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Riverdale: A Meandering Review

I've been watching RIVERDALE.  I want to know how they managed to negotiate this with the owners of Archie Comics, really.  The show is dark and moody and focuses quite a lot on the sex lives of the characters, quite the opposite of the original comic, which pretended no one had heard of sex.  I'm trying to imagine how they got that past the licensor.  "So yeah--in this awesomely cool update for TV, Archie is a hot teen who's sleeping with his music teacher.  One of his classmates is murdered over the summer, and Arch gets dragged into it because he was a sort-of witness, right?  Meanwhile, Betty is trying to please her perfectionist mom and Veronica gets into a queen bee bitch war with another girl at school.  And Moose is trying to get into Kevin's pants.  Whattaya think?"

At any rate, the show is "shut your brain off" interesting.  The overarcing plot is that last summer, one of the Riverdale teens died in suspicious circumstances, and lots of people have Dark Secrets about it--and other things.  Like any CW show, this one displays generous eye candy of both sexes.  A sweaty, abbed-up Archie takes his shirt off at least once per episode, and cheerleaders bounce about like lingerie-covered rubber balls.  Something for everyone!  It's kind of fun to watch the show, with a certain amount of self-awareness, wrestle cartoon characters into a semblance of reality, while at the same time it uses bright colors and garish sets to remind us that this =is= still an outlandish cartoon.  It's a soap opera in the mold of DALLAS and FALCON CREST, but set in a high school.

I do have trouble watching chunks of it.  Hollywood just can't bring itself to get high school right.  I know it's a TV show and reality sometimes must be glossed over for the sake of the story, but so many details DON'T need to be glossed over, and when they're wrong, they remind us we're watching a TV show and yank us out of the story.  For example:

--The cheerleading squad tryouts. Where was the cheerleading coach?  Cheryl (Miss Queen Bee) runs the entire thing and railroads our poor Betty and Veronica, but this simply isn't how it works.  Ever.  The coach runs the tryouts and decides who's on the team, not the cheerleaders.

--Queen Bee Cheryl wears too much makeup.  I know she's supposed to be a mega-bitch, and her mouth--the source of her power--is highlighted by four pounds of lipstick, but I'm gonna tell ya that any female who showed up to school wearing that much makeup would be ostracized by the very girls she's trying to control.

--This one shows up in every TV show and movie: bells.  THERE ARE NO BELLS IN SCHOOL.  Schools use computer tones to dismiss class.  That brrrrrrrinnnnggg bell hasn't been used in thirty years.  But Hollywood uses it in every single school setting ever.  I don't know why.

--PA mics.  Schools these days have long, long ago dispensed with the microphone on a stand in the principal's office to address the school.  The PA system is hooked through the phone system so that the secretaries and parapros can call for students, too.  Showing the principal making a PA announcement with a stand mic is like showing someone driving to school in a Model T.

--Blackboards and chalk.  These have vanished from all but the absolute destitute of schools.  They've been replaced with white boards and markers.  In many places, we have Smart Boards.  Chalk is as dead as carbeurators.  Does Hollywood figure chalk, PA mics, and bells are some kind of setting shortcut that tell us we're in school?  If so, they're failing at it--the generation these shows aim at have never seen a chalkboard, heard a bell, or listened to a PA mic in their lives.

--Cheerleader moves.  Cheerleaders don't bump and grind and move like pole dancers.  They also wear skirts long enough to cover their asses.  (At least the ones in RIVERDALE don't show cleavage, like some shows I could mention.)  Put a sixteen-year-old into a Hollywood cheerleader outfit and have her grind her hips or look like she's screwing her poms, and you'll have five dozen screaming parents on the phone within ten minutes.

When I can shut my brain off long enough to ignore the above, however, RIVERDALE is an interesting watch.

And hey!  We have a gay-couple-in-training.  More on them later...

