Category Archives: Uncategorized

Bye, bye, LiveJournal!

I love blogging. It’s like keeping a diary, but you self-edit so your posts are not so torturous to read later. And for those times you absolutely must splay your guts on the page, you can write a blog post and mark it “private.” It’s like having a secret pen pal.

I started blogging maybe around 2009? I quickly settled on LiveJournal, partly because other friends of mine were there too. Then Facebook came on the scene, and LiveJournal started doing pushy advertisements, so I switched to WordPress, leaving my old stuff on LiveJournal.

It’s not entirely the same. WordPress feels more professional and less personal, and with less of a sense of community. But it’s where I am.

Meanwhile, something happened with LiveJournal. It turns out it has been owned by a Russian company since 2007, and I neither knew nor cared. But after the 2016 presidential election, in which the Russian government explicitly meddled in the U.S. democracy, I care a damn lot. But more to the point, the servers are now living in Russia and subject to Russian espionage  (guess it wasn’t a secret pen pal after all), Russian law, and Russian censorship. This is happening in the context of human rights abuses in Chechnya relating to LGBT folks. (By the way, there is a call-out to folks to consider donating to an organization called All Out, for emergency evacuation of LGBT folks in Chechnya.  ) LiveJournal put out a new Terms of Service that everyone using LiveJournal had to agree to, and a bunch of people are leaving in droves and moving over to

Here’s a blog post with more info (especially see the comments): New LiveJournal Terms of Service.

So, goodbye LiveJournal. I made a backup on Dreamwidth (under an alias so I can splash fanfiction and whatnot on the page without worrying about the mess) and then I deleted my account. I am copying over some of my more interesting posts to this blog, as time permits, and back-dating them.

emma peel moved her blog

Let that be a lesson to me!

Somehow I ran down my iron stores and ended up with iron-deficiency anemia. In retrospect, it was inevitable. I’m a pre-menopausal woman, and although I’m not a vegetarian, I rarely eat red meat. Also, I donate blood.

The symptoms came on gradually and didn’t scream out “iron deficiency!” For starters, my red blood count was normal less than three months ago, when I last gave blood. But I was frequently lightheaded and had activity-related headaches, and a normal aerobic workout would wipe me out for the whole day. Oh, well. Now I know. I’m taking the supplements and starting to feel better, except for the upset tummy that iron supplements cause.

But it’s also a metaphorical object lesson. I just kept right on giving blood, without making sure I had enough iron in reserve. In other words, I ran myself into the ground. But I do that in many other areas of my life as well. I give other people more of my time than I mean to. And since the last presidential election, I’ve pushed myself to be more politically active than I can handle, which has meant an important life goal (my novel) has been sliding.

So my goal for the next month or so, as I build back up my iron stores and my energy: practice being selfish. I’ll see how it goes!




Teaching anti-fascism to kids

All my life I’ve heard “Never forget!” when it comes to the Holocaust. But clearly, something has gone awry. Maybe the meme was too weak. Maybe we needed “Pass it on to the children!” instead. Because there’s a big difference between remembering as an individual and keeping the memory alive in a culture that spans generations.

As a child I read The Diary of Anne Frank, and The Chocolate War, and I watched Fiddler on the Roof and The Sound of Music. These had a big impact on me. But what are my children reading and watching? My assumption was that since I knew the material, my children would know it too. Of course that’s false.

So I was searching for something unrelated (anti-fascism in Europe) and randomly came across a post too awesome not to share. It’s about a workshop done by a multi-ethnic youth arts and education organization in Bosnia. The facilitator reported back on what they did and for which age group, and it sounds like they had a blast!

“Anti-Fascism Day 2016”

And here’s an adorable graphic that had been up on Indymedia Scotland but was made as part of a poster for an anti-fascist meeting in Athens. Modern-day Athena?


– Kristin

More concerning than Tromp

Suppose for a moment that our president-elect is not the main threat to our freedom but a buffoon whose primary purpose is to be so outrageous as to distract everyone from worse things happening. And suppose for a moment that everything U.S. citizens have taken for granted is no longer a certainty. As someone who reads dystopic science fiction and has paid attention to happenings in Latin American countries, and as someone with children who will inherit tomorrow, I think about these things.

