Megan McArdle: You can’t cheat an honest man, therefore scamming customers is okay.

So it seems some restaurants which advertise locally raised food are lying about it (first-rate reporting from Tampa Times’ Laura Reiley here), but Megan McArdle explains that’s okay. Customers don’t really want locally raised food, they want the smug sense of eating virtuously, and they get that whether the food is local or not. (“People walked out of those meals happier than they would have been if they’d been told they were eating regular food.”). And they undoubtedly wouldn’t want to pay what local would really cost, or endure not getting produce when it’s out of season, so the restaurants have no choice. And the customers have to know the price is too low. And “you can’t cheat an honest man” so the customers have to be complicit, right?

All of which assumes, for example, that the restaurants aren’t raising the price as is; that the consumers have some idea what locally raised grassfed beef should cost; and that the restaurateurs really wanted to provide farm-to-table meals but just couldn’t afford it, so they’re really not that fraudulent. Evidence for any of these points is notably lacking. I suspect the subtext is that all those people who say they care about the environment, ethical eating, etc., are just phonies so no need for anyone to care what they think (just as nobody cares about equality of opportunity, so we can keep the poor down in good conscience).

•So according to Trump, Ted Cruz’s father was complicit in the JFK shooting. And said father exhorting evangelicals to vote for Cruz as God’s favored candidate has just shocked Trump, utterly. Which I believe, actually, we already know how poorly Trump reacts to people defying him. Trump’s charge was based on a National Enquirer story, but as Digby notes, Trump and the Enquirer are tight.

•Oklahoma Repub David Brumbagh says if the state yanks the license of doctors who perform abortions, God will improve the economy. I have a strong suspicion he will not say the same about proposals to give our cloaks to the beggar or feed the hungry.

•The Taliban are killing aid-workers providing polio vaccinations because they might be American spies. This is bad, though they’re quite right that we do that.

•Ms. Marvel creator G. Willow Wilson ponders what to do about Marvel’s top guy Ike Perlmutter giving money to Trump. For more discussion of boycotts, see here.

•For Confederate History Month (April) David Neiwert provides a history of lynching.

•Seattle’s increase in the minimum wage has not forced employers to raise prices.

•The Trademark Office believes it can deny trademark protection to offensive ones such as “Washington Redskins.” Now the Supreme Court will decide if that’s so.

Trump’s view of himself as possible commander-in-chief: there are no illegal orders, because he’s the chief!

•North Carolina’s voting restrictions have survived the first round of court challenges.

•God help us, the prison-industrial complex is an important part of our economy. At the link, Mississipi county officials complain that the shrinking prison population is cutting into their funding, to say nothing of not having prisoners to use as slave labor.



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And one more fun thing that happened this weekend (#SFWApro)

Forgot to mention in the previous post that I steered TYG to a copy of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to PCs (from the 1990s) at the book sale. As a computer geek, she was tickled pink to read helpful instructions about how to insert a floppy disk properly and what to do if your computer isn’t close to a phone jack (trust me, at the time that was a valid problem). I did good.

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Madcap (South Carolina) Mensa Weekend (#SFWApro)

So Friday, TYG and I took off for  Greenville, SC for the Piedmont Area Mensa’s annual regional gathering. The RG is always good, more so now that I spend much of the week at home with the pups (we boarded them). Among events of the weekend:

IMG_0726(1)•Seeing the peach water tower in Gaffney, SC.

•Driving past a beef jerky outlet store. Seriously? They need an outlet store for jerky?

•Hanging with friends, of course. Most of the attendees we only see at Mensa events, so that’s a big incentive (though we got a couple of new attendees from the local group).

•Attending my friend Neil’s “world championships of everything not sports” presentation, covering events including Scrabble, pun contests and stage magic. I missed another presentation, on traditional medicine-shows, because I wound up chatting with friends instead.

•A friend’s five-year-old daughter decided I was her bestie for the weekend.

•Hitting the local library’s very affordable book sale (picked up a few at the RG book sale too).

