Thursday, February 28, 2019

Why MeToo Should Be Calling Out the "She's Crazy" Meme

Last week on Twitter I ran into the notorious Monsanto publicist known as Kevin Folta. Let me say up front that although aunts are supposed to provide examples of polite behavior, I do not have a lot of respect for anybody who's still in favor of allowing glyphosate to be made or sold in North America. Too many people have died. (Any is too many.) Whatever respect I did have for this sold-out "scientist" evaporated when I read his reaction to the most important glyphosate study at the NIH website:

Read it, please, by all means. Now, this is a very long and detailed study. It's been criticized for including some hypotheses based on the data it contains; that's a format issue, which may concern the editors of some journals, but in no way invalidates the data. If anybody went over every one of those studies it cites, number by number--which Folta should have taken the time to do, if anyone would, and which I suspect he's not done because I'm sure he'd be squawking like a hen over an egg if he had done--then it would be a phenomenon, maybe even a miracle, if they didn't find a mistake somewhere. If any real math-heads Out There want to look for math mistakes and point them out, the way "Notorious KGB Aggie" did for last week's major new study claiming that "glyphosate increases humans' cancer risk by 41%," I'd be delighted to publicize that on Twitter. Real science is all about finding math mistakes and fixing them so that we can get at whatever empirical truth our human minds can reach via the Scientific Method.

I think there's an obvious problem with any claim that anything "increases humans' cancer risk by 41%." Which cancer? There are lots of different ones--and although it's painfully obvious that glyphosate is one of the cancer-promoting factors, there are also lots of different glyphosate reactions. I don't blame anyone with a name like Gillam, or like Kennedy, for liking anything that helps people decide to support a ban on glyphosate. The fact is that we of Irish descent aren't likely to survive current levels of glyphosate exposure anywhere near long enough to find out exactly how much glyphosate raises anyone's risk of any kind of cancer. We'll have died from more immediate reactions long before that can be known.

Folta could have crunched a few numbers, as (anti-glyphosate!) "Aggie" did, and scored some good points that way. Let's rub his face in that now. He let a random Twit who identifies as a Russian-Canadian veterinarian--a female one, and this matters--score those points, while he was making a jackass of himself.

Instead, jackass chose an ad hominem attack on the authors of the study. Tweeting to a female writer, he chose an ad hominem attack. This matters. Writers are people whose high I.Q. scores are based primarily on verbal logic. Statistically, the difference is not enough to amount to a positive sex characteristic, but females' general advantage on I.Q. scores is based on a more widespread tendency for females to excel in verbal logic, whereas males have a less widely distributed tendency to score higher on math. Male scientists are nearly always math-heads. Female writers are nearly always word-nerds. And word-nerds perceive an ad hominem argument as such a non-starter that unless the personal hostility is extraordinarily new and well based, like a serious claim that "This writer killed my dog and ate it, raw," just using the ad hominem argument is an insult to our intelligence. If you're trying to enlighten, rather than annoy, a female writer, you don't use a contemptuous reference to a person, ever. You use a solid fact, if you have one, or shut up.

Why attack one author rather than the other? One reason might be that, on the screen, the name that comes first in alphabetical order is hard to read. During the Twitter storm, people weren't sure whether the male scientist was Sansei, Samsel, Samsei, Sansel, or maybe Sensei (which is Japanese for "Teacher," so it's a good thing to call him if you're not sure, but it's not his name). Nobody took the time to copy and paste it into a proper-looking font that has serifs and find out. NIH's software makes that very easy to do in Chrome. Here's his name, as it pasted from the NIH page:


Here's how it looks in our normal font:


So now we know. But Folta showed a more sinister motive for attacking the female scientist when he called her "kooky." His ad hominem attack invoked a well documented stereotype, recently documented as undead, that If A Woman Does Happen To Be Serious, or "Smart," or Even Older than a Male Speaker, There Must Be Something Wrong With Her Brain, because the female brain is supposed to be "smaller" and therefore childlike and permanently incompetent, so female competence is a form of brain damage, q.e.d.

Folta rallied a bunch of young gender traitors--I don't actually know which ones are subsidized by Monsanto-Bayer and which ones know Folta personally, nor do I care, and some of them may even be Democratic Party goons who were waiting for an opportunity to spew hate at me for not toeing their party line--to scold me for using the #MeToo hashtag to call attention to this vile display of sexist bigotry.

The late Mike Royko comes to mind. #MeToo #MeToo #MeToo. I said it and I'm glad.

A lot of people missed the chance to score off me, too, during this Twitter storm. I typed "Seneff" into a tweet. Twitter reacts to any capitalized word inside a sentence by pulling up a list of Twitter names. I didn't remember the scientist's full name so I clicked on the name of some Twit I don't know who uses "rachelseneff." Duh. It's Stephanie Seneff. But Folta's followers had to forego the chance to call me out on carelessness, because Folta was carelessly using R. Seneff's Twitter name, too, until someone complained...

Anyway, I referred anyone who hadn't read it to Tina Fey's memoir, which I read only recently, and which documents the resurgence of the "She's crazy" meme among hater-boys.