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Masques Cover

My story "Sight Unseen" will appear in the next Darkover anthology: Masques of Darkover. And here we have a really awesome cover:



The anthology comes out May 2, 2017.

Books I'll Stop Reading

I've actually run out of stuff to read.

I know, right?

So I'm auditioning books.  It's kind of frustrating, to tell the truth.  My standards on books have gone way, way up.  Anything that doesn't absolutely enthrall me, I toss aside, and when you write novels, enthrallment is difficult--you know the tricks, and even the slightest authorial quirks quickly get under your skin.

I've been searching for some nice reading, but a number of honking big red flags on the cover copy of a book will send me running.  I've learned from experience these books will not appeal to me and chances are, they'll be poorly-written to boot.  Some samplings:

"Now that Barabara's husband of twenty years just dumped her . . . " Nope.  Not interested in whiny protagonists, even if they reform later.

"In this breathless, poetic novel . . . " This book has no plot and the sentences are unreadable.  Run!

"Comes to a heart-wrenching and tragic . . . "  No.  I have enough tragedy in my real life.  I don't need it in my fiction. You, of course, are welcome to have your innards stomped on all you like, but leave me out of it.

"National Book Award Winner . . . " Translation: a judge decided "unreadable, purple prose = great literature."  Pass.  (Yes, some NBA winers are worth reading. I've read exactly one. The rest were awful.  So I've stopped.)

"Told in lilting . . . " No way.  See "poetic" above.

And any cover that has two shirtless men on it makes me shake my head.  I WANT fiction with a gay protagonist, but I can't stand I'M GAY FOR HIM! OUR LOVE IS THE CENTER OF THE BOOK! gay fiction.  Especially when it's always--ALWAYS--so badly written.  I've read maybe fifteen or twenty shirtless-men-on-the-cover books, hoping for something cool, and every single one has been a disappointment.  So I've quit.  Some of my friends have tried pointing me toward this or that author with shirtless men, and on the rare occasions I've given in to my better instincts and read their recommendations, I end up wondering what the hell kind of literary tastes my friends have.  (Yes, I know about Josh Lanyon.  Reading his books is like eating cereal made of shredded cardboard laced wtih broken glass, and why in hell he's so popular, I don't understand.)

This makes book shopping difficult.  I'm trying to find good books with a gay protagonist in which the main plot DOESN'T revolve around the main character being gay.  I want a spy thriller in which the main character dodges bad guys, then goes to his boyfriend for help; or a medical book in which an ER doctor saves lives, then goes home to his husband; or a small town story in which the local librarian handles whacky patrons with outrageous requests, and falls in love with one of them while trying to save the beloved library's funding.  Or something.  And I want them to be well-written, with riveting plots that make sense, dynamic, empathetic characters, and fascinating settings.  Is that too much to ask?

Poker Night

Saturday we had Poker Night.  It was battle royale.  Chips rushed across the table in waves, and no one seemed inclined to drop out.

At one point I was dealt two queens, and a third queen showed up in the flop.  I carefully pushed the betting higher and higher, and in the end it came down to me and one other player.  By now the face up cards showed an ace, a queen, and nothing you could really build anything with.  I made a final huge bet.  The remaining player--everyone else had folded--thought long and hard.  Was I bluffing?  What did I have?  In the end, he folded.  I sucked up the big pile of chips, but didn't show my hand.

"Damn!" said one of the other players.  "I couldn't read you at all!"

But much after that, good cards evaporated for me.  Twice I had very good hands, and lost to someone else's excellent hand.  In the end, it came down to three other people, and it was what I call elephant poker--slamming around "all in" bets like elephants fighting until a winner emerged.

Meanwhile, we had great food spread across the breakfast nook.  (Note to self--more diet soda next time and less Mountain Dew.)  The losers scarfed pizza rolls and raw veggies and made faces over the winners shoulders.  ESPN showed snowboarders doing impossible tricks and occasionally wiping out in the background.

It was a good night.

