Monday, August 21, 2017

A Thing in Front of Another Thing

In the US today there is much discussion of the eclipse.  I am not along the totality (which somehow sounds incredibly dire and science fictiony even though I recognize it is exactly the right word).  But it is interesting when the world, the universe really, does things that are both perfectly normal and outside of our normal day to day existence. It has created memes, changes to traffic and tourism, and a lot of discussion about looking or not looking at the sun. 
I hope no one accepts strange potions or plants today, but if you do, well, here's hoping they make a great movie or musical about you. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

Project Runway Could Get a Driver's License

This is our 16th time doing this, and well, things are different.  These whippersnapper designers are on to some of the tricks, one hopes, and we, the audience, are a little tired of designers who think they are the next new thing, and remind us of things we have seen before.  
These twins Claire and Shawn, I feel for them, because they are clearly so used to the Oh you're twins bit, and are aware that that's part of the initial interest, and that, they also are like their own people.  I know. This is radical stuff.  
There were other people.  They said things about their design aesthetics that I will believe when I see.  Oh, and one guy who's only made one dress.  Sure, sure. 
There is a designer, Ayana, who wants to design modest clothes that align with her Muslim faith, and that does intrigue me because I see no reason that couldn't be very successful on "Project Runway" and it has not yet been done. 
We're getting a range of models this year.  Size 2 to 22.  Now, I recognize that, underneath the whining from designers (and in fairness some excitement) there is a legit complaint that the dress forms are usually one size, and size 2-22 is not one size.  This doesn't mean the more traditionally sized runway models didn't differ from the dress form and require designers to work off the dress form, or make alterations.  They did.  And any designer who thought they were getting through the season without doing that, well, I'm not sure why they would be here. 
Mr. Menswear has of course gotten a curvier model for this challenge. 
And we have a model mirror this year, so the models can share some thoughts. 
Okay, there are so many, the show is barely give you more than a thumbnail sketch of each of them, and honestly, I've been through this rodeo before, it's barely worth me trying to learn all their names right now.  Obviously they are all skilled people who can sew more than I can (no more non-sewers, yay!) and some of them are going to just run into the inevitable wall, of my aesthetic is weirder than anything Nina, Zac, and Heidi will ever like collectively but maybe being here a few episodes will get me the attention of enough people.  Plus I assume they feed you in the sequester place the eliminated designers go before being released. 
There's one design that ended up safe that I would have called out myself, but as seasoned watchers know, it was either a one off for that designer or it will catch up to them and really the order the first six or so get eliminated in means very little.  
Mr. Menswear - Brandon - ends up in the top, haha, I suspected they were trying to psych us out, and here is where we also remember surprising people make it into the top the first few episodes, and that actually also doesn't matter. His outfit was fine.  It was not top three in my opinion.  
But Batani, as another designer had already pointed out, made an outfit that was more boring than her own for her model, which is always a shame as you stand next to it in judging.  Cha Cha made an outfit that was him, in the sense that he like ruffles and pink, but, as they told him, showed no interest in the person it was adorning.  Shawn made a wonderful top, and then, trying to show how edgy she was paired it with metallic shorts that did not look well made, so looked more like she ran out of time. Deyonte made a gorgeous dress that looked more resort but the judges did not care. Kenya made a dress with pockets making her the hero of the revolution. 
So, this season looks to be interesting.  Here's hoping sewing for differently sized people becomes just normal. 




Thursday, August 17, 2017

Three Interesting Things

1. I'm so sad that the current touring star of "The Little Mermaid" is facing people being surprised that the mermaid looks Asian.  Fortunately some are also thrilled. 
2. Dreamhost is fighting a request to turn over all visitor info on a website to the government.  
3. I've really enjoyed Santino Hassell's co-written books with Megan Erickson, and have his NFL stories on my TBR list.  He talks here about placing queer characters with strong systems of support while they exist in a place where they are likely to be closeted. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Consent and Power Imbalances

As someone who has worked with teens, I have been through many workshops, and signed many forms where I agree to several things.  It is entirely age appropriate for teenagers to explore and possibly redefine their sexual identity.  There are tons of ways for them to do this that are also appropriate in communal settings.  So, acting as a chaperone or facilitator or responsible adult may mean I witness these teens expressing themselves in ways that indicate that they are in fact sexual beings.  However, as the adult with the veto power, I exist in a place where I constantly have more power.  What they may be doing is entirely appropriate, my job is to maintain the space in which they do this.  
As an adult it is also natural and appropriate for me to engage in behavior befitting my place in this world as a sexual being.  However, when I have my responsible adult hat on, what is appropriate for me to be engaging in in that moment, in that space, is not the same as what is appropriate and allowed  for those teens. I teach sex ed, so I often talk about sex with teens, but we are doing so in a specific, here are the facts way.  I am talking about it the same way I would talk about voting rights, or history.  I am not sharing personal experiences.  We may reach a place where they feel incredibly comfortable sharing very personal information with me, and my job is to trust, and hold that, to continue to create a space where they can work to be their best selves.  
So, all of this is to say, teacher/student stuff has always been a huge hard stop for me.  It's not cute to me.  It's not adorable to me if they met somewhere else, or the student is wise beyond their years.  I'm not saying books cannot contain problematic behavior.  They can.  I'm not saying there isn't space for non-consensual behavior in books.  There is.  But these things are not romance.  We say a lot that there's one rule in romance, the happily ever after.  And relationships founded on power imbalance and lack of consent do not lead to happily ever afters.  Is there a way to do this?  Yes, but the stories that keep coming up are tittering at their pushing the boundaries.  People who think consent is a cute boundary to push are not trying to write a thoughtful way through this.  
If an author wants to write taboos they can.  If a publisher says that they are reviewing a book now that sensitivities have been raised when they are releasing an erotic romance line I have concerns.  It should not have gotten to the point of arcs for someone to say high schooler and teacher is problematic no matter the age of the high schooler. I personally am not even a fan of college student TA hookups, but that's a not for me good for you squick line.  High schooler and teacher is problematic.  The whole point of it is that it's problematic (I am saying this because I read the Edelweiss description which is all the first problem is...so the marketing is about how it's problematic).  If no one in the line of acquiring editors thought that was problematic until the internet pointed it out that points to an even bigger problem.  
So, I am glad it's being reviewed. I hope it is either not published or published with drastic story changes. And no, I don't think that's censorship.  I think there's no way to publish this as romance.  So something would have to give. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

7 Things To Do

The events in Charlottesville over the weekend are terrible. But we are already seeing some familiar equivocations and it's time to stop.  
1. It's incredibly common to sneer at millennials and those coming up behind them for being weak and wimpy and demanding safe spaces in college.  What that ignores of course, is that women students asking for places where they can be among women, students of color asking for places where they can be among other students of color is not wimpiness, it is often self care. Watching folks with flags and torches march on a college campus is just one recent overt example of that.  
2. The various social media folks asking to identify the white supremacy marchers proved this, as several students said variations of, oh yeah, that's the guy who was always saying racist and fascist things in history class. 
3. This behavior on the part of white supremacists is not new.  If this is simply the first time it became clear to you that these ideas about supremacy go hand in hand with the idea that other people don't even deserve life, well, welcome.  
4. White supremacy is strong.  Ideas of supremacy that are threatened with extinction often become bolder, more violent.  There is no historical example of these ideas dying out without people fighting back.  Inaction is not an option. 
5. That does not mean you can't take time for yourself.  That does not mean you have to weigh in on everything that happens.  
6. It also means don't let the little stuff slide, but, but, of course, not letting racism slide doesn't mean don't stop arguing with your co-worker/friend/uncle until they agree.  Some days, just saying, hey, I'm not going to accept those statements, those "joke" in my presence is enough of a first step. 
7. This article had some tips about combatting racism. The other thing to remember is this can be done as an add on to the other things you do already.  If you already teach Sunday or Hebrew school, volunteer at a soup kitchen, fold envelopes for your local politician, if your life is already full, no one is saying you need to drop everything at show up at every vigil.  You can add this into whatever work you are already doing. American ideals and American reality have always been in conflict, but we can keep working to move them closer together. 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Three Interesting Things

1. This deep dive into the theme song of "Duck Tales" is fascinating. 
2. I listened to a slightly different version of this story on Sporkful, but it was fascinating.  We all make shifts in one direction or another with our food and it can  make family interactions in particular really tough. 
3. Sarah MacLean wrote a longer piece on how the election had her rewriting her hero. (PS, I got this after Passion and Prose and yeah, delightful weekend read.)


Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Passion and Prose

Politics and Prose had what was billed as the first ever romance panel on Friday. As a local member of the romance community, I had met most of these authors before, which led to the feeling that this was just a great night with friends. Historical romance author Diana Gaston moderated, and led romantic suspense author Mary Burton, contemporary (and other) romance author Alisha Rai, contemporary romance author Tracey Livesay, and historical romance author Sarah MacLean through questions about writing romance. They talked about how romance was something that grabbed them early as readers. Livesay in particular mentioned that reading romance taught her to look for partners that treated her well and provided orgasms. Burton said romantic suspense allows her to write about the hope of love and the hope and happiness of justice. They talked about how much fun the research is, but to learn when you are researching just to avoid writing. Rai said the joy of the romance community is that she can find people to have dinner with wherever she travels. She said she was reminded that her job is to keep writing hope to fill up some reader's well. Livesay mentioned her next book involves amnesia, which we all know made me super happy. When asked about reader letters, MacLean said she heard from one woman who had her first orgasm after her husband read her book. Livesay said she heard from folks who had friends or kids in interracial relationships and found, reading her books, that it might just be okay. Rai said people felt seen reading about brown heroines or depressed characters for sometimes the first time in their life. Burton said people would tell her they read her book while going through cancer treatments. And Politics and Prose is also starting a Romance book group, which sounds great, and hopefully will lead to more great events like this. This also covered the evening.

Friday, August 04, 2017

NFL

I wrote this open letter to the NFL a while back. I revisited it briefly here.  I love football.  It is tied to a lot of childhood and college memories, to say nothing of my having found the perfect sports bar.  (The sports bar, is, in my opinion perfect because it is mostly a soccer bar, and so there is a small but dedicated group of American football fans.) One of the early things I did with this blog was post my football picks
It's always an interesting thing, to me, to see where you hit the line.  Where you look around and say, I put up with, excused, ignored a number of things, and I hoped the following things would change with time.  And where you look around and say, yep, I can't support this any more.  Part of the reason I had switched to the sports bar was because I figured some small changes I could make included - not purchasing or wearing NFL gear, not attending games in the stadium, and not contributing to the ratings.  It was a tiny thing - the ratings part at least - but I figured these changes I could make. 
But I can't ignore that the NFL has continued to allow and pretend neutrality when it comes to racist team names that support and encourage racist fan behavior. And I cannot ignore that every time a football player breaks the law or cheats, we have to wait and see if they will be punished at all.  And yet, the clearest most obvious punishment is being doled out to a player who simply made a political statement. 
The NFL's treatment of Colin Kaepernick is just utter unexcusable crap. Even if the NFL had a leg to stand on as far as player morality, it would be crap. Teams have ditched quarterbacks that weren't working in their system before, even ones that had won Superbowls.  I am well aware.  (And yeah, I am still a little mad at the Ravens for that.) But actual low and underperforming quarterbacks have gotten chance after chance after chance.  The fact that the Ravens have an injured quarterback and and playing the we'll see if it won't make people mad game, is further irritating. The Ravens stood behind a player who stood up for marriage equality, even when a politician wrote to them to stop it. Behind countless players who committed crimes.  But apparently speaking up for the rights of black people is somehow too much?  You have to be kidding me. 
So, it turns out this is where I am drawing the line.  This is where I reached the too far moment in my head.  The NFL is a business, and they are free to not hire people.  Just like I am free to decide their pretense of separation from politics is crap, and choose not to watch.  

 

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Three Interesting Things

1. There's a new tatau kahuna - the first really - in Hawaii.  
2. Serena Williams talked about the need to close the pay gap - particularly for black women.  Her sister Venus spearheaded the change to get tennis prizes to be gender equitable, but there is much more work to be done. 
3. Janet Mock spoke about going on a show, only to have them use her to encourage another guest to advocate for violence against trans people. 


Monday, July 31, 2017

When Your Coworker is a Cat

1. They will never clean up after themselves
2. They will expect you to refill the water and the food. 
3. They will nap at will. 
4. They will demand pets at will.  
5. They will curl up in adorable and distracting poses. 
6. They will listen to all your complaints without interrupting. 
7. They may jump in front of the webcam when you are on a videoconference and just walk across like nothing's happening. 


Friday, July 28, 2017

Belated Three Interesting Things

1. A friend pointed me to this story of women who dressed as men to fight in the US Civil War. It also mentions that the same thing happened in the Revolutionary War.
2. I'm behind, but have been enjoying "The Bold Type", and found this discussion of one of the love interests intriguing.  (Spoilers if you hadn't seen the writing on the wall for this relationship.)
3. Exotic is a fancy way of saying foreign, and not really correct in the case of Asians or even Asian Americans, as this woman pointed out.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Diverse is Like Alternative

I remember when alternative music was the new kid on the block, or more appropriately, the new genre.  Of course, at the time most of the acts falling into alternative were new acts, who really were doing something distinctly different from the other stuff on the radio.  (Yes, this does mean probably lots of people had been doing that stuff not on the radio for quite some time, and the naming of the genre was just some bigwigs at the music companies figuring out how to monetize it.)  But then you get far along enough in the game that the new people coming in, grew up hearing that stuff on the radio, they don't enough know what it used to be like, you guys. And you start to wonder, why do we call this alternative anyway, alternative to what?
I think we're getting there with diverse, and getting there with things like own voices.  Partly it's just the nature of words, they evolve, or the group being labelled with that word evolves.  Code Switch did a story about the predominately white historically black college in West Virginia. So, when we call books that feature characters of color and/or LGBTQ characters and/or disabled characters diverse, we are trying to say that these are groups that generally in literature are not as well represented as straight, white, able-bodied, cisgender characters. But yes, referring to such characters themselves as diverse, implies that they are other.  So we can recognize that this is the term that people understand, while also realizing the term itself is problematic, and stating that a book contains diversity, is different than saying people - actual living people - are diverse for being non-white or non-straight or disabled or non-cisgender. 
Good stories are good stories.  But the lens and interpretation on that story does change it.  That's why there's so many versions of "A Christmas Carol".  That's why DC has two theaters that do several Shakespeare plays every year, changing the setting and time period. I saw a version of "Much Ado About Nothing" set during the DC Caribbean Festival that was amazing. It was the same and it was different.  And that's the point.  Getting more stories, more music, more voices, more things for us to consume might all make us better people (we can hope) but it also gives us more stuff.  And given both the music industry and the book industry are trying to sell us stuff, the more stuff we have, the wider our range of choices, well, that helps everyone.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

RIP Mr. Vance

Growing up we watched ABC news usually.  We had a small connection to one of their reporters, so that's just what we did even after that connection broke.  But the elementary school that I and my siblings went to was right next door to NBC4.  My mother worked at that school even after we had all aged out. My brother and I both worked there for a bit.  The school shared the parking lot with NBC, and the security guards would let the teachers come over and make use of the cafeteria. It was also where "It's Academic" was filmed, so I spent a lot of time in the NBC building, at least compared to the other stations in town.
Jim Vance has been a steady presence in the DC news all this time.  Others have moved on to bigger shows, some left and came back, some hopped to new networks.  Jim Vance has been there.  Steady, calm, and just a delightful, reliable reminder of what a good news anchor is. 
I am so mad that cancer took him away from us, even though 45 years of providing news to us at the local news desk is honestly plenty.  I am heartbroken for his family, and colleagues, and know that even those who moved away from DC are sad to know he's no longer holding down that newsdesk. 
Here is my favorite video of him unable to maintain his composure.  Know that it is funnier for it's being the exception. 
 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Three Interesting Things

1. Nicole Chung wrote about the simple magic of being able to take your kid to see a Shakespeare play where the actors look like her
2. You may have heard the President golfs.  This discussion about usage of a river is fascinating to me because it expresses how the small choices that presidents make encroach on the ability the rest of us have to just, like kayak down a river or whatever.  We never got that stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue back for cars, it sat this year with security fencing pushing people even farther back for months.  
3. I try to resist the hype machine somewhat.  Movies that are not out until 2018 can take a seat.  But.  But.  This description of the "Wrinkle in Time" trailer.  Well.  

