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“Even a single page of bullet points on the country seemed to tax the president’s attention span.” September 15, 2017

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“A self-described “email prankster” in the UK fooled a number of White House officials into thinking he was other officials, including an episode where he convinced the White House official tasked with cyber security that he was Jared Kushner and received that official’s private email address unsolicited.”

“Among [McMaster’s] biggest challenges was holding the attention of the president. […] Trump had little time for in-depth briefings on Afghanistan’s history, its complicated politics or its seemingly endless civil war. Even a single page of bullet points on the country seemed to tax the president’s attention span on the subject, said senior White House officials.”

From August: “Residents told Al Jazeera on Tuesday that at least 100 civilians had been killed [by US-led airstrikes on Raqqa] since Sunday, with 55 civilians killed in the eastern neighbourhoods of Bedou and al-Sukhani on Monday.”

And my eleven-year-old asked me what that sticker meant, and what did it have to do with Trump, and weren’t we not supposed to use words like that.”

Meanwhile, when people were lining up for a Hillary Clinton book signing (starting the night before), she sent her staff to deliver them pizzas. Imagine having someone like that in the Oval Office. Imagine.

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Good news about escaping from Irma, Chechnya, and/or the KKK September 10, 2017

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The last flight out of Puerto Rico, ninja’ing its way out the narrow spiral between the body of Hurricane Irma and one of the arms. These pilots, and the people on the ground who plotted that flight, deserve some kind of medal.

“They helped him get job training. They helped him get counseling. And now, as a former white supremacist himself, he will receive training on how to help other people. It’s a very individual program and it really works.” The important work of Life After Hate (whose government funding got cut under this administration, because of course).

I was a neo-Nazi. Then I fell in love with a black woman.” It’s more complicated and less Pollyanna than the headline suggests, but the progress is genuine.

“For three months, the [Canadian] federal government has been secretly spiriting gay Chechen men from Russia to Canada, under a clandestine program unique in the world.”

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all our letters could be published in the future in a more enlightened time. Then all the world could see how in love we are.

Review – Every Heart A Doorway September 6, 2017

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There was a ton of buzz going around about this book not long ago, and understandably, given the amazing premise. A boarding school to accommodate all those kids who have wandered off into magical fairylands for a while, and help re-acclimatize them to reality? So much possibility.

Guys, it…it really squandered the premise.

After a promising setup, Every Heart A Doorway turns into “a fairly gruesome murder mystery at a school for kids with weird/magic abilities.”

They don’t actually have any scenes of the kids in classes, much less any “here’s how to deal with reality” sequences. It’s insular, almost claustrophobic — the characters never leave the school. There’s no mention of phones, Internet, pop culture, anything connected to the Real World they’re supposed to be reintegrating with. Early on one of the characters mentions looking something up on Google Images before she arrived, but if it wasn’t for that reference, this could’ve taken place any time in the past hundred years.

When the gruesome murders start, there’s no police investigation, no real-world forensics, no “here’s how crimes are solved in a world without magic.” Even the adult authorities at the school, who are In On The Secret, don’t manage the situation at all. It’s just…left to the teenagers to solve on their own, with the residual supernatural talents they have from their fantasylands.

(How great would it have been to have the cops show up with all their mundane nonmagical expectations, and the teachers run interference, and it takes their combined efforts to make progress? Better yet, what if the investigative team included a former student, who could handle both aspects of the case at once?)

Without spoiling any specifics, by the end of the book, it doesn’t support the idea that “learning to be part of the world you’re in” is a worthwhile goal in the first place.

This in spite of the fact that some of the kids’ fairyland-developed coping mechanisms…do not seem healthy. I don’t mean “sensible by fairyland rules but maladapted to our-world rules,” I mean generally unhealthy.

You know what series handles this really well? Star Versus The Forces Of Evil. The heroine in this case is native to magicland, studying abroad on Earth, and the show does a lovely job of exploring the nuances from “Star learns that this behavior isn’t culturally appropriate for Earth” to “Star learns that this behavior is uncool anywhere.”

And I’ve loved fanfic that explores post-magic-journey culture shock. The Pevensies struggling to balance “solving problems by breaking out our mad skills as former-adult Kings and Queens of Narnia” with “not freaking out everyone around us.” Lyra and Pan having to remember to stay close together. Dorothy getting so much cross-cultural experience so young that, after a certain point, she can drop into pretty much any world and have no trouble going with the flow.

The students in Every Heart A Doorway don’t get any “here’s how to codeswitch to Earth-appropriate behaviors” or “wow, you’re interacting with regular Earth culture really well already” or “this isn’t good at all, let’s learn and grow and develop as characters.” They stay in their insulated setting with all the patterns they learned in other worlds going pretty much unexamined.

So much potential material here! So painfully unexplored!

