delphipsmith: (damnsnow)
It's snowing again still. Argh.
delphipsmith: (McBadass)
If you like yogurt, and if your store carries a brand from New York called Chobani, please consider buying it.

The owner is a Turkish immigrant, Mr. Ulukaya. He bought a defunct yogurt factory in central New York a few years back, revived it using a yogurt recipe from his homeland, and it's now a billion-dollar business with a second location in Twin Falls, ID. He's instituted profit sharing for his employees, gives paid paternity leave, has created more than 2,000 jobs, and keeps dozens of New York dairy farmers in business because he buys as much milk as they can produce. He actively employs legal immigrants who have been resettled in the area, recently founded the Tent Foundation which works to help immigrants find work (so, y'know, they can pay taxes!), and spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on how corporations can help with the refugee crisis.

So: A hardworking immigrant achieves the American Dream, creates thousands of jobs, treats his employees generously, does his bit to help solve a serious world crisis, and is "walking the walk" about turning immigrants into productive tax-paying citizens. Sounds like the right wing's dream guy, right?

Nope. Breitbart and others in the far-right conspiracy-sphere are spreading lies about the company, suggesting a boycott of the product, and encouraging death threats against Mr. Ulukaya personally.

I'm really starting to believe that there is a small but loud segment of the far right that is quite literally insane.

God I can't wait for this election to be over. Every single particle of it has depressed me unutterably.
delphipsmith: (weeping angel)
Evil like this just breaks my heart. Pathetic that in something like ten thousand years of so-called civilization, homo sapiens hasn't managed to master the very simple concept of "Live and let live." If any of you are in Paris, I hope you and yours are well and safe.
delphipsmith: (despicable)
A group of authors have banded together to petition the Department of Justice to investigate Amazon and its stifling of competition in the market for both physical and e-books. I'm very glad to see this and I hope it leads to action on the part of the DoJ.

The letter says, among other things:

In recent years, Amazon has used its dominance in ways that we believe harm the interests of America's readers, impoverish the book industry as a whole, damage the careers of (and generate fear among) many authors, and impede the free flow of ideas in our society.

The statistics they cite are pretty stunning: Amazon now controls the sale of more than 75% of online sales of physical books, more than 65% of e-book sales, more than 40% of sales of new books, and 85% of ebook sales of self-published authors.

It's more than a little worrisome that one single corporation has that much say over what is easily available to the general public. Not to mention their detrimental effect on small independent booksellers, who throughout history have been far more sensitive and responsive to local and non-mainstream interests. When the giant gorilla in the room only offers you best-sellers while sitting on and squashing everyone else, it's a little bothersome. Not to mention the fact that Jeff Bezos has admitted in so many words that he doesn't give a rat's ass about books; all those books are loss leaders to Amazon who just uses/sells the data thus gathered. As the longer version of the letter puts it:

The idea that Amazon would intentionally use its power in a way that vitiates the book industry strikes many Americans as counterintuitive, much like choosing to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. But Amazon's goal has never been to sell only books. On the contrary, Amazon executives from the first spoke of their intent to build what they called "the everything store." Amazon analyzed twenty product categories before choosing books as the company's debut "commodity."

The letter goes on to put the situation in historical context with the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment, anti-trust laws going back to the 1866 Telegraph Act preventing a monopoly of that particular brand-new information highway, and the recent FCC Net Neutrality rulings.

While Amazon contends that its goal is to serve consumers by eliminating middlemen in publishing (which it calls the "gatekeepers"), Amazon's executives have also made clear they intend to make Amazon itself the sole gatekeeper in this industry. But what's at stake here is not merely monopoly control of a commodity; what is at stake is whether we allow one of the nation's most important marketplaces of information to be dominated and supervised by a single corporation...The conviction that antitrust law plays a vital role in protecting freedom of expression continues to this day. Justice Anthony Kennedy, in the Turner Broadcasting case, wrote, "Assuring that the public has access to a multiplicity of information sources is a governmental purpose of the highest order, for it promotes values central to the First Amendment," and that, "[t]he First Amendment's command that government not impede the freedom of speech does not disable the government from taking steps to ensure that private interests not restrict, through physical control of a critical pathway of communication, the free flow of information and ideas."

So for myself, I'm boycotting Amazon and any possible way they might make money off me, including all their brands and subsidiaries. I'll still use abebooks.com to find used books, but I'll go straight to the seller and buy direct from them so Amazon doesn't get a cut. I'll still use goodreads (because damn it, I was there BEFORE the behemoth ate them) but I won't use any of their links to buy anything.