Monday, July 17, 2017

Why Just Say No Doesn't Work for Drugs or Sex

Friendly reminder that I teach comprehensive sex ed in my spare time. I was the beneficiary of comprehensive sex ed starting in fifth grade. I believe that sex, sexuality, and sexual expression are natural parts of our lives, and the idea that children will be magically provided the necessary information at the point they are emotionally and physically ready without any prior preparation is ridiculous.  
Drugs are a little different. But at some point in most everyone's life whether it's alcohol or prescription meds, most people will encounter drugs in some form.  So, again, I do think learning a little about how different substances act on bodies is useful so that you don't go off what some random person tells you.  Ideally this would - just as comprehensive sex ed does, look at consequences. Not just legal, but how these various drugs act on your body not only through the high, but also through the withdrawal or hangover.  And talking about what responsible and legal drinking looks like so that we don't learn all of this through trial and error.  
One of the things we talk about in our sex ed curriculum is that substances you are not familiar with can affect your decision making, and talk with the students about why that might mean getting drunk or high at a party where you don't know people might not be a great idea.  What to do if your friend suddenly seems out of it, and is being led away by someone you don't know.  
This is a common refrain for me, but we insist that to be useful adults, teenagers need experience learning languages, math, and science, even if they are planning a career that doesn't require all of these things.  We require it not to torture them, but because the critical thinking skills and language affinity skills are useful in a lot of ways later.  
I think dealing with sex and drugs is similar.  We don't expect high schoolers to be ready to be translators at the UN without further study.  But we are stuck on this idea that teaching kids about sex or drugs with any sort of depth or nuance means they will think we are telling them they are all set to go.  It ignores the idea that part of what we should be teaching is how to make the best choices for themselves, how to practice having tough conversations, and how to have discussions about what healthy boundaries look like for them.  Adults often have trouble with this.  Partly because it's hard.  And partly because we don't practice. We teach kids CPR in case they could help someone.  Teaching them how to say, I am open to this but not that is just as important.  
So, the suggestion we revive the DARE program saddens me.  We already know telling kids all drugs are bad doesn't work.  Because even if they believe it in the moment, they will go home and watch someone drink a beer and not die.  What it instead teaches them is that adults are not trustworthy sources about drugs. And that helps no one. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Three Interesting Things

1. You may have seen the story about 80 some beachgoers who formed a chain to rescue folks caught in a riptide.  One of the key things was that lots of people saw the problem, since the lifeguards had gone off duty, some folks tried to head out with a board, and another realized the issue and started calling for a chain, encouraging others to join.  Many people often want to help, but don't know how to do it without getting themselves in trouble to.  Having someone make a suggestion that everyone could help with worked. 
2. There's a lot of scoffing these days about safe spaces, but these two young men got married after meeting in a fraternity that catered to black gay men, and reminds us all, that spaces where we can be ourselves can provide all sorts of lasting connections. 
3. Book Voyagers created book lists based on Camp Half Blood cabins. There are some great books in some of these cabins, so there are quite a few more I need to look into. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Knitting in Meetings

I am a fan of the Ask a Manager blog, and it will not surprise you and as I was catching up that this question about knitting in meetings caught my eye.  I am a big believer that many of us focus better when our hands are moving, and there are all kinds of meetings and no one (I hope) wants to be that person who has to get asked a question three times.  I recognize given the internet's fairly vicious response to fidget spinners that we are still in a very early phase of recognizing that people process information differently, and there is work to be done.  The OP, in my opinion, did everything necessary to explain why the knitting would be beneficial to their listening.  And I found the response - not what I would have wished.  
I am not saying it is wrong, but what really fascinated me as I dived through the comments were the number of suggestions that people made, or their various rankings of things that are less distracting in meetings. 
I'm a big proponent of the popcorn rule.  I have, as an example, knit in church. My church wearing shorts to service, or sipping soda, or bringing popcorn are all things that would not be considered out of place.  I would not assume that all churches are therefore knitting appropriate. I am also aware that non-knitters think knitting is me not paying attention, rather than the opposite. I can attempt to combat this by only knitting on conference calls where they can't see, demonstrating through my participation that I am engaged, knitting for co-workers, or deciding I have enough seniority that I get to.  Obviously not every employee is in a position to do all of these things.  
In the comments a short listing of things various people said would be less distracting that knitting - texting, doodling or writing non-work things on a notepad, working on a laptop or tablet, playing with a fidget spinner or worry beads, eating lunch. 
None of these things are actually less distracting than knitting.  But they are more common in meetings so we have built up a tolerance for such behavior.  Or we haven't but we have accepted that we need to.  
One of my friends was a late college returner.  And she found sitting between two people surfing on their laptops was incredibly distracting to her.  She wanted to start leaning over, suggesting the blue dress would look so much better on you.  I was in a training where we were using a computer lab and the desks were so close together that I knew one co-worker was refinancing their mortgage and the other was checking on their child's soccer.  We've learned to develop, not blinders really since I still saw all of that, but filters because a lot of us together in one room where almost everyone is multitasking means you have to so you don't overload.  
I understand that for me knitting provides that focus and it can simultaneously distract the people to either side of me because it provides one more piece of stimuli that they have to attend to or ignore. I'm not saying that my coping mechanism is more important than yours.  But what the many, many people suggesting alternate forms of distraction told me is that there is great acceptance for distraction, but knitting is not one they are used to.  
And look, depending on the place, it may never be acceptable, but the meetings where half the people are crushing candy or slurping lunch, I don't buy that my knitting is more distracting.  It's just different. 


Thursday, July 06, 2017

Three Interesting Things

1. This article took a look at the changing math that current college students are facing
2. I try to make it a practice to go through and regularly report online harassers, because I tend to face far less harassment than others so it's not as triggering for me to read all that.  But I have to set limits.  This explanation from a programmer who had created a Wordpress plugin that caught a lot of the crap for why he had to quit made sense.  Giving social media and web based companies all the ad revenue and letting them off the hook on the bad things that happen on their platforms mean a lot of their users take the hit, often for free. 
3. The Arena Stage Director talks a little more about her consensus organizing process, which was used, for example in "Smart People". 

Monday, July 03, 2017

Raise a Glass For Freedom

Things are not great.  But in this week we think of summer, and loud explodey things, and are reminded that a determined group of people can reform the government if they are willing to work hard for it. 
Oh and pools.  We think of pools, and beaches, and other bodies of water. 


Thursday, June 29, 2017

Three Interesting Things

1. Justina Ireland's advice to aspiring women writers of color is hard but from what I have seen accurate.   
2. It turns out the TSA is not going forward with the book search plan which is good because I am still bitter about the laptop/ereader ban. 
3. Apparently Bea Arthur was a truck driver in the Marines and we can speculate many reasons she chose not to discuss this much later in life, but I like the secret missions one myself. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

That Time I Did Two (or Three) MKALs at once

It started so normally. I saw that a designer who had patterns I had knit was going to take the plunge and do a mystery along.  I've talked with people over the years about what makes a good and bad mystery designer and what makes a good and bad mystery knitter.  
On the designer side, it helps if this is a person you know makes things you tend to like.  Even if you haven't knit them all yet.  If you only like some of their designs, or their early designs, then, this may not be a a good choice.  
As a knitter you need to be willing to put in a lot of time without knowing where you are going.  Or buy the pattern (it's usually discounted at the start) and wait.  And if the pressure of other people finishing the clue faster will stress you out, don't do it. Seriously, nothing will make you more humble about your knitting speed.  I like it because if I run into a hmmm, I can usually check the spoiler thread and someone will have gotten there already.  
So, I signed up for one.  No big.  And then I heard there was another - different designer, also a newbie to the MKAL and my first thought was no.  I already had a sweater on the needles and I was just going to buy the pattern and wait and oh, who are we kidding I bought yarn for that too.  
The first clue came, and it was not a small clue as some first clues are.  But it was fine because the other one didn't start for another week, and then I realized I needed to swap my colors and rip back, and well, I fell behind.  On both.  They have both wrapped and I am not done - although I am now in the final clue of both and do you know what I did?  I signed up for another MKAL.  It started last week.  I'm caught up on that one.  For now.  



