Project 2996: Fifteen Years After

May the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace. May we pray with them for solace for all those who mourn, and for all survivors.

May God’s justice and mercy prevail on earth, as it does in heaven. May God give the grieving comfort and peace.

Memorials from previous years for The 2996 Project:

Myrna Yaskulka.

James P. O’Brien.

MORI Sanae, aka Sanae Mori.

AOYAMA Seima David, aka David Seima Aoyama.

Brian E. Martineau.

Ss. Nunilo and Alodia, pray for us.
St. Lawrence of Brindisi, pray for us.
Martyrs of Otranto, pray for us.
St. James, pray for us.

Martyrs of San Bernardino, pray for us.
Fr. Hamel, pray for us.

Our Lady, Help of Christians, pray for us.
All you holy men and women, pray for us.

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How to Embarrass Your Parents, by Natalie Barney

Natalie Barney was one of those “poor little rich girls” who decide to do stupid things. She had all her money from a streetcar company in Dayton, Ohio, which apparently did not suit her self-image.

In her case, she decided to become a lesbian, which obviously was not the thing to do in 1900. But she and a bunch of other American heiresses were running around doing just that. (And to be fair, a lot of the trouble may have been the expensive French boarding school where a lot of these American heiresses were sent. It seems to have turned out a lot more lesbians than is statistically believable, and they all seem to have “discovered” their sexual orientation at exactly the time they went there; so one suspects that there was a culture of female pedophilic abuse present.)

Also to be fair, her parents were apparently not all that. Her dad had a nasty temper and thought himself too good to follow the family business; he didn nothing but live it up and chase women. Her mom was a good artist but a flighty kid, who ditched true love with Sir Henry Morton Stanley (of Stanley and Livingstone fame) while Stanley was away on an expedition to Africa. (Without telling him, or even sending a letter, or even bothering to read his letters for that matter. The poor guy found out when he got back, all ready to marry her as agreed. He read a news story about how his fiancee had just had her first kid with her husband. Yeah.)

But also to be fair, a 24 year old American woman in 1900 was more than old enough to know better, or at least to pick a broader life goal than just “be a lesbian in Paris and nothing else.” There were a lot of other things she could have done. (Her mother was flighty but also public-spirited; she achieved a lot, and did a lot of good for theater and the arts. She raised money for charity, and let her homes be used as an office by many good causes. Natalie, not so much.)

But she didn’t run off to do it. Oh, no. She was taken to Paris by her mother, Alice (a whisky heiress who had married Albert Barney, a streetcar heir), to study French culture, while her sister Laura got surgery on her leg. But since Natalie spoke and wrote French and Alice didn’t much, and since Alice was busy improving herself with intense painting classes while Natalie made a lot of female friends, apparently she didn’t notice.

Then Natalie wrote and published (through an expensive vanity printer) a book of sonnets in French. Apparently she told her mother that they were just “sonnet portraits of women,” like the title of her book said. Mom’s French (or her suspicions) didn’t reach to understanding that it was all lesbian poetry.

She conned her mom into doing illustrations for the book.

(Perfectly blameless art-deco illustrations, of course, because of course her mom didn’t know! And actually, her mom did some gorgeous work for her not-so-loving daughter. The rumor is that Natalie was having affairs with all the women she asked her mom to paint for the illustrations, including a Folies Bergere dancer named Liane de Pougy. As far as Mom knew, they were just French friends who’d agreed to be models.)

Then Natalie Barney made sure that her book got into the hands of sophisticated American reviewers.

Well, if she was looking for attention, she got it. The papers all talked about it. Her dad stormed over from Dayton by train and ship, bought up all the remaining copies of her book, and had the French publisher destroy everything connected to it, including the art plates of Mom’s art.

Mr. Barney died in 1902. Natalie Barney went off with the money she inherited and lived a dissolute life in Paris.

Natalie’s sister Laura, who was also dragged into all this scandal, went religious; but as far away from everything American as she could get. She became a Baha’i. You can hardly blame her. What’s startling is that she actually stayed friendly with her sister, and that Mom forgave Natalie.

Natalie Barney’s book on how to embarrass your parents is called Quelques Portraits-Sonnets des Femmes. She wrote it under the name “Natalie Clifford,” since Clifford was her middle name. This is apparently an annotated photo reprint of a surviving copy of the original edition.

If you look around on the Internet, you can learn more about Barney’s special snowflake lifestyle and all her special snowflake friends in Paris. It’s not very edifying, unless you want to know how a lot of Midwestern millionaires got disappointed by their kids.

Before and during WWII, Barney stayed in Paris despite persistent rumors that her family was Jewish. (If she had Jewish ancestors, they were a ways back. Her granddad was a staunch Baptist, and her mom’s family were Episcopalians.) But she wavered back and forth between describing fascism as tyranny, and following the progressive line of her friends by praising Hitler. On the other hand, she did help a Jewish couple get out of Italy and get passage to the US. So maybe she did have a tiny bit of energy to help others.

