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the various and sundry creations of sylvus tarn

16jun2021

cropI was gonna post this one the 6th. Then the 12th. Now, the 16th. Whoops. Well, I have links, at least...

  • First up, via FTB, an absolutely appalling police tactic that sends their victims’ autos into an uncontrollable skid & then flips them onto their roofs. I can—just barely—imagine considering this horrific tactic on a driver who is endangering huge numbers of people; but the idea that any cop should persecute a speeder simply because she merely put on her flashers, slowed down, & moved to the right lane until she could exit (as recommended by her state) but didn't pull over to satisfy the cop's impatience is beyond heinous. (& I say this as someone who loathes speeders, especially ones that weave in and out of traffic.)
  • As a unicorn chaser, some outdoorsy type suggests that spending time outside every day 3x/week (say, a walk in your neighborhood), in a semi-natural environment...unh 5 hours a month in a park or hiking, and three days of off-the-grid type camping once a year to get that mental-calm from nature:) This sort of thing certainly improves my outlook on life, but I'm healthy, don't suffer from asthma or other conditions that would make rustic camping problematic; also on the debit side of the leger SAD responds really well to outdoor therapy. Appalling allergies, though, would kill the desire of anyone so afflicted during pollen season to be outdoors. Even so I do think most people like spending some time outside, and the more people who treasure those experiences, the greater the momentum for cherishing such spaces.
  • Well, this citizen scientist gets his outdoor time cataloging the 1200 and counting species in his yard; he was (justifiably) pretty chuffed to document one of those fancy peacock jumping spiders amongst his finds, which has become an all-consuming passion.
  • And why not? Nature is fascinating. Frex: turns out baby birds in the shell are listening to their parents’ incubation calls. And that it has an impact on their survival. (Dunno why anyone who's a parent would be surprised by this—our first, born in a hospital cried when anyone except her dad held her: if human babies recognize familiar voices, then why not birds, for whom calls are vitally important...?)
  • NYT has a list of 10 YA novels that looks pretty enticing.

Oh, and I have some gift-decorating.

2jun2021

cropWhile I was ruminating on a discussion? —yes, let's call it a discussion! of fanfic and what makes one a ‘real’ writer, I argued that I was a real artist because I make art.

At least one other person claimed to use whether the writer was traditionally published, i.e. professional, as the dividing line for ‘real’, and did that ever annoy me. Leaving aside plenty of professional writers are no longer traditionally published, leaving aside the fact that a lot traditionally published stuff is crap, using whether one is published & paid for it as a metric suuuuuuuucks, because it's deeply unfair.

Let's just take it as read that if you write about stuff of much greater interest to marginalized communities than rich white guys running the country topics that said guys think will make them a lot of money & don't offend them mainstream, it will be much harder to get published. Let alone being a member of a marginalized community, and just focus on the supposed quality.

Artists tend to be called ‘serious’, rather than professional, because so few of us make a living from our art, and because it's so painfully obvious that the correlation between making a living wage from one's art and making good art is weak, and in some cases negative (hence ‘sellouts’, often but not exclusively applied to musicians, but also the reason my fine art teachers didn't think of my college ambition to be a sf&f book cover illustrator.)

This is why we have the stereotype of ‘starving artists’.

Thus in my view, writers are real writers if they write and work hard at it. They're good writers, perhaps, if they don't take on the style of whatever fave they just read. (Can you guess which beloved and foundational romance author's first published work I've been comfort/analysis-reading that inspired that weird literary tic in the first para?)

Getting published? Not so much.

No-one's arguing, I don't think, that we don't have a firehose of text on the internet, or that 90% or more of it isn't crap. But that's always been true; and I realized, the reason this person's lazy metric for separating the sheep from the goats Why am I using this lazy metaphor? If anything, nowadays goats are more prized...and in any event the percentage of anybody personally familiar with eitheris tiny) good from bad.