Now I just have to talk Mr Psmith out of renewing his Amazon Prime membership and get him to drop his Amazon credit card...
delphipsmith: (weeping angel)
I stumbled across a fic on AO3 tonight that I simply must rec. It's dark, very dark, but oh so terrifyingly credible. Every action of every person in this story is entirely in character, and if the HP books had been written for adults instead of children, this or something very like it would surely have happened. The story isn't long but it's powerful, and will make you weep for every single person involved as they fall -- or step willingly -- into the darkness.

Title: Paterfamilias
Author: Miggy, Phoebe (Emeraldwoman)
Word count: 3929
Warnings: fairly explicit violence, especially the final few lines
Summary: Arthur Weasley discovers that no matter how limited the choices, the cost of using the enemy's techniques is too high.

When he was just an infant, Fred became very sick and could
barely breathe for how clogged his lungs were. Arthur had
watched him all through the night, convinced his son couldn't
die so long as he kept his fatherly gaze trained on the crib.
As he watches the son of a hated enemy cling to life, he
realizes only one word in that label matters...
delphipsmith: (books)
Her Fearful SymmetryI liked Her Fearful Symmetry quite a bit. It was unexpected in a lot of ways, constantly surprising me by going in directions I did not anticipate, and presenting me with complicated situations and emotions that challenged me to think about things differently. The turn towards darkness was so gradual that I didn't even notice it until all of a sudden I found myself in the midst of the horrifying stuff -- like when the sun starts to go down and it's late afternoon for what seems like hours, and then suddenly it's night.

The Favor of KingsWritten in 1912, The Favor of Kings is possibly the earliest novelization of the life of Anne Boleyn, ill-fated second wife of Henry VIII. Bradley's Anne is passionate and lively but also young and headstrong and proud. She initially enters into her relationship with Henry partly out of awe for THE KING! and partly out of a hot desire to revenge herself on those who have insulted and hurt her, seeing him as her path to power at court. She does so with a certain innocence about his character, without fully understanding the consequences, and once in she has no idea how to extricate herself. Once she has begun, she has no choice but to see it through. In this she is probably closer to the real Anne than many later incarnations, which attempt to turn her into either a scheming witch or a religious reformer. (As a side note, the author is the mother of noted science fiction author James Tiptree / Alice Sheldon.)

Tours of the Black ClockI think I liked Tours of the Black Clock, but I'm not at all sure that I understood it. The writing is compelling, almost hypnotic -- I found it difficult to put down -- but I always felt as if the actual meaning was hidden just around the next corner. Or as if the true meaning had trickled out of the sentences just before I got there, leaving only enough shape to hint (or misdirect?) as to what was going on. Mulholland Drive meets Jorge Luis Borges meets The Guns of the South?

This is a story about...well, I'm not just sure. It's about Geli Raubal (but not the real one). It's about Dania, a woman who isn't Geli Raubal (except sort of, in someone else's head). It's about Banning Jainlight, who is in love with Dania (or maybe he just invents her). It's about Jainlight's pornographic stories about Dania (or maybe they're true stories of his love affair with her). It's about "the most evil man in the world," i.e. Hitler, who is obsessed with Jainlight's porn about Dania because in his head it's about Geli Raubal, (and who ends up a sad, pathetic, senile old man). It's about Marc, the son of Hitler and Dania, or maybe Jainlight and Dania, or maybe just Dania herself (or maybe he's fictional too).

All these people cross back and forth between realities, or maybe between reality and unreality, in a weird braiding of time and space. Some of them seem to have doppelgangers, or alternate versions of themselves, like Jainlight/Blaine, or Dania/Geli; sometimes their worlds intersect or bleed into one another; sometimes one is the other's dream. It's never clear what's real and what isn't. The most extreme example may be the silver buffalo, which you'd think pretty much have to be a metaphor since they come perpetually pouring out of a black cave and some people can't even see them, but yet they're substantial enough to trample Dania's mother to death in Africa and rampage through the streets of Davenhall Island off the coast of Washington state. Are they the hours and minutes of one reality pouring out into another?

But the book is also about love and hate and cruelty and pity and obsession and fear and loneliness and forgiveness and good and evil. The main character, Jainlight, refers to Hitler as the most evil man in the world, and about himself and occasionally the entire twentieth century as irredeemably evil, but I ended up thinking that this book is much more about the redemptive power of love/forgiveness, although it's sort of tucked into the corners of the story as it were. I don't know what Erickson's intent was, but I ended up feeling desperately sad for every single person in this story, even crazy senile pathetic old man Hitler.