It's a flippin' bestseller, so I find it hard to believe that people are honestly unaware...I mean, my natural sister cited this. Anything from a book that finds its way into my natural sister's consciousness has been well and truly popularized. This is not because the kid is stupid but because she's spent her life trying to be Not Me, Not Mother, Not Cousin -- or Cousin -- or Cousin --, etc. ad nauseam, which basically means not talking about it if she reads much of anything. Some women, of course, really are below the 100-point average I.Q. level, but more women merely have some sort of motive for trying to look as if they were. This has not changed during my lifetime.

For those interested in studying the hideous history of this stereotype, two classics that should still be easy to find are:

Then, earlier in the week, I heard a local lurker's reaction...I didn't tape-record or write down the exact words, and have left out identifying details, but this is the gist of the story:

Just lately I heard that my second cousin Tim was telling people I "had mental spells" and "used to chase my sister around with a butcher knife." Tim was trying to impress someone by claiming that he used to live near or be close to our family. If that were true he would have realized how ridiculous that lie is!

Our parents were very religious, and maintained a very wholesome baby-safe environment where they tried to shelter us from the evil influences of school and other children. They were vegetarians, so we didn't even have a butcher knife in the house. We knew what butcher knives looked like from books, but we thought of them the way we thought of razor strops or buggy whips.

And both of us were the kind of goody-goody girls our parents were trying so hard to raise. Quiet, polite, workful, tidy, always attracted to things that allowed us to sit still and keep our clothes clean until we were directed to work in the garden or the kitchen.

We did have just a small spark of childish humor. We liked to giggle about the idea of adults doing stupid things. This was encouraged as being likely to help us say no to stupid choices when we grew up. We laughed at stories or songs about, for example, somebody drinking beer--how icky!

So on one of the old records in the family collection there used to be a song parody. First a man sang,

"I'd be happier, dear,
If you'd throw it in here.
Go get me some beer.
I've been dry all day,"

...and then he sang,

"There stands my wife
With a long butcher knife.
She's after my life.
Brother, I'm on my way."

Well, we thought that was a scream! Booze and violence! We joked about that. We made up a little story or skit about this family, where the father was so incredibly lazy he would sit around and whine for his wife to bring him beer, and then the mother got so fed up she threw him out of the house at knife-point. We gave them a name--a name we'd found in a book, not used by any real people we knew--and some more adventures, which ended up with this foolish father getting into a fight with a policeman and going to jail, and his children dancing and singing "Oh, hurray, hurray, hurray, Daddy went to prison!"

And our parents were not amused by our acting out stupid behavior, even in pantomime...but it got to be a joke that whenever we'd ticked someone off, usually by being goody-goodies, we'd say that that person was "after my life with a long butcher knife." Of course the person was really "after" us with a nasty remark, a failing grade, or at worst a paddle. That was why it was funny to remember the song about the knife.

But as we grew older, both of us did start to worry about having "mental problems." And what were those "problems," exactly? Well, older Christians had told us that the love of Jesus was supposed to remove all feelings of anger, and probably all feelings of lust, from our hearts--and it hadn't! It wasn't working! We still felt angry, oh, maybe every few months, usually when somebody was poking at us to see whether it was possible to make us angry. Sometimes we raised our voices! Two or three times during my teen years, I even said "hello" without the O! Also, almost every month, I used to have dreams if not waking thoughts about touching boys I didn't even want to marry! And both of us, each in turn, was privately, silently worrying that this meant something was wrong with us. I sneaked out and talked to a therapist when I was nineteen, and my sister even checked into a hospital for "postpartum mood swings" in her twenties--because WE WERE LIVING HUMAN BEINGS.

I actually needed to hear a state-certified psychologist tell me, several times, while we observed my "mood swings" over one entire year, that I was not an unusually angry person. If anything, I was unusually slow to anger.

Like most women, I learned, I'd do better--for myself, for other women, and for our children male or female--to express more of what some people may want to call inappropriate anger, meaning anger or at least assertiveness about their abusive behavior. For instance, when guys try to turn us against another woman by using that lame old "She's crazy" stereotype, we need to start saying "What's wrong with HIM, that stupid jackass. How can he imagine that we'd ever listen to THAT kind of idiocy."

I last heard from this person here called Tim, again from a third party, trying to impress people by suggesting that he was the person with a similar name they'd been reading about in the newspapers. (He resembles that person, and is probably a distant cousin.) I think young Tim should reconsider the rules of the church in which he was brought up, with help from a therapist if necessary, and embrace his talent for writing fiction. If he calls it fiction and writes it in the third person, it's neither gossip nor lying.

Meanwhile I think women should make a point of expressing support for any woman whose intelligence has been derided by any mere male. Of course women can be wrong, and should be corrected if they are wrong...with facts, but never with sexist hatespeech.

Some Twits suggested--with a conspicuous lack of exact quotes or links--that Stephanie Seneff has made some statements that their malevolent memories recalled as sounding unscientific. Because these Twits' hate was showing I'm not terribly concerned about what Seneff actually said or wrote. If anyone cared to challenge her on facts, that might be worth mentioning. That her opponents prefer to attack her, personally, if not with ad hominem hatespews then with obvious gross distortions of things she has supposedly said, tells me a lot...even if some of her opponents use female-type names on Twitter.