•Watching TYG take second place in the poker tournament. I think she’ll take a first one of these days.

•Competing in Blonde Bowl, a college bowl-style quiz game, so named because the last clue is so obvious, it’s blonde (e.g., the answer to one question was Orwell’s 1984 so the end of the question is ” … George Orwell novel set in 1984.”). I missed one question by just a hair (I immediately recognized the answer as Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” but I have a habit of calling it “Blank Slate” and guess which popped out of my mouth?) but I performed well on other questions and our team took first place.

•Playing Werewolves of Millers’ Hollow, a card game where each player is either a werewolf or a villager (with some special villagers such as the Hunter). Villagers try to identify and hang the werewolves; the werewolves kill a villager each night. I’ve never survived more than a couple of rounds, and sure enough i died by the end of the first round. Though I’d like to think that’s because I scared the werewolves—first game I correctly identified two of them, so I’m sure they wanted me out of the way.

•Playing Cards Against Humanity. Twenty drunk Mensans is not the ideal setting because there’s so much side conversation which creates lots of white noise. However if I relax and think of it as hanging out and occasionally throwing in a card, it works out fine.

•Catching up with TYG’s mum and brother, who live nearby.

•Competing in Culture Quest, a Mensa written quiz that teams all over the country participated in. I think I did better than usual (it seemed like I answered a lot more questions than usual), though there were a lot neither I nor anyone on the team answered. Hopefully lots of other teams were stumped.

•Driving home, listening to the 1986 Top 40 on Sirius’ Eighties Channel. Apparently I wasn’t listening to much music that year, because we got down to #25 and I recognized maybe three of them. More generally we did a good job dividing up radio time, with TYG getting Pitbull and me picking Broadway and 1960s. There might have been some belittling of each others’ taste, of course …

Food wasn’t as good as usual, with very poor vegetarian options Saturday night. Despite that, we both had a great time. We picked up the pups this morning (and given how TYG loves to get back to them, I really appreciate her waiting until today so that I could play Culture Quest Sunday afternoon). They have been insanely needy this morning but much as I enjoyed taking a break from parental duty, it’s lovely to be back with them.

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Ross Douthat: American conservatives need to be more reactionary

Ross Douthat, who like David Brooks somehow has a steady gig at the New York Times, has a variation on the theory liberals should be blamed for Trump: the real problem is that conservatives aren’t conservative enough (not a direct link). Academia and the intelligentsia are filled with radical, left-wing reactionaries (he references a study claiming discrimination against conservatives in social psychology and that academics in general are more left wing than in the last century); conservative intellectuals, by contrast are milquetoasts: “Our intelligentsia obviously does have a conservative wing, mostly clustered in think tanks rather than on campuses. But little of this conservatism really deserves the name reaction. What liberals attack as “reactionary” on the American right is usually just a nostalgia for the proudly modern United States of the Eisenhower or Reagan eras — the effective equivalent of liberal nostalgia for the golden age of labor unions. A truly reactionary vision has to reject more than just the Great Society or Roe v. Wade; it has to cut deeper, to the very roots of the modern liberal order.”

First off, I cry bullshit on “just a nostalgia.” When conservatives complain about how women shouldn’t have the vote, or still calling to ban gay marriage (as Ted Cruz has) or how Muslims aren’t entitled to religious freedom, or women shouldn’t have sex without consequences they’re not just waxing nostalgic for the days Americans lived in a white-dominated, straight-dominated, male-dominated, Protestant-dominated nation. They’re wanting us to go back there, and I don’t have the slightest doubt that if they could legally push us back that way, they’d do it.

