healthcare bill and tweeted at them — I would have emailed, but none of the ones I tried accept emails from non-constituents — telling them that they are unfit to hold public office.

Why Texas? Because I was born and raised there, and still feel ties even though as of last September I’ve lived there less than half my life. It seemed like a good place to start with my rage. I originally meant to keep going, but after tweeting at twenty-four of the two hundred seventeen Republicans who greenlit a bill that might as well be labeled We Don’t Care If You Die, I was too sick at heart to continue.

When I say they are unfit to hold public office, I mean it. They should not be voted out; they should resign before the next election even rolls around. But since I doubt most of them have enough shame left to do the right thing and step down, it’s on the people of this country to make it happen at the next opportunity. Those two hundred seventeen people have completely lost sight of what it is to be an elected official. The ideas of representing their constituents, of serving the public good, of laboring to make our imperfect union a little more perfect? That’s long gone. Some of them have admitted they didn’t even read the bill before they voted in favor of it. The rest apparently read it and were okay with the monstrous cruelty it represents. Because it isn’t about governance anymore; it’s just a great big game of sportsball, and they wanted their side to score some points. They wanted to pass something. Anything. Didn’t even really matter what it was, so long as they could be seen achieving something, marking the world as their own by pissing all over it.

Never let them forget this. Some votes don’t really matter; this one did, even if the bill dies in the Senate as it deserves. This was evil. This is a bill that, if passed, would kill countless Americans, that would make us all sicker and weaker and more vulnerable. And they didn’t care. They cheered it on, because it’s their team, and that’s all that matters anymore.

The list of names is here. I thank the 193 Democrats who voted against it, and the 20 Republicans who appear to still have a conscience or a sense of duty.

The rest of them?

Tie this millstone around their necks, and make them carry it for the rest of their lives. It’s the least they deserve.

Yes, it’s hard. Put on your grown-up pants and do it anyway.

Background, for those who don’t follow the SF/F convention scene:

A few years back, Jim Frenkel was banned from Wiscon and lost his job at Tor following complaints of persistent harassment against a number of women. More recently, Odyssey Con decided to install him as their Guest Liaison. When their Guest of Honor, Monica Valentinelli, told them that Frenkel had harassed her in the past and she felt neither comfortable nor safe interacting with him, they blew off her complaint; when she withdrew from the convention, they posted her private emails on their Facebook page without her permission, characterized her behavior as trying to “dictate” who could and could not attend the convention, assured everybody that Frenkel and another named problem are great guys, and swore that they’re totally a safe space and will handle these problems appropriately if and when they arise.

They’ve since taken down the emails and their initial statement, so Damage Control Mode is a go. But it’s too little, too late: it is already abundantly clear that they are not dedicated to dealing with harassment in a professional manner. They don’t understand privacy, safety, or basic common decency.

But there are plenty of other people dissecting the daisy-chain of failures here. I want to talk about something slightly different.

I have, in a non-convention context, dealt with a problem like this. I am on the board of an organization that received complaints of harassing behavior and assault by a member — someone I have known for years. I was not part of the group tasked to investigate the complaints, but I was one of the people who had to decide what to do after we received that group’s findings. I’m the one who wrote the email announcing our decision to the membership at large, hand-carving every word in an attempt to minimize the risk of misunderstanding or unintended implication.

It’s hard. No matter what you do, you’re going to upset somebody — and that includes doing nothing. You have to wade into the muck of information you’d rather not hear, examine your reaction to each and every piece of that information, weigh potential responses and their repercussions, and then figure out how to translate all of that into statements and actions. Then, once you’ve done that, you get to deal with the fallout. From start to finish, the whole process sucks.

Too bad. Put on your grown-up pants and do it anyway.

And if you can’t — if your reaction to a complaint is going to be to assume it’s no big deal, to let your gut guide you instead of looking at the evidence, to stick your fingers in your ears and go “la la la” in the hopes that the problem will go away and trouble you no more — then don’t put yourself in a position where you’re going to have to deal with these things. Because the days when you could just skate along and know the woman (it’s almost always a woman) will slink quietly back into her corner? Those are over. These days, if you do this bad a job of handling a known problem, you can and will be pilloried for it. And you will deserve that pillorying, because resources and guidelines for how to do better are readily available, and it was your decision not to pay attention to them.

Creating a “fun, safe, welcoming, event where fans of all kinds can come together and enjoy themselves” takes work. So do the work. Words alone are not enough.

The New Green Wave

Lives in the Balance

I’ll keep this short and to the point.

The intended replacement for the Affordable Care Act is going to kill people.

It sounds melodramatic — but it’s true. It will leave an estimated 24 million Americans without insurance (compared to the ACA), which will make it extremely difficult for them to afford healthcare. It cripples Medicaid, because poor people don’t deserve to be healthy, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, because children only matter while they’re fetuses — oh wait, insurers wouldn’t be required to cover maternity care, either. Nor birth control. Nor gynecological exams. And we all know what the right wing wants to do to Roe v. Wade. So you’re having that baby whether you like it or not, but don’t expect any support from conception until after your kid has graduated. Guess you should have kept your legs closed, bitch.

Call your elected officials. Call them until you get through, because their lines are swamped, and it may take you a while. Especially if you’re represented by a Republican in either chamber, for the love of god, call them. A number of them are already wavering; they know this is bad. But this isn’t the kind of bad where it’s okay to let it happen and let them reap the consequences later, because for them, the consequences will be that maybe they get voted out of office two or four years down the road. For other people, the consequences will literally be death. They need to hear voices telling them not to do it, before we get that far.

For the sake of the millions of people who will be hurt by this, speak up. Make your voice heard. Make a difference.

World Fantasy 2016

Unless something changes in the next month or so, I will not be attending World Fantasy this year. Here’s some other people giving the background on why:

Sarah Pinsker on the issues with the program
Fox Meadows
Jim Hines
File 770 roundup

And then Darrell Schweitzer doubled down.

World Fantasy has had a number of issues over the years, but this turned out to be the straw that broke my back. As I said in my email to the concom, Schweitzer trumpets the fact that there are “smart and friendly people” at WFC; well, as a smart person, I decline to engage with a program that shows such profound ignorance of the last forty years, and as a friendly person, I decline to support the behavior of someone who doesn’t care how many people he’s alienating. He appears to believe that “PC ignorami” and “outrage junkies” are driving people away from the convention — so the only course of action I can in good conscience follow is to provide a data point in the other direction.

WFC is one of my favorite conventions, but that has more to do with the number of friends I can see there than with the convention itself. If they could update themselves to show any awareness of the genre’s development during my lifetime? That would be excellent. But so long as they’re presenting a program whose genre awareness ends at 1980, and so long as the man in charge of it thinks that women, PoCs, and anybody under the age of fifty is beneath his notice? I decline to join them.