This ties back with the larger argument of canon good, fanfic bad. Yet if my decade old experiences are anything to go by, the majority of fanfic isn't nearly as good as the original work on which it's based, but, oh, the exceptions to the rule! And in a general way, people plugging away in a medium, do build upon earlier works, and later ones improve. Thus we have, frex, PoC writing in the Cthulu mythos, with not only better writing, more developed characters, but vastly more appealing themes that incidentally interrogate Lovecraft's racism.

But I did start thinking about various disciplines’ terms for their practitioners. ‘Writer’ is a broad term, encompassing fiction and non, pro and amateur, everything from highly regarded Pulitzer prize-winners to the despised fan-ficcers and/or creators of erotica. The only alternative term that comes to mind is ‘word-smith’, which in my experience is applied to someone with particularly handsome prose—a nice turn of phrase (& generally isn't tied to professionalism).

Outdoor activities involving exercise (which is not precisely the same thing as sports) almost exclusively are pursued as hobbies—I'm a walker, hiker, cyclist, even a yogi (if not a very good one). A few cyclists are pros, but they're so uncommon they're called ‘pro cyclists’ —the hobbyist is, for these pursuits, the default. It doesn't even take very much to be an ‘avid’ cyclist—I'm slow and scared to death of mountain biking, but because I hop on that bike at least every week or so & am willing to ride in freezing temps, have been considered an ‘avid cyclist’, albeit not by people who actually ride bicycles:)

Similarly, you can be a passionate gardener, without making a living as a lawncare specialist or landscape designer. In fact most ‘passionate gardeners’ are amateurs and the guy person who mows your lawn is not usually considered to be much a gardener at all! Passionate foodies are sort of an interesting case, because if they're male and well-paid, they're chefs, though I guess some women are slowly gaining this title. But I wonder if the term ‘foodie’ came about so that passionate amateurs could have a term that didn't imply they made their living with food yet still had a great dedication.

(Cf with the old favourite, “she's a ‘good cook’.” Oh, the intersection between money, gender expectations and dedication embodied in that phrase...!) Interestingly enough, passionate bakers (traditionally women) may or may not be pros but because while almost everyone eats cooked food, & therefore has a real reason to get good at cooking without enjoying or necessarily being passionate about it, baking is a bit more optional. (As evidence I cite all those kitchens without proper ovens.)

In the textile world, you can be a real knitter or real crocheter or real embroiderer and those pursuits are generally considered to suck up cash, not yield it; but I notice the term ‘sewist’ has gradually been gaining steam, on parallel with seamstress, who may be highly skilled—or a badly underpaid woman person who is one cog in a huge factory cranking out fast fashion. Tailor, otoh, generally carries the connotation of a (usually) male who (usually) cuts, sews and shapes (usually) male clothing professionally. And is good at it.

So there are terms for which the default assumption is that you get paid, but they're generally fairly specific, whereas ‘writer’, like ‘artist’, is pretty darned broad.

Writers, to my mind, are like visual artists—shapers of text, rather than image: so if you write and consider yourself a writer, then you're a writer. I think dedication to the craft is far more important than how much money you make at it, particularly as we continue to move (too slowly!) to a post-capitalist society. Nobody gets to tell you different, especially not gatekeeping assholes folks too lazy—or lacking the courage of their convictions—to figure out themselves what good writing is (and defend their assertions.)

I do wonder whether a field is (or has been) traditionally male-dominated has something to do with this link between professional and ‘real’.

BTW, if there's any activity I personally use to distinguish “real” photographers from the ‘wanna-be's’, it's the willingness to throw images away, the subject of today's post.

31may2021

cropO hai, Happy A Good? Somber? Reflective? Memorial Day. I got to celebrate utter peace and quiet early this morning as I planted some new hostas given me by my bestie, moved a bunch of other hostas around & just generally enjoyed being all by myself:) since most of my immediate neighbors are out of town. (I actually have awesome neighbors, I just haven't the extraversion to appreciate ’em right now.) It seems entirely appropriate that today is also No-tobacco Day. —I'm so deeply grateful this toxic pollutant mostly no longer impinges upon my space. (Part of the reason I have the luxury of whinging about light and noise pollution instead.)