Friday, June 23, 2017

"Still Star-Crossed"

I wrote this post after the pilot and then internet weirdness wouldn't let me post it. I tweaked some bits, but the only "spoilers" are from the pilot. 
"Romeo and Juliet" exists as a timeless piece I suspect in part because it is a great example of a story that can viewed as grand love ended to soon by circumstances and petty familial squabbling, or as selfish teens who dragged family members and servants into something that by all rights should have made the war between the families worse.  In fact, in a high school English class, we were assigned snippets to act out in front of class, and my group got the end, and I had the worst time not snickering because it is the only, in my opinion, false bit in the play. Sure, standing over the graves of your kids should provide perspective, but, well, Romeo and Juliet aren't even the first dead people in the play. To say nothing of the years of strife leading up to it. 
"Still Star-Crossed" covers the highlights of the play in the first episode.  So, if you are in the Romeo and Juliet are whiny brats camp, good news, they're dead.  Like several other spinoff versions - Rebecca Serle's YA When You Were Mine comes to mind - the show is concerned with the rest of the family. I think it fits nicely into what I wanted "Reign" to be, a historical soap, "Reign" just ultimately for me at least, was stymied by having picked real people but yet not wanting to be constrained by history.  With all due respect to the nice folks of Verona, my familiarity with their history is pretty minimal, so, they could be getting this terribly wrong.  
But, Capulet, Montagues, they hate each other.  The moment in the pilot that sealed it for me, was early on when swords come out, and the other townspeople all drag each other out of the way.  Because isn't that the part that's easy to forget.  As the Montagues and Capulets set fire to each others fields, and fight each other in the streets, other people are just trying to not be the fallout.  And that is pretty much the conclusion Prince Escalus has come to.  Sure, it seems he and Rosaline (now an orphaned Capulet cousin, forced with her sister to work in the Capulet household) had a little balcony moment themselves back in the day, but now that his father has died leaving him in charge, well, it is time to solve this family warfare so that Verona won't fall pray to one of the neighboring power hungry principalities.  
Rosaline and Benvolio are the only two (well, so they think) who know that Romeo and Juliet were married, not just dead and in disgrace.  They were both against it, but unable to talk their friends out of it, and now quite convinced that it's the other's fault that things went so badly. 
Escalus decides that to solve this family warfare they need a union between the families.  And so he's decided that..Rosaline and Benvolio should get married.  They are not thrilled with this plan.  There's other intrigues and such, Lady Capulet hates Rosaline for not being grateful, Rosaline's sister Livia has marrying up plans, and Paris is only mostly dead since Romeo ran him through before taking the poison.  So, the scene has been set, lots of people love and hate each other and are scheming for power.  The sets and costumes were amazing, and while again, I cannot speak to the specific costume authenticities, there is no glitter. 
While I ultimately bailed out on "Reign", I still think it will appeal to those who liked "Reign' for the soapy historical intrigue.  I imagine they will not sustain the number of sword fights found in the pilot, simply because they are going to need to hang on to more of the cast going forward, but we all know Shondaland shows will kill your faves, so probably not everyone is safe. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Three Interesting Things

1. I usually resist think of the children framing, but in the case of Philando Castile who was killed by a police officer in a traffic stop, the stories of the students at the school where he worked asking their parents tough questions reminded me of Torey Hayden long ago saying that the questions kids ask about sex aren't the hard ones, it's the questions they ask about when the world doesn't work the way we have taught them it should that are the hardest. 
2. I didn't frequent Gifford's Ice Cream much as a kid, but certainly remember the Bethesda outpost.  The son of the founders has written about the abuse he grew up with.  
3. It looks like the world's first cat video might be thanks to Thomas Edison

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Roxane Gay in DC

With DC's MLK library under construction, some of the larger library events have been roaming around.  In a site that was perfect for me, Roxane Gay spoke about her new book Hunger with WAMU's Alicia Montgomery at All Souls Unitarian Church, aka on my street.  (Okay fine it was like six blocks away.  Still my street!) The space was packed, and well, you may or may not know the church dates to 1913, so there are fans in the seats in the sanctuary.  All of this to say is was a little toasty and there was a persistent hissing sound that may have been due to the ancient boiler system or the sound system, but in the end it was still a great evening and I for one hope for more events that are so convenient to me.  
Montgomery noted that Gay had taken an ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer approach for this book, and asked her to recount the most stupid question she had gotten so far.  Gay was asked to describe her body for an interviewer.  She declined to do so.  
Gay talked a lot about the processing of trauma, and how differently we treat self medication when it happens with drugs and alcohol rather than with food, but also noted that food is still different because you have to eat and that it changes even going to the doctor for headaches or what have you.  She mentioned being on a panel about fatness with several other authors and having a woman come up to the mike during the Q&A and say she was an OBGYN who was afraid to treat fat women and asked how to get better.  Gay's answer, get over yourself. 
Montgomery noted that Gay had referenced a loss in the book, in a way that implied that it was the loss of a child.  Gay talked further, confirming she had been pregnant, and then had lost the child far enough into the pregnancy that it felt more like a stillbirth, and that the doctor had told her her weight had caused it and while she knows better now, it was hard to get past that.  
There were a number of audience questions, and they were great.  A lot of people asked about writing advice.  Gay mentioned that she felt voice was something you find as you write more, and the affectations you picked up from others fall away.  It doesn't descend from on high, it something you find by doing.  She also talked about the need to be relentless in publishing, which is a patriarchial, looks focused, racist business.  
She had made several references to spending more time in LA of late, and one audience member asked if there had been any more movement with any of her stuff that had been optioned and Gay did mention that she was writing a pilot for Amazon called "Grown Women", much as she had said she wanted to in Bad Feminist.  There was also some discussion of "The Bachelorette", and Gay said that it's always a weird thing. It's great that there's a black bachelorette.  But being the first black anything, here Rachel is, she's accomplished, she's an attorney, and these are the dudes they have brought her?  
As I said, it was a great evening, made even better by running into folks I knew in the audience.  

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

About That Team Name Again

I am aware of the recent Supreme Court decision regarding a band name that is expected to possibly have an impact on the Washington football team's trademark status. Apparently my discussions of the team name were primarily confined to usenet because I (and the internet) are old.  But, to summarize.  I am Hawaiian, which is a kind of native American, even if the history is a little different for us than those who also fall under the American Indian or first nations umbrella.  I am Chinese.  I am a native Washingtonian. 
The team name of the Washington football team is racist.  There is no way around this.  If any other color preceded the word skin, it would have been changed a long time ago.  I'm not going to go into the long history of Americans using team names of people perceived to be savage and less than that applies to names that aren't on the face of them racist.  All of that is true and something to consider, but teams with non-racist names can have that discussion.  Our team name is racist.  
So, I agreed with the trademark office's decision to rescind the trademark.  I have supported the news outlets that decided not to use the name, and understood those that decided not to, because it is hard to talk clearly about a thing without naming it.  
Personally, I have stopped wearing anything that references the team name.  I had a great chat with the bartender at the sports bar when one beer company sent them shirts that said Washington Football this year, because it meant I had a shirt I could wear that helped new bartenders know which TV I needed to sit near and still, no racism across my chest.  
In my lifetime, the Washington men's basketball team changed it's name.  Baseball returned to DC with a brand new team name.  And the hockey team changed it's logo and color scheme at least twice.  But the football team has continued to not only act as if changing would be the worst, but to actively spend money to support continuing with a racist name. 
Code Switch did an interview with the leader of the Slants, about their fight to get the ability to trademark their band name. I've been aware of this case for a while, due to the corners of the internet I hang out it.  Pretty regularly the Slants have been asked about the Washington football team, and pretty regularly he has said that the situations are different, since the band is fighting for the right to reclaim a slur.  (The article discusses how there were other approaches.)
So, here's what I would hope.  I would hope that the Washington team does not take the victory in the Slants case as their own, and try to re-register their trademark.  I would hope that we would work to bring in a new name for the new season.  Here's why.  
During the season I was at the sports bar watching the game.  It was a game that went well for the burgundy and gold.  As such, one particularly drunk group of fans began singing the fight song.  The loudest fan sang all the lyrics.  Even the ones they no longer put on the screen at the games, because even the organization agrees that those lyrics are super racist. I have never been so embarrassed to be a Washington football team fan.  And I've been through some bad seasons.  
I want a football team with a name I'm not embarrassed to be associated with.  We're not reclaiming.  I don't care how many studies we do of people who maybe don't care.  Plenty of people do care and are offended and so we should stop using it.  We have a solution. I want us to make use of it.  



