Open Post and Link Farm, Hopscotching Alone Edition

Honestly, I should have posted this ages ago – much of this now seems out of date. But on the other hand, maybe a mostly coronavirus-free list of stuff to read will be a relief to some?

  1. Conservative States Seek Billions to Brace for Disaster. (Just Don’t Call It Climate Change.) – The New York Times. (And an alternate link.)
    Mind-boggling.
  2. The Middle East Isn’t Worth It Anymore – WSJ
    A former U.S. ambassador to Israel argues that the US doesn’t have many vital interests at stake in the middle east anymore, but our policy hasn’t changed to reflect that.
  3. People First Language is a Problem, Not A Solution, For Fat People – Dances With Fat
    Thanks to Mandolin for the link.
  4. A Black Market for Life-Saving Insulin Thrives on Social Media | OneZero
    What’s really nice about this is that it’s not a money market, for the most part. It’s people helping people out with their extra bits of insulin.
  5. Opinion | Why Democrats Still Have to Appeal to the Center, but Republicans Don’t – The New York Times. (Alternate link.)
    We’re facing a plausible future where Republicans will be able to control the government with just 30% of the popular vote.
  6. Republicans push to weaken court that caught them rigging elections | US news | The Guardian
    They will do anything to avoid having to win elections by getting the support of a majority of voters.
  7. The Debate Link: Technically, Any Number of Seconds Can Be Split Any Number of Times
    A darkly amusing note about the “split second decision” metric used to defend police officers.
  8. Billy Joel Plays “Piano Man” for the First Time At the Bar He Based the Song On – McSweeney’s Internet Tendency
  9. The “perfect storm” behind the recent college closings in New England | Boston.comAs incomes fail to rise, and as there are fewer high school graduates, small colleges will close in coming years. This will also be bad for small towns where the economy depends on the local college existing.
  10. States with unified GOP control spend more on higher education when there is an overrepresentation of white students and less when there is not.
  11. Portion of US border wall in California falls over in high winds and lands on Mexican side – CNNPolitics
    This was a new portion of the wall – apparently the concrete foundation had not finished curing. Or maybe it was God’s judgement. Hard to say. (Just kidding, it’s easy to say, I’m an atheist.)
  12. A local theater played a program of all of 2020’s Oscar-nominated live action and animated films. A lot of them were very good, but I think my favorite was The Neighbors’ Window. Of the animated movies, I think my favorite was Mémorable, but unfortunately I can’t find a copy of that online with english subtitles.
  13. American Dirt controversy: How it happened and what publishers have learned.
    I thought this was interesting: “But the most common take on the American Dirt fiasco is that it resulted from Flatiron’s hubristic failure in what the industry refers to as “positioning”—that is, communicating the genre a house considers a new book to fit into.” In this theory, by positioning and marketing the book as a serious social commentary, rather than as a light thriller, the publishers invited a kind of scrutiny the book couldn’t withstand.
  14. GOP lawmaker can’t identify where the constitution says socialists ‘either go to prison or are shot’ – Raw Story
    How is this not an Onion headline?
  15. CityLab Daily: There’s No Such Thing as a Dangerous Neighborhood – CityLab
    Dangerous violence in cities is concentrated with a tiny portion of the population.
  16. State-federal task forces are out of control – The Washington Post
    An FBI agent and a state officer jointly beat the crap out of an innocent man. But they’re incredibly hard to sue, because they effectively claim that they’re a Federal task force when sued under state law, but a state task force when sued under Federal law.
  17. America’s monopoly and antitrust problem, explained by your internet bill – Vox
  18. To Dream of a Jewish President | The New Republic
    Inspired by Talmudic approaches, this article examines what it would mean if Bernie wins and we have a Jewish president.
  19. The top and bottom images are paintings by the French street artist Seth, whose work is as playful (and sometimes as dark) as childhood itself.

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25 Responses to Open Post and Link Farm, Hopscotching Alone Edition

  1. 1
    Ampersand says:

    (In the other thread, I wrote:)

    I’m also stepping up my binge-watching. I’ve almost finished the first season of “Altered Carbon,” and I just watched the first episode of “Berlin Babylon” (both on Netflix).