~*~

People were also talking a lot, when the initial buzz was going around, about book’s the asexual protagonist.

Again: cool in theory! In practice, all it seems to mean is that her narration keeps doing unnecessary and shoehorned-in detours about how totally uninterested in sex she is.

The first time it came up was fine. Awkward, but forgivable. The rest, not so much. There’s a scene where she’s having a friendly conversation, and suddenly goes into an internal monologue about how she’s flirting, and this is fun, but she’s totally uninterested in having sex with the people she flirts with. It’s like she’s jumping in to correct an assumption that the reader isn’t making — I hadn’t even realized she was supposed to be flirting in the first place.

The scene that struck me the most is: she’s admiring the beauty of a male classmate, and thinks all the other girls around her must feel the same, “although she was sure she was the only one whose attraction was aesthetic, not romantic.”

First point: the character is not aromantic. (She says so. In those words.) It’s possible to feel romantic attraction in general, and not specifically feel it toward this guy. For her. But…not for literally anyone else?

Second point: why does she think there are no lesbians at this school? Why doesn’t it occur to her that some people are aromantic? Why does she show zero awareness that even straight girls (and bi/pan girls, although I’m not sure she realizes those exist either) don’t have to feel attracted to every boy in existence?

Is she just supposed to be really blinkered and self-centered, as a character flaw? Maybe, but I never felt like the narrative saw her that way.

Is it a “the lady doth protest too much” situation, where she is falling in love with the guy, and is aggressively denying/projecting to avoid facing the idea? Also possible, but has Unfortunate Implications for the way her asexuality is established by repeating “and she totally wasn’t sexually attracted to people, nope, not at all.”

~*~

The book is really weird about gender. Most of the students are girls (a couple hundred of them, to a grand total of 5 boys), and this is explained as a result of socialization and sexism and boys not wandering off as easily without getting noticed.

Which…doesn’t track with the genre it’s supposed to be commenting on. At all.

For every Lucy and Susan, there’s a Peter and Edmund. For every Alice through the looking-glass, there’s a Milo in a phantom tollbooth. Wendy Darling disappeared with both of her brothers in tow, and that’s not even counting Peter and the Lost Boys. Dorothy, Betsy Bobbin, and Trot are balanced out by Button-Bright and Zeb. Lyra had her Will. I could go on.

On top of that, this main group of characters ends up including 2 of the boys (along with maybe 4 girls).

Why establish a mostly-female setting if you’re then going to overrepresent the male characters that dramatically? Why not just have a roughly-gender-balanced school in the first place?

And it manages to wring a heck of a lot of heterosexuality out of this casting. Every major female character mentions having a male love interest in whatever fantasy world she wandered into. One of the boys basically wandered into Halloweentown and had a romance with a skeleton…very specifically a girl skeleton. I already mentioned the ace girl’s weird obliviousness to the possibility of gay people. And the only flirting we see between students is m/f.

The aforementioned super-beautiful boy is trans. Which is nice! And the subject is handled more naturally than the asexuality. Doubly nice.

But in some ways that only makes the broader context weirder. If there’s a setting where nobody is explicitly LGBT, it’s easy to read that as “underneath the veneer of everyone politely ignoring the topic, people are still LGBT at the average rate.”

Here, the author wants to have explicit representation! But it’s like…she made one of her boys trans, and one of her girls ace, and then just…stopped. Without considering the idea of LGBT people existing generally. In background characters. In sidelong references. In the concept of female characters other than the heroine who aren’t into a hot guy.

~*~

At least it was short? I blew through the whole audiobook in a single work day, so the disappointing aspects weren’t dragged out for long.

But seriously, there were a lot of disappointments. And now I’m worried there are people writing better versions of the premise but getting shot down as ripoffs, or getting publishing deals but no hype because all the “what a cool, unusual premise!” posts have been done.

…Does anyone have recs? I’ll also take recs for your favorite culture-shock fics of existing portal-fantasy series. Anything that takes this books’ premise and actually, wholeheartedly, runs with it.

Monday Works Roundup 9/4/17 September 4, 2017

Posted by Erin Ptah in And Shine Heaven Now, Leif & Thorn, Works Roundup.
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Leif & Thorn
Floral scarf (art | Leif | worksafe)
Iuilic Mom Overload (art | Hyacinth, Tansy, Plum, Mulberry | worksafe)
Keyite – First Fusion (art | Gem!Leif/Gem!Thorn | worksafe)
Fancy Kale (art | Kale | worksafe)
Blue Sea Glass (art | fusion gemsona | worksafe)

Hellsing(/Fake News)
Integra in Blue (art | Integra | worksafe)
The Eagle and Comic (art | Jon, “Stephen” | worksafe)

Steven Universe
The Cutest Rhodonite (art | Rhodonite | worksafe)

Yuri!!! on Ice
They’re Both The Pretty One (art | Yuri x Yuuri | worksafe)

General/Miscellaneous
Fantasy Firearms (art, worksafe)
Figure drawings 9-4-17 (life drawing, NSFW)

This Week in But I’m A Cat Person:
Cohen’s advice.