Memorial Day is nominally to honour those who died in wars; I think it was TaNehisi Coates who characterized the lived experience of Black people in the US as a 400 year long war, so it's entirely appropriate to note, as PZ Myers did, that today is the 100th anniversary of what until recently was called the ‘Tulsa Race Riots’ and is more properly known as the destruction of Black Tulsa.

Or, okay, a fallen peony.

28may2021

cropOh hi there, instead of making beads or taking advantage of this glorious weather to paint and/or draw the peonies, or even weed my own garden I'm...making web pages. (I dipped mandrels, though!)

Anyway, yes, another web page to serve as scaffolding for a link—specifically, I found out Hbomberguy made a new video! It's been awhile for him, but it's a nice long juicy one, on the order of an hour and a half. So, after doing two or three minor chores, watching this was how I spent my morning. It's long, entertainingly done, and appalling—I realized—not only from a global health perspective, but on a personal level as well.

Vaccine conspiracy theories, it turns out, generally are a few grifters wrecking an enormous amount of damage for (relatively) a very small amount of gain—I read somewhere that 65% of the lies about vaccines come down to just 12 people.

12. Twelve people. Untold worldwide suffering, so these assholes can gain followers, or sell their woo-based cures, or whatever. It's infuriating, and incredibly frustrating, because pulling their victims (many of whom don't even realize the ultimate source of this misinformation foul lies) out of conspiracy wells turns out to be extremely difficult. I wonder, for every penny they make, how much do they cost society? A hundred? A thousand? I wonder, did anyone ever try to quantify, say, how much tobacco costs us? (Tobacco being a relatively accepted example of the Big Lie, you see.) Versus how much profit they made? Something tells me the headaches and misery I suffered before smoking was mostly banned indoors was not accounted.

I'm well aware that these assholes don't propagate their crap by themselves—they're helped along by media companies wild for clicks, politicians desiring an easy way to gin up controversy, instead of educating—and swaying—the public on complex, difficult-to-solve (& generally expensive) issues. Perhaps one reason this particular video inspired me to devote my day to writing this is that it's about Andrew Wakefield, and it was one of his books the midwives gave me to persuade me out of vaccinating my children. The medical establishment did itself no favours during the birth of my first child (feeding it sugar water in despite the child clearly being labelled in the ‘breastfeed’ category is the example I feel comfortable disclosing) and as the first two tenets of the midwives were clearly superior to mainstream medical care[1] I'd experienced, I was prepared to go along with the third, which was not to vaccinate.

(Lay) Midwives—if my prior, vague stereotypes are any indication—tend to be considered either pig-ignorant evangelical types in prairie dresses or woo-addled crunchy-granola hippies, and in no case have any ideas about childbirth more modern than a century or more ago. —In point of fact, doctors made a point of wresting childbirth from women because it was such a cash cow for them.[2]

If my experience is anything to go by, lay midwives are very interested in using modern technology and medicine to track the health of their patients, and why wouldn't they be, since their goal is healthy babies and happy moms; mine almost certainly saved me from my greatest birth fear, a c-section (& hurrah for modern medicine, that it wasn't death—from exhaustion, hemorrage, childbed fever...), not to mention the intensely alienating environment of hospital birth. (Mostly.) But in addition to natural childbirth and excellent support for breastfeeding, the midwives, for all their knowledge of birth, were primed by the unnecessary interventions by traditional obstetric practise to be deeply suspicious of vaccines, which is how they ended up promoting a dangerous quack (as in, lost his medical license) Andrew Wakefield.