It’s easy to get frightened here, but let’s not. Let’s start with the assumption that the worst we could imagine is preventable. In this case, the first step is to predict it. If you’re somebody who hasn’t paid a lot of attention to what’s happened in other countries, now’s the time. So, here’s a link to an interview with author Isabel Allende explaining what happened the day of the military coup in Chile, when democracy was suddenly abolished.  And here’s a link to some excerpts from the novel Horizontalism by Marina Sitrin, which talks about the day that Argentina froze bank accounts and used the money to pay off an IMF loan, leaving people without their savings for months. Anyway, those were my starting points for understanding the world around me a little better.

Right now it’s clear that the New Deal and civil rights legislation, both hard-won in the twentieth century, are under attack by our current Congress. And people are already worried that loss of the Affordable Care Act will cost lives, and asking whether Medicare and Social Security might be next.

What other damage could Congress do? I can think of a lot of things — defund the EPA, repeal worker protections, and more.

But what aren’t we thinking about? How about a substantial revision to the Constitution, dramatically limiting the federal government’s ability to raise taxes and pass laws?

That’s impossible, right? No. According to the article “Corporate America is Inching Even Closer to a Constitutional Convention” on the web site In These Times, apparently, the U.S. close to having something that hasn’t taken place in the entire history of our country: a constitutional convention.

According to Article V of the U.S. Constitution, the states can convene a constitutional convention without the federal government’s go-ahead if two-thirds (34) of them pass a resolution in favor. Right-wing organizations—and their billionaire funders—have been working feverishly for decades to get state legislatures to call for such a convention, with the explicit aim of limiting the powers of the federal government.

According to the Constitution, such a convention would only have the power to propose amendments, which would then be ratified only upon approval by three fourths of the states.

What’s concerning here is that model legislation has been written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and if you don’t know what that is, now’s the time to find out! I like to think of them as a fourth branch of our government–the corporate branch. Unelected, secret, unaccountable. And there has been a dry run of a constitutional convention using ALEC’s model legislation.

That warrants close scrutiny. In a Tromp era, with more and more people angry at the federal government, efforts to limit it will be popular among both the right and the left. But here’s the rub: curtailing federal rights can make states more tyrannical. As the article points out:

But ALEC doesn’t just fight for states’ rights over the federal government. It fights for states’ rights over everything else, including local governments. After focusing on state legislatures for decades, they now hold decisive control in states across the country, which they have used to stalemate state budgets, and push an avalanche of “state preemption” laws to entrench state control over local towns, villages, cities and counties.

It’s also worth noting that the recent federal election, which put in place a conservative president, Congress, and governors were affected by voter suppression, including voter ID laws proposed by ALEC. The issue of voter suppression, detailed in an article in The Nation, is one of the most under-reported stories about the recent election, but also one of the scariest.

What else aren’t we thinking about?

How about the bizarre goings-on within the U.S. intelligence community–the CIA, the FBI, and whatever Homeland Security is doing? Hacking, Russian blackmail, and who knows what else. It’s like there’s some turf war going on with unknown stakes. Yesterday Anonymous came forward with a threat to release damaging material on our president-elect — after having made but not followed through on a similar threat before the election. That’s surprising enough on its own, but an even bigger surprise to me is that when I checked the news, the top hit announcing this threat was not for any traditional media but rather rt dot com.

Anybody know what that is? Leftists have been forwarding lots of articles from it. Really, anything damaging to the president-elect appears legit to us. We’ve gotten lazy.

But remember: the enemy of our enemy is not necessarily our friend.

That website, which jumped to the very top of my news feed, is Russia Today — the Russian state-owned media. Why did it jump to the top? Is it because it’s that popular, or because my news feed has been personalized? It’s concerning either way. Because whoever can manipulate the news can manipulate the nation. And to what end? What does Putin want? Would destabilizing the U.S. help him achieve his goals?

Our representative government is a big stinking mess right now. People have lost faith in it, for good reason, and with every new Tromp scandal our faith grows weaker.

But there are no other democratic proposals out there on the table. Our constitution and our system of elected officials is, at the moment, the best thing we have. Let’s not throw them out the window.

To make a long story short, what’s more concerning than Tromp? The possible loss of our democratic institutions. That’s what. Let’s keep a sharp eye and all our wits about us in the days and weeks to come. Watch the news, but also watch behind the news.


