Sunday, May 27, 2012

Catching Up


First off, here's a cute little petition that Rasty thought up -- and sent off to various sites that might enjoy it.

The idea behind this is that, given the intelligence – or lack thereof – of a lot of recent Arizona politicians, we’d like to see some sort of guarantee that our elected officials hereafter should be at least more intelligent than Koko the Sign-Language Gorilla. Koko has been known to pass human IQ tests with scores between 80 and 90. Therefore…

“Any person running for any public office in the state of Arizona must first qualify by taking a standard Stanford-Binet Intelligence test, and pass with an IQ score of at least 95.”

Heheheheh. I daresay there are a lot of states other than Arizona that should pass the same law.


It may be a bit premature to comment on the Phoenix ComicCon, since it's still going on, but what I did manage to see was quite impressive.

Admittedly, I was a last-minute invitee -- called in for a one-day (Friday) membership so I could fill in on the "Elfquest" panel. I didn't have that much to contribute, besides a couple of Elfquest songs, the brief history of how the album "A Wolfrider's Reflections" came to be made, and a bit of historical information: that Elfquest wasn't the first graphic novel ever published; that honor goes to "God's Man", by Lynd Ward -- a novel composed entirely of one-page woodcuts -- published in 1929. Still, during that panel I learned a lot more about the history and probable future of the franchise than I had in all the years previous.

Aside from the panel, I got a quick glimpse of the rest of the convention -- which was huge. The last couple of conventions here in Phoenix, LepreCon in spring and CopperCon in autumn, have been pitifully small. I'd originally thought this was because of the economy; after all, people can't afford to spend money on fun -- like SciFi conventions -- when they're out of a job. But seeing the numbers at Comicon, I had to revise that opinion. The problem is that the clubs which sponsor conventions simply haven't been recruiting new blood over the past few decades, haven't advertised sufficiently on the Internet, haven't tried to bring in the kids by devoting more tracks to gaming, films and TV shows, and particularly haven't kept up with SciFi publishing. In case anyone hasn't noticed, the number of hard-copy SciFi magazines has shrunk down to no more than three: ANALOG, FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, and ASIMOV'S. Meanwhile, the number of online SciFi e-zines, and e-books, has grown by leaps and bounds. Most of the clubs haven't noticed this, and that was a mistake.

The 'zines that have remained in hard-copy print, in great numbers, are comic books -- which explains the success of Comicon. I didn't get the actual membership figures, but the population I saw was huge. I'd say it was half the size of DragonCon, but in about the same convention-space. The dealers' room was easily the same size, and the number of tracks was nearly as large. I wish I'd gotten to see more of them. Though it's primarily, as the name says, a comics-convention, there were enough tracks (and dealers' products) on other subjects to qualify it as a comics-leaning general SciFi con. This is much the same direction that DragonCon took, being first a gamers' con and then branching out.

From what I heard there, the only local SciFi con of similar size is DarkCon: another specialty convention, this one themed toward "pirates -- past, present and future". From what I've heard, the future-pirates are beginning to outnumber the past-pirates, and both totally outnumber the present-pirates. This rather implies that DarkCon will follow the same path.

I wish them both luck.


In the same week, I saw articles on the Net announcing that: a) according to the Council on Islamic-American Relations, complaints about Sharia law being pushed in American courts are "racist"; b) according to several Baptist pundits, groups campaigning for alternate or "green" fuels are "Satanists"; c) according to a group of nearly 40,000 ultra-Orthodox Jewish men in New York City, the Internet must be heavily censored because it promotes "unadulterated freedom" -- which is supposedly a bad Thing. Wow.

What this shows is that fundamentalists of all three of the big monotheistic religions are tyrants, bigots, paranoids, and just plain nuts. And I've even seen certain brands of Buddhists tending that way. *Sigh*

Why do I get the feeling that the world is headed for another showdown between religion and rationality?

--Leslie <;)))>< )O(

Friday, May 18, 2012

Two New Book Reviews

Hi, team; I'm back. Three weeks ago I got an accidental cat-bite on my right thumb (long story), which got infected, which made it swell up, so I haven't been able to type for awhile. Now that my sore thumb is no longer sticking out and I can type again, I have a couple of overdue book reports for you. Enjoy!

 Ping and the Snirkelly People, by Aya Katz

 This is Aya Katz's third children's book, and it's thicker, deeper and darker than the previous two. It's told from the point of view of Ping, a bright little 6-year-old Chinese girl, who's come to America with her parents, and is sent straight into a public school first-grade class -- with absolutely no advance warning -- to learn English. She's supposed to pick it up by "immersion" (much as the author herself did, at the same age), which roughly means learning how to swim by being tossed into the deep end of the pool. To Ping, all these other kids and teachers aren't really talking; they're making "snirkelly-snorkelly" noises. Nonetheless, Ping observes and learns, phrase by phrase, to understand. She's obviously a bright little thing.

Half the fascination of the book is watching first grade through an outsider's eyes; the other half is what Ping's observations reveal about herself and her family. We can chuckle at Ping's innocent arrogance: thinking the American kids are "messy" because they all wear different clothes, and have different colors of hair and eyes and skins, or that they're "stupid" because they have trouble learning an alphabet that has only 26 letters. It takes a bit of thought to remember that the Chinese language has a different letter for every word, while English contains close to a million words -- which explains why the Americans "have trouble understanding their own language". More is revealed about Ping's background culture when we see her scandalized by a first-grade teacher "crossing the line" to talk to a second-grader, and we can understand the teacher having a good laugh over it.

 More intriguing is what her experiences reveal about her parents, even though we never do find out why they're visiting America in the first place.
Her father, who regards anything done only for pleasure as "opium", reveals himself as a self-righteousness-blinded bigot when he insists that one of Ping's classmates must be poor -- despite what Ping herself can see about the girl's huge house, abundant clothes and food and toys -- because her family has five children. He reveals still more when Ping develops tonsillitis and her father refuses to give her the standard tonsils and adenoids operation -- "no sulgelly" -- thus condemning his daughter to a lifetime of colds and a reedy adenoidal voice. (If this is a common Asian prejudice, it explains the adenoidal voices so common among them.) His condemnation of anybody else's religion as "superstition" is only to be expected from a proper Chinese official who could be trusted to visit America for a year -- and then come back.

Ping's mother, on the other hand, reveals herself as a subtle sadist. She never misses a chance to remind Ping -- and everyone else -- that the family will be returning to China at the end of the year, even as she urges the little girl to make as many friends as she can and learn everything possible about American society. She also lets the little girl suffer agonies of guilt for having said the Pledge of Allegiance in school every morning. The only comfort she offers her daughter at the end of the school year is to tell her that it's good for some people to be happy in their ignorance.

Most intriguing of all, though, is something mentioned only in passing -- that this is all taking place during the Johnson administration, the year 1967. This was the height of support for the Vietnam War. Ping and her family come from undeniably Communist China, yet nobody -- not the teachers nor the other 1st-grade children -- ever make Ping suffer for it. One can only hope that when Ping grows older, and looks back on her year spent in America, she'll remember that.

 Altogether, this is a many-layered and very thought-provoking story for a children's book.

Vacuum County, by Aya Katz, Inverted-A Press

An old friend once said that in a small town democracy can be really immediate -- but then again, so can fascism. Vacuum county, Texas, and its county seat, Vaca City, is a near-surreal example of the fascist variety. In the entire story, it's hard to find a single admirable character.