Monday, June 19, 2017

AwesomeCon is Five

It both does and doesn't seem possible that this year was the fifth year of AwesomeCon.  This year I noticed some really helpful changes.  The programming schedule listed panelists in advance, such that I was able to tell, several weeks out that I probably needed a full weekend pass.  There were signs posted throughout the convention center that had maps and arrows getting you to the main stage, to registration, and to the exhibit hall.  And rooms had clearly marked schedules that got updated as changes occurred.  
While the partnership with NASA and the Science Channel continued, and Nerd Nite returned, I hopped around a little more this year.  The LGBTQ characters in Comics panel on Friday was awesome and wonderfully moderated.  Comics in Color also was great, and discussed indie distribution channels and marketing in comics.  A special celebrity guest popped up in the Mars panel.  
Saturday I arrived to discover the line to get in to the convention center was doing a complex dance as those who arrived at the front walked up and around to get to the back of the line, and then circled back. I decided that meant I had time to go pick up some iced tea before I headed in.  I will tell you, the entrance process was slightly different each time I walked in, and while the convention center staff and Awesomecon volunteers did a great job directing us each time, it just meant you had to accept a little chaos each time.  But even that morning, which was the longest it took me to get in, it moved very quickly.  I'm sure it helped that I wasn't aiming for most of the celebrity stuff. 
The Library of Congress talked about the collection and archiving of comics.  Writers talked about writing. A team from the government talked about wargaming, and it's application for problem solving in and out of war.  Local historians and comics folks talked about the use of comics as a history tool, both for teaching about the history of DC, and beyond.  Within this panel one audience member noted that he had seen in non-fiction comics the style seemed to be either black and white simplified colorization and was that intentional to signal non-fiction. The answer he got seemed to indicate that it was not intentional (the answer was essentially, the style has to match the story, which sure).  It's possible this isn't intentional, or that it really signals more the difference in artists working non-fiction titles versus fiction right now.  But it's certainly a question that I've kept thinking about. 
I went to a panel on nerd rock, which involved singing and was about as much as my brain could happen at that point.  And then Fandom as a Subversive act, which looked at fanfic and how it can address and even correct issues in source material.  
I stopped by Sunday since I had to be downtown for book club and also realized I had not made it to the exhibit hall. So I did that before heading to a YA girls in Comics panel that in many ways ended up being a long string of recommendations for great series old and new.  

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Three Interesting Things

1. I know the London apartment fire dropped down a bit in US media, but this article talked about how the London Muslims already up for Ramadan were able to movie quickly into action.  Look for the helpers as they say.
2. I was pointed to this poem on Twitter about making things political
3. I sideye the use of Lipton as a tea, but there were some useful ones on this list for the teabag, post cuppa.  I have not tried tea on sunburn, but it does help with bug bites. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Dear Tonys

The Tony Awards were last night and Kevin Spacey hosted with Rachel Bloom backstage.  Kevin Spacey came with an enthusiasm for theater, and an excellent ability for mimcry. I'm well aware that hosting is a thankless job, and often the great jobs are a synergy between the person out front and nameless folks backstage but much like quarterbacks get more of the glory when things go well, hosts are the targets when things don't. And it wasn't awful.  There were closet jokes and references to Carnac the magnificent, and I just became very aware that this was a show on CBS where the expectation is that viewers are a bit old.  
But the opening number with references and rifs of all the nominated musicals was fun, even if I think the use of "You Will Be Found" as a tap number was not my favorite.  
I felt like a larger than previous number of awards were awarded ahead, and that made it more inexplicable when the thing ran over.  I realize time is a fuzzy thing anytime you let people walk to a stage and then speak because they will never all take the same amount of time, or listen when your orchestra tries to play them off, or not stop to hug six people on their way.  
But, here's how I think that can be accounted for.  One imagines there's a schedule somewhere.  If you are behind, then you skip something the host is doing.  Have them do it as a video you release later.  Have them do it backstage on their cell phone.  Whatever.  But, for example, when you are already past time, having Lin Manual Miranda interrupted so that five extra people can walk out on stage in character to make a joke that really wasn't worth the extra minute that all took, don't do it.  
And hey, I'm thrilled for the folks in "Dear Evan Hanson" and "Hello Dolly".  Well aware that the casts of all the nominated shows this year were a bit whiter than the dynamo last year.  I was really pulling for Denee Benton.  It's cool.  Losing to Bette Midler is nothing to sniffle at.  
I discovered I and my little corner of the Twitter had real differences of opinion on the numbers.  I have been reading about Broadway Musicals, and often the opening number, much like the opening chapter of a book establishes the who, what, and where.  So, "Come From Away" doing "Welcome to the Rock" made sense.  I know that they are generally given a set time, and sometimes only one number fits well into that time, so sometimes that factors in to the choice.  (I do remember the one year "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" did "Brotherhood of Man" in double time to hit that time limit.)  I really like the "Groundhog Day" choice of "Everything About You", but certainly thought the folks who pointed out the show is funny and charming and this number is kind of not, were not wrong. 
I thought the "Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812" number did an awesome job of saying this show is a fun party (about, well, why spoil that).  "Waving Through A Window" is actually the second song in "Dear Evan Hansen" but it's the first one sung by Evan, so it's a great choice as far as telling you this is a show about a lonely kid.  
The thing that can be hard to remember is many people live far away from New York, and don't know if they will ever see this show unless it tours near them.  This is often their only chance to sample it outside the cast album. So, picking a number near the end doesn't matter as a spoiler, people who watch the Tonys and have access to Broadway, have likely already seen it.  And the people who haven't, often don't have any expectation that they will.  They just want to see a great number. For "Fun Home", the choice of "Ring of Keys" grabbed me and made me want to see it in a way that "It All Comes Back" - while a great song that does it's job - might not have.  

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Three Interesting Things

1. I am aware that there are some cats who like walks.  I maybe told people when I injured my knee that it was a windsurfing kittens debacle.  Apparently adventure catting is a thing. 
2. This idea that people too young to vote do not yet have political thoughts seems very silly considering I know I had deep thoughts about the Presidential election in first grade, that schools often hold mock elections, and that in eighth grade I was taking government and memorizing the preamble to the Constitution.  So, this eighth grader's op-ed about why she chose to not be in her class trip's photo with Paul Ryan (and why other students did or did not) is great.  Kudos to their teachers for fostering such critical thinking. 
3. This capture of an exchange from a year ago where a new hockey fan was born amused me. 

Monday, June 05, 2017

"Wonder Woman"

Much like, it seems, many of you, I went to see "Wonder Woman" over the weekend.  I saw after a good portion of my Twitter feed had told me it was about love (yay!), it was really a World War I movie that contained a superhero (fair), and that the island contained a realistic array of women, who had lines and personalities (true).  
I watched the TV series featuring Lynda Carter back in the day, but have generally not done much to further my Wonder Woman education in the intervening years.  I am also a person who may not have seen a superhero movie in theaters since "The Incredibles".  (I did try to watch "Iron Man" once on TV.  I fell asleep.) I watched a bit of "Gotham" and of course some "The Flash" and "Supergirl".  So I have seen non-cartoon superheroes.  But my interest is less in the building smashing. 
There is some building smashing in this movie.  I had a not good for movie knitting project with me, and worried that in general a two plus hour movie was bound to have moments where my attention would stray.  In fact it did not.  There were things that felt they could have been developed more, but honestly, we didn't need the movie to be longer, so, in the end it was satisfying, it had a good superheroey type lesson about life and love, it had a group of protagonists that had clearly defined skills and personalities that were distinct in a useful way, not in a and that's the guy with that accent way. 
In an interview with Felicia Day, I remember her talking about in the 1990's there were a bunch of movies featuring strong woman characters and then that faded away. So, my hope for this year, where we have seen "Hidden Figures" and "Wonder Woman" do great is not only that more things about women get greenlit, but that in another 30 years we think woman centered movies are normal, instead of a fad. 