I judge the final score of last week's Twitter debate to be: Seneff 1, Folta 0...and that's giving Folta a point by calling a foul on myself, because his foul performance was sub-zero.

I think it's now clear, too, why Folta is unlikely to try to enter the #GlyphosateAwareness debate. I wouldn't block people who tried to post pro-glyphosate arguments; in fact I've retweeted those arguments. But Folta is not interested in discussing science with competent adults, probably because he already knows that that's one debate it's never going to be possible for him to win.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Our Nasty Weather Is Someone's Disaster

Within the "Bad Poetry" category, I think of this one as a separate sub-category I call "The Poetry of Real Appalachian Speech." 

I’ve been accused of having a Northern accent. Middle Atlantic, I’d say. I’ve never tried to talk like the older residents of the Blue Ridge Mountains. That would be misleading for speakers of the dialect and confusing for people who've learned the BBC or ABC versions of English. But I have written down things older mountain people have said and thought, “That’s a poem.” This one was actually a conversation in which some of the words were spoken by me. 

The general pattern has held true since this poem was published on AC, more than ten years ago. Reforestation has continued to attract a lot more rain than my part of the world got when I was growing up, and when the humidity starts to get on my nerves, the news media are usually reporting that it’s an “edge” of a weather pattern that’s killing people and destroying buildings somewhere else. Over the weekend, in local phenology, the February Thaw began with floods (Gate City's Quarry Pond spilled up across West Jackson Street! Everybody's cellar was wet!), so this bit of Bad Poetry seems timely again today...

Well, it’s raining again.
Dang! Wasn’t supposed to rain till evening.
Stupid weather forecasts.
Stupid forecasters.
Anybody’d have to be stupid to try to forecast the weather around here.
Well, some say they need more rain.
Who says who needs more rain?
Everything is rotting, rusting, falling apart
because all we ever get around here is rain.
Two years in a  row, almost every day, all summer long, rain.
Georgia gets a snowstorm. We get rain.
New England gets an ice storm. We get rain.
Ohio gets a blizzard. We get rain.
Big Stone Gap, Virginia, gets a freak tornado
which shouldn’t be possible, in its location. We get rain.
The creek’s up over the road, up there.
You’re joking. That high up the mountain? Can’t be.
Is, though.
Dang! You know I didn’t even want to buy that land.
They said it wasn’t supposed to rain this morning.
We get rain.
Turn on the computer.
Two dead in Murfreesboro, Tennessee,
which isn’t supposed to get tornadoes either.
Three dead in Arkansas. No body count yet in Kentucky.
We get rain.
Maybe we are supposed to learn something profound from this
but I’m not going to be the one to preach about it
because I still absolutely hate
all this rain.

Everyone in town seems glad to see the sunshine...some of the puddles left over along the road started to freeze, overnight, but now the sun feels warm. People who stayed inside last week have ventured out, making my little town look positively busy today.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Friday Cat Post: Mudpie Interviews Samantha and Serena

Serena, Junior Queen Cat

Samantha Scaredycat

In other words, I answer a meme posted by Mudpie’s Human (last summer) at . Readers should be aware that, in these conversations-with-animals posts, the animals' opinions are often different from mine. I go by their behavior.

Mudpie: When did something start out badly for you, but in the end, it was great?

Samantha: I had four kittens. I was in a hurry and gave birth to them too quickly. Even Serena, the one who lived to grow up, was smaller than a kitten is supposed to be. Well, now she's bigger than a cat her age really ought to be. Things work out in the end.

Serena: I had no litter mates, so I had no one really to play with. Mothers are too busy. I tried to teach the human to play with me. Humans just aren’t good at games. But then I found my foster brother, so my worries have been over. Mom no longer worries that I’m spending all my time trying to communicate with the human rather than learning language properly. My brother is just intelligent enough to follow my lead. 

Mudpie: What weird food combinations do you really enjoy?

Samantha: Kibble on top of a canned cat treat. Kibble mixed in with rice. This morning we had some peppery rice that nobody liked much mixed with some chicken and some kibble. It made that old dry kibble taste a bit fresher and more chickeny, even though I still don't like pepper.

Serena: Do you think pepitas are weird, or do you like them too? We all like pepitas. They're only all right while you're crunching them, but then you feel bouncier afterward. The human says they kill tiny worms that are trying to grow inside us.

Mudpie: What food have you never eaten but would really like to try?

Serena: Ice cream. The humans have had it a few times and not even let me lick the carton. When they let Mom lick the carton, she didn't leave any for me. How can they waste anything that smells that good on a possum?

Samantha: Old Heather used to remember chicken teriyaki sticks. Long ago she said that humans used to go to a Chinese Restaurant and get boxes of chicken cooked with weird vegetables for themselves, and one teriyaki stick for each cat. She said the sticks had more cooked chicken on them than a whole live bird has, even if birds weren't always covered in yucky green spots under their feathers.

