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Yeah, Like She Said

Tamara Keel has a post up entitled Damnit Jussie. This is in reference to the actor Jussie Smollett, who claimed to be the victim of a racist attack. Although nothing has yet been proven, it is looking strongly like the incident was a hoax staged by Jussie to get attention. As Tamara keenly points out, the next ten black guys who get curb-stomped by white bigots will now have to overcome the doubt about false allegations planted by Jussie. So, like she said.

This entry was originally posted at https://chris-gerrib.dreamwidth.org/718644.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Emergency!

So apparently Trump is going to declare a national emergency to build the wall. Does that mean a Democratic president gets to declare a national emergency over gun violence or global warming? Asking for a friend.

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Short Political Thoughts

Various short political thoughts on events in the news:

1) It appears that Trump will take 1/5 of his requested money for the border wall. Despite getting largely stiffed and not building one additional foot of permanent barrier in two years, he is claiming victory. I find it very irritating that he can never lose, especially since his failure to lose is simply due to refusing to admit the obvious. This is becoming the Pee-wee Herman Presidency ("I meant to do that.")

2) A freshman Congressman criticized the Israeli government's foreign policy, especially the part where they attempt to influence US policy. Her words were insulting and stereotypical, but to be clear, one can criticize the Israeli government without being anti-semitic.

3) Various sources are reporting that, because the Trump administration manipulated tax withholdings, many Americans are due to get much smaller tax refunds this year. Every time the GOP does something stupid, I thin they can't get any dumber. Then they go and prove me wrong.

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Schedule of Events, 2019

As discussed previously, I have been less-than-enthusiastic about attending this year's Worldcon in Dublin. Well, my lack of enthusiasm has led to a decision. I will not be attending Worldcon. I will, in fact, be donating my attending membership to the Fantastic Dublin Fund, which is attempting to get a more diverse group of attendees to Worldcon. Since cons in general need less fat white middle-aged guys, it's a fair trade.

Having freed that time and money commitment up, I will be attending two cons in the US. First, I'll be going back to ConQuest 50 in Kansas City over Memorial Day. I took the last two years off from that con. There were a variety of reasons, including budget and a bit of over-exposure as a result of the 2016 Worldcon in KC. In any event, it's time to go back.

The other con I've decided to attend is NASFIC AKA Westercon AKA Spikecon, to be held in Layton Utah July 4-7. I suspect I'll get to both of these events for about the same money as I would spend on Worldcon in Dublin.

I'll also be able to accumulate miles and money for New Zealand 2020. That's going to be a long trip, and if I'm going Down Under I'll be spending more time down there than a long weekend in a convention.

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Incompetent First Contact

I've been a fan of Fox's new SF series The Orville since it came out. Having said that, "a fan" does not mean "thinks show is perfect." And it's not. The case in point is whenever our heroes have a first contact situation. As discussed with spoilers by Camestros Felapton, the most recent episode had a very flawed first contact.

The story started out promising enough. A humanoid-because-of-budget-reasons society sends out a radio message asking "is anybody out there?" The crew of the Orville receive that message and determine it's a first contact. They are very pleased with that fact, and happy to answer the question.

Things go reasonably well until after the first commercial break. Then they don't, which is what has to happen in a first contact story. That's when the story goes off the rails.

Camestros blames the writers and I agree. Simply put, the writers aren't really science fiction writers. They haven't thought through their world, both in general and in this particular case. It shows. For Camestros, this whole show is a "tribute" (AKA "cover") band for Star Trek: The Next Generation. I'm not sure if I agree or disagree.

This entry was originally posted at https://chris-gerrib.dreamwidth.org/717720.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

It's Cold, Baby

As you may have heard or may be experiencing, Chicago is having a record cold snap. Right now my cell phone's WeatherBug says it's -22 Fahrenheit or -30 Celsius. As a result, for the second day this week I am working from home. (I stayed home Monday because of snow.) Today's work-from-home day is by order - all of the people at my employer's place of business are staying home.

Fortunately, being productive at home is much easier than it used to be. Thanks to laptops and the Internet, I can be productive and have meetings. When, of course, the Internet works.

I got up this morning and my Comcast Internet was down and a reboot of the router did not bring it back up. When I called into Comcast, once I got to the Internet option, I got a recording that said "we're having issues - it will be fixed at 3:30 PM."