Friday, June 02, 2017

"Supergirl" - That Season 2 Ender

I'm not going to recap the final two episodes of "Supergirl", mostly because it's been well covered.  But I do want to talk about some things that were unusual.  I confess I was a bit of a half-watcher this season.  I didn't love the she wants to be a reporter but her mean boss hates her storyline.  But I did love her growing friendship with Lena Kane.  In fact it addressed the thing I had talked with a Twitter friend first season, she needed a friend who wasn't a love interest or a sister.  She needed a friend.  
One of the things that "Supergirl" has never shied away from was strong women.  So, having this year's big bad be Mon-El's mom, having this year's person of dubious loyalty be Lena's mom, having the president be a woman, having Cat come back, well, look at that there are so many women in this superhero show and I haven't even mentioned her sister or her sister's girlfriend.  It isn't just seeing women characters, for all my issues with this season, they had built why each of these characters felt they way they did.  Lillian being anti-alien, Cat being pro-good story, but also pro-Earth not being taken over by evil aliens, evil alien queen being thwarted by people who wouldn't go along with her plans, and Supergirl, who had taught an alien from a planet of mostly bad guys, that being a hero to humans was a worthy goal. 
So sure, they put J'onn in a coma an episode before, to take him out of the equation.  But Supergirl and Lillian beam up to save Lena and Mon-El from Rhea, except Lillian really only meant to use it for her daughter, because whatever aliens.  Except Supergirl expected that and had a second remote that she uses to send Mon-El back because she's going to try to change Rhea's mind. 
Supergirl has fallen into the traditional trap of expecting some people to be better than they are, but she also knows that the DEO has a cannon ready to fire at the ship, so she is doing this in a way that endangers the least amount of people while still hoping that her boyfriend's mom isn't the most evil.  And so when Mon-El kisses her and leaves, picture me cheering. He knew him still being on the ship would give his mom too much leverage. Instead he needs to get back to tell Alex not to fire the cannon yet, because Supergirl is still on board.  
Turns out Rhea had some other leverage, a silver kryptonited Superman.  So Superman and Supergirl have a showdown that ends with them flying out of the ship until Supergirl finally knocks him out long enough to fly both them and Alex the Fortress where everyone can de-kryptonite.  And for the slowpokes in the back, Supergirl tries to tell Superman that the kryptonite must have also slowed him down or she wouldn't have been able to get over on him, and he's like nope, I was at full strength, nice job cousin. 
They peak through Superman's files, find an ancient Daxamite ritual they can call on, and Supergirl challenges Rhea to a duel for the Earth.  In the end Rhea cheats and Supergirl has to make use of the lead device Lena made, which makes Earth toxic to all the Daxamites, including Mon-El.  
So here's the thing. Supergirl (and Kara) made the choice that countless superheroes make.  She sacrificed some of her personal happiness for the greater good.  She tried all the right ways to fight it, but had back up plans in case other people weren't playing by the same rules.  In that sense, the only difference is the gender of the characters.  (And yes, I'm aware the the end of season 2 of "Buffy" has our heroine making a similar choice.) 
But, I can literally count on one hand the number of shows I've watched where the dude kissed the girl, or agreed to be her second in battle and actually sat back and let her fight.  Even leaving her because he knew she could handle it.  This is kind of unusual.  Sure it shouldn't be.  But it is. 
Also, both episodes, in case the titles "Resist" and "Nevertheless She Persisted" didn't clue you in, looked at trying to be good and honorable when the folks you were fighting weren't.  How having people you care about isn't a weakness, it's a strength.  That being vulnerable, or emotional, didn't make you less strong, it made you more.  And that in many ways was what made these episodes not just episodes where the superhero happened to be a girl.  There's a lot of stuff out there in the world about how being successful as a woman requires you to suppress the things we encourage women to be.  Strong fictional heroines are often expected to be good fighters with limited emotions. Added to the season long look at how many aliens were also fleeing bad aliens, so humans needed to look critically before painting all aliens with the same brush, there's a crazy awesome theme of how being your best self is a choice, it's hard work, but it's a choice you can continue to make.  And that's the thing that made Supergirl's ongoing hope that Rhea would change a realistic wish, even as she still made backup plans.  

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Three Interesting Things

1. This story about a 12 year old from Baltimore who is currently the national youth chess champion is wonderful and I hope people make books and movies about this kid.   
2. This map of rents in the DC area is hardly a surprise to folks who have priced the area, but it does illustrate a thing that I have found is not obvious to folks who haven't had to strike out on their own. Yes, the DC area has a robust job market and a decent public transit system.  However, living near transit costs you, and living not near transit either means paying for a car, or dedicating additional time, two buses to get you to metro, or three buses to get you where you're going. Also, yeah, those are the average rents. 
3. This list of bookstore owners who are authors include some suggestions for book reading. 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Self Check

A while back I saw someone say on Twitter they had a list of things that made them feel better and they tried to make sure they did a few of them each day.  It pinged for me, because much like wearing an activity tracker helped me notice I slept worse on days I moved less, leading to a potentially vicious cycle, data helps. 
So, I started thinking about it.  And for a while I kept a list.  But the other value, because, yeah I hear you it can start to sound like work, is just figuring out things.  
For me, here are some of the things that help: hanging with my cat, walking, reading, knitting, eating food I made in my kitchen, writing, listening to music, going outside, meeting up with friends. 
I have moments where I check myself because I know I'm being irritated by something going on in the world or the day job or with a friend and so I stop and check this mental list.  Am I hungry? Am I too hot or too cold?  (This seems very silly but when you are somewhere you don't have control of the big thermostat, sometimes realizing that you have been sitting with your shoulders at your ears because you are too cold and should go grab a coat or sweater is not obvious until you stop to think about it.)
Have I done a thing that makes me happy today? If not, where can I fit one in?
And would getting up and taking a quick walk, even if it's to refill my tea give me the three minutes I need to make better response choices?  
It's easy to consider self-care a goofy hashtag but it's also increasingly easy to have whole days where we forget to do tiny things that make us feel better because they don't make things cleaner, they don't pay bills, they don't seem necessary.  So whatever helps to remind you that spending some time doing things that are awesome for you really is just as valuable as getting more dishes done. 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Three Interesting Things

1. The google emoji blobs were weird but I kind of liked them.  Ah well. 
2. I am absolutely not adding more podcasts right now, not even if it's a fictionalized chance meeting story, argh! Oops, subscribed. 
3. I have never been to the Ripped Bodice, but I hope they have so much success that other indie books stores try to copy them.  Or they start a DC outpost.  Preferably also with a cute dog. So I enjoyed this piece on the owners


Monday, May 22, 2017

Gaithersburg Book Festival

The weather here has been weird of late.  Or typical for these transitional periods.  So, after three straight days of 90 degree weather, we had been promised that Saturday would emerge a little overcast, a little cooler, but really very nice.  And well, I expected that to mean a dress and a scarf weather, and discovered that the day was breezy and cool. I met a friend who was already there for lunch.  She headed home, I went to a panel with Brigid Kemmerer and Michelle Knudson talking about their YA books, and then the next panel slot was jam-packed but in the end I went with Jack Viertel in conversation with Jason Loewith of the Olney Theater Center about Viertel's book on American musicals. They discussed some of the main structure points of musicals, along with some notable exceptions.  
I confess, after this panel, despite my interest in the next two slots, I reached a point where I could no longer take the cold and hoped back on the shuttle to get back to metro.  Despite my briefer than usual visit, it was still great fun and for every panel I did get two, there were several I wished time or scheduling would have allowed for. And even though I'm whining about the weather a little, it rained all day last year, so this was much better. 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Three Interesting Things

1. It's AAPI month and of late, there's been more push around the apparent confusion some Americans have that Asian American Pacific Islanders are one group, rather than two that have some overlap.  This post takes a look at how that can lead to erasure
2. I confess, this was written by a friend, but you know a rant about the idea that romance writers or readers who are single because the books have ruined them warms the cockles of my heart. 
3. Book Riot summarized the news that crossed Twitter about Harlequin closing several lines. Kimani in particular caused concern because it was the most reliable place both both authors of color, and characters of color.  Sure, there are some characters of color in other lines.  Sure there were authors of color in other lines, although often writing about whiter folk.  The best outcome would be for all these authors to find places within the remaining lines. Certainly Kimani being organized primarily around the color of it's characters meant that readers who mostly like small town contemporary, or mostly liked billionaires had to work a little harder than readers of other lines to find what they wanted, which I'm sure impacted sales.  Lines have closed before.  Usually, there's some fallout, but if this results in the remaining lines staying as predominately white as they have been, it would be pretty bad business decision. 