Mudpie: What food is delicious but a pain to eat?

Samantha: Birds. Urgh!

Serena: Birds. The parts of them that aren’t turning green taste just fine but even Mom says they always make her sick, just the same. Chicken is obviously in the bird family, but the humans may be onto something, not eating it or sharing it until they've cooked it.

Mudpie: What’s the most expensive thing you’ve ever broken?

Samantha: The human's skin...that always costs me a lot of yelling and scolding that makes me want to be locked in my Safe Place. I only tell her to put me down, let me go, leave my claws alone, etc., and the next thing I know she's shouting "Bad!" and locking me inside.

Serena: I don’t break things. I push them down, pull them down, claw at them, and slide on them. I'm not allowed to be around things that might break. It's not fair. I was born in the human's office room but I'm not allowed to be in it any more unless I'm sitting on her knee.

Mudpie: What would a world populated by clones of you be like?

Serena: It would be full of excitement! Everyone would always be up for a good fast game! Humans would give up trying to use vertical space to store things. Dogs and raccoons would go extinct. Cats would stop indulging humans in the fantasy that they’re our mothers—as if!—and train them to be good servants.

Samantha: Did the human just say “All the cats would be calico divas who couldn’t stand each other”? No way. My clones would worship me! All the Torties would stay home and beautify their own porches, so there'd be no trouble with them, and all the Toms would stay nearby and protect their Torties. Well, at least they'd be bigger and be stuck outside the cat doors if the Torties wanted to run inside...

Mudpie: What smartphone feature would you actually be excited for a company to implement?

Samantha: A cat phone. This would work on humans who set out breakfast for their cats and ran. The cats would go and scratch something to activate the phone, and it would say, "You left your cat alone at home. Go back and protect your cat!" The hours I used to spend huddled under things, knowing that old Heather and her spoiled son wouldn't protect me in case of danger--and then, knowing that I didn't even have them to hide behind--! Even indoors is a frightening place for a small timid kitten!

Serena: Nothing electronic works at the Cat Sanctuary very often. A radio might pick up WGAT, two miles away, but nothing further. Sometimes my human’s phone will ring. Usually she ignores it but once in a while she’ll pick it up just to scream “Can’t hear you.” When the other person gives up she’ll sigh and say “Back to reality.” That means us cats! So, maybe there could be a “Back to reality” feature that shuts down all electronics on weekends. All humans should be free to putter around their homes and gardens and adore their cats. Ours definitely enjoys weekends.

Mudpie: What’s something people don’t worry about but really should?

Samantha: Leaving their cats alone, or alone with people who don’t appreciate cats, when they go into town and use phones and televisions and the Internet and that sort of thing. Outdoors, we’re vulnerable to predators. Indoors, we’re bored. Humans should stay at home with their cats all day.

Serena: We need the mental stimulation of rearranging things all over the house and yard, and they need the exercise of picking up things we push down. It’s a total win-win. Mom says the human used to leave her alone all day, before I was born, and she felt afraid and alone. Everyone left me alone a few times, when I was little and they thought I was asleep, and I'd wake up and feel afraid and alone and also cold! Mostly my brother and I stay close to home and protect Mom, now that we're bigger than she is, but we are only cats. We can't just loom up over a dog and shout "Go home!" the way humans do. Deer are basically giant mice waiting to be killed and eaten, but their feet are hard and sharp and they attract the bad kind of humans. Humans love a playful, bouncy-pouncy kitten. All the humans I've seen wanted to play with me, but they can't. They should stay home and play with their own kittens more. 

Mudpie: What was cool when you were young but isn’t cool now?

Samantha: Milk.

Serena: I really try not to hurt my human. I mean I grab her and chew on her, but only for fun, not to hurt her. I've learned to stay away from some humans who just don't understand games. My human says I'm too rough and tough for my own good and she worries about me, but give me credit, right? I do learn

Mudpie: If magic was real, what spell would you try to learn first?

Samantha: A spell to make predators and traffic disappear!

Serena: A spell to bring toys to life and make them really interesting.

Mudpie: What goal do you think humanity is not focused enough on achieving?

Serena: Wealth. If my human were rich she could stay home and supervise me outdoors all day, every day.

Samantha: Purring. The humans say I don't purr much, but they don't purr at all. They say they don't have proper purr-boxes. I don't see them trying very hard to develop whatever they do have.

Mudpie: If you were a ghost and could possess people, what would you make them do?

Samantha: Stay home--

Serena: --and play with their cats all day.

Mudpie: What game have you spent the most hours playing?

Samantha: When there weren't other cats I spent a lot of time hiding from predators--and when there are, I spend a lot of time keeping out of their way! Everybody's bigger than me...except mice.

Serena: Hunting! I also like chasing, racing, and sometimes fighting. 

Mudpie: What’s the most comfortable bed/chair you’ve ever been in?

Samantha: I suppose every cat remembers the nest of her kittenhood, back when her mother used to feed her, and all she had to do was get into the warm spot, which is easy when you're the smallest, and snuggle.