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The Semester That Wouldn't Die

This year we had The Semester That Wouldn't Die.  The school year started late anyway because Labor Day came later than usual.  On top of that, Michigan decided to add five days to the academic calendar (without adding more money to the schools' budget, I might add).

Starting late often pushes semester exams out a week.  Normally we have them a week after we return from winter break--the week before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day so we can have a three-day weekend after exams.  However, this time the district decided, for some weird-ass reason, to set the end of the semester THREE weeks after the end of winter break.

I ran out of material.  Seriously.  I covered every single thing I needed to for the semester, plus some extra stuff I don't normally have time to do.  Then I said, "Hell with it" and started in on second semester material (which I wouldn't put on the exam, of course.)  I got all the way through the first unit of the second semester, and STILL had time for two days of exam review and half a day of teaching students how to study for final exams.

It wasn't just me.  Every teacher I talked to--and I talked to more than a dozen--was in the same boat.  "What the hell do I do now?" "I'm vamping."  "Should I start second semester, or what?"

Another teacher did some counting and pointed out that second semester this year is TWO WEEKS SHORTER than first semester.  Glad I did that unit early.  However, the single-semester classes that meet in the spring lose that instructional time, and this is unfair.

I don't know what the hell the district was thinking.  We should have had exams at the normal time and been well into second semester by now.  This was the semester that just wouldn't die, and we felt it.  The last week and a half was a slog through muck.  The teachers felt it, the students felt it, everyone felt it.

I'll be talking to the union about it, since the union has input on the calendar, letting them know this was a huge mistake.

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Mormons and Marriage

The Mormons (or the Latter Day Saints, or LDS, or whatever you want to call them) are trying to ride the coat-tails of same-sex marriage. They want to get polygamy legalized in the same way same-sex marriage has been legalized. They've failed:

https://www.yahoo.com/news/u-top-court-rebuffs-sister-wives-challenge-utah-163109055.html

They needed to fail.

I'm not a proponent of the LDS church.  The organization is a dreadful, terrible thing.  It preaches homophobia, sexism, and misogyny.  The sects that practice polygamy are worse.

I don't object to the concept of group marriages. If you can manage multiple spouses, go for it. I do object to the LDS version, however.  "Reguar" group marriages aren't based on gender, or the ones I know aren't, anyway.  The group decides as a whole who should be in it and who should not.

However.  The LDS version of the above says only the man can marry multiple wives.  Women are not allowed to marry multiple husbands.  The man ultimately decides who enters the group.  He also makes the decisions for the group.  (And no matter what you may see on SISTER WIVES, that is indeed the way it works.)  This is misogynistic, sexist, and abusive.

The LDS have argued that polygamy (one man, multiple wives) is a part of their religion, and the government's refusal to recognize these marriages (and Utah's outright ban on them) amounts to religious discrimination.

When the government responded that current law states you are perfectly free to marry one person of your choice, the LDS shot back, "You let LGBT people marry the way they want.  You need to let us marry the way we want."

Sorry, no.  The cases aren't even close to analogous.

The LGBT community didn't argue on First Amendment grounds to get the bans on same-sex marriage overturned.  They argued on equal protection grounds and gender grounds.  The LGBT community also didn't argue that marriage laws be changed, only that they be extended to include people of any sex and become compliant with anti-discrimination laws already on the books.  The LDS wants an actual change in the law, and there are no grounds for that.  The law doesn't forbid them to marry based on their religion.

Additionally, the LDS version of group marriage violates the equal protections clause of the Constitution, since it would extend a right to men, but not to women.

If the LDS wants polygamy to be legal, they need to get marriage laws changed.  They'll have an uphill battle, though.  Utah's frank ban on polygamy was passed to "prove" that the Mormons were no longer practicing polygamy (but of course all that happened was that it went underground), so there's zero chance of getting it changed at the state level.  Other states simply aren't interested in it.  In order to have any shot at all, the LDS would have to get marriage laws changed to allow group marriage regardless of gender, and I can't imagine the Mormons arguing to pass a law that would allow four men to marry each other, or one woman to marry three guys.  The challenge seems unsurmountable.