This Week in Leif & Thorn:
More adventures in unmemorability with the Woman in Black.

Monday Works Roundup, 8/21/17 August 21, 2017

Posted by Erin Ptah in But I'm A Cat Person, Leif & Thorn, Works Roundup.
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But I’m A Cat Person
Wabbit Season (wallpaper | Cybele | worksafe)
Every Nation, Every Race (art | Bianca, Sparrow, Miranda, Cohen | worksafe)

Leif & Thorn
Central Defender Gems (art | gem!Del, Pascentia, Peach, Juniper, Violet, Thorn, Rowan, Birch, Marula, WiB, Moss | worksafe)
Plush Thorn cuddles (sketch | Leif/Thorn | worksafe)

Bioshock Infinite
Team Infinite (sketch | Booker/Elizabeth | worksafe)

Sailor Moon
Nightmare Lady (art | Chibiusa, Black Lady | worksafe)
Our Lady (art | Hotaru/Chibiusa/Helios | worksafe)

General/Miscellaneous
Hunters and Hearts (commission, worksafe)
Restaurant (commission, Brian Frost/Lilly Satou, worksafe)
Field of stars (free stock background, worksafe)
Victor (reward chibi, worksafe)
Butterfly Dragon (reward chibi, worksafe)

This Week in But I’m A Cat Person:
Miranda feels pretty good about re-coding the Rabbit, largely on the strength of Patrick being adorable.

This Week in Leif & Thorn:
More wrangling with Leif’s compromised consent, plus a romantic unicorn ride.

Vintage subways, eclipses on other planets, and music on X-rays August 19, 2017

Posted by Erin Ptah in Fandom, News Roundup.
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Photos of the Boston construction of America’s first subway system.

“On Jupiter, which has 69 moons, it’s possible for there to be multiple eclipses occurring at the same time. On Pluto, whose moon appears much larger in its sky than the Sun, total eclipses can happen every day for years on end.” [Video]

The only music that was allowed were classic composers, or simple folk tunes, whose words were all about how great socialism was.” So Soviet Russia got an underground cottage industry in illegal music…recorded on discarded X-ray film.

Doctor Who co-creator Sydney Newman advocated a female Doctor in 1986. (As well as some very ’70s companions.)

People tend to lose track of actual facts about the Bible, including how Lovecraftian it is: There are twelve pearly gates, they’re carved from a single pearl each, and they are never, ever closed.

“Instead of offering aid, McCain advised them to move to a different state.” August 17, 2017

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“[Kevin Pratt-King] had asked McCain for help after being diagnosed with the same form of aggressive cancer, glioblastoma. Instead of offering aid, according to Roy’s tweet, McCain advised them to move to a different state.”

“Social workers began going door to door in San Juan housing projects, explaining that a pill could be taken daily to prevent pregnancy. Once women were told what the pill did, they signed up by the hundreds. However, these women were not informed that they were part of a clinical trial or that the treatment was experimental.”

“Side effects [of the vaginal implant] can range from chronic pain and loss of sexual function, to major complications like the implant protruding through the bladder, or bowels, even necessitating removal of organs ensnared in the mesh. It can shrink inside your body, slicing through nerve endings, tissue and organs.

If someone makes the effort of going to doctor after doctor, and all they are given is a pat on the head and told, ‘Oh, sweetie, you’ll be OK—you just need to smile more,’ that is a failure of the physicians.” Article covers both social biases (like doctors assuming a woman’s problems are psychosomatic instead of doing tests) and biological ones (like researchers only testing on male mice, leaving them with huge gaps in knowledge regarding biologically female humans).

“The Gay Men’s Chorus posed to illustrate the impact of AIDS. Those dressed in black, with their backs turned, represent those who had died.” This 1993 photo is a punch in the heart.

The military spends five times as much on Viagra as it would on transgender troops’ medical care.”

And for something more hopeful:

An experiment, recounted in comic form: If you put rats alone in cages, they’ll addict themselves to morphine. If you put them in an enriching environment with a bunch of other rats to hang out with, they’ll avoid it.

Gisella Perl, the “Angel of Auschwitz” — who got that title by providing abortions, so the Nazis wouldn’t have pregnant Jewish women to experiment on.

“As what was thought to be the largest referral service in the country, which referred an estimated half million women for abortions in its six years of existence, the [Clergy Consultation Service] had significant market power that it leveraged to reduce the going rate for an abortion.” The name isn’t a euphemism. It was literally a coalition of Protestant and Jewish religious leaders.

