Of Course They Are

Jodie Whittaker has made her debut as The Doctor and, contrary to the warnings of the closed-minded, the world has not come to an end. Not even on television.

Her appearance in the Christmas special is short: she’s got a grand total of one line–two words–but that’s as expected. A Doctor’s last episode is always about the outgoing version, which is as it should be. Before taking off in “radically new directions,” it makes sense to look back at where you’ve been.

From that perspective, by the way, it was an excellent episode, looking back all the way to the first Doctor, and touching several major points in between Numbers One and Twelve. That it also gave the scriptwriter an opportunity to point out how The Doctor’s attitudes toward women, non-whites, and the LBGTEtc communities have changed since 1963. One suspects many of the people objecting to a female Doctor are more in accord with the first Doctor’s sentiments than the twelfth.

Despite the brevity of Ms. Whittaker’s appearance, the doomsayers are already declaring her run a failure. The kindest such remarks I’ve seen are along the lines of “If you suddenly turn into a woman, the first words out of your mouth are going to be ‘What the hell?’ and not ‘Oh, brilliant!'”

I say “kindest” because that comment puts the burden of disapproval on the scriptwriter and not the actress, but rest assured there are plenty of complaints aimed at her.

But I want to talk about that complaint, because it highlights just how desperate the naysayers are to discredit Ms. Whittaker and everyone associated with the show.

Consider:

  • Time Lords changing sex when they regenerate is canon. One has to look no further than Missy for proof, but there have been others. Whether you as a viewer like the fact, it’s part of the universe. And so, while it might not be at the top of a regenerating Time Lord’s mind, it’s a possibility they all live with.
  • The Doctor is at least 1,500 years old. He’s been everywhere and everywhen. He’s burnt out and so far beyond bored he can’t even see it from where he’s standing. Now he’s got a chance to try something radically different. You think he’s going to complain? And let’s face it: a willingness to try new things and see the universe from different perspectives has been one of The Doctor’s core values since that first Doctor.
  • Historically, The Doctor has been somewhat manic immediately after regeneration with all the over-the-top enthusiasm that implies. And let’s not forget that nearly every Doctor has been convinced he’s the best and most attractive incarnation yet. Hell, it’s a running joke that whenever two Doctors meet, nearly the first words out of the earlier one’s mouth are a complaint about how he doesn’t like what the newer one has done with the body. So of course she’s going to approve of the new look and be eager to get on with it–even if she doesn’t know what “it” is yet. Because that’s what The Doctor does.
  • Finally, remember what I said last week about the Last Jedi haters? Same thing applies here. The people who create the show are the only ones who get to decide where the story goes. If you don’t want to go there, you have the option of staying home. If enough people stay home, the show will be canceled (or, in the case of a cash cow like Doctor Who, more likely the creators will be replaced). Okay, end of rant.

And here we are with a new Doctor, an exploding TARDIS, and a fall from high altitude without a parachute. Brilliant!

Hot Cider

I had a lovely Christmas, thanks, and I hope yours was as pleasant as mine.

We slept late–one of the advantages of not having small children in the house–and waited until the caffeine was ready before we opened gifts. I’d like to be able to say we opened them slowly and with due appreciation, but…We’ve been bludgeoning adulthood into submission for enough years that we’re not about to go grown-up now.

We stayed in our jammies all day, talked to family on the phone, watched one of our favorite Christmas movies*, had a nice dinner, gave the Backyard Bunch gooshy fud instead of the usual Kitty Krunchiez, and largely ignored whatever’s was going on in the outside world.

* It’s got its flaws, but it’s also got some of the most quotable lines ever.

Oh, yeah. We also tried a new spiced cider recipe. Since it was wildly successful, I’ll pass along our modified version. For those of you stuck in colder realms, it’s the perfect drink to accompany watching someone else shovel snow.

Credit where credit is due: the original recipe comes from Christine Gallary at The Kitchn. We’ve merely tweaked it slightly and adjusted it for a smaller crockpot.

Hardware and Ingredients

  • A 3-quart slow cooker
  • A tea infuser, small cheesecloth bag, or other similar device for confining spices
  • 1/2 gallon of apple cider. Not the alcoholic stuff (much as we love that) and not the sparkling stuff either. If you can’t get cider, get juice–preferably unfiltered. The important thing is to check the ingredients. If there’s anything other than apple juice listed, put it back on the shelf.
  • 1 baseball-sized orange. Maybe a little bigger, but don’t get up into anything suitable for softball. And no, you can’t substitute a couple of those little clementines that are so popular this time of year. The ratio of flesh to peel and pith is all wrong. Cut it into quarter-inch slices and discard the ends and any other pieces that don’t have much flesh.
  • 3 cinnamon sticks.
  • 1/2 tablespoon of whole cloves
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of whole peppercorns
  • A few pieces of crystallized ginger (yes, a very precise measurement), cut into half-inch squares.