Second, if getting rid of gays and longing for the days of shotgun weddings isn’t reactionary enough, just what is? Here Douthat flounders, possibly because he’s aware there’s no answer that makes him look good (I don’t doubt Douthat would favor a movement of theocratic reactionaries as he’s one himself but he doesn’t say that here) He admits that his definition of “reactionary” would include the Confederacy and fascism which are bad, but reactionaries are still important because they see past the optimism that clouds liberal and conservative thinking and recognize “the inevitable return of hierarchy, the ease of intellectual and aesthetic decline, the poverty of modern substitutes for family and patria and religion” and that even though they’re wrong, sometimes they’re right, so there you are! Oh, and authors with reactionary politics like Kipling (imperialist and anti-semite) still deserve study (I think Kipling’s an awesome writer myself but no, his politics are not worthy of resurrection).  The end result is like a Lovecraftian horror story—faced with a conclusion that would blast our sanity (or at least Douthat’s reputation as a serious thinker) he resorts to elliptical descriptions of the Crawling Chaos.

As a final point, it’s worth noting that most of the reactionary insights aren’t really such. In writing elsewhere, his concept of “the poverty of modern substitutes for family” includes gay marriage and more generally the sense that marriage and kids are optional rather than obligatory. Modern substitutes for religion include atheism and secularism. I don’t think any of these things are actually poor substitutes rather than good things (at least potentially) in their own right. “The inevitable return of hierarchy” is due to people who are at the top of the hierarchy pushing like hell to stay there, and to keep the rest of the people below them. And as for intellectual decline—okay, there he has a point. His own columns pretty much showcase it (for an example, watch Susan of Texas dissect Douthat’s follow-up column on reactionaries).

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The Other Doc Savage: Dark Horse again (#SFWApro)

shadowdocsavage1Much to my surprise, while reading through my various Shadow-related comics, I stumbled across one issue of The Shadow and Doc Savage (cover by Dave Stewart, all rights to current holder) from Dark Horse, which subsequently did Curse of the Fire God. Happily although this is by the same author, Steve Vance, as Fire God, (with art from Stan Manoukian and Vince Roucher) it’s a better yarn. The story opens with the “Shrieking Skeletons” attacking a scientist’s lab, after which his daughter flees to Doc for help. There are also newspaper stories about mysterious monster men attacking cities which made me think of The Monsters. Doc starts to investigate; Ham & Monk have a run-in with some of the monster men; and the Shadow probing a Nazi plot accidentally leads to the destruction of the Hindenburg (for anyone who doesn’t know this was a real-life tragedy, a dirigible that blew up over New York with everyone aboard dying. It’s sometimes credited with killing off lighter-than-air as an alternative to airplanes).

And that’s about all we have time for in this issue. Admittedly it’s only Part One, but I suspect that one more issue won’t be enough to really let two such larger-than-life characters to show their stuff (when DC did a crossover a few years earlier, during the Mike Barr Doc Savage run it took four issues). It’s not as good as DC’s turn, but it was entertaining and fast-moving.

Knowing my finances during this period (1995), I suspect it was more lack of cash than any reservations about quality that led me to skip Part Two. I’m rather sorry now that I can’t review both parts (but not so sorry I want to hunt the other issue down on eBay).

I was going to add that this would be my last post in this series for the foreseeable future, but I’ve found scans of some comics prior to Marvel’s Bronze Age book so I’ll have more entries as soon as I read them.

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Media consumed this week (#SFWApro)

Relatively light on reviews, because some of what I read is being saved for other posts.

Few filmmakers are as enjoyably bizarre as Czech director Jan Svankmajer.  LITTLE OTIK (2001) is Svankmajer’s take on an old folktale, as a childless woman becomes convinced the carved stump her husband made as a child substitute is real, then discovers it’s alive and hungry. More a black absurdist comedy than horror, and even the random details are weird (like one character’s father constantly imagining things moving in his food). “Haven’t you ever heard of bulimia?”

RHYMES FOR YOUNG GHOULS (2013) has a teenage Native American in 1970s Canada settle on ripping off the oppressive local school as the best course out of a cramped, miserable life in which everyone around her is either dealing, using or both. One of those that shows how some things are universal, in that this could be a black girl in the ghetto with only a little tinkering. In its own right, not terribly interesting. “The prison didn’t break him—we did.”