And so the Supreme Court stopped a group of sexist, misogynistic fanatics from having their way. Go them!  And go all the other judges who rules against them!

Sasha's Birthday

Sasha turned 24 last week. Can you believe it?  On Sunday, we all went down to Ypsilanti for a Sasha Birthday Celebration.  Sasha's first choice of restaurant, the Bomber, was crowded, with a long line waiting.  His second choice was a Coney Island up the street, and we took over a corner booth.  There was a great deal of food and talking and fun-poking.  Afterward, we all drove around Ypsilanti, familiarizing Darwin more with the city he'll be managing soon.

It was a very nice family celebration.

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Weasel, by Proxy

More on the Kroger shopping:

I usually make up the weekly menu (Friday-Thursday) and the accompanying grocery list on Thursday evening.  Now that I'm using Kroger's click-and-pick service, I have the small additional step of hitting up Kroger's web site afterward.  Here I often ran into trouble.

See, the click-and-pick service is quite popular, but only a certain number of people can pick up groceries at a given time.  Lots and lots of people want to pick up their groceries on Friday afternoon or Saturday morning (so they'll have fresh food for complicated weekend cooking).  I join them, mostly because I want to pick my stuff up on the way home from work.  Unfortunately, when I finished my list Thursday evening, more often than not, the 2-3 PM slot and the 3-4 PM slot were both full.  In fact, Friday itself was usually all booked, along with most of Saturday.  Once, I was forced to wait until Sunday.  (Oh, the humanity!  I have no idea how I survived that one.)

I was complaining about this with the back of my hand pressed theatrically to my forehead to my friend David at a bar one day, and David turned out to be unexpectedly weasely.

"Can you create an order and then modify it later?" he asked.

I allowed that Kroger allows this.

"How far in advance can you create an order?" he continued.

"A week, I think," I said.  "But I don't know what I'll want that far ahead."

"So just create an order with one or two items on it a week ahead of time," David said, "and reserve a Friday slot when there are lots of them.  Then go in on Thursday and add everything else you need to it."

I was stunned.  It was so shifty, so sly, so weeeeasely that I was ashamed I hadn't thought of it myself.

Now I do just that.  On Monday I order a gallon of milk and tell Kroger I'll pick it up on Friday between 2 and 3.  Voila!  Lots of slots are always available.  On Thursday, I add the rest of my grocery list to the order.

I'm a weasel, by proxy.

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Abbreviated ConFusion

Every year, ConFusion, Michigan's main SF/F convention, chooses a theme.  This year, the con-com chose My Little Pony.  I've fallen out of going to ConFusion over the last few years, mostly because it always lands smack in the middle of final exam season, an awkwardly busy time for me.  However, Aran is a big Pony fan, and he wanted to go, so we decided to day-trip the convention on Saturday.

Saturday was part of the Great Michigan Fog, and although ConFusion was just down the road--literally--from our house, it took quite a long time to get there.  But we made it safely.  Got registered, and set out to explore the hotel a little before the 11:00 AM panel Aran wanted to see.

Here I have to offer some criticism.  The theme of the con was supposed to be My Little Pony, but there was almost no Pony programming.  I mean, virtually none!  There was exactly ONE panel about the show, and the flim room, which should have been showing MLP videos end-to-end, showed 80 minutes of MLP stuff.  (The rest of the video programming was, for some strange reason, taken up with Mel Brooks comedies.  I have no idea why--only SPACEBALLS had anything to do with SF fandom.)

Aran wandered off by himself, and I went into the gaming room to see what was going on.  As it happened, a drop-in D&D game was just getting started.  I hadn't played D&D--or any other role-playing game, for that matter--in years, and since I had nothing going for the next few hours, I said, "What the hell?" and sat down.