She died alone in 1972.

Natalie only set foot in Dayton a very few times in her life; she was really a native of Washington, DC; NYC; and Bar Harbor, Maine. But all this gossip history is memorialized on an extremely gaytimonious historical marker, in the park right next to the main Dayton Library downtown. I now realize that this was because of the book. But the once-lovely Cooper Park is now mostly the property of extremely drunk or mentally ill homeless men, so it’s not a great choice for glory and remembrance.

Meanwhile, the Folies Bergere dancer married a prince. After the death in WWI of her son from her first marriage, she became a tertiary order Dominican living in community, working to help children who had birth defects. She may have lived a pretty shocking life at times, but in the end she knew that life wasn’t all about her.

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Space Trucker Bruce: Possibly the Best SF Movie I’ve Seen All Year

Space Trucker Bruce, an indie movie filmed mostly inside the house of a guy who lives in Juneau, is currently available on Amazon Prime. It’s also on YouTube (courtesy of the filmmaker himself).

This 2014 movie cost all of $10,000 to make.

It is awesome. It has a few pacing problems and the comedy parts could be tightened, but it is awe-inspiring all the same.

Basically, it’s a hard sf story about a space trucker (Bruce, played by Karl Sears), who rescues a space newbie (Max, played by filmmaker Anton Doiron) whose ship ran into distress. They’re both on their way to Titan Station, with about a month to go. Neither of them are entirely on an even keel, thanks to various stresses. Still, they get along okay. So  it seems like boredom will be their only problem, but the universe has some surprises in store.

But it’s also a very strange comedy. (And pretty clean comedy, all things considered. I’m not saying you should let your eight-year-old watch it, but it’s a lot more PG than most PG flicks these days.) And when I say strange, I’m looking at you, Mr. Sour Cream.

There’s some pretty darned decent sets and special effects, mostly because the filmmakers knew their limitations and worked with them. There are also some neat worldbuilding bits and hard sf moments. There are some bits that go on a bit long, but stick with it. The good bits of the movie outshine any mediocre parts.

And did I mention hard sf? There were some bits in here that really work well, but never seem to make it to the big screen in Hollywood. The worldbuilding is interesting, because it rings pretty true to human nature.

The amazing part is how you do get sucked into this future world by the end of the movie.

Although I’m still a bit worried by Mr. Sour Cream.

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Realism with Angels in Fiction

People do not strive for realism with angels or demons in fiction. They just don’t. If you’re basically looking for knockabout comedy guys, or silly applications of folklore, or some kind of weird metaphor for the Cold War, they reach for angels and demons. The freaky thing is that they reach for them for romance novels, too. In that case, you really ought to be reaching for your Japanese “not really demons, but the closest thing we can use to translate it is demons” sort of demons.

1. Christian angels and demons can’t change their minds. They can’t become good guys. They can’t become bad guys. They can’t. They picked their path already. You have to be dealing with some seriously weird groups before you find any theologians who think otherwise.

Since they aren’t going to have a character growth arc, the way to get around this is for humans to have an arc of getting to know these beings, or beginning to understand what is really going on with them. For example, Jim Butcher’s wizard character, Harry Dresden, gradually gets to know a demon better, and it’s not a particularly happy thing for him. (Although remaining in ignorance until it was too late would have been worse.)

2. The only way angels can learn is experientially. Fiction writers could have a lot of fun with this, because there are always new things to be experienced. If an angel has been ordered to take on a human shape for an assignment, and suddenly needs to play nose whistle as part of his assignment, the angel will do it for the first time. Probably he will be suspiciously good the first time he does it, because angels are smarter than humans and have access to amazing knowledge as well as all their own previous experience. But it will still be his first time.

3. The good angels are constantly hooked into the mind of God via the beatific vision, same as we will be once we get to Heaven. Now, how much they get from the mind of God is apparently based on the sort of angels that God made them to be and what they need for their jobs, or choose to contemplate, or are able to receive. But mostly they just know stuff, so the idea of angels being startled by new stuff is kinda silly. But you could have angels having the need for a certain kind of info brought to their attention, at which time they would then have the info.

4. Demons can’t really learn either. They are awfully good at deducing things about us stupid humans, and they are awfully good at information gathering. And they can acquire experiential knowledge. But they are actually getting narrower and narrower in their thinking, even though a human might not notice that. Evil narrows them,
and their constant state of hate and resentment makes them like getting narrower and stupider.

5. Any demon dating someone would be planning to get that person dead and damned, so as to enjoy tormenting that person forever. Everything about the relationship would be total deception, because demons don’t actually possess real bodies. Also, even demons are so much smarter than humans that it would be ridiculous. It would be like a human dating a talking amoeba: not exactly a relationship of equals. So the only way you should have a demon dating woman is as the ultimate bad boyfriend. Whether he’s suave or openly abusive, a demon should hate one down to the last molecule.