SUPERGIRL wraps up its first season on CBS (which has yet to confirm there will be a second season) and a great season it was. Melissa Benoist plays Kara Zor-El who after years of hiding her powers finally comes out to use them for good just like her cousin, with support from Jimmy Olsen (Mehcad Brooks), media tycoon Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart, who grew on me over the course of the season), human foster sister Alex (Chyler Leigh) and Hank Henshaw (David Harewood) who hides his own secret (not the same as in DC comics, for anyone who recognizes the name). Where Zach Snyder’s tedious films struggle to be dark and broody, this is a light, heroic, fun series. I hope it returns. “If you work hard, some day you may get a window.”

HERE by Richard McGuire started life as a six-page comic showing a single room at different points in time. That must have been very cool, but expanded to book length it feels rather pointless I enjoyed it even so but I can’t say I loved it.

And while I haven’t read the paperback below, I’ll include it here because I think the playing-card motif is quite nicely done. By Bob McGinnis, all rights to current holder.

bob mcginnis

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Exciting lessons in time management (#SFWApro)


Today wraps up my first work month since finishing Time Travel on Screen—which from now on is known as Now and Then in Time to avoid duplicating the name of another time-travel title from McFarland. As I expected, my use of time when I can’t watch movies or TV and count that as work has been different (cover by J. Winslow Mortimer, all rights to current holder).

I’m pleasantly surprised that I haven’t succumbed much to the temptation to spend work time surfing the web. Email, however, is a much bigger distraction. I used to be strict about only checking it morning, noon and after work, but when viewing time-travel films I found it easy to check it much more frequently. The habit seems to have stuck, and it’s very tempting when writing is going slowly. Blogging is another temptation. And both are bad because on top of the actual time taken is the refocusing necessary to get back in the groove. In both cases I’ll have to mark off specific time periods and ignore them the rest of the work day.

Another challenge is deciding when to switch gears if they’re grinding too much. If working on the outline of Southern Discomfort (my main activity this week) is going slow, how long should I spend just sitting and thinking about the stuck parts (and sometimes that’s what it takes)? At what point should I try working on something else? How much time can I spend writing the outline (or any project) before I just get tired and need a change?

•Breaks help, but only if I actually break and do something else and don’t keep grappling with the problem. And while I tend to use breaks for productive stuff (or petting the puppies), it helps if I use them for something self-indulgent (reading a comic book say) every so often.

•If I don’t write into my schedule what I’m actually going to do when I take a break, I’m much more likely to skip them, or just sit there staring vacuously.

•Not doing little daily things and making them up later is a bad idea (which I know, but I still do it). Several of the things I try to do regularly (meditate, exercise my voice) I didn’t get done as much as planned, because by month’s end it just wasn’t possible (the same applies to writing tasks, but I’m more conscientious with those). It’s not like life will stop getting in the way of stuff during the second half of the month.

•One of those supposed daily things is sign language: I have a minimal proficiency (proficiency might be too strong a word) and I want to maintain it, or ideally, improve it. Practicing while watching movies for Now and Then in Time was simple: listen to what people say, try and transcribe it. Not so simple when I’m only watching movies or TV for pleasure. I must make a point to find the time instead of vaguely planning to do it (vagueness is always the kiss of death).

•Don’t beat myself up if things don’t work out. Which is something I also already know, but it’s always good to restate. Next week, for example, I have a doctor’s appointment (nothing serious), a contractor coming for some probably intensive electrical work, a couple of errands I have to run during the work week and I’ll be doing all dog walking for a couple of days (TYG has commitments). Pushing myself to make 40 hours would be futile.

•No matter how comfortable the dogs are turning me into a human panini on the couch, I still have to get up and stretch. Even though it increases the odds Plushie will get up and start demanding I do something (usually feed him).

Now all I have to do is put these lessons into practice for May.

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Filed under Southern Discomfort, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Time Travel Book, Writing