Friday, May 12, 2017

An Evening with the "Serial" creators

Sarah Koenig and Julie Snyder, the team behind a little podcast called "Serial" you might have heard of were at Strathmore for a talk about the making of the podcast.  Given the case that the first season focused on took place in Maryland it was fun to watch them talk about how Maryland's information laws gave them access to files they might not otherwise have been able to access since ultimately the police officers involved decided not to speak to Koenig.  
Koenig and Snyder had worked together for many years at "This American Life" and felt the culture of hey, if you like this thing, try it, see where it goes really created the special blend that people have come to expect from "This American Life" and now several other shows, given the number of former "This American Life" folks across the radio and podcast landscape now.  They had once worked together on an episode of "This American Life" called "The Week" where they focused on stories from the week leading up to the show, from the splashy big news, to the small.  They had enjoyed that so much they pitched to the team the idea of making a show that was just that.  They said the reception to this idea was not great.  No one said no, but no one said super cool idea, go for it either.  They were not deterred and kept talking about it and kicking it around, and Ira Glass talked to Koenig and said hey, if this is the thing that speaks to you, then you guys should go for it, but do you have any other ideas?  And Koenig said, well, the opposite would be fun too, like a longform, multi-episode look at a single story.  And, well, since the show is called "Serial", I think the direction they ultimately chose is clear.  
They touched on the amazing momentum the first season had, and how they ended up having to try to manage (as much as one can) the internet and the news media.  They had made specific journalistic choices about things to include and exclude, had made certain deals with people that agreed to speak with them on condition of some form of anonymity, and to leave out certain things that they simply didn't have enough verification to include.  Not everyone on the internet played by the same rules. 
An audience member asked about the comparative lack of success for the second season which he had enjoyed.  Koenig and Snyder said they felt that the second season had been less buzzy.  It wasn't a murder mystery, and so people seemed to spend less time discussing it in between episodes in visible places (think pieces, podcasts, etc) but that the numbers did not support that it was less successful, and they also found that there were a lot of places they went where people were so glad they had done that story.  In fact another audience member stood up and said that he had been in Afghanistan for USAID and when the show started, people he couldn't get to talk to him about the case, all of the sudden began discussing it.  So he was grateful that it gave them that conversational starting point.
Ultimately, they felt certain that they would continue to follow the stories that spoke to them and seemed suited to this format, and work that way, rather than worrying about audience reaction. They did acknowledge that this was not a leeway all journalists worked with.  
It was a lot of fun to listen to them, and hang out in a theater full of podcast nerds.  (And that one dude who raised his hand when they asked if anyone hadn't listened to "Serial" yet.)


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Three Interesting Things

1. I am glad this basketball player has found another school, and sad that the team used a refusal to laugh a tired stereotypes as a reason to try to freeze her out.  It's worth noting that she sued the school and settled and is not allowed to disparage her former school. It's easy to think we've reached a point where these stories are the exceptions, because schools are afraid of being sued.  It might just be that they figure they can make folks settle out of court and that will cost less than doing the work to fix things. 
2. A Scottish person looked at the version of Scotland often featured in romancelandia.
3. The Undefeated followed two members of DC's Poetry Slam team.  Take a look at this video and understand why I show up at their competitions where possible. 

Monday, May 08, 2017

Pre-Existing Conditions

Okay, disclaimer first.  I am not your HR or benefits administrator.  Everything I am saying is as me, a person on the internet.  But. But.  We have to talk about pre-existing conditions. So let's define the term and the reason behind it. 
I'm going to start with the basic premise behind insurance.  Insurance is essentially you making a deal to give a company money on a regular basis, so that if you experience a large and/or unexpected expense, the company will then cover this expense.  Kind of a more boring version of you saying I'll pay for dinner this time, next time you can pick up the check.  Insurance companies are, you may have heard, for profit businesses, so they put various rules in place to try and mitigate their financial risk.  And part of this is pre-existing conditions.  You see this in things like vision coverage too, where they sometimes require you agree to pay for vision coverage for at least two years, because they figure two years of premiums offsets your pair of glasses. Obviously, when we get to health insurance, we are talking about more than a pair of glasses.  So, pre-existing conditions are there to make it so you don't just pick up health insurance two seconds after you discover you had cancer and possibly are not a premium paying person long enough for the insurance company to recoup their expenses. Prior to the ACA it was not uncommon to see it on employer sponsored plans, particularly in companies that had a lot of turnover.  
I understand that this thing that may become was passed with a lack of clarity, but I feel fairly certain that the legislation as it existed when it passed the House, did not have a specific list of pre-existing conditions.  It basically removed the requirement put in place by the ACA that people be charged the same premium regardless of their medical history and turned it back into hair salon rules, wherein you can be charged different amounts based on your gender, your medical history, and your expectation that you might need so-called premium services like pregnancy coverage, and also meant that they can put into place a restriction that anything that is a pre-existing condition does not have to be covered by them for a period of time. HIPAA - unless they did something else we haven't heard about - still applies to group coverage and maxes that at a 12-18 months, and waives that if you had continuous coverage.  
So, what does this mean.  Let me tell a story.  I once started getting terrible headaches.  I took sick days off work (and I had a job where I did not get paid leave) and lay in bed.  Sometimes I tried to power through.  And because I had health insurance at the time, I called regularly to document this in case this turned into something else.  I had gotten as far as noticing they happened a lot Sunday nights and Monday mornings when a friend pointed out to me that I hated my job and maybe that was it.  (Hate is a strong word, but I knew it was time to go.) So, I figured out my next plan, and ultimately didn't give notice for another month because reasons, but my headaches went away.  I currently have health insurance. I have a number of known conditions. Allergies, asthma, things like that.  If I quit my job now, and couldn't afford the COBRA or reached the end of COBRA without getting another plan, and had a break in coverage before being able to work out a new plan, then yes - things that I had already been treated for count as pre-existing conditions. So my asthma inhalers (without which I need even more expensive nebulizer treatments), any cold that might really just be allergies, yes, those they could choose not to cover.  If it was group coverage, then after the waiting period I could get coverage, you know, assuming I made it that far.  But it would also apply to things I had not been diagnosed with but could be attributed to something I had previously been treated for, that coverage could be denied too.  So, if I ended up with migraines, they could pull those medical records and say, gee you had this period of headaches that you reported, so maybe that was really that, and now we don't have to cover this until the end of the waiting period.  
So, my point here is not to make you terribly depressed about the state of health insurance in this country. I don't think insurance companies are evil and no one is paying me to say that.  I think we have a system that is designed to make insurance companies money.  But there isn't a magic list of pre-existing conditions.  You aren't safe if your particular afflictions weren't on the list you saw. Everything is a pre-existing condition. 


Thursday, May 04, 2017

Three Interesting Things

1. I had suggested a while back, that someone should set up a matching system so that people who were phone shy could work with people who were not phone shy to call their reps. It's possible such a thing is not allowed.  But I read with interest, about this app that let's you record a message to be placed in your congressperson's voice mail that night.  It does, as the articlw suggests, also post copies of your message, so you would perhaps leave a lightly different message than otherwise. 
2. RA's at GWU have voted to unionize.  
3. This list of outrageous nachos intrigues me.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Tonys: One Sentence Summaries

Disclaimers: 
-I have not seen all of these shows. 
-Obviously one sentence summaries cannot capture all the magic. 
-I do this out of love. 

In honor of the Tony Nominees, my one sentence summaries of the plays and musicals nominated for best play or musical. 
 A Doll's House Part 2:  Things still suck for women.  
Indecent: Putting on a controversial play was super hard a century ago. 
Oslo: Diplomatic relations in the Middle East are tough. 
Sweat: Manufacturing towns in the US are dying and will make you hate your friends and neighbors. 
Come From Away: If you and your boyfriend were having trouble before, just wait until you get stuck in Canada for a few days.  See also: Canadians are super nice to unexpected visitors. 
Dear Evan Hansen: Depression and grief are both easier and harder in the digital age. 
Groundhog Day The Musical: Stuck in a day, might learn a lesson. 
Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812: Cheaters suck, but look a comet!

Monday, May 01, 2017

"Smart People" at Arena Stage

I went to see "Smart People" Friday, and when I tried to talk to some friends about it Saturday, it was hard to find a balance between the serious issues of race in America that the play covers, and yet also how fricking hilarious it was. There are four characters, Valerie, Jackson, Ginny, and Brian and their lives intersect in many ways until there is a final dinner party involving all four where things get really real.  There are also many moments where the characters interact with someone offstage, a feat of both writing and acting that it managed to seem normal, and I felt like I fully understood the unsaid parts of the interaction. The play is set specifically during the 2007-2008 period, which includes to the election in which we elected Obama.  At first this felt a little unnecessary, the characters do talk some about the election, but on reflection, I see that setting it specifically in time allowed it to stay there, rather than have it feel strange that they didn't acknowledge whatever future political things might come.  
Brian is a white professor studying implicit bias, aka, the inherent reactions white people have to black people.  He has gone from being the golden boy professor to having funding pulled, and being asked to teach classes he feels are beneath his skills.  Ginny is an Asian American professor who meets Brian when they get put on the same diversity council.  She is studying third generation Asian Americans and as such wants to work with Jackson who runs a clinic in Chinatown. Jackson is black, and runs a clinic but is also a surgeon at a fancier hospital where he is running into issues with upper management.  He is basketball buddies with Brian.  And he meets Valerie, who is an up and coming actress, when she has an accident on set and ends up in the ER.  Valerie is also black and ends up volunteering for Brian's study.  The characters overlap and intersect more than that as they date, fight, hang out, and try to figure out how to just live their lives. 
It is the kind of play I think would be perfect to go to with friends that you know would have a great conversation with you afterwords, even if all you did was name your favoritest parts. 