Serena: Well, sorry, Mom, but you weren’t all that cozy and neither was our nest box, especially after you’d been sick on the blanket and we just had to lie on the floor. The human’s laundry table would be perfect if she didn’t keep taking the laundry off to wash it. The woodbin is nice and airy in summer, if the possum didn't want to sleep in it too. My search for the perfect spot continues.  

Friday, February 15, 2019

Bad Poetry: Man Is a Sinful Being

O Lord, Thou hast delivered me
From sin thus far today (he said):
Now help me, Lord, in greater need,
For soon I must get out of bed.

Book Review: With Scissors and Paste

Title: With Scissors and Paste

Author: Leila M. Wilhelm

Date: 1927, 1948

Publisher: Macmillan

ISBN: none

Length: 117 pages

Illustrations: many diagrams

Quote: “You may cut a pattern, or draw it, or tear. it. But do not make it too small.”

This advice comes form the first pattern, which is for a stand-up cardboard Christmas tree. Other things primary school readers can learn to make from directions in this book are “window pictures,” place cards, scrapbooks, dollhouses and furniture, an oldfashioned “Fifth Avenue bus,” animals and a circus wagon, a Noah’s Ark, a diorama, a toy village, toy cars and trains, and an “express cart.”

They will, of course, have a quaint, almost antique look about them. They can be made using currently available supplies. The trademark “Tempo paints” were nontoxic, non-staining tempera paints, suitable for use on cardboard, wood, or paper. Similar products are available in craft stores.

Instructions are given for making the projects from paper and cardboard. The “express cart” is problematic. It’s big enough for toys or a small child to ride in, but won’t give much satisfaction unless adults make it in wood.

This was an unusually well built book. The copy I resold showed its age more in its quaint illustrations, little boys in knickerbockers and Fifth Avenue pedestrians in hats and long skirts, than in any other way. The thick smooth semi-glossy paper lay flat and had resisted mildew, and the sturdy cloth binding held up through years of library use.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Bad Poetry: Love Is an Old Song

I promised someone a poem. I've not written a new one but here, in honor of the Hallmark Holiday, is the full text of a song...Each of the verses has a different tune. If you’re a baby-boomer, the words will convey that tune to you. This is quite a performance piece but it’s fun to sing, even if your truelove's hair is white. (Come to that, I seem to remember a vintage parody about "red red RED was the color of my truelove's hair..." Whatever. If you know the tune(s), feel free to folk-process that line as you like.)

Love is an old song that you and I have sung many times before,
Back in the days when our world needed love-sweet-love not war.
Love is like a butterfly. Love is a rose.
Love is sunshine on your shoulder. Love is a mountain stream that flows.

Love is teasing and love is pleasing, and love is pleasure, at least when new.
As love grows older, it may grow colder—it may grow bolder, too.
Love should flow, and love should grow, and love should be strong,
Carry us back to where we started from, before we went wrong.
Love is an old, old song.

Love sees all things lovely, and love makes us kind.
We’d like to teach the world to sing the songs love lets us find.
(Think you saw me with another? Then just let your folly be;
You know I think more of your little finger than of his whole body)...

Love is moonlight on a June night, honeysuckle on the breeze.
Love is fine long summer days and apples on the trees.
Black is the color of your hair, and the colors that you bring,
Like the flowers of the summer woods, are a many-splendored thing.

One more spin on the merry-go-round! There’s no one like you.
The days when I don’t see you, the whole world turns misty blue.
For all the years we’ve lived apart, only you can stop the rain,
Reverse the hourglass of time, make me feel twenty-five again.

(Now this post needs an Amazon link. Hmmm...In honor of Anti-Valentines Day, why not a novel from a science-fiction future where everyone understands that  Romantic Love, or "Romeo & Juliet Syndrome," is a sort of childhood disease, in no way to be confused with the love of real Partners for Life. Here's the first three of what eventually became eight novels from that future. The cover, not chosen or approved by the author, reflects the way sf was marketed at the time...that's not the way I would have visualized the poetry slam scene.)

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Book Review: Will of a Tiger

Title: Will of a Tiger

Will of a Tiger by [Yang, Iris]

Author: Iris Yang

Date: 2019

Publisher: Open Books

ISBN: 978-1948598132

Length: 295 pages

Quote: “He’d heard two horrible stories on the same night— one friend had been beaten to death by the Communists, and the other had lost everything and almost starved to death under the Nationalist government.[Iris Yang. Will of a Tiger (Kindle Locations 2880-2881). Open Books.]”

Trigger warnings: Although this is a classic Moral Tale about how a good person survives bad things, it’s full of horrible stories. As with Wings of a Flying Tiger, a simple English vocabulary does not indicate a book suitable for children. Will of a Tiger contains graphic sex and violence and period-appropriate hate.

Iris Yang says she didn’t plan to write a sequel after writing Wings of a Flying Tiger, a novel about China in the early 1940s, but then she became interested in what happened to the pilots known as the Flying Tigers after 1945. It wasn’t pretty. The Chinese people achieved some unity during the urgent need to fight Japan, then used up their remaining resources and energy fighting each other. There were no pensions for the veterans who’d done their bit toward winning one war. There was another war, without supplies, and often without the spirit of brotherhood that had alleviated their suffering during their first war.

