Waiting around to die

2 01 2015

I gave up watching Bones in the middle of last season, and didn’t bother with this season.

Until tonight: I thought I’d see if it had improved.

Like the new guy—Aubrey—but otherwise, nope, still covered in goo.

ETA: And apparently, they killed off Sweets. Huh.





Little earthquakes

22 07 2014

Ann Patchett writes lovely characters.

Well, huh, that could be misleading, implying that all of her characters are lovely. They are not.

Let me try again: Ann Patchett is a lovely writer of characters.

Yes, better.

Even when the characters are only briefly sketched, or when she chooses to hide aspects of the character from the reader, she gives you enough that you want to learn more about these people.

Dr. Swenson in State of Wonder is, shall we say, an obdurate personality, bound up in her own understanding of the world and impatient-to-dismissive of alternative views. I found her to be admirable, as well as the kind of person who terrifies me. How does someone get to be that way? What is it like to live utterly without neuroses?

You could put a label on it, I guess, call her some variant of -pathology, but that would take away her humanness, reduce her to that pathological label.

In any case, Patchett doesn’t give us much to go on—here’s Annika Swenson, now deal with it—but she gives us (or me, at any rate) enough to make her a real human being, to make me wonder about her.

Patchett is generally able to make all of her characters, supporting and main, human. I was a bit frustrated with the main character in Patron Saint of Liars—or maybe I was frustrated with Patchett’s withholding of information about her—but I never doubted she existed. (In fact, she’s one of the inspirations for the main character in my second novel, who, like Rose , leaves an apparently decent life to live her own life.)

I do have to admit, however, that the opera singer in Bel Canto, Roxane Cross, never did become real to me. It’s not that she was a cardboard character or that I disbelieved that someone like her could exist, but she never came into view.

A lot of people loved that book, but I did not. It shared, with Run, Patchett’s greatest weakness as a writer: plot.

Now, I didn’t have a problem with the set-up of Bel Canto—a gala is taken over by militants—nor with the  suspension of time in which the hostages and militants alike subsequently live: Patchett excels at setting the stage and the letting her characters loose.

No, the problem was with the resolution. Patchett is fine at setting things in motion, but not so fine at bringing them to a close, and the bigger the push at the beginning, the rockier the ending. Had I been more drawn to Cross, (as I was with the characters in State of Wonder, which suffers from a similar dynamic) I might have been able to walk over those rocks with her, but I wasn’t, and thus was left stranded.

The lack of realness in many of the characters in Run meant that the reader was left mainly to the plot, which was. . . not good. Patchett is generally willing to let things ride for long periods, but in Run, she kept jamming up her characters with unnecessary plotting, with the overdrawn happenings crowding out the characters.

Which is why I think her best novel is The Magician’s Assistant. She sets events in motion, and then just lets them go; what plot developments there are arise from the characters themselves, so instead of these events pulling us, er, me, out of the story of their lives, they drew me further in.

Maybe because, like Taft (a much better novel than its name implies) and Patron Saint, the events are smaller, arising out of her characters lives rather than intruding upon them.

I know: the line between “arising out of” and “intruding upon” can be arbitrary, depending on whether you think a couple of runaways showing up at a bar or long-estranged family arriving to visit the grave of a recently-dead son & brother is organic rather than artificial.

Or maybe Patchett is just better at revealing the beauty in the ordinary than the extraordinary.

In any case, I prefer the ordinary set-ups, largely because Patchett doesn’t have to strain to move her characters into place for the denouement: they move there of their own accord and, in that end, we are left with the people themselves.





You can’t figure out the bag I’m in

21 05 2014

[Updated below]

Race is a social construct.

1. This does not mean race is not real. This is always the problem with any mention of social construction—you’re saying it’s not real!—but there is no reason to conclude that that which is constructed is not real.

The United States is a social construction, and it is real. Language is a social construction, and it is real. Political parties, political movements, constitutions: all socially constructed, all real.

(Are all social constructions fictions? And what is the relationship of fiction to reality? More complicated question, more complicated answer, but the short version to both is: Depends on how you define fiction. But that’s another post.)

2. This does mean it has a history, one which varies across time and space. In 19th century Europe one could speak of German and Slavic and English (etc.) races, and further distinguish Jews as a race.

That broadly ethnic version of race was transported across the Atlantic, but was overcome—due in no small part to the necessities of settlement and slave society—by an understanding of white, black, and ‘the savage’ races.

Black was always clear: those of African origin; savage would be understood as Indian; and white was reserved for northern and western European Christians. These lines could be blurred and stretched—whites would eventually include southern Europeans, the Irish, and Jews, and today some Hispanics are crossing into white—as well as added to, as with ‘asiatic’, ‘oriental’, or Asian peoples, as well as the aforementioned Hispanic.

Current US census categories include “White, Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander”. The Census sites notes “The racial categories included in the census questionnaire generally reflect a social definition of race recognized in this country and not an attempt to define race biologically, anthropologically, or genetically.”