The game started off rocky.  The Game Master had chosen an adventure for first-level characters, which was a mistake.  First level characters have very few abilities and are difficult to play well.  The whole point of being first level, in fact, is to get the helll OFF first level so you can actually do something interesting.  I mean, when one shot from an opponent can kill your character, you have some problems.  The GM really should have gone for fourth or fifth.  Additionally, none of us knew each other, so it took time for the group to figure out who the heck we all were and how to work together.  I was old enough to be the father of everyone at the table, and probably grandfather to the youngest player.  (Oi!)  It showed in our gaming styles.

But toward the last third of the adventure, the group gelled, and we worked out some good teamwork bits.  Thanks to some quick thinking, we even saved our characters from an unexpected flood by slicing the tops off some giant mushrooms and using them as rafts.  So on balance, the adventure came out well.

By now it was lunch time.  I had discovered that Kris Smith, the president of Book View Cafe, was attending the convention, and we arranged to meet at mid-day.  Since I'm secretary of BVC, we've talked a lot via email, but never in person, so it was nice to meet her face-to-face.  We had lunch in the hotel restaurant (stereotypically, I had a hamburger and fries while she had a salmon salad), where we discussed and single-handedly solved all of BVC's problems.  :)

I hooked up with Aran, who had attended a couple other events and who wanted me to attend a panel on costuming with him.  Aran thought the costuming panel would have demonstrations in it, but it didn't, and Aran seemed to lose interest partway through.

A little while later, Aran announced that he was ready to go home.  I think the lack of Pony programming disappointed him, and . . . I was with him.  I'm not a Pony afficionado, but the main reason I came was so that Aran could find some Pony time and talk with like-minded fans, but outside one panel, one video, and a few decorations, My Little Pony was conspicuously absent from this Pony-themed convention.  I'm sorry to say that if I had known this would be the case, I wouldn't have bought the tickets.  It's true that the programming materials were available on-line before the convention, and Aran and I checked them, but way back when I bought the tickets, no programming was available, so I bought the tickets assuming there would be lots of MLP stuff, and was disappointed.  The convention itself was nice, and it was a good SF&F convention.  It didn't live up to being any kind of My Little Pony anything, which was the only reason Aran attended.

But the DnD game was fun.

Ypsilanti's New City Manager

It's official!  Contract negotiations are ended, and everything is signed.  Our family is proud to announce that Darwin has accepted the position of City Manager of Ypsilanti, Michigan!

I lived in Ypsilanti for 15 years, and Ypsilanti/Ann Arbor is still what I think of as "home," even though I moved away six years ago.  Last fall, the position for Ypsi City Manager came up vacant, and Darwin saw the listing.

"Maybe I should apply for it," he said.

Huh.

This touched off a series of long discussions between us.  I know Ypsilanti very well, both its strengths and its challenges, so I was able to point Darwin in a number of good directions.  He started in on some very heavy, very thorough research.  This took weeks and weeks.  We made several trips to Ypsilanti so Darwin could get to know the city.  Every evening found Darwin at his computer, reading and researching, researching and reading.  One of Darwin's strengths is his thoroughness.

Not long after he applied for the job, he got notice that he was a finalist.  The day of the interviews, a huge blizzard blew in, and Darwin left half an hour early to ensure he'd arrive on time.  (He did.)  That same evening, the recruiter called to offer him the position.  Darwin was just that awesome!  Did I marry the right guy, or what?

Contract negotiations began, and they took considerable time, but they're done at last.  Everything is done, and Darwin starts his new job February 27.  We're extremely proud of him around here.

I do find it quite strange that my husband will be managing the town I recently left.  If I hadn't moved away from Ypsilanti, I never would have met Darwin--a man who lived in Ferndale and worked in Lake Orion would have been outside my driving radius down there.  So I had to leave the town in order to marry the man who would one day manage it.  You can't make this stuff up!

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