This was not good at all. Fortunately, AT & T was able to set up my cell phone to be a wireless hotspot. The bandwidth is okay - I even held a video meeting! Right now, the plan is for everybody to go into work on Thursday as per normal. We're expecting temperatures to get above zero! Actually, the forecast for Sunday is mid-40s Fahrenheit. A regular heatwave!

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No Convictions, No Courage

One can't have the courage of one's convictions if one has no convictions. This fact is one of Trump's many problems.

It was clear from early in his campaign that he had no convictions. As you may recall, there was a kerfuffle about who used which public restroom. Then-candidate Trump was asked. As a real-estate person, he had some familiarity with the issue. His first statement was the entirely reasonable "people use the restroom they are most comfortable in and there's rarely a problem." This did not sit well with his base so he quickly changed his tune.

We see that again with the recently-passed budget snafu. In December, Trump was perfectly willing to sign the same general deal he just approved. He had also not made much of an issue with the Republican congress on wall funding. Then Trump was criticized by various TV talkers and he decided to create a crisis.

Again, lacking the courage of his convictions, he eventually caved in with the current deal. His incompetence in failing to plan for a shutdown didn't help, but that's a separate post. This episode was as surprising as snow in Chicago in January.

Since Trump has no convictions and thus no courage, it's extremely difficult to predict what he will do next. I'm not looking forward to it.

This entry was originally posted at https://chris-gerrib.dreamwidth.org/717130.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

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Fear and Illusions

I've been watching the latest budget snafu in Washington with growing irritation. It seems to me that, for many people, the process is being driven by fear and illusions.

The fear is from various sources. Ardent Trump supporters are fearful of the other, in this case illegal immigrants. It's an irrational fear. Having just came from Honduras, source of the many convoys that the bed-wetter crowd led by Trump are fearful of, I have a personal understanding of the matter.

Simply put, the people who come to the US from Honduras are the ambitious people. They're the hard workers, the strivers, the risk-takers. It's way easier to just sit in your hovel in Honduras and say "tomorrow" than to hike down to town and thence to America. We have nothing to fear from these immigrants.

The Republicans who refuse to vote and potentially override a veto are fearful. They are fearful of the same people who are fearful of the other. They are fearful of getting voted out.

The other problem is illusions. The ardent Trump supporters have convinced themselves that Trump is not a second-rate crook and idiot who has surrounded himself with third-rate crooks. They think that he is a brave and wise man and that he will somehow by force of will accomplish his stated goals. Some of them are hoping that he will use military force to rule the country.

To those suffering from the illusion of a competent Trump, he can do no wrong. Every time one of his fellow crooks is arrested, it is seen not as a hit on Trump but as "the swamp" fighting back. His State of the Union loss is thus seen as a win. I have to hope that at some point this illusion will break, but I am not optimistic.

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Honduras!

As mentioned, I flew to Honduras for the long weekend. The purpose of my visit was to meet fellow Rotarians in support of a project to build a school in a rural area of Quimistan, a municipality in the Santa Barbara Department. (Here's a link to my Facebook photo album of the trip.)

First off, in Honduras, a municipality is more like a US county than a city. It covers both what we would consider a town as well as the surrounding rural areas. Quimistan (link to Spanish-language edition of Wikipedia - the English entry is a stub) is the second-largest municipality and reportedly has a population of just under 30,000. There's a lot of empty land, most of it mountainous and only suitable for goats. It's a mere 50 miles or so from San Pedro Sula, the second-largest city in Honduras, but those miles are over a two-lane road shared with every barely-mobile beat-up jalopy imaginable. It's a slow drive.

Still, we left San Pedro Sula early on a Sunday morning, and so had no traffic to speak of. The school we're replacing is up in a rural part of Quimistan. Due to rains, the road was impassible. Based on an experience I had later that day, when a Honduran says a road is impassible, they are not kidding. In any event, a group of people from the local community walked to where vehicles could be gotten and were carpooled into town.

Everybody met at a fairly nice roofed-over sports facility. No walls, but not needed in that climate. We chatted for a bit, then had a ceremony where we signed an agreement to build the school. It was a big deal for all involved.

After a nice home-cooked lunch (we ate in air conditioning, even!) then, at the mayor's request, we went to visit another school which we were promised was accessible. The mayor wants that school to be the next on the list.

We drove on the main road in the direction of San Pedro Sula for a while, then turned off the paved road onto a crappy dirt track. After a few miles of that, we stopped and transferred into the personal four-wheel-drive vehicles of the Honduran Rotarians. Then we pressed on, hitting roads that I would haven't attempted to drive on under any circumstance.