“Intersex advocates are rejoicing at a paper released by three former US Surgeons General. The surgeon-generals called for an end to forced medical surgeries on young intersex people.

Lives that matter, from St. Louis to Sandy Hook to Charlottesville August 14, 2017

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People killed by police in the US, 2017. Currently at 759.

Charlottesville-based organizations that can take your money. (The Twitter thread have been going around; this is a blog post that rounds up the links.)

‘I was expecting him to come home, not to be buried,’ [the 16-year-old’s grandmother] told the station. ‘I was telling him, give yourself a little while and you’ll be home with me.'” Justice for Aries Clark.

“We are among the vast majority of Americans who believe that we must take sensible steps to prevent massacres like the one that took my daughter’s life. We will continue to speak up. We will not go away.”

2014 FBI study: “There were, on average, 16.4 [mass] shootings a year from 2007 to 2013, compared with an average of 6.4 shootings annually from 2000 to 2006. In the past 13 years, 486 people have been killed in such shootings, with 366 of the deaths in the past seven years.” This was commissioned by Obama post-Sandy Hook, and was the first FBI study of its kind.

“…two officers who encountered the armed off-duty officer ordered him to the ground. He complied. When they recognized the off-duty officer, they told him he could stand up and walk toward them. Another officer just arriving at the scene saw the off-duty officer get up and, not knowing he was an officer, fired his weapon once at the man.

“Southaven officers went to the wrong house to serve a warrant on Monday, which resulted in the shooting death of a man who did not have any active warrants out for his arrest.” Worse, they shot Ismael Lopez through his front door.

Refugees, tomato raids, libertarian towns, and more August 8, 2017

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You can send a set of ITMFA pins to your Congressperson. Proceeds go to the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and the International Refugee Assistance Project.

“‘The refugee agencies didn’t really feel comfortable sending their kids anywhere,’ Adams says. ‘We needed to be that place for them.” It’s no coincidence that as Sullivan has established itself as the go-to school for refugees in the last couple of years, its academic standing has also risen.

“Airwars researchers estimate that at least 2,300 civilians likely died from Coalition strikes overseen by the Obama White House—roughly 80 each month in Iraq and Syria. As of July 13, more than 2,200 additional civilians appear to have been killed by Coalition raids since Trump was inaugurated—upwards of 360 per month, or 12 or more civilians killed for every single day of his administration.

“I was having lunch with Shonda Rhimes last week and a woman stopped at the table — well-dressed, probably in her 40s or 50s — and she said, ‘I just can’t leave this restaurant without telling you I’m just so devastated,’ and she just started to cry. I was on the other side of the table, or I would have done what I have done countless times since the election, which is just put my arms around her. Because people are so profoundly hurt.” The surreal post-election life of Hillary Clinton.

“Not only were the Hartes upstanding citizens with clean records, they were also both former Central Intelligence Agency officers. And they were not weed growers. Rather, the quick-trigger suspicion of law enforcement had snagged on — it would later turn out — tea leaves and a struggling tomato plant.

Initially, the city would impose property and sales taxes, but the property tax would ratchet down to zero over time. The business-friendly environment would draw new economic activity to Von Ormy, and eventually the town would cruise along on sales taxes alone.” Spoiler alert: it did not cruise. It crashed and burned.

“A Facebook group for Norwegians opposed to immigration was widely mocked after members apparently could not tell the difference between empty bus seats and burka-clad women.

How to stop overworking prisoners, underpaying workers, and under-insuring everyone August 3, 2017

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“Over the years, prisoners have packaged coffee for Starbucks Corp. and wrapped software for Microsoft Corp. They manufacture furniture, schools supplies and food products. They make dental products, train animals, work in call centers and even pick cotton. All of these activities put prisoners in direct competition with blue-collar American workers; the latter has essentially no chance.

“…in the substantial majority of instances (68 percent) overall employment increased after a federal minimum-wage increase. In the most substantially affected industries, the rates were even higher: in the leisure and hospitality sector employment rose 82 percent of the time following a federal wage increase, and in the retail sector it was 73 percent of the time.”

“…it seems safe to conclude that Seattle has tolerated its minimum wage increase well and that, by extension, other strong economies could do so. It also suggests that a key to successful large increases is a gradual phase-in that gives businesses time to adjust and experts time to study the impacts as they unfold.”

“If [McCain, recently diagnosed with brain cancer] and his fellow Republicans in Congress have their way, health insurers could soon be allowed to deny me coverage — or to double or triple the cost of my insurance — due to the fact that I lost two close blood relatives to the same disease.

“Republicans are now pushing up against a growing consensus that the government should guarantee health insurance. A Pew survey in January found that 60 percent of Americans believe the federal government should be responsible for ensuring that all Americans have health coverage. That was up from 51 percent last year, and the highest in nearly a decade.”