– Kristin King

Classic Who to Try

Suppose you like New Doctor Who and you want to try out Classic Who, but maybe you don’t know where to start, or maybe you watched a serial and you got bored because it was too slow. Don’t despair: there’s no wrong way to watch Doctor Who. But, as I mentioned in my last blog post, you might not want to start at the beginning and watch straight through. Think of it as a buffet. Start at any part of the table, pick up some stuff, and watch it. That’s what Italo Calvino would have done.

One thing to keep in mind: the show is made up of stories, or serials, with several episodes each. You don’t always have to watch every episode in a serial to get the gist of it.

In this blog post, I’ll suggest some serials that might be fun as starters. Be forewarned: there’s plenty of sexism, racism, ableism — any kind of “ism” you can think of, it’s in there. The show is a product of its time. Also be aware that every single one of these serials is ridiculous. I mean, seriously — a time traveling police box?

Accept it and move on. There’s plenty of fun to be had.

First Doctor: William Hartnell (1963-1966)

Ah, the mid 1960s. Globally, that was a great time for experimentation in film and TV. The first Doctor, William Hartnell, began as an irascible old man who kidnapped two schoolteachers in a fit of pique. And the show began as a combination of history lessons and outer space adventure.

Try these:

An Unearthly Child – The episode that started it all. It firmly establishes the Doctor’s character as an erratic and unpredictable man with a time machine. The focus, though, is on his granddaughter Susan, an exceptionally bright young woman. If you like, you can watch just the first episode in this serial and skip the rest.

The Daleks – First appearance of the iconic pop hit monster. They are scary, even to my modern sensibility.

The Edge of Destruction – A psychological thriller set entirely in the TARDIS. They had no special effects budget and very little time to write the script, and they did a lot with what they had.

The Web Planet – If you enjoy giant bug monsters on a low special-effects budget, watch an episode or two. I watched them all and I still have their spacey wacey high-pitched chirping in my head.

The Space Museum – This serial is a puzzle involving time’s multiple dimensions. It deals with a topic central to time travel stories: can you change the future or not? And there’s a subtle jibe in the script at the phenomenon of female characters leaving the TARDIS to get married.

The Time Meddler – The villain is the Meddling Monk, a time traveler like the Doctor. In apparent contrast to the Doctor, the Meddling Monk tries to change history for the better. What happens when he tries to stop the Viking invasion of 1066?

Second Doctor: Patrick Troughton (1966 – 1969)

Patrick Troughton’s acting superpowers are his slapstick and his ability to panic magnificently. He’s often compared to Moe from the Three Stooges. He’s got a warm personality and a melodious voice. Every so often he impersonates the villains so well that you do start to wonder. He’s the first Doctor I ever saw, and my favorite.

I suggest:

The Tomb of the Cybermen – The first appearance of second most famous Doctor Who monster. And they’re scary.

The Enemy of the World – The Doctor’s doppleganger is a ruthless dictator, and I had great fun watching them impersonate each other. It’s beautifully written and well acted, although the dictator’s accent is a weird combination of Italian, German, and Latin American.

The Web of Fear – All the wandering through abandoned subways you could ever hope for.

The Mind Robber – More ridiculous than most, and also one of the most inventive. Lovely metafiction.

The Krotons – This is the story that made me sit up and take notice of the show. The character of Zoe, a young woman, outdoes the Doctor on a math test. Go, Zoe!

The War Games – This one has ten episodes largely about wandering through battlefields, getting captured, escaping, and getting recaptured. I found the endless escapes fascinating and enjoyed watching the Doctor talk smack to generals. Somebody else might be deathly bored. Either way, I wouldn’t recommend watching more than two episodes at a time.

Third Doctor: Jon Pertwee (1970-1974)

Jon Pertwee is a dandy, with his ruffled sleeves and aristocratic accent. He’s paternalistic and arrogant. If you can’t stomach that, move on. I’m fond of him because sometimes I crave the illusion that somebody else knows what’s going on in this crazy world of ours. He was also the perfect Doctor to be challenged by 1970s “women’s lib.”

I suggest:

Inferno – A nightmare parallel world, in which drilling down to the center of the earth leads to worldwide cataclysm. Most vivid end-of-the-world scenario in Doctor Who, both Classic and New. It’s not pleasant getting there — the parallel world is more authoritarian, and all the characters we rely on are corrupt. There’s a hint that the Doctor has become the ruthless dictator we last saw in “Enemy of the World.”