In Wings we met the tragic heroine Bai Moli, White Jasmine, who was too good for this world. Fleeing the Rape of Nanking, this art student found a wounded American pilot who’d been left for dead and rallied the people in an obscure (fictional) mountain village to rescue him. Because they already knew and admired Jasmine’s cousin Bai Hua, White Birch, who was also a fighter pilot, the village adopted Danny Hardy. When Birch came back to the village, he and Danny took a formal vow of brotherhood.

Will is the pilots' story. Birch and Danny have visited each other’s countries, learned each other’s languages, and piloted fighter planes as a team, before they’re shot down and taken prisoner by the Japanese enemy. Danny has begun reading a Chinese novel about brotherhood by which Birch was impressed. After some months in a prison camp, the nastiest Japanese soldier tells fourteen prisoners to choose which seven of them are going to die in the morning; if seven don’t volunteer he’ll kill all fourteen. Birch and Danny argue about which of them should die for the other. Danny’s wound may have been aggravated beyond all hope of real healing, but he still has a family. Birch is healthier, but has lost most of his close relatives. A relatively kind Japanese soldier has been giving Danny painkillers. Later Birch wakes up with a headache, a hung-over feeling, and a sinking feeling that if Danny had escaped somebody would have noticed him.

Then Birch is shot, knocked down into a trench, and left for dead. He loses a leg and spends months in a coma. His passionate, very modern, U.S.-educated “girlfriend” has rich parents who tell her that couples always separate after a disaster. His father, General Bai, is still alive to tend Birch, and so is his late mother’s half-grown housemaid, who is, in old China, legally a slave—“bought” from other people, not paid wages.

Desperate parents could sell their children as slaves; “luck” determined whether such children were abused, prostituted, starved, or brought up like adoptive children of rich families. Being kind and well educated, Birch’s parents have even taught the slave Xiao Mei, “Little Sister,” literacy along with cooking and nursing, and in due time General Bai planned to arrange a respectable marriage for her, as if she'd really been Birch's little sister.

Though custom dictates that after some years of faithful service a slave was considered to have earned her freedom, Xiao Mei asks nothing more in life than to go on working for Birch’s family, because she’s always adored Birch. She nurses him night and day, until his eyes start to open, with traditional Chinese medicines—including “yang enhancers.” Her status is so much lower than his that she can’t hope to become his wife, but she’s always hoped to be sexually exploited by Birch, who is too nice to exploit anybody and wants to be an ideal husband...if he can be a husband, at all, now. 

One of the most pleasant parts of this novel is watching Xiao Mei, whose crush on Birch was a joke between him and Danny, mature into a fine “modern” woman anyone would want to claim as a sister, or wife, or daughter.

However, the will of a tiger seeks goals beyond romance, or even fatherhood. Before they were tortured in the prison camp, Birch was teaching Danny to read a Chinese novel about the virtue of brotherhood. Birch and his father believe in brotherhood. The civil war disgusts them; they advocate for the new idea that government, as well as fellow soldiers, should support veterans. This idea is unpopular as many Chinese people prefer to vent their leftover hostility toward the Japanese on their political opponents. Some hate General Bai for being a Nationalist; Birch is arrested and tortured for giving money to the aged parents of another Flying Tiger who was a Communist.

U.S. readers have read about the self-destructive "ideological purges" and partisan hysteria among Mao’s Communist Party; we’ve read less about similar excesses among the survivors of Chiang’s Nationalist Party. Yang’s point is that when people lose the ideal of brotherhood, it hardly matters whether they’re Chinese Nationalists, Chinese Communists, Japanese enemy troops, or common thieves. In this book we see people in all four categories behaving badly. Birch’s purpose in life, as a disabled veteran, is to live out his beliefs about brotherhood, consistently giving people a good example whether he’s admired or beaten up for it. That’s what loyalty to his father (and to Jasmine’s memory) requires, so that’s what he does.

In the nineteenth century moral tales were an overworked genre. (The best nineteenth century moral tales in English survived as “children’s classics,” like Deerslayer or Little Women.) In the twentieth century many U.S. editors turned against the whole genre. It became fashionable to believe that nobody really does choose to act according to an ideal of human virtue, or, if someone did, the virtue wouldn’t be rewarded. Nobody is perfect! (Even Birch smokes, as most men of his generation did, and grows old at an early age.) Nevertheless in real life most of us do meet a few people who live according to their ideals, and we find that sometimes diligence does lead to prosperity, courage to victory, and kindness to love. Will of a Tiger is a fine example of a moral tale with adult content. If you admire President Kennedy or Senator Dole, you’ll love Birch and wish history had made it possible for his story to end even more happily than it does.

Though I’ve read very little about the civil war between the followers of Mao and Chiang, I guessed the answers to most of the questions the characters raised. Nevertheless I, who usually take two or three pages of a novel to put myself to sleep at night, did sit up till two o’clock in the morning finding out how the story ends. On a computer screen, yet. I’d like to spare others that experience. Buy the book—your eyes will be glad you did.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Correspondents' Choice: January 2019 Books

New Caribbean novel...I have mixed feelings about Caribbean books and writers. My husband immigrated to the United States, legally, from Canada, but he was born on Trinidad island, the setting of this book.