If all of this makes it sound like the book is strange and puzzling and perhaps unsettling, that's good because it is. Don't let that stop you from reading it. But don't expect a straightforward narrative: it's more like a spiral or a double helix or one of those complicated Spirograph patterns.

(NB: I have to admit the metaphor of the "black clock" was entirely lost on me -- no idea what that was meant to be about. Why black? Why a clock? What is this about numbers falling? Why is Marc listening for ticking icebergs at the end??)
delphipsmith: (weeping angel)
The AccursedThe New York Times said, "Some novels are almost impossible to review, either because they’re deeply ambiguous or because they contain big surprises the reviewer doesn’t wish to give away."

I'm not so sure about the surprises -- other than one particular thing near the end, it wasn't too difficult to see what was coming, although some of the events were decorated with surprising details. However, there's no question about the ambiguity. (Which strikes me as a rather oxymoronic thing to say, but there you go.) Even after the last page, one still isn't quite sure what happened and what only seemed to have happened.

I have a love/hate relationship with Oates. I've read very few of her books -- more of her short stories -- because almost every one I've read has left me deeply uneasy. I read "Where are you going, where have you been" five years ago, and just remembering it still creeps me out to this day. Obviously this is the mark of a skilled writer, but I don't generally choose my books for the purpose of psychically scarring myself. In addition, she has a tendency to focus on the dark side, and as a result it's often difficult to like any of the characters in her novels. They're just not very nice people, many of them.

This book has many of the elements I love, though, so I thought I'd give it a shot. First and foremost, it's a purported history, replete with excerpts from letters, diaries (including coded ones!), newspaper articles, transcribed eyewitness accounts, and a boatload of historical detail intermixed with straight narrative. Oates does an excellent job creating the very different voices of the writers of these various "primary sources" -- I particularly enjoyed the semi-coherent ramblings of the neurotic Adelaide Burr, who refers to herself as "Puss," reads Madame Blavatsky in secret, and has some serious issues with sex. The narrator himself, one M. W. van Dyck, is great fun, an unreliable raconteur prone to digress into irrelevancies (the history of corsets, the minutiae of Princeton politics) at the drop of a hat. Like all too many writers, he clearly wanted to jam every single bit of his research into his book; in fact, he spends several paragraphs listing all the things he had to leave out.

Second, the story is intricately woven into actual history through the use of real people (Upton Sinclair, Woodrow Wilson, Grover Cleveland, Jack London, various faculty at Princeton University), places (Princeton University, New York City) and events of the times (Socialists, anarchists, etc.). None of them are particularly pleasant people, but they are real.

Third, it's got solid Victorian gothic chops: a demon bridegroom, huge grand homes, a beautiful innocent young girl, a vicar with a secret, a competition with the devil (or possibly just a minor demon, it's hard to say), an exotic and mysterious European nobleman, murder, suicide, madness and more. All that and a surprisingly high body count. (Like the House of Usher, the doomed Slades don't seem to have much of a future, although that too is ambiguous.)

On the down side, most of the characters aren't very likable and the supernatural parts end up playing second fiddle to the real villains: the upper classes, who can't be bothered to speak out against racism, prejudice, poverty, hideous working conditions, the second-class treatment of women, and other societal ills (although the narrator himself doesn't seem to even notice this, which is kind of amusing).

And it's very, very long.

So be patient, Constant Reader, and expect to enjoy the journey as much as -- perhaps more than -- the destination.
delphipsmith: (all shall be well)
The Ocean at the End of the LaneHow do you do this in only 178 pages, Neil? How?? How???

You know how there are some books that, when you finish them, you don't want to start another one, at least not right away? You don't want the experience you've just had to be overwritten, or diluted; instead you want to cherish it for a little longer. Let it steep, as it were.

This is that sort of book.

The main character is a child, but this is not a children's book, not by a long shot. A healthy dollop of myth, a bit of poetry, a glimpse or two of deep mystery, frosted with horror and seasoned with that pure intensity of emotion that's hard to recapture outside of childhood...