Terror of the Autons – The Autons are a scary “uncanny valley” kind of monster, so successful that they were brought back as the villain for the first episode of New Who.

The Mind of Evil – Features a standoff between the Doctor and his arch-enemy the Master, including a lot of psychological drama. The Master became a favorite villain who appeared in quite a few of the following serials.

The Three Doctors – This serial brings together Jon Pertwee, Patrick Troughton, and William Hartnell. It’s fun to watch the dynamics between them, especially since they dislike each other so much.

The Time Warrior – This serial introduces Sarah Jane Smith, a long-term beloved companion. She enters as a determined women’s libber and confident journalist, who thinks the Doctor is a villain and opposes him with great gusto.

Planet of the Spiders – The Doctor goes on a solo mission to face the consequences of his actions, and Sarah Jane investigates a suspicious meditation group while also using compassion as a secret superpower. It’s full of mental powers and cool caves.

Fourth Doctor: Tom Baker (1974-1981)

This Doctor is many people’s favorites. He’s the “all teeth and curls” one with the long scarf. He adds comedy to all the serials, some of which are just plain cheesy and some of which deal with more serious topics.

A few to try:

Robot – This story deals with machine intelligence and ethics. Sarah Jane rocks it as a journalist / spy.

Genesis of the Daleks – This is the Dalek origin story, and introduces Davros, who genetically modifies the compassion out of his people. It asks serious questions: What if you could go back in time to stop the architect of a genocide? And what is the ethical responsibility of science?

Revenge of the Cybermen – Tom Baker faces off against the Cybermen.

Pyramids of Mars – Okay, lots of cheese here, including robots disguised as mummies and then Tom Baker disguised as a robot who’s disguised as a mummy . . .  but I liked that they brought in a god from a non-Western mythology. Plus, Sutekh, destroyer of all, has a great voice.

Brain of Morbius – Major cheese, as the villain is a Doctor Frankenstein type. There is also a powerful group called the Sisterhood of Karn, who have a relationship of equals with the Time Lords but who are strangely idiotic in their understanding of the lifegiving “sacred flame” they guard. I suggest it because the Sisterhood of Karn becomes really important, and much wiser, in New Who.

Warrior’s Gate – A stone gateway, a magical mirror, and a struggle by the Doctor’s companion, Romana, to help stop slavery. She leaves the Doctor and the TARDIS as a hero.

Logopolis – It has math, the Master, and a cool looking world. It’s fun.

Fifth Doctor: Peter Davison (1982-1984)

This is the friendliest, pleasantest, most pacifist Doctor. He’s a nice guy.

Here are a couple of good ones:

Castrovalva – This serial takes place in an Escher-like world with a dangerous secret at its heart. The Doctor is unconscious for much of it, leaving the companions to carry off the adventure.

Kinda and Snakedance – These two serials can be watched separately or together. The Doctor and his companions visit the same world, aeons apart, to face the same monster. The Mara manifests physically as a giant, low-budget snake, but also exists in the inner reaches of the mind. Both serials tackle colonialism and introduce non-western ways of thinking about our world.

Black Orchid – This is a classic tale of a Victorian household with a secret in the attic. The Doctor impersonates . . . well, a doctor. And there’s a costume ball.

Mawdryn Undead – A paradox with disastrous consequences. It also introduces an “evil companion” who spends the next several serials trying to muster the nerve to kill the Doctor.

Enlightenment – This serial concludes the enjoyable “evil companion” plot, so you might not want to watch it until you’ve seen the rest. But it’s got outer space sailboats piloted by bored and lonely immortals. And people get to dress fancy and dance. First serial written by a woman.

The Five Doctors – Okay, if you can only watch one Classic Who serial, this is it. An evil mastermind is playing with Doctor Who action figures. Or, in other words, all the Doctors and some of the favorite companions are pulled out of time and into a forbidden battlezone on the Doctor’s home planet, where they get to reprise the best of their old roles.

Sixth Doctor: Colin Baker (1984-1986)

Sadly, the fifth Doctor was poisoned, and the regeneration went wrong. Colin Baker flirts with insanity throughout his serials in what was supposed to be a satisfying story arc but was cut short by fan disapproval and/or failures at the BBC. He’s mercurial, arrogant, patronizing, and prone to occasional fits of violence. Sometimes this comes off well.