After another few miles of that, the road ended at a town called Urraco Camalote. Literally at the end of the road was a school. Well, a shack with faded delusions of grandeur that they called a school. It was dark, damp, falling apart and had a pile of junk about 4 feet high in one corner. Oh, and it had one teacher and only went to 6th grade.

We chatted with the locals (I noted no men of working age were present), took some pictures and piled back into the trucks.

I've seen poverty before. This was real poverty. It was a stark reminder of how lucky I have been, and how much of that luck was due to an accident of birth.

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Travel Thoughts

Over the long weekend, I flew to Honduras and back. Boy are my arms tired! [Yes, I plan on keeping the day job.) The purpose of the visit was to investigate sites for charity work, specifically building schools. I'll have more details on that portion of the trip later, but since I got back home at 9:30 PM, not today. Today I'll have some thoughts on travel.

Drink Carts

I normally fly Southwest. They serve snacks, pop and simple alcoholic beverages in-flight. For a variety of reasons, on this trip I flew Delta. Both flights, including the international leg, had a very similar menu.

On Southwest, the process of getting a drink is that the flight attendant comes, takes your order, and comes back with a tray of drinks. Snacks are distributed via them walking down the aisle with a wicker basket. There is no drink cart. On Delta, they push the damn drink cart down the aisle. Why? Southwest's system is much quicker and if you're not actually feeding people just as effective.

Getting There

For purposes of the flight, my final destination was San Pedro Sula, Honduras's second-largest city and the economic capital thereof. However, given that Honduras is the second-poorest country in this hemisphere, that's not saying a lot. They have an airport, but for commercial aviation the city is the end of the line and for most airlines can only support a single flight a day. So to get there, one flies out of a US city in the late morning.

The plane arrives in the early afternoon and is fairly quickly turned around and sent back to home base. It means that the tiny airport (eight "gates" all within 200 feet of each other and sharing a single waiting room) is busy as hell from around 11 AM to 3 PM and then goes to sleep. It also means one spends an entire day in the air getting to or from.

Tomorrow (hopefully) pictures and more details.

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Monday Update

Various news, provided for your amusement:

Books

Over the weekend, I reduced the price of the ebook edition of The Mars Run to 99 cents. That will be it's new permanent price. I also set it up so that if you buy the paper version you can get the ebook for free. We'll see if this spurs any sales.

Weekend Update

I did very little this weekend. It snowed all day Saturday in Chicago, so I felt no good reason to go out. I usually go out for dinner and cook a steak on Sunday, but I flipped the script on that. As a result, Sunday dinner was Cajun Pot Roast at Chuck's Southern Comforts Cafe, a local restaurant. It was very tasty.

Dreams

I have a recurring dream where I'm trying to get office work done. The problem is my workplace isn't an office, rather it's some kind of house poorly remodeled into an office. Either that or it's an old open space where the battered desks are partitioned off by old furniture. In any event, to make matters worse, there's a shortage of desk space and I keep getting moved out. I wonder what my dreams are trying to tell me.

This entry was originally posted at https://chris-gerrib.dreamwidth.org/716153.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Metaphors

I've noticed in several Facebook posts that whenever I say anything disparaging about the current budget crisis, I am immediately accused of being in favor of illegal immigration.

I'm not. I'm in favor of effective solutions. Currently, most places where walls would be effective at stopping or slowing illegal immigration already have some kind of wall or fence. For the record, if there's some place that a wall would help and we don't have one, let's put one in. But running walls through the middle of the Arizona desert won't do any good. Walls merely slow people down. Without aggressive monitoring, alarms and law enforcement response, a wall is a waste of money.

But the debate doesn't seem to be about that. In one Facebook discussion, when I said going after people who hire illegal immigrants would be more effective, the other person said, "so because there are other means that work too, we just shouldn’t even try?" In another Facebook discussion, I didn't bring up the wall - I merely pointed out that Trump was at one time for taxing the rich.

It seems to be that for Trump and his supporters, the wall has become some sort of emotional talisman. In their minds, the wall in and of itself is the most important thing. It could be equipped with ladders every twenty feet and we could fire the entire Border Patrol, but a wall must be built. It's not a rational argument, it's an emotional one.

This entry was originally posted at https://chris-gerrib.dreamwidth.org/715900.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Capricon Schedule

While I contemplate my summer travel plans, here's what I'll be doing at Capricon, occurring February 14-17 in lovely downtown Wheeling Ill.