Further, and in late recognition of interracial reproduction, “[p]eople may choose to report more than one race to indicate their racial mixture,” . . .

The Census is hardly the last word on the issue, but that categories have changed and, with the allowance of multi-racial reporting, become more fluid indicates that race is largely what we say it is.

3. To state that something is a social construct is not to deny any material contribution to that construct.

Are differences in skin color influenced by genetics? Yes. Hair color and texture? Yes. Bone structures? Yes.

4. Does this mean race is biological?

Long breath in and out.

Both the long and short answers are “yes and no”. Phenotypic differences are influenced by biology and in some cases determined by genetics, but the sorting of these biologically- and genetically-influenced/determined phenotypic differences into races tends to elide the complexity of the mechanisms involved in those influences/determinations.

Thus, if one wants to speak of genetic differences among humans, one is much better off referring to “populations” (or, perhaps, “ethnicities”): the term is anchored in geography, and allows for understanding of such terms as gene  or allele frequencies and genetic drift. Some genes are more likely to appear in some populations and not others (for both evolutionary and non-evolutionary, i.e., “drift” reasons); in some cases those variations will be visible in appearance.

In other words, there are many genetic populations and there are differences between those populations; in some cases those differences which are visible are assigned a racial character.

As Agustin Fuentes has pointed out, the assignment of certain characteristics, and those with x number of those characteristics to a race, ignores the fact that “race” encompasses many genetic populations. To state that “there are racial differences between Africans and Asians” is false not because there are no genetic differences between Africans and Asians but because the use of the term “race” erases the genetic differences among Africans and Asians: again, there are many genetic populations within each “race”.

So, again, the determination of race is at least as much about what we say it is than with genetics.

4 5. This is not even to get into breeding across populations, and the determination of the race of cross-population offspring.

5 6. This is also not even to get into complex (multiple genetic and other contributions) traits such as personality, intelligence, temperament, and behavior.

It is possible, perhaps even likely, that there are variations in the allele frequencies contributing to these complex traits across populations. The identification and characterization of these alleles (and their possible interactions among the alleles and with other factors) is only beginning, however, which means any conclusions about these variations are grossly premature.

6 7. I will not be reading Nicholas Wade’s book.