Here are a couple serials I liked:

Mark of the Rani – Rani is a Time Lord scientist who lacks ethical constraints. In this serial, she’s taking advantage of the Luddite riots to drain hormones out of workers. She lures the Master into helping her and kidnaps the Doctor. It’s always fun to see smart villains with actors who relish their parts. Also, she pairs off quite nicely with this unbalanced version of the Doctor.

The Two Doctors – This one features Colin Baker, Patrick Troughton, and genetic manipulation by a mad scientist. There’s a lot of fun as Troughton starts turning into an Androgum — a species with a taste for sentient flesh.

Seventh Doctor: Sylvester McCoy (1987-1989)

This is my second favorite Classic Who doctor. He brings vaudevillian fun and a lovely Scottish accent, but under the surface is a lot of Machiavellian scheming. His run was cut short by the cancellation of the show.

I suggest any serial by him, but particularly:

Paradise Towers and Happiness Patrol – Two shows with two different brightly colored dystopias. In Paradise Towers, rival gangs fight with red and blue spray paint, elderly women eat their neighbors for tea, while something monstrous is gradually making its way up from the basement. In Happiness Patrol, blues are outlawed and execution is by candy syrup.

Ghost Light – It’s another creepy Victorian house with a madman in the attic. There are also things coming to life that should have stayed dead, a Pygmalian story, and a monster who didn’t factor evolution into his plans. The Doctor (and the show too) shows interest in character development for the companion, Ace. This is a first.

The Mark of Fenric – This serial, set during World War Two, involves spies, codebreaking machines, complicated evil machinations, and also a rare glimpse into what women do during a war. Ace has even more character development.

Survival – Because cats.

Okay, that’s it: a Classic Doctor Who starter course. Enjoy.

How to Watch Classic Doctor Who

I keep meeting people who like New Doctor Who and either can’t get into Classic Who or wonder where to start.

My answer to “where to start” is always: in the middle. You can’t go too far wrong by grabbing any Classic Who episode, watching it, and then turning off the TV for a day or a week. That’s because the show was produced in half-hour(ish) segments with cliffhangers at the end of each one. There might be anywhere from two to eight episodes per story (which is called a serial). Since it was the nature of television that viewers would often miss some of the episodes in any given serial, there was always enough backfilling that a viewer could figure out more or less what was going on.

So let’s suppose you try watching just one episode. One of two things will happen. One: you’ll be so interested that you’ll want to watch the next part of the serial. Two: you’ll decide that particular serial is boring, but at least you’ve gotten the flavor of the show. And you can rest assured that there will be a lot of different kinds of stories you can try. Also, there are a lot of different flavors of the Doctor and the companions.

I started with Patrick Troughton, the 2nd Doctor. I recommend any of his stories. They’re over-the-top, inventive, frivolous — lots of things I like, but that might not be everyone’s cup of tea. It was shown for one hour a week, which is twice as much as originally broadcast, but still manageable.

When Patrick Troughton regenerated into Jon Pertwee, I was shocked and dismayed. I had no idea that regeneration was part of the story, I didn’t much like the character of the new Doctor, and I didn’t like him being stuck on Earth for such a long time. I warmed up to him more by the time his companion Jo Grant showed up and adored him by the time of “Planet of the Spiders.”

I was down with the whole regeneration business by the time we got to Tom Baker. By then I was on a quest to find the old Patrick Troughton episodes, and the old William Hartnell episodes. I had to join a local Doctor Who club to do it . . . and later became the president and stored a life-size foam replica of the TARDIS in our family’s shed . . . but that’s another story.

William Hartnell episodes are awfully slow by today’s standards. I wouldn’t recommend starting there for most people, and if you do, absolutely don’t start with The Gunslingers.

You can’t go too far wrong watching the very first episode of the first serial “An Unearthly Child,” because it introduces the concept and the Doctor and the companions. However, you don’t have to watch the rest of that serial if you don’t want to. You could skip ahead to any other serial in Season 1, depending on what you like. Sci fi? Daleks? Historical fiction? I particularly enjoyed the episodes “Edge of Destruction” and “Brink of Disaster” because they were written with zero special effects budget and just featured suspense and characterization. Your mileage might vary, though.