Oh, just go read it, will you? Preferably now, and in one sitting. It's brilliant.
delphipsmith: (waka waka bang splat)
So I'm sure everyone is aware of the kerfuffle over the NSA logging phone numbers, call durations, email, chat, etc., yes?  Today I went to view a document I needed to review that was posted on Google Docs, and I see this:

googlewarn

Has anyone else ever seen this message?  I've been looking at/working with files on Google Docs for the last 18 months or so due to a couple of international committees I'm on, and I don't recall ever seeing this before. Coincidence?  I THINK NOT... (cue ominous music)

In other news, our kitchen remodel is done -- new countertops! new cabinets!! freshly polished/finished floors!!! -- so I can start cooking again, and we can have proper popcorn instead of Boom Chicka Pop out of a bag (it's very tasty, but it doesn't beat the hot fresh popped item).  So yay for all that.  Also we get to go behind-the-scenes with wolves on Thursday at the zoo (v. cool).  Ooh, and the first trailer for the next installation of The Hobbit is out, complete with Mirkwood, a red-haired elf, and SMAUG'S HEAD! Yesssss...  I'm selfishly pleased that it's coming out in December, as that will distract me from my annual Christmas "Why are there no more Harry Potter movies?" mopage/whinage.  We likes it, precious, yes we do :)
delphipsmith: (PIcard face-palm)
I'm all for freedom of speech, but sometimes there are statements that just go beyond the pale -- see for example this, this, and this, and that's just within the last five years (and doesn't include the Rape Nuts from the last election cycle).

Here's the latest installment: A regional media relations director for the Salvation Army apparently interprets Romans 1:18-32 very, very, very, very literally:

Ryan: According to the Salvation Army, [gay people] deserve death. How do you respond to that, as part of your doctrine?

Craibe: Well, that’s a part of our belief system.

This makes me want to write a sternly worded note, make a hundred copies, and drop that in their little red kettles instead of cash. Or, you know, take a baseball bat to them. Not to the nice people who ring the bells, of course, because I think they're all hired at minimum wage to do so (at least if the totally bored guy I saw outside Price Chopper is any example), but to the little red kettles.

Of course the official Salvation Army folks are trying to backpedal, but they're having trouble since (like the Boy Scouts) they have a documented history of being anti-any-lifestyle-that-isn't-hetero-nuclear-family. Now, I'm not a Christian and highly unlikely ever to become one, but any Jesus who would have the remotest chance of getting my support would have nothing to do with such bigoted horrible nonsense.

One has to wonder why He doesn't come back and correct this sort of faulty thinking. If I were him I'd be seriously vexed at the misuse of My brand.
delphipsmith: (seriously pissed)
Yet another legislative body embarks on a shameful and incomprehensible endeavor to seize control of every uterus in their state, and not even let women talk about it. Seriously, what IS it with you people?? And I ask this in all sincerity, because it really does baffle me. (For "baffle" read "annoy the f**k out of".)

Wil Wheaton has issued some satirical and amusing tweets on the topic, however. Best ones:

Wil Wheaton ‏@wilw: My goodness, @MIHouseGOP! I encountered a woman who was not in the kitchen. I was so horrified, I dropped my monocle, for Pete's sake!

Wil Wheaton ‏@wilw: A woman I know was all, "I have an opinion about my reproductive health." How do I get her to cut that out? Help me, @MIHouseGOP! #vagina

All things considered, today seems a good day to share this:

delphipsmith: (magick)
We attempted two unusual movies over the weekend. One was an utter failure and the other a rousing success. The first was Stalker (warning: link has spoilers), a subtitled (strike 1) 1970s (strike 2) Russian sci-fi flick which appeared from it sepia tones to have been filmed in the 1940s (strike 3) and which had not a single line of dialog for the first ten minutes (Yer out!!). The premise ("an expedition led by the Stalker to bring his two clients to a site known as the Zone, which has the supposed potential to fulfill a person's innermost desires") sounded intriguing but the execution left a lot to be desired. Plus we weren't in a subtitley mood, so after 15 minutes we called the game on account of "Meh."

The second, however, was intriguing and I highly recommend it. It's called Ink, and came out in 2009. Visually it's unusual and striking -- overexposed in parts, strange fades in and out, abrupt scene shifts back and forth in time, and events are rather subtle in that you have to be patient but also pay close attention to comprehend events. Very much like a dream, which is apt since the story is about two factions, one group that brings good dreams and another that brings nightmares. The story concerns a little girl who is kidnapped by the scrofulous raggedy-robed Ink, who intends to give her as payment to a mysterious group known as The Assembly (they're the ones that bring nightmares), in exchange for beauty, wealth and happiness.