Instructions

  1. Pour the cider into the crockpot. Hardest thing you’ll do all day.
  2. Toss in the ginger, orange, and cinnamon. Gently: don’t splash.
  3. Restrain the cloves and peppercorns into a single packet and drop it in.
  4. Put the lid on the cooker, set it on Low, and leave it alone for two hours.
  5. Stir. Make sure to shove the orange slices under the surface of the liquid. They’ll float back up, but it helps distribute the flavor if they’re damp on both surfaces.
  6. Leave it alone for another couple of hours.
  7. Ladle it into thick-walled mugs and enjoy.

Note: You will get bits of orange and ginger in your mug. Don’t sweat it, just drink around them. Or eat them. Your choice. Mopping up the spills after you try to pour the contents of a hot crockpot through a filter into another pot just isn’t worth the effort.

Last Jedi

As with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, two years ago, I don’t see much point in doing a formal review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Not to put too fine a point on it, if you’re planning to see it, you probably already have, and if you’re not planning on going, nothing I could say is likely to convince you.

Even so, I’ve got some thoughts. I’ll try to avoid significant spoilers, but no promises.

First up, Porgs. There weren’t nearly as many of them as I expected, and that’s a good thing. I, like many others, assumed they were strictly an opportunity to sell plush figures, but now we’re hearing that there was a practical reason to include them: apparently it was easier to digitally superimpose a cute, cuddly alien bird over the local puffins than it would have been to digitally erase the real birds.

Fair enough. But if there were puffins invading the Millennium Falcon set, that doesn’t speak well for the production staff’s attention to security and animal welfare. (In other words, adding Porgs to the later on-ship sequences was strictly a marketing decision. In a movie that was already more than two and a half hours long, did we really need Porg reaction shots during a space battle? From a storytelling perspective, I’d argue not.)

We finally saw ships’ shields doing some good. Not in the X-Wing fighters, of course. I’ve already made my feelings known about that. But if they work so well on the good guys’ larger ships, why don’t the bad guys invest in a few shields? Well, it would have made the early “bombing run” scenes rather different. (And, by the way, bombs? In space? Where there’s no gravity to drop them? They were clearly falling, not traveling under some kind of on-board engine.)

I could ramble for a while about light speed engines and regular engines apparently using different fuel–which seems possible, but kind of unlikely–but I’ll spare you.

“Hey, there’s a planet right over there where we can hide out.” (Not only do we see it on screen, but it’s apparently close enough that they don’t need to use the light speed engines to get there.) “They’ll never think to look for us there.” Okay…why not? Like I said, it’s right over there.

Final thoughts. There’s a movement afoot to petition Disney to declare Last Jedi non-canon.

No. That’s not how it works.

“Hey, The Two Towers sucks. It’s slow, nothing really happens. I’m going to petition the Tolkien estate to have it removed from the Lord of the Rings canon.

Everyone’s free to dislike a work of art, but the only ones who get to decide whether it’s canon are the creators.

Don’t like Last Jedi because it “destroys your childhood”? Fine. Don’t see it again. Don’t go see the next movie either, because you probably won’t like it either.

Don’t like it because of the way it treats characters from the original trilogy? Tough noogies. Time moves on, people change. And creatively-speaking, you can’t keep telling the same story over and over.

Again, vote with your dollars. If you don’t like what Disney is doing with Star Wars, don’t buy the merchandise, don’t see the movies.

But forget about trying to turn Last Jedi into expensive fan fiction, because that’s not your decision.

And, bottom line, the movie works on its own merits. Despite the nits I’ve picked (and the ones I could have but didn’t), it still holds together as a story. Yes, it left a lot of questions unanswered, but that’s what happens when you create a series: you have to leave something for the sequels.

I’ll let you all in on a writers’ secret: There are no beginnings and ends. Every book, every movie, and every other narrative is the middle of something. As a writer, you get to decide where to start telling the story, but it’s not really the beginning. You also get to decide where to stop, but it’s not really the end.

As middles go, Last Jedi is a pretty decent one.

All the News

Kind of a strange news day yesterday.

It started with the Amtrak train derailment in the Seattle area. Nothing inherently weird about the story itself–sad, depressing, and dispiriting, yes, but not weird. What was odd was that the first mention of it I saw was a tweet linking to a news report on an Irish newspaper’s website.