Between my spouse's mother's over-reliance on doctors to cope with childhood allergies, my suspicions of the hospital, especially its billing practises (which, frex, charged—like $50 or $100 for a simple acetaminophen, that I never swallowed) and the midwives’ urging to forgo vaccination, I did so, for about the first decade of my kids’ lives. I was never afraid of autism, but I did wonder about allergies—would all those multiple vaccines be too hard on the kids’ immune systems? They were so undeveloped!

As it turns out, your immune system fights off hundreds of assaults every day, and so MMR vaccines are not a problem. Eventually Wakefield was discredited, I managed to find some info that went into a little more detail than ‘vaccines are perfectly safe!’, particularly with regard to their mechanisms, and the kids got their shots, luckily having dodged the bullet of some truly nasty childhood diseases. But—spoiler for HBomberguy's video! —while I do think the increased transparency over vaccines is one good thing that's come out of what should've been a non-controversy, the fact of the matter is that Wakefield and his appalling buddy were hoping to make money of their efforts to discredit the MMR vaccines.

Lots and lots and lots. Like, millions.

They failed, but have cost billions from covid alone. Wakefield's plan of selling a new (& more expensive) version of the MMR vaccines latched onto people's (in some cases, very justified) fears of doctors in general and Big Pharma in particular, which then took off, morphing into and then ramping up anti-vax sentiment to appalling levels. I won't even get into the misery of lives lost, health destroyed, resources wasted.

All those things are terrible.

But what personally galls me is the effect this charlatan had on home birth, already a beleaguered minority: when my kids were born, I read somewhere that 1 in 10,000 births were assisted by a lay midwife; the CDC puts that number closer to 3 a 1000, but the fact of the matter is that, on average, less than 1% of babies are born at home in the USA, despite its being safer. Round about the time I had my kids, there was hope amongst the homebirth community that it might take off, say, as in Europe. But that hope fizzled; it rebounded a little but it's still only two-thirds of one percent overall.

Certainly powerful lobbies making it legally difficult for lay midwives to practise is a large part of its unpopularity; to be sure, even if promulgated rather than discouraged, likely many, perhaps most, women would opt out of having their babies at home, as unmedicated childbirth is not a particularly painless experience. But it certainly can't help the home-birth movement to be identified with a dangerous practise, such as failing to vaccinate one's child.

There is another reason the anti-vaxxers really annoy me: lyme disease. Animals are vaccinated for it, but the vaccine for people was withdrawn mostly due to the effort of anti-vaxxers. Well, as a midwesterner with a love of camping, this is a real problem, because now constant worries of ticks has become part of my camping experience. In fact, there are so many deer just in the neighborhood in which today's pix were taken that, if I'm lucky, I quite often intersperse photos of deer with the flowers. —Sure, that vaccine had some risks, but I never even heard about it, let alone got the chance to decide whether I wanted it regardless.

Like HBomberGuy, I've no magic methods for getting people to reject conspiracy theories such as anti-vax. Some of the laughably outlandish versions, such as microchips (the tiniest 2 nanometer chip is still the size of a small fingernail) but reflect fears about surveillance (which I share). It's not much fun to realize that one's devices are indeed tracking you, but I imagine it's easier to reject a vaccine once, especially if you lived in a sparsely populated area, than choose, every day, over and over again, to allow your phone or web browser to know your every click. (Insert a plug for Duckduckgo here, but that doesn't stop the sites you visit from tracking you, even if Google or the like isn't aggregating all that data...) Never mind every financial transaction you make, unless it's paid with cash and for a trivial sum.

In my case, the discrediting of Wakefield contributed to my wending my way out of the anti-vaccination maze; but I never lost my faith in science and medicine completely, which I expect made my journey less convoluted. So once I was able to find some decent essays on actual risks (there are some, just like there are in getting colonoscopies [crucial for my continued existence, btw] or hopping into a car, which is probably the single most dangerous thing I do, after walking across 5 lane roads) I was good to go.