In the next post I’ll talk more about some of my favorite Classic Who episodes and why I liked them.

waters of mars lanscape

Inklewriter in the classroom

I’m volunteering in my son’s fourth/fifth grade classroom, and we’re putting together a Choose Your Own Adventure based on the Iliad and the Odyssey. It’s been a whole lot of work but even more fun! That’s because we’re using a free online tool that’s just amazing.

Here’s their website and their description:

At inkle, we believe it takes great writers to tell great stories.

That’s why we’ve created inklewriter, to help writers tell interactive tales with the minimum of fuss. inklewriter keeps your branching story organised, so you can concentrate on what’s important – the writing.

inklewriter is a free tool designed to allow anyone to write and publish interactive stories. It’s perfect for writers who want to try out interactivity, but also for teachers and students looking to mix computer skills and creative writing.

Yep. On the first day in the classroom, I logged on and started typing, based on student feedback. It turned out that the protagonist was a 12-year old thief from Ithaca, happening upon the Trojan War. After the first paragraph, I entered two options: investigate or run away.

The next step was to organize the students into groups, and work with each group. Because the tool is so flexible, I didn’t have to do it in the order the story branched.  Instead, I assigned groups based on location and student interest. The groups were:

  • Battle of Troy
  • Sailing with Odysseus
  • Sirens
  • Death
  • Hades
  • Mount Olympus
  • Modern Day

(I fought valiantly against having a Modern Day category, to keep it in ancient Greece, but the Percy Jackson contingent was just too darn excited.)

After I got the Battle of Troy group started, I moved on to the Odysseus and Sirens groups. I typed in their pieces and added the necessary links from one section to another.

As you might imagine, it got pretty complicated pretty fast. But that was OK, because there are some awesome tools. For instance, there’s a map tool, which shows you a tree of the story structure, with one box per paragraph. You can click on any box to see the path that gets you there, and you can double-click on it to close the map and get straight back into the story in that exact paragraph. There’s also a searchable panel of paragraphs to the right, and it shows you any loose ends (options that lead nowhere) and paragraphs that aren’t connected to anything. That makes it really simple to unattach one paragraph and re-attach it somewhere else.

Smooth, elegant, intuitive, easy.

Not that the process itself was easy. Keeping track of student drafts, making sure all the students knew what they were doing, and making sure the students all had something to do — that was hard. Fortunately, the classroom teacher is experienced and basically fabulous, and I was able to work with students a handful at a time.

After the Battle of Troy, Odysseus, and Sirens groups were mostly done, I moved on to Death, Hades, and Mount Olympus. By then I had figured out how to manage groups a little more easily. I brought a packet for each group, containing their planning and rough draft documents, and I handed it out at the beginning of each session and then collected it at the end, to review and enter their drafts.

One thing you wouldn’t know unless you were a classroom teacher is that the kids all finish up at different times, produce wildly varying quantities of work, and require either no support or intense one-on-one support. Again, thank goodness for a classroom teacher who knows how to manage that kind of thing. For that last category I did scribing — that is, they spoke and I typed or wrote.  I love doing that, because my hope is for every student to grow up feeling confident about their writing, and scribing is an important tool for some.

After that, I worked with the Modern Technology group.

At some point, the work of entering and organizing the student work got ahead of me, and I ended up taking some time off to enter it. But once I had done so, I was ready to show it off to the class! That was so fun. The teacher chose students to read passages, alternating between girls and boys, and when we came to an option the class voted. We went through about four storylines and then we cut it off.

The best moment? Seeing the smile on the face of one of the students I had scribed for, as that student’s work was read.

There is still work to do. I had the challenge of how to help the students edit not only their own work but also its connection to work that came before and after. To do that, I printed a hard copy of the story-in-progress that I had copied into a Word document.

Copying it over was complicated. I titled each section with the name of the student who had written it, the group they were in, and, if they had written multiple sections, which one it was. At the beginning of each section, I used bracketed text to indicate where it had come from, and at the end of each section, I used bracketed text to indicate where the options led.

Then I handed it out, group by group, to be checked over by the students who were done with their first drafts. Students who were still working on their first drafts kept on working.

Now I have some new text to enter and some edits to make. I’m looking forward to it!