Any angel dating someone would also not be a real relationship. You could picture an angel being assigned to date someone for an extremely short time, just in order to get that person out of harm’s way for some reason. But it would be a guardian thing, not a romance thing. (Of course, angels are often assigned to be matchmakers, a la the Book of Tobit. So presumably your heroine wouldn’t mind breaking up with an angel, if he also sets her up with her real guy.)

6. A guardian angel would presumably be fond of his charge, especially if you go by the theory that each guardian angel only guards one human being in all of eternity. (There are also some deductions that some people actually acquire more guardianship at different times of their lives, so you could probably write up a whole protective squad story if you wanted, or if you liked the old Touched by an Angel show.) But just like we’re happy to spend time with babies for totally unromantic reasons, a guardian angel would be engaged in something like parentlike protective behavior. If your parents were actually alien beings who were incalculably older and smarter than you.

7. Angels don’t have a sex. Neither do demons. They don’t have bodies; they don’t have gender except the grammatical kind. The Thomist view is that every individual angel and demon is his own species of spirit, no two alike.

8. Let’s not even get into eschatological ends of the world. It’s depressing. And no, a good angel is not going to be trying to fight God and all of the good angels in order to prevent the end of the world.

Yeah, yeah, I haven’t written anything lately. But it’s the middle of the night, I can’t sleep, I have troubles I can’t talk about, and so it’s a good thing to complain about.


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What’s the Big Deal about Crossing That Little River?

Seven Fascinating Facts about Crossing the River Jordan. Showing through old photos that the river is considerably deeper in some places, and that the flow and flooding used to be a lot bigger deal.

Via Paleojudaica.

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Canada, About That “Strong and Free” Thing…

Our Northern ally, Canada, has abandoned its only Arctic deepwater port. It also doesn’t have any armed forces up there.

The article points out that China doesn’t acknowledge Canada’s title to the Northwest Passage, and apparently intends to ship stuff through there without asking Canada’s leave. And Canada can’t stop them, because they no longer have a blue-water navy, or even much in the way of icebreakers and Coast Guard cutters. The Coast Guard in Churchill doesn’t even own a boat.

I guess the only question is whether they sell their port to a “Chinese company,” or just wait for Putin to invade instead.

Obviously, I’m not in favor of having the Northern door to the US stuck wide open, but I’m not sure what we can do about it. (Other than having a heavily armed “American company” buy the place, and that seems like overreaching.)

Sigh. Why do I feel like we’re playing a game of Risk, and the US is about to get clobbered?

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The 2016 Worldcon and Hugo Awards

Not much to say about it, other than that the Worldcon committee has dug themselves deeper. New depths of intolerance. New depths of bad conrunning. Obviously they don’t want anybody to attend.

1. The bright spot of the convention was the Preliminary Business Meeting, where oldschool fans and Worldcon administrators indignantly voted down the proposal that Worldcon committees should be able to add any and all of their own Hugo nominations to the ballot. Such an eventuality would not just be a corrupt use of power; it would also mean that every committee member would be continually pestered by crazy people wanting to be nominated. So it wasn’t just a matter of ethics; it was about concom survival instinct!

2. Mary Robinette Kowal, a longtime conventiongoer and allegedly professional editor/author, openly served Scotch at her book signing, in a hotel public area. This was against the convention rules, as well as being a violation of the hotel’s contract with the convention and the local liquor licensing laws. Despite endangering the convention and breaking both the contract and the law, Mary Robinette Kowal was only given a gentle explanation of her wrongdoing and suspended from the convention until midnight.

This is the sort of behavior that usually gets one tossed out on one’s ear, and uninvited from all other conventions who hear about it. No con committee wants to pay penalties to the hotel or get fined by the state/city/county. But she says she was punished the same as anybody else, even though they didn’t even take her badge away temporarily and have her pick it up at Ops the next day or after midnight. Yeah. So very punished.

It is always true that fans should check local laws before assuming that their customs from home will be okay. Usually one reminds first-time congoers of this fact.

3. Dave Truesdale, a longtime conventiongoer and panelist, as well as a professional editor, moderated a panel on short fiction. He was thrown out of the convention on his ear without explanation. Later he was told that it had been because his words during the panel “made people uncomfortable.” You can listen to the audio of the panel here. Not exactly controversial fare or a particularly exciting panel. Opening statements are pretty darned common from both moderators and panelists, and I’ve heard a lot longer ones. So I’m not exactly sure where these horribly shocked people attend cons.

4. The Hugo Awards continued their new tradition of hideous behavior by No-Awarding any category where it looked like a non-SJW might win. Previously to the last couple years, No Award was only given in categories where there was really no candidate that was worth any support, or where nobody bothered to vote. The awards ceremony also included more ritual shaming of unpersons, including the new tradition of harassment “skits.”

5. Fortunately, Dragoncon and Comicon are now the real world science fiction conventions, and Dragoncon’s new Dragon Awards look like they will really reflect the tastes of all of fandom. So it doesn’t really matter, except as a sort of morbid observation of the death throes of a dying con. But it is a shame.

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