I will admit, given my deep suspicion of the prior administration I was concerned corners would be cut for the COVID vaccine(s). By the time they were available to me, millions of other people had already gotten their shots, including a health-care-related sibling, with no ill effects, thus obviating my concerns. Hearing about a podcast that went into a deep dive on the vaccines—even if I didn't listen to it—was also reassuring. Science News and other orgs have gone to some trouble to explain how these vaccines work (& incidentally why creating them is a good deal more complex than I'd realized.)

Yet I have another sibling, an engineer, a bright, college educated guy, who had the same exposure to critical thinking at my parents’ dinner table I did, and who's decided not to get the shot. I think about my friend with MS, for whom it's useless (she's got no B cells to develop an immune response) or the vaccine resistant variants sprouting up in the western part of the country, and am frustrated with this recalcitrance. Yet...eventually, my feelings re-aligned with good sense, and if a lie travels halfway round the world before the truth gets its boots on, still, reality does slowly make inroads.

I don't suppose, out of the tiny percentage of people that read this blog, that it's likely any made it this far, but if you have, clearly you've patience, so let me once again recommend HBomber's video, (which is far more entertaining than my blathering, not to mention, yanno, more convincing); plus, I would be remiss not to mention Mr. Deer's book, The Doctor Who Fooled the World, that provided so much of the source material.

Or you check out some red, pink & white pix taken with my new camera.

[1]Home birth and breast feeding, with the caveat that no mom should ever be coerced or shamed into either.

[2]I don't know that this is the history I read, for it's been 2–3 decades after all—and perhaps this newer volume might be better —but it looks right, and I certainly read at least one history, if not more, about the changing demographics of home birth versus hospitalized over the years.

24may2021

cropI think it would be ever so much better (yes, I've been reading Jane-Austen-inspired stuff...) to jump out of bed and joyfully pursue some interesting activity, rather than rely upon such crutches as, well, if I wanna preserve my steak, I gotta do Japanese, or if I wanna get rid of all these tabs, I should make a web page and dump them...

Something is deeply wrong with me.

But, about those links...

  • The money quote from this article about a famous bank would be "Pictet long managed to achieve a return on equity above 40%, a number that's unheard of for any modern bank. While the figure has come down to between 16% and 21% in the past half decade, it's still a cut above UBS, Credit Suisse and Julius Baer." Not only do billionaires (the sort that patronize Pictet) have lots more money, their money grows far faster the S&P500 rate of roughly 10% let alone 4–6% a ‘typical’ investor, after paying fees, taxes and the like, is said to have available to them. The wealthy can afford to pay their share!
  • Fierce meditation might be an antidote (NYTlink) to this sort of injustice.
  • Geometry is cool. S'pose I ought to pick this book about it up...
  • Probaby posted this list of ‘25 educational podcasts!’ before, but I'm familiar with some of them, and it looks like a good roundup.
  • via WHTM an hour-plus lecture on Polari a language of UK gay men. (I couldn't help wondering, but what about gay women?)
  • Also via that mammoth link, Jane Austen & slavery. I was aware of some of this, and of course this is emphasized in a recent(1) adaptation of Mansfield Park. (the one with the spiritual in the opening) but this essay has a bit more detail.
  • To wind up, here's a charming sculptural zoetrope of the catbus from Studio Ghibli's classic My Neighbor Totoro.

Oh, and some photos of dogwood flowers (fer real!) to hang the list on;)


(1)“Recent” being over two decades ago...

10may2021

cropFor those of you into Mother's Day, trusting you had a good one. I spent most of mine something-something trying to get this silly badge for Duolingo. But even with my crappy gamification attitude, I do feel I'm getting a bit of a feel for Japanese.

After a year of no travel we finally did a little camping trip, successful enough that at least one more is being planned. (IOW, there will be more pix of spring ephemerals, plus of course the usual suspects from the garden.) So I could hardly miss posting this heartwarming story of a woman who did a 3 month winter hike. Considering that the most I ever did along those lines was three days, before I even married, I'm pretty impressed.

But I consider the opportunity even to do the much-easier car camping a gift. Speaking of which, that's the theme for today's page.