I have mixed feelings about what Robert Heinlein described as “the unhealthy habit of wallowing in the troubles of five billion strangers.” “Think globally, act locally” is appropriate in many cases–climate change springs immediately to mind–but are we really better off as a species when we can find out about every disaster, no matter how small, anywhere in the world? Maybe if the small triumphs were as widely reported as the failures.

But I digress. My original point was that I find it fascinating that not only does news travel so quickly, but so does news about the news. Taken by itself, I find that cause for a certain amount of optimism: it shows that transparency has never been a more attainable goal.

A couple of thoughts about the accident, as long as we’re on the subject. It’s laudable that Amtrak took steps to move their passenger service onto tracks not used by freight service. In theory, sharing tracks shouldn’t be a problem. In practice, the revenue generated by hauling freight has resulted in those trains being given absolute priority. The result has been ever-increasing unreliability in the passenger service, which results in lower ridership, which widens the income gap, and around we go in a spiral that makes it harder and harder to sustain the passenger side of the business.

So there’s that. But the fact that the accident occurred on the very first run over those new tracks suggests strongly that driver training was inadequate. Combine that with American railroads’ persistent unwillingness or inability to adopt train control safety technology that’s been in use everywhere else in the world for decades, and an accident of this severity seems inevitable.

It’s almost enough to make one start thinking in terms of conspiracy theories. Emphasis on “almost”.

Anyway, back to the news.

We also had an unusual example of synchronicity here in the Bay Area. Sunday night, a Richmond police officer began walking around a San Francisco hotel. He was allegedly talking about spirits for some time before he fired half a dozen shots, apparently into the walls. Eventually, he surrendered to the San Francisco police.

Then, apparently to balance the scales in some kind of karmic sense, on Monday a San Francisco police officer pulled into a parking lot in Richmond and shot himself. According to the Chron, he was under investigation, and he was being pursued by a Richmond police officer.

The timing of the two incidents is, of course, coincidental, but they did add a bit of surreality to the day.

One Step…

We had an unprecedented event last weekend.
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Rufus jumped up onto the bed without encouragement, and while it was already occupied by cats and humans. He’s been on the bed before, but only when it was empty or when one of us put him there for easier pettings.

So this was a big step forward.

He stayed there for several hours, using my leg as a pillow while he slept.

Even more impressively, he hung around after I got up.
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And went back to sleep, despite Mr. Thugbutt’s presence.
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Of course, he hasn’t returned since, preferring to return to his usual haunt:
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That’s the back of the futon in his room (formerly known as the library).

But overall, we’re pleased. It’s nice to see him try something new from time to time.

Pretty Good Week

It’s been an interesting week so far–and in a good way.

Roy Moore lost his Senate race in Alabama. Granted, it was much closer than I’d have preferred, but as our illustrious president said, “A win is a win.”

Of course, that’s something Mr. Moore apparently doesn’t understand. He’s convinced that God will make sure the absentee ballots still being counted will give him the victory. Does anyone think he’ll reconsider his belief that God is on his side if he doesn’t win?

For that matter, does anyone think his refusal to concede and the likely forthcoming demand for a recount is anything other than a cynical ploy to keep the election results from being certified until after Congress passes the tax ripoff? Keep in mind that yesterday he identified “an enormous national debt” as one of the greatest problems facing America today–right up there with stopping prayer in school, abortion, and transgender rights. And we all know that going deeper into debt is the only way to get out of debt, right?

Ahem. We’ll see how it all plays out, but right now everyone except Mr. Moore thinks the citizens of Alabama have given America exactly the Christmas present they need.

Moving on.

Patreon has canceled the launch of their new fee structure. The announcement and apology is an interesting read. On one hand, it’s rare to see a company say bluntly, “We messed up.” In an era of weasel-worded apologies*, it’s nice to see one that doesn’t mince words.

* Or, worse yet, monetized apologies such as Equifax’s.

On the other hand, it also notes that “We still have to fix the problems that those changes addressed.” (As a reminder, that’s primarily the problem of handling partial-month pledges when a patron first backs a creator.) So the door remains open for a substantially similar approach. ACA repeal, anyone?

I don’t think Patreon could survive another bungled rollout in the near future, and I’m quite sure they think the same. My gut says that if they move quickly, they’ll come up with a different approach; the longer the re-evaluation lasts, the more the final product will look like the one that just fell flat.

To be fair, they’ve been tracking canceled pledges and have built a simple “restore my pledges” tool and are notifying patrons by email. That’s a smart move, in that it immediately helps creators who were harmed by the departures, and it also brings back some of the cash flow Patreon needs to stay in business.