There are also Storytellers and Pathfinders -- one of the best scenes is one in which the Pathfinder "conducts" a series of coincidences to create the situation they need. They travel by means of doors, which they open by playing rhythms on small drums. And the child who plays the little girl is extraordinary: both adorable and fierce, like a tiny Gryffindor.

There's a psychological element to the movie as well, because what's happening in the real world and the dream world interact and affect each other. I don't want to say to much more for fear of spoiling it, but it's a wonderful and thought-provoking movie. (As you might guess, it never made the mainstream theatres but played the art house and film festival circuit.)

Anyway, I highly recommend it. It's not a traditional movie where the storyline is blatantly obvious, but it's well worth the time and patience to experience it.
delphipsmith: (kaboom)
There are no words for how behind I am with so many things, as anyone might guess from the fact that I've only posted three times this month. Gaaah. Editing a 300+ page scholarly monograph on Freemasonry in your spare time can do that to you.

But at last, at last, here I am with my next installment in the 100 Things Challenge. Yay!

The reptilian hindbrain, also sometimes called the "lizard brain," is pop culture slang for the most primitive part of the brain, the part just slightly more evolved than the autonomous functions like breathing. Its proper name is Rhombencephalon, and according to Wikipedia "it has been suggested that the hindbrain first evolved...between 570 and 555 million years ago."

But this surprise, which I experienced when I was about ten years old but still remember like it was yesterday, has nothing to do with where the hindbrain came from and everything to do with the fact that it's still in there, sulking at its superfluity, waiting to pounce and take over in certain circumstances.

My brother is five years younger than me, and when we were kids we had developed mad skillz at pushing each others' buttons. One evening when I was about ten, he did something -- I don't recall what -- that sent me into quite literally a blind rage. I was so furious I was incoherent; I distinctly recall that I felt like I had lost the power of speech, as well as all control over my actions. We were downstairs at the time, and I remember hurtling up the stairs, slamming into his room (a MAJOR breach of protocol: personal space was a very big priority in my family and you DID NOT enter someone else's room without permission)...I ran to his dresser, ripped the drawers open, grabbed handfuls of stuff, anything, whatever I could get my hands on, threw it left, right, up, down, hurling it about the room until it was festooned with socks and underwear. I felt like a passenger in my own head, like my rage had become a physical thing that had taken possession of me. And side by side with the red berserker frenzy was this astonishment: What the heck is going on? What is this??

I remember that my brother and my mom had followed me upstairs and stood in the doorway staring, open-mouthed in awe at my tiny whirling vortex of fury. (I was a very small ten year old.)

Later, my mom told me she was proud of me that instead of beating my brother to a pulp, I'd turned my rage on something inanimate, not to mention squashy and damage-free (socks = harmless). Looking back, yeah, as a mom I too would probably have taken that as a good sign. At the time, though, had I known who the Incredible Hulk was then, I'm sure I would have identified with him (sans the purple shorts).

That particular part of the hindbrain never showed itself to me again (though I caught a glimpse of its red-and-black hide once, years later, when my college boyfriend smugly opined that it was fine for him to have slept around in high school but that girls ought to be virgins...but that's another story, and it wasn't really a surprise LOL!). But I've never forgotten my amazement at this hitherto unsuspected capability lurking inside me, and my astonishment at the power of this most basic of hindbrain emotions.
delphipsmith: (classic quill)

The Magician King
Finished Lev Grossman's The Magician King, sequel to The Magicians. Holy freakin' gods (almost literally). I think I barely breathed through the last 50 pages.

Sometimes sequels live up to their predecessor. Very rarely they are better. Almost never are they exponentially better, managing to not only be awesome in their own right but also actually go back in your head and make the first one better retroactively.

This one did. It's dark, intriguing, brilliant, horrifying, sad, joyful, grim, seductive...a little bit of everything in just the right mixture. To quote another of my favorite books: It has "fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles..." It also has heroes, gods, dryads, sex, cruelty, lies, fear, true friendship, justice, mercy and death (real death, not the fake fantasy kind). Anything I could say about it wouldn't do it justice, so just go read it.
delphipsmith: (gumbies)
I have the song "Go Tell Aunt Rhody" stuck in my head. This is oh-so-very-wrong. And bad. Last time it was there it took me a week and a bottle of Bunratty Mead to get it out. Spouse has helpfully sung "Every rose has its thorn" at me but no joy yet. Suggestions?
delphipsmith: (WaitWhat)
My LJ theme looks like I shop at Borgin & Burkes LOL!!

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