First to be seen by me, anyway: David Goetsch's Christians on the Job came recommended by an executive at Chick-Fil-A, where one of The Nephews is now learning to manage a restaurant. Not instead of university (I hope), but before. There are several reasons why this seems like a particularly good choice for this young person. (As regular readers know, the collective name "The Nephews" is here used to preserve the privacy of both nephews and nieces.)

From LJ's Naomi Novik:

Spinning Silver: A Novel by [Novik, Naomi]

This one was shared by Mudpie's Human; if you use this link to buy it Amazon will send the commission to her, which is fair:

Pet Loss Poems: To Heal Your Heart and Soul by [Van de Poll, Wendy]
Buy it from Melissa

Recommended, to those who've not already read it, by 

Book Review: Wings of a Flying Tiger

Title: Wings of a Flying Tiger 

Amazon will try to steer you to the Kindle edition of this novel. If you have the money it's worth buying the real book.

Author: Iris Yang

Publisher: Open Books

Date: 2018

Length: 254 pages

ISBN: 978-1948598064


"A war zone isn’t a place for anyone, let alone a beautiful girl like you. Those horrible things… You must have heard about some of them.”

“That’s why I have to go."

Iris Yang. Wings of a Flying Tiger (Kindle Locations 191-193). Open Books.

Trigger warnings: JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING that might activate anxiety, depression, guilt, rage, or grief is in this novel. It is a classical tragedy about the horrors of war. Read it when you feel ready to deal with any and all the unpleasant emotions known to humankind. Then feel cleansed, strong, and motivated to work for peace.

Wings of a Flying Tiger begins and ends with Danny, the American pilot who's taken out twelve other Japanese fighter planes before one of them takes him down too. In between chapters of Danny's story, we read mostly about Bai Moli, White Jasmine, the "tall" (five feet six!) and beautiful art student who "has to" make the trip to rescue her parents from the Rape of Nanking. Arriving just as her murdered parents' bodies begin to decompose, Jasmine becomes a sort of symbol of the city: brave and generous, tortured and violated, heroic to the end.

By a mistake the publisher sent me the second volume of a two-volume story first, so I knew that the first volume does not have a happy-ever-after ending for Jasmine. I did not guess how her story was going to end. The author has chosen to spare Danny, whom she rescues and promises to marry, and White Birch, her favorite cousin, from knowing all the details of Jasmine's story.

The year the young men really get to know Jasmine is in some ways a heartwarming one. Everyone is hiding from the war in a peaceful mountain village, full of old people and children who project their feelings for the young soldiers in their families onto the wounded soldier Danny. (Until Birch visits, the closest thing the village has to young men are two teenagers, an ordinary empty-headed kid called "Rock" and a slightly older but even dumber one called "Wood.") Most Chinese women have no formal education, a luxury only a few rich families can consider; Jasmine, Birch, and Birch's little sister Daisy speak English and Japanese as well as Chinese and are greatly respected, even though Jasmine is a shockingly modern girl who has actually touched Danny, once or twice even when he was conscious, before promising to marry him. Everyone likes their pet American "Flying Tiger." The children love his war stories, and Birch and Danny formally adopt each other as brothers. Most of the villagers have managed not to know much about what happened in faraway Nanking.

For those in my part of the world who have devoured all those stories of old China by Amy Tan, Gus Lee, Bette Bao Lord, and Carolyn See, here is that next part of the story where our favorite novelists usually tell us "And then the main characters came to America." Here is the part of Chinese history they left behind. It is not quaint and strange and very far away from the real world. It is real and dark and bitter and foul, and not something for the faint of heart to think about--except that it's what war is really like. Jasmine stays pure at heart; her fatal flaw is her unmitigated niceness; she's too good for this world. Danny accepts Birch in place of his lost buddy Jack, and might be able to accept Daisy in place of Jasmine when Daisy grows up, if Danny lives so long...what becomes of the young men is the other story readers will get in Will of a Tiger. The other characters, the nice old people, the adorable little children, poor clueless Rock and Wood...that's war, Gentle Readers. That's why war is never a good thing.

These stories are simply told, if not in "words of one syllable" at least in the commonly used words that put the books at a fifth grade reading level. That's because English is not Iris Yang's first language, not because the Flying Tiger stories are suitable for children. They're not. They contain explicit sex and graphic violence and the hatred that is part of war. Adults should read these novels if they dare, and renew their commitment to practice peace.

Buy them as new books, now, to show respect. This web site may offer them as Fair Trade Books if this web site lasts another ten years.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

It's Called Acting

Pursuant to the shocking revelations that a high school brat who got into a quarrel with an older man while both were making themselves annoying in Washington, and Virginia's Attorney General Mark Herring, and who knows how many other people may have (horrors!) dressed up as members of a different racial group at some time in the twentieth century, this web site feels compelled to confess...

The writer known as Priscilla King was, in the 1980s, a member of the college choir and drama group at a small sectarian college in Maryland.