Moving on again.

We saw Coco Tuesday night. I’m not going to do a full review here, mostly because I’m having trouble being sufficiently objective. The big themes–memory, family, and death–have a lot of resonance for me these days, and I suspect that’s tipping my reaction to be somewhat more positive than it would have been.

But that said, I still think it’s an excellent film. Not flawless, no. It drags a bit in the middle with too much running in circles and too many false leads. There are a couple of overly-convenient plot devices (why is there a camera backstage, for example?). But the opening monologue is beautifully done, the first half of the film does a splendid job of establishing the world and the ground rules without bogging down in explanations, and the ending is spot on.

Bonus points, by the way, for not including a lengthy made-for-the-amusement-park-ride chase scene.

One interesting point: the Spanish version of the film includes its own versions of the songs. Judging by the samples on Amazon, they’re not just redubbed versions of the English songs, but separate performances. I’m tempted to go see the movie in Spanish, just to see how it works for a non-Spanish speaker.

Moving on one more time.

So, all in all, a good week so far. But.

As I was writing the above, the FCC just voted on the repeal of their net neutrality rules. And, as everyone expected, the vote was 3-2 for repeal.

We now turn to the courts and to Congress. I don’t expect the Republicans in Congress to be any more enthusiastic about rejecting Ajit Pai than they were about rejecting Roy Moore. After all, the evidence shows that obstructing a criminal investigation is now standard Republican practice.

But with polls showing that less than 20% of Republicans approve of the repeal–and even fewer Democrats and Independents–voting against whatever legislation comes to the floor in the next few weeks may be a tough nut to swallow.

Especially in light of the events in Alabama Tuesday night.

The Magic Book

I’ve got a magical book sitting on my desk.

Many people would say it’s a useless thing to have around. A bundle of pages lying around doesn’t do anything. Except that it does.

Whenever I start to feel like it’s time to retreat to the jungle–or, equally uselessly, crawl into bed and pull the covers over my head–I look at that little pamphlet, and I feel better.

Not because the document makes the world appreciably better, but because it reminds me of all the people who aspire to improve the world. There are still millions of people who believe we can do better. Who don’t wait for a benevolent deity to cure the world’s ills. Who don’t use the name of that same deity to shore up their claim to be the ultimate pinnacle of humanity.

That’s a hefty burden for forty pages of not-very-dense prose to carry. But it works. The power of the word. Pen versus sword. All those cliches.

You know where I’m going with this, right? The book is, of course, the American Constitution.

And with the citizens of Alabama voting for their next Senator today, I’m keeping my book close at hand. For reassurance.

Moore’s comment that he thinks it would solve a lot of problems if we threw out all of the constitutional amendments after the tenth has gotten a lot of press. Most of it’s focused on the voting rights and slavery amendments. But the rest of them are significant, too.

Number 11, among other things, ensures that state laws can’t overrule federal laws. I don’t need to list all of the laws that forces various states to acknowledge, do I?

Number 12 defines how the President and Vice President are elected. Whether you believe the Electoral College is a good idea or not, Amendment 12 lays out the rules. Number 23, by the way, allows residents of Washington, D.C. to vote in presidential elections.

Thirteen is the one that bans slavery, Fourteen defines who is a citizen, and Fifteen grants citizens the right to vote. Nineteen adds women to the status of voting citizens. Twenty-Four forbids the government from charging citizens to exercise the right to vote and Twenty-Six sets the minimum voting age to 18. As I said earlier, these are the ones that are getting all of the press.

Amendment 16 allows the Federal Income Tax. Like the Twelfth, opinions differ on whether it’s a good thing.

Amendment 17 defines the rules under which senators are elected and how they’re replaced. In short, it’s the Seventeenth Amendment that’s giving Mr. Moore his chance to join the Senate.

Eighteen bans the sale and import of alcohol. You may have heard about Prohibition–it didn’t work out, and the Twenty-First Amendment repealed it. Which is, of course, your guideline if you disapprove of Twelve, Sixteen, or any of the other amendments.

Number 20 defines the presidential term of office and lays out the rules covering what happens if the president-elect dies before taking office. Number 22 prevents anyone from serving more than two terms as president. Anyone wonder why Mr. Moore wants to get rid of that rule? Number 25 lays out the order of succession in case the president dies in office.

And then there’s the Twenty-Seventh Amendment. One of my favorites, actually. It prevents Congress from giving themselves a pay raise whenever they want. No law that changes their pay scale can take effect until after the next election.

Some important stuff there, huh? The cliché is that you can’t tell the players without a scorecard. But you also can’t tell the game without a rule book.