Military Culture In Science Fiction & Fantasy Botanic B Literature Thu 6:30 PM

Military characters loom large in genre fiction, starting with "military sci-fi" focused on battles, but also supplying protagonists or antagonists (or both!) to many other works. What do military characters and settings add, whether from an existing service or one created for the story? We'll discuss our favorite uses of the military in storytelling, and how a creator could best use it in something new.


Haters Gonna Hate: Reboot Edition Botanic B Media Fri 11:30 AM

Reboot. The word conjures two extreme reactions - eagerness and revulsion. Why do we, as a society, want to reject new visions of old tales? Is there a need to reject that this fills? Do we feel empowered in rejecting the new over the old? And where is the line? Why is this so much more visible in SF/F than in mainstream media? Why attack the new Star Wars, but not the new A Star is Born?

Themed Reading: Space Opera Birch B Reading Fri 2:30 PM

Authors read rollicking action adventure stories... IN SPACE! Features 4 authors in a 75 minute panel slot.
Kristine Smith
Jan Gephardt
Chris Gerrib

Things Authors Always Mess up! Birch B Writing Sat 2:30 PM

This panel allows us to share our expertise in areas like fighting, medicine, technology, and culture. What things bug you when you see them done wrong in writing? How can we fix them?

The Evolution of Monsters Birch B Theme Sat 5:30 PM

From Romero's Zombies to 28 days later, from Dracula to Twilight--how do you reconcile differences in the same kind of monsters? Does their evolution make them better or are modern interpretations of monsters just bastardizations of the original myth/concept? At what point does a monster change so much they become a new classification?

This entry was originally posted at https://chris-gerrib.dreamwidth.org/715715.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

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Travel Advice Needed

Travel decisions need to be made, and thoughts from the wisdom of my readership are welcome. As of right now, I am sitting on an attending membership for this year's Worldcon to be held in Dublin Ireland in August. That's looking to be, well, costly.

Just to get to Dublin is around $1000 - and that for the privilege of cramming big me into small economy seat for 7.5 hours. Thus I'll arrive in Ireland cramped and zombie-like from no sleep. Then, Dublin has very expensive hotels. The bargain hotels are $200 / night. Yeah, you get breakfast too, but that's still at least 5 nights so that's another $1000. I'm thus at $2000 before dinner, booze, local transport, etc.

And I've been to Dublin. It's a nice place, but I've seen it. So do I really want to go? Helsinki was fun, and tied into a cruise and other events. London gave me an excuse to see some of Britain. But for me, Dublin would be just that, Dublin.

I'm strongly considering cutting my losses and going to Nasfic AKA Westercon. It's in Utah so it's much cheaper and unlike the underwhelming Puerto Rico Nasfic it's attached to an existing con so should be well-attended.

Again, thoughts welcome.

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Certified or Certifiable, You Decide

Two items of note:

1) Over the weekend, I passed the exam for and thus became a certified Project Management Professional. Go me!

2) Just this morning, I pre-ordered Linda Nagata's latest novel, Edges (Inverted Frontier Book 1).

This entry was originally posted at https://chris-gerrib.dreamwidth.org/715127.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Fire!

The other day I was reading this article about the destruction of Paradise California by the Camp fire. It's a long article, but what struck me is this: local officials planned for the scale of disaster that they could deal with, not the scale of disaster that was possible.

As a result, when the Camp fire hit, most of the procedures in place to deal with the fire and evacuation proved inadequate. Based on the article, we're lucky that there were "only" 86 people killed. Many people were trapped in town and had to improvise shelter.

It's easy to fault the local officials. But what they did (or didn't do) was a very typical human response. If the worst that can happen is beyond your abilities to deal with it, don't bother planning for it.

Many years and many pounds ago, I was in the US Navy. Prior to my commissioning, the Navy had seen several events, such as the USS Stark and the USS Samuel B. Roberts, where the worst case in terms of damage had happened. As a result, we had "conflagration drills." These were training exercises where everything that could go wrong did, and then we had to deal with it. These drills weren't fun, were held infrequently, but proved very helpful.

More importantly, they got us out of the mindset of not planning for the worst case.

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New Year's Eve Movies

I've never been a big fan of going out on New Year's Eve, so it didn't take much to convince me to stay in this year. When I was a kid, my parents always went out, and so I spent the night at my grandparent's house. For some reason I think WGN always ran the movie "The Battle of the Bulge" on New Year's Eve and we watched it, then Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadian Orchestra for the countdown. In any event, since I wasn't going out, I decided to watch some pay-per-view movies. (Since Guy is dead I skipped the countdown.) Herewith are my thoughts.