Perhaps a nice book on population genetics, instead.

~~~

*Update: Criminy, can I not even count? Should I blame my Irish or my German genes for the lack? Or maybe it was a stray Danish or French allele.

Anyway, the real reason for the update: Anne Fausto-Sterling reviewed a number of books on race, genetics, and epigenetics which both overlaps with and extends my argument—and with fewer typos!





Shmatta, shmatta, shmatta

13 04 2014

1. Sometimes free  cost too much.

Exhibit A: Under My Skin preview. Boy o boy o boy. The actors were. . . fine, given the script, but that script? Holy hell.

2. I’d stopped bitching about Bones because I’d given up expecting anything better than it had become. I still watched it, though, out of some, lingering, interest.

No more. It’s sliding down, losing whatever bits of charm it had retained. When Fox decides to lay those tired bones down I’ll probably watch the finale, but between now and that day in 2025, I’m out.

3. Oh thou fookin’ Zeus! DO NOT CUT YOUR NAILS ON THE TRAIN! In which of the multiverses is it OKAY TO CUT YOUR NAILS ON THE TRAIN?

None of them! That’s how many: NONE OF THEM!

4. To end on a good note: I finally got out my bike to ride to the gym yesterday.

Last year, I rode all winter, but this year the snow gave me the excuse I needed not to bundle up against the cold.

I’d been biking at the gym—(ma-)lingering health issues have kept me off the treadmill—but I’d much rather peddle my way somewhere than nowhere.

And look, I even refrained from using the requisite Talking Heads lyric. . . .





Another one bites the dust

15 03 2014

I am an extremely lazy television viewer.

Not in the sense of not moving from the t.v. my external monitor, but in that I’d rather watch old shows over and over again than deal with the uncertainty of new shows. I watch to unwind, not get wound up.

There’s nothing wrong with such inertial sensibilities, at least as regards t.v. (and, it must be said, movies), but it does tend toward staleness. Thus, the only way to expand the comfortable old choices is to watch some new stuff.

Eureka worked out; Fringe did not. I’ve liked most of Waking the Dead, at least what’s available on Netflix, but it does seem like it headed toward MI-5 kill-everyone melodramatic cynicism. (Wallender is all right, tho’ a bit predictably dreary; don’t know that I’ll be revisiting that one, tho’ I may watch new episodes.)  And I’ve got some ‘new’ shows in my queue— Battlestar Galatica, Orange is the New Black, Top of the Lake, and a coupla’ other Brit-drams—which I’ll get to. Eventually.

Oh, and Leverage? Big enthusiastic fist-bumps for Leverage! Yes, formulaic and cartoonish, plot-wise, but since the show doesn’t take itself too seriously and the characters are witty and human and weird, well, big enthusiastic fist-bumps for Leverage!

So, anyway, another new show I was watching was Agents of SHIELD. I thought Thor was dumb, haven’t been interested in Iron Man/Captain America/The Hulk, zipped through an awful lot of the Avengers, and I have never been nor am I now a Marvel or DC Comic geek. (I only know about that distinction because of what I’ve read on TNC’s blog.) Still, sci-fi, strange tech: I could be up for it.

And so I watched. Some episodes I liked, some I didn’t, but I wasn’t so bothered as to stop watching. It was kind of mediocre, but I wasn’t so invested in the Marvel world that any plot problems really bothered me. It was slow in bringing everything together, but what the hell.

Well now I’m at to-hell-with-it. No, it wasn’t the poisonously oblique plot lines or the rushed intensity of the characters relationships to one another.

It was the beatings. The torture.

I’m not generally bothered by onscreen violence, and there isn’t overly-much in AoS—the expected battles of good-vs-bad guys—nor its it terribly graphic. That’s fine.

What’s not fine is the good guys beating the shit out of people they have in custody and having that be okay.

A few episodes ago Good-Guy Ward got the information he needed from a perp by threatening to have him sucked out of the plane.

This was not a problem for any of the other Good Guys.

In a more recent episode, another suspect was beaten (the Good Gal beating him was only stopped because she was needed elsewhere), then threatened with having his tongue pulled out and sundry other torments by yet more Good Guys.

Again, not a problem for the Good Guys. Which pretty much makes them not-Good Guys.

(I keep hitting the wrong key and typing “Good Goys”. Which, I guess, most of them are. Goys, I mean. Definitely not Good.)

This wouldn’t be a problem for me if this were all somehow to demonstrate the shadiness of the Good Guys and the moral peril involved in trying to be Good while sometimes doing not-Good. But that’s not how it’s set up: we’re supposed to cheer how bad-ass our Good Guys are.

Fuck that.

The Clairvoyant is bad because she (and, c’mon, she’s gotta be a she) engages in the crudest form of ends-justifying-the-means consequentialism. SHIELD has put the earth in danger and thus can’t be relied upon; someone else is gonna do what’s gotta be done to protect the joint.

Which makes her different how, exactly, from the Good Guys? Why shouldn’t I take her side?

Screw ’em all; I’m done.

So now I have space for another show. Maybe Friday Night Lights? Or how about Breaking Bad? At least we know (almost) everyone on that show is bad, right?





The Sneakers theme

30 11 2013

Are you watching Leverage?

You should be watching Leverage. Good actors, good characters, good dialogue, good humor, good-hearted (if sometimes sketchy, somewhat schematic) plots.

And capers! It’s a caper show! Yay capers!

Streaming on Netflix. G’watchit.





The birds all sing as if they knew

10 11 2013

Yeah, they did it. Surprise, surprise: did anyone really think a mere church burning would stop them?

I’m talking about Brennan and Booth on Bones, of course. They got married. Of course. After numerous obstacles (because psycho-killer Pelant wasn’t enough of one) they married in a white tent, with Cindy Lauper singing “At Last.” Of course.

It wasn’t terrible, as these things go, but utterly entirely predictably predictable. I mean, why introduce the former-priest pal-o’-Booth at the beginning of the season unless he’d be the one to perform the ceremony?

Oh, about that: If these two were so tight, why didn’t we meet Mister Former Priest Bartender before this? And where were Jared and Russ? Did these brothers not even merit a mention?

Bitch bitch bitch, I know. I’m not hate-watching Bones—really! I’m not!—but it is true that I’m grumpy after almost every episode. Why am I even bothering?

One, even though it’s nowhere near as good as it was in the first 4 or 5 seasons, it’s still not bad. The plots have gotten pro forma, but the writing is still pretty good.

Two, I like the characters. Hodgins is my favorite, and I like his relationship with Angela (even if he is a bit too moony), and I like Cam quite a bit. Booth & Brennan may both be a bit stale, and Caroline has been softened too much, but she still gets some good zingers.

Sweets is all right, still slightly annoying, and Daisy is still very annoying—which kinda endears her to me. The rest of the interns are, whatever, interns, and it seems as if they dropped Mr. Southern Gothic from the line-up, which is fine with me. (I liked the actor just fine, but Edgar-Allan-Poe they overheated the character’s backstory.)

Three come Friday night I am not at all ambitious, so sitting down to watch Bones, even in its exhausted state, works for me. I’m mildly entertained, which most Fridays is enough.

That last may be the most important reason I’m still watching the show. There are other shows I will theoretically check out (Orange is the New Black, Scandal, Top of the Lake, The Bridge, Misfits), but I’m just really. . . lazy when it comes to getting to know a new cast & set of storylines.

Anyway, I keep thinking This season will be the last, so the coda-reason is that I want to be there not just at the end, but through the end.

If it ever ends. *Sigh*