Actually, it was in Takoma Park, the suburb-town notorious for being a little less expensive but no less multiethnic than Bethesda, where the elementary school students were regularly surveyed and found to be native speakers of, collectively, more than 60 languages. While the stars of the college plays were usually native speakers of some form of English, members of the chorus were a mixed group.

In 1984, the writer known as Priscilla King appeared in a performance of God's Trombones, a musical based on the poems of James Weldon Johnson.

God's Trombones by James Weldon Johnson

As a play God's Trombones is hardly even worth counting. The plot, to the extent that there is one, is that a church lady dies of old age and her son finds comfort at a funeral service where the congregation keeps bursting out into song--traditional spirituals, or parts or remixes of spirituals. Six members of the cast carry a coffin, two (or more) recite Johnson's poems as prayers or sermons, the young man sings a few lines from spirituals, and everyone else stands around singing. That's it. All characters are presupposed, for historical reasons, to be Black Americans. The writer known as Priscilla King, who has no known Black ancestors but is approximately the same color as Toi Derricotte, appeared on stage in the front row of the choir, unpainted, singing, and uttering one speech: "Poor Sister Caroline." Numerous other White students were on stage, none in real "blackface." Whether I was placed up front because of my color, my height, or both, I didn't ask. Our collective intention, at the time, was to suggest that even though we were White, mostly members of Seventh-Day Adventist or other non-Methodist churches, in Maryland, in the 1980s, we wanted to show some solidarity with Black members of Methodist churches in Georgia in the 1920s.

The stars of this musical "play" were Black, and although they were all repeatedly invited to join the official college choir and drama group, sponsors had had to offer actual scholarship money to lure them away from the Singspiration Gospel Choir. This was an independent cultural institution in Takoma Park that met in the basement of one of the college buildings and toured around the Middle Atlantic States. On Friday nights the group held open practice sessions, slash, religious services, slash, talent searches, slash, fundraising drives. These were open to the whole metropolitan area at no charge but, in the 1980s, the traditional rule was that White people had to be invited by Black Americans. Invitations weren't hard to come by. The writer known as Priscilla King attended many of these events. One year, one of my White schoolmates even toured with the choir.

Moreover, as a result of this scholarship funding, in 1985 one of the stars of God's Trombones appeared in a performance of The Pirates of Penzance where, due mainly to height, she not only sang but danced as the very youngest sister, younger even than Isobel, who was played by the writer known as Priscilla King. (Isobel is technically a speaking part, although her one line in the libretto is often cut. Basically the younger sisters are a chorus whose role consists of singing, giggling, and squealing.)

The Pirates of Penzance

The Black American singer, although quite dark, did not bother with real "whiteface" makeup either. (Actually all of us, including the men, shared makeup in a way that was very unhygienic, not to mention unflattering.) Our collective intention, at the time, was to suggest that nobody actually gave a flip what anybody looked like, any more than anybody believed that we were the youngest of nineteen sisters of whom the eldest was seventeen.

In on-campus life, that nobody cared what anybody looked like was not quite true. In the 1980s the Seventh-Day Adventist church administration was still organized with mostly-Black and mostly-White churches represented in separate "conferences," which sponsored different prep schools; when the little preppies graduated they came to college in little clumps that spent rainy afternoons reviewing their high school yearbooks together, and always sat together in the cafeteria, and so on. So visitors to the campus could see roughly color-matched social groups. Various college employees used to cluck and fuss at us about this in assembly, and in 1984-85 a small group of (mostly older, more independent, more introverted, and more gifted-and-talented) students became noticeable as being a recognized diverse group...strangely enough, those college employees were not actually pleased with us. Their displeasure had less to do with the fact that Black and White Adventist churches have evolved distinct musical and liturgical styles than with the fact that major college funders wanted the social group that appeared to be having the most fun to be the one that included their children, not us self-funding outsiders. But anyway we, the actors and musicians, honestly did not care what anybody looked like.

It's called acting, people. The fun of dressing up is acting as if you were someone you're not. Get a grip.

When we criticize high-budget Hollywood productions, it does make sense to demand some degree of ethnic match between actors and characters. This gives ethnic-minority actors a chance, however slim, at an equal opportunity to play lead roles as easily as ethnic-majority actors do. How else would U.S. audiences have developed due appreciation for Rekha, for Chow Yun Fat, or for Djimon Hounsou?


But when college students play-act, even in official college-sanctioned fundraisers there's seldom any financial benefit to the students. Most of the time, if money is involved at all, it's the kids' own pocket money they're spending "just for fun." They're kids. They're playing "let's pretend" for what may be the last, best time. They're not trying to make fun of different ethnic groups, genders, generations, or whatever else they may be impersonating. They may actually be learning about whatever kind of people, or other lifeforms, they're impersonating. They're having a good time, while sober, and usually not even staying out (very) late or driving cars.

This web site was not a fanatical fan of Mark Herring back when we were reading his collected works in the Virginia legislature, but if the nastiest dirt anyone can dig up to throw at him is that he once acted in "blackface," in college yet, he's a saint.

Lighten up, please, correspondents.