I got my rule book from the ACLU last year. They’re still available. You’ll have to buy ten at a time, but it’ll only set you back about $22 including shipping. Per copy, that’s about half what you’d spend on a program at the ballpark.

Buy a set and share ’em with your family and friends. Because we can all use a little reassurance these days.

Thugbutt

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Yes, that is Sachiko’s box seat. (No, it’s not a permanent installation, but we’re in no particular hurry to get rid of it.)

Lately Watanuki has been waiting for her to settle down in the box before he walks up and looms threateningly over her until she leaves. Then he settles in and gives her a mock-innocent look.

All very 1930s gangsterish. It’s not by accident that one of his nicknames is “Thugbutt”.

Patreonizing

Well, hell. Patreon is currently in the midst of shooting itself in the foot.

Brief background for those of you who need it: Patreon is a crowdfunding site optimized for creators. Unlike Kickstarter, which focuses on specific projects, Patreon focuses on the creators themselves. Backers commit to funding individuals on an ongoing basis (either a set amount per month or a set amount per work of art*). In exchange, they receive benefits defined by the creator: early access to comics, patron-only poems, commissioned art, online meet-and-greets, etc., etc., etc., limited only by the creators’ imagination and the supporters’ pockets.

* “Art” being loosely defined here. It could be a drawing, a song, a mechanical object, or anything else the creator produces.

Patreon itself takes a 5% cut of the donations, and up until now, the creators have absorbed the cost of the contribution–the credit card processing fees, money transfer fees, and so forth. To grossly oversimplify, creators received about 75 cents of every dollar donated. More if they had a few large contributions, less if they had a lot of small ones, but somewhere around 75%, if the comments I’ve been seeing are representative. And, of course, the amount the artist receives varies from month to month, as the proportion of small to large contributions changes.

Effective December 18–unless Patreon changes its mind–supporters are going to be charged a fee for each contribution to offset the credit card and other processing charges. Patreon is promoting this as wonderful for the creators, who will now receive 95 of every dollar.

Well, yeah, except that a large portion of the contributions are currently at the $1 level. Those will now cost the supporters $1.38. Supporting somebody at the $5 level? That’ll now be $5.50.

Mind you, Patreon hasn’t officially notified supporters of this change yet, despite the fact that it’ll take effect in a little more than a week.

But they have notified creators and many of them are unhappy.

Seanan McGuire explains why in a Twitter thread.

In brief, she expects many smaller contributions to disappear, leaving her with a small number of larger ones. That’ll turn a reasonably solid support into a classic “rickety stool”: if even one of those larger supporters drops out somewhere down the road, the support is gone and Seanan falls on her ass.

And she’s right.

I’m not one of her supporters, much to my chagrin, because she’s one of my favorite writers, whether I’m reading for pleasure or professional development. But I have a limited amount of money I can afford to spend through Patreon, and so I’ve had to leave out many authors and artists I’d love to support.

With this change, I’m going to have to cut back. Most of my contributions are $1 a month. If that becomes $1.38 a month, it means I’ll have to stop my contributions to a third of the creators. That doesn’t only hurt the artists and writers I’m no longer supporting, but it hurts me as well, because I’m not getting the benefits of supporting all of them anymore.

And I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Patreon needs to rethink this plan and quickly. Granted, complaints are always louder than compliments–but I’m not hearing any compliments about Patreon’s plan. Not from patrons, not from artists.

If the only people who approve are Patreon’s staff, that doesn’t bode well.

Let’s be blunt here. In most businesses, credit card processing fees are part of the cost of doing business. You factor that in when you’re setting your prices. That’s why some businesses don’t take credit cards or offer a discount for cash purchases.

So here’s a thought: Patreon could smooth out the monthly variation–which they’re touting as a major benefit of their planned change–by taking a slightly larger cut from artists and using the money to cover the processing fees. And on the other end, treat patron contributions in bulk to minimize the fees*.

* Again speaking bluntly, they’re already doing this. If I make ten $1 contributions, they charge my credit card for $10, which would make the processing fee 64 cents (2.9% + $0.35). They’re not making ten separate charges with an aggregate $3.80 fee, and claiming they are is damn insulting when I can look at my credit card bill and see otherwise.

I can’t speak for all the creators, of course, but I’d be willing to bet that the majority of them would rather get 90 cents of every dollar from their current supporters than either 95 cents from a much smaller group, or the current 65 to 85 cents.

I’m sure there are other ways to solve whatever funding crisis Patreon has. But pissing off your customers is a less-than-optimal approach in any business.