Friday, April 28, 2017

The S-Town Podcast

As a "This American Life" fan, and a "Serial" fan, I was for sure going to give "S-Town" a shot.  The season dropped in a full batch, and so I - with a trip coming up - thought I would save it for the flight, which would have been a great idea, but as often happens I was in more of a re-read a book mood and so, I listened to one, but with so many podcasts piled up, I moved on to others, and for me I hit the end of episode 2 and went, oh, yeah, so binge listen it is then. 
The series should come with a trigger warning for depression, suicidal ideation, and self-harm.  I think it's kind of fun to go into it with very little idea of what it's about.  If you have ever wondered what the process of getting stories for things - be it newspapers, podcasts, radio, etc - not the cutesy movie compressed versions, this provides that.  If you just want to know is there something going on in this small town, that the original email writer called Shit-town, then, well, I can tell you, obviously there is.  But, like novels and TV shows that are more about the process than the results, that's what "S-Town" is.  
It certainly made me think about the statistics of stories that get killed and how many of these take months of searching, of visits and calls, only to turn into not much.  Or not enough for a ten minute segment.  That when we talk about the gutting of journalism, we're not just talking about people available to cover what world leaders say, but about the people available to spend months travelling and emailing and calling and recording in the hopes that it leads to something.  About how some of the best interviews are not where the interview asks a list of agreed upon questions, but when the interviewer lets the subject go on a tangent and draws them out further.  And how those are the little snippets and nuggets that stay with you. 
And as a person who prefers the pantser style of plotting, this idea of showing up with a mike and seeing where things go really appeals to me.  It often confuses non-writers, and even writer people with a more plotter driven style, how do you know if that story has enough if you haven't thought it through.  And the answer is I don't.  I have manuscripts on my hard drive that didn't have enough to sustain a book.  They might become a short someday, or they might just be an idea that wasn't fully baked.  And with experience you get better.  You get better at knowing this is about the right amount of conflict.  Or at being willing to re-write more to bake in more stuff as you go.  
It's also an excellent example of POV.  How you can listen to a story, and feel that you get it, you understand.  And then you hear another take and you throw that in with what you already knew, and see how it fits in and yet shifts your thinking on what had happened.  
If the lack of closure in "Serial" bugged you, I don't think "S-Town" is for you.  This is not to say things aren't found, discovered, examined.  But it is, in the end, as much, if not more, about the process, than the result. 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Three Interesting Things

1. Independent Books Store Day is approaching an lots of stores have fun things like this planned at Upshur. 
2. This piece talked about the need for a wider array of autistic characters in media. 
3. Someone taught a French Bulldog to skate

Monday, April 24, 2017

A Lack of Healthcare Story

When I was 21 I was kicked of my parents' insurance.  I had a job, but it was for a tiny company and I was paid monthly and not always super timely even though one of my job duties was to print the checks. I absolutely meant to do something with the COBRA packet I received and then I got busy, and there were the holidays, and so, yeah, I missed the deadline.  I probably could not have afforded COBRA without help, but that was small consolation because in February after standing for days on a convention floor, my knee dislocated as we finished packing up and my elbow broke my fall.  My knee (somewhat ironically) was fine.  My elbow ended up requiring surgery because I broke off the edge (not the center pointy bit, the side pointy bit which yes probably has a better name than that) and needed pins to put it back where it belonged, and months of physical therapy to regain range of motion. I was really lucky that I had family who was able to help look after me, drive me to all these appointments, and help me pay for this.  
Obviously I realized my error in letting my health insurance lapse and once things were on the mend started looking into getting my own insurance.  And guess what I ran into.  Pre-existing conditions.  Even though I had already had surgery, even though I had already attended multiple physical therapy sessions and had regained most range of motion, the insurance company didn't want to cover me because I had a known condition that might cost money.  
Again, I was really lucky and managed to push through that and get coverage.  But we are talking lots of time on the phone. Nowadays a series of laws, HIPAA and ACA have made such stories go away.  For now.  Right now I have heath insurance through my job. So the fact that I have injured my knee several times, suffer from seasonal allergies, have asthma, and other various conditions are all covered by my insurance.  
Prior to the ACA, my day job had me reading a lot of companies summary plan descriptions.  And some of them covered pre-existing conditions. And some of them had a waiting period.  Something along the lines of six months or a year before the employee or the employee's covered dependents could be covered for pre-existing conditions. And a pre-existing condition can be anything you've ever been treated for. Any time you had a visit about a thing, that maybe visits and visits later turns into a diagnosis.  
And really, it's easy to fault employers and insurance companies on this.  But insurance is capitalist by design. Their job is to save money.  That just happens to be at odds sometimes with our goal of getting good health care.  It is a clear case of the system working as designed even as it fails many. I do think ACA is imperfect.  I do think we could come up with a better solution.  But repealing it and replacing it with something that covers less people is not the right approach. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

"The Catch" - Charming but...

I fell out of the habit with "The Catch" last season.  It had an intriguing hook, security consultant falls for a charming man who turns out to be conning her, which he reveals by stealing all her stuff, except, it turns out, his weakness is her, and they spend the season trying to catch each other. Kind of. 
I never deleted the pass on my DVR, so when it restarted I found myself curious enough to try again, and huh.  So apparently she (Alice, played by Mireille Enos) teamed up with Interpol to catch Ben (Peter Krause) and then felt bad when he turned out to love her too, so gave him a head start and there were double crosses upon double crosses, and whatever, all this I have gleaned from the previouslies. So, Ben is in jail.  Alice's firms computers are all in custody, which, as you might imagine has put a crimp in their business.  And Ben's ex Margot (Sonya Walger) is now in charge of the evil crime family.  Rhys, Ben's partner in crime is on the outs with the crime family yet not in jail.  So, now, Interpol and the FBI (and really it hardly matters, supposed good guys) have offered Ben a deal, where they will reduce his sentence if he does this thing.  And Margot, realizing the problem with crime families is that you can trust no one, hires Alice's firm to investigate.  Needless to say, Alice and Ben are only telling each other part of what they are up to.  Oh and Alice's brother Tommy has shown up totally coincidentally because his former employers are dead, but he has some money is his name, and yeah, absolutely no reason to believe anything shady or underhanded is going on there.  
So here's the thing.  The cast, including the other three members of Alice's firm (played by Rose Rollins, Jay Hayden, and Elvy Yost) are all wonderful.  Gina Torres as our FBI agent learning how charmingly frustrating Ben is, his total inability to do a job within the defined parameters.  And T. R. Knight is knocking out of the park as the bumbling but charming and maybe not as bumbling brother.  
But here's the thing.  The cast is great.  The sets are slick.  And the plot, is there.  Do I care who Tommy's murdered employers really were?  No.  Do I think if you are chasing an international assassin you should plan an elaborate thing where everyone carries different colored umbrellas the theory being that the assassin will then be forced to shoot at all the umbrellas giving them time to catch him? I mean, spoiler alert it worked, but instead of being impressed, it makes me wonder how this international assassin survived so long.  It is the perfect example, they used a visually appealing, but ultimately not super well thought out idea to catch the assassin, turned him over to intended victim Margot, and the episode ended with her hiring them.  That is an intriguing double cross, but much like fellow TGIT show "How to Get Away With Murder" the episodes often seem like misdirects leading to a new breadcrumb revealed at the end.  So, you could fold laundry or multitask while you watched the show, and look up for the end and get most of what you needed.  
There's nothing wrong with any of this, there are plenty of shows that get by more on the charm of the cast, than the plotting.  I just find myself hopewatching, because there is such incredible potential there, and I will say that I think HTGAWM does a better job (admittedly over more cumulative episodes at this point) at making me care about the characters, instead of marveling at the visuals, and the acting.  

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Three Interesting Things

1. Having been away I am catching up on things like the annual Peeps contest which got taken over by the Washington City Paper this year.  I usually find the runner up a little more to my personal taste, but they are still all amazing. 
2. I was never a very good "Survivor" watcher, but this post about the missed opportunity the show had, as they hid under the guise of we have to show what happened, is interesting.  "Top Chef" has had issues with bullying, and this year they at least acknowledged - however awkwardly - the optics of having the first challenge at a plantation be an elimination between a black chef and a white chef.  These are all adults, they sign on for a lot, but these shows also exist in the world.  
3. I read 13 Reasons Why and found it interesting, but have listened to the criticism about the show, that for it's unflinching look at serious issues, it has issues and isn't safe for some folks.  This take (by another YA author) addressed some concerns.