Peppermint

Peppermint is a 2018 movie of the sub-genre "don't make the lead actor mad" variety. There are some nods as to motive and character as well as two nicely-done reversals, but generally Jennifer Garner, the lead actor, spends most of the movie killing bad people real good. It was entertaining but not particularly profound.

A Simple Favor

A Simple Favor is another 2018 movie, based on a 2017 first novel from Darcey Bell, a Chicago-area writer. This is a bit more complicated and substantial. Blake Lively plays an adult version of her Gossip Girls character and Anna Kendrick plays a suburban soccer mom / blogger with a secret. Much betrayal and chewing of scenery ensues. Quite entertaining.

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The Favourite

Just before going downstate for the holiday, I saw the new movie The Favourite at my local dine-and-watch AMC theater. It was an unusual and entertaining movie.

First, a bit of historical accuracy. The movie concerns machinations between Sarah Churchill (of that Churchill family) and her cousin Abigail Hill for the favor of an ailing Queen Anne. All of these people were real and did in fact have a conflict. What's not accurate is that, in the movie, Sarah Churchill is shown as waiting on Queen Anne hand-and-foot. In reality, Sarah's frequent absences from court were a bone of contention between the two.

Having said that, Sarah in the movie and in real life was very outspoken and much more involved with business and politics then a typical woman of the era. She was also quite frank with Queen Anne, another bone of contention. Finally, Queen Anne was very sick and by the time the events of the movie occured. She had also experienced 17 pregnancies and was a widow. Most of her pregnancies had ended in miscarriages or stillbirths. None of the few live births resulted in a child living to adulthood.

The movie itself was a fascinating look at a very decadent society. It was shot in several very ornate British manor houses. Notably, on multiple occasions the camera had a fisheye lens effect, giving us wide shots when typically we'd get back-and-forth closeups. It was not your typical movie.

Also notable was the sexual relations. On several occasions, women were asked if they had been raped or discussed the threat of rape with all of the apparent concern one would show for a mild headache. It was quite striking. The Favourite is not an action movie, but very interesting indeed.

This entry was originally posted at https://chris-gerrib.dreamwidth.org/714418.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Chicken Vs. Steak

John Scalzi, in an annual tradition, posted his social media stats on his blog. Wily Coyote, International SuperGenius at Large, in an annual tradition, promptly posted his stats while mocking Scalzi's. To me, the whole thing looks like the owner of a fried-chicken restaurant arguing with the owner of a steak restaurant over who sold the most chicken dinners.

Scalzi Incorporated's primary revenue source is book sales. Books sold via traditional publishing outlets. The blog is a sideshow, much like the sole chicken dinner on the menu at your typical steak place. Wily Coyote's primary job is political advocacy. (That's being more polite then is perhaps necessary.) He needs the pageviews. Scalzi doesn't.

The whole thing does provide an opportunity for Wily Coyote to show his ass. Alas, there are many such opportunities and Wily misses few of them.

This entry was originally posted at https://chris-gerrib.dreamwidth.org/714228.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

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On Parking

I had occasion to go to a holiday lunch the other day near where I work. The lunch was held at a restaurant in Rosemont which was attached to a large office complex. I discovered that parking in Rosemont is worse than in downtown Chicago (the Loop, for non-locals).

The first reason is mass transit, or lack thereof. There are a lot of people who work in the Loop. Due to mass transit, most of them don't usually need a place to park. Not so in Rosemont, which is not mass-transit friendly. There everybody needs to drive.

The second reason is a corollary of the first. In the Loop, pretty much every parking garage is open to the public. One has to pay and sometimes a given lot fills up, but if you see a lot, you can usually get in. In Rosemont, the buildings have to offer free parking for the tenants. That means large parking structures that are only open to people with a key card.

No real profound thoughts here, just an observation.

This entry was originally posted at https://chris-gerrib.dreamwidth.org/713844.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

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Comment Policy

This is the personal blog of Chris Gerrib, and all opinions expressed here are solely his own. Commenters are welcome; however please be polite to me and my other readers. I reserve the right to delete comments that are rude, inappropriate or otherwise objectionable at my sole discretion. The opinions expressed in a comment are not necessarily mine, and if I do not delete a comment that should not be construed as my agreement with the commenter.

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