  2. 2
    J. Squid says:

    What did you think of “Altered Carbon”? I loved the cinematography, but the story and dialogue impressed me not at all.

  3. 3
    Petar says:

    Ampersand, I have a few questions about Altered Carbon:
    1) Did you notice that in the very first episode, every single Slav is portrayed negatively. (Possibly in all of them, but I stopped watching at that point)
    2) Would you have noticed if it was another ethnicity which had its members comprise of a wife abuser, two coldblooded murderers, an incompetent hitman, and a bunch of pathetically bumbling henchmen?
    3) Would you have put up with a show which done the same to another minority?
    4) Do you find it problematic that at least two of the people responsible for the show have expressed their pride in making it more diverse, and one specifically boasted that she insisted that the main character was changed, so that he chooses his Asian ancestry, and breaks off from his Slavic one?
    5) Do you think it is noteworthy that same person has at least at four more occasions changed original material to make villains Slavic, and has changed the race, or at least the ethnicity, of positive Slavic characters?

    Oh, did you notice what the first two Slavic characters in the Berlin show were? I expected that the Russians would be worse than the Nazi. What I did not expect that a 21st century German show would follow the time established German tradition of making Sorb characters low grade villains… ‘upgrading’ them from uppity apprentices befouling their masters’ daughters to treasonous pedophiles.

  4. 4
    Ampersand says:

    SPOILERS in this comment, if anyone cares.

    A) Petar, a lot of the time, I can’t even tell which characters are Slav. So no, I didn’t notice. For what it’s worth, I am more likely to think about it now because of your comments. (Also, I’m still unclear on the definition of being Slav. Are Jews Slavs, if their family roots are in that geographic and linguistic area (as mine are)? Are Blacks?)

    B) I haven’t read the original book, so I don’t know what changes were made. But I’d find it really odd, given the world built, if characters primarily considered themselves the ethnicity of their current sleeve, rather than the ethnicity of the family they were born into. Nor do I know who created the show or what other shows they’ve created.

    C) That said, I think it’s a little weird to expect the Slav characters on Altered Carbon to be anything other than evil or incompetent or victims or some combo. Because that describes virtually all the characters on Altered Carbon, regardless of their background. The Asian characters are all multiple murderers, betrayers, or both, for example – and yet I’m still watching and enjoying the show. Given the show’s genre and tone, expecting that characters of Asian, or Black, or Slav, etc to be shown as anything but awful people unreasonable.

    I guess the Black characters are less awful? But Vernon Elliot is the character I hate most; he’s completely selfish, and more interested in controlling his daughter’s treatment – even if doing so is obviously abusive to his daughter – then in her recovery. His daughter seems like the nicest character on the show, but her only role on the show (so far) is “recovering victim.”

    The Latin characters come off the best, I think. Kristin Ortega is the most sympathetic major character, and she’s only a little awful (mainly in being very selfish). Her mother is sympathetic, except she’s also a religious fanatic and bigot. Her dead grandma is very likable. But I think those are basically the only Latin characters on the show; they get to be relatively nice only because of their relative lack of representation.

  5. 5
    Ampersand says:

    What did you think of “Altered Carbon”? I loved the cinematography, but the story and dialogue impressed me not at all.

    I don’t think it’s a great show, but I’m enjoying it. It’s visually really nice, and I’m enjoying the worldbuilding. Immortality and body-swapping are both themes I enjoy seeing explored in stories, so the show automatically has an advantage with me that way. It does a nice job of often ending episodes in twists that genuinely make me want to watch more, and maybe I was just being thick, but there were several twists I didn’t see coming.

    I’m also struck by how (conventionally) impossibly great actors’ bodies have to be to be able to be leads in genre TV nowadays. (Altered Carbon has a LOT of nudity – this Vox review talks about that aspect).

    Finally, I avoided watching this show at first because I heard about the premise – “a show about an Asian man who is now in a white man’s body, and so the lead is a white guy” – and rolled my eyes and thought “wow, they’ll do anything to make sure a white guy has the lead part.” But actually, the show is in many ways one of the most successfully diverse shows I’ve seen. The non-white characters really aren’t tokens; there’s a ton of them, and this is a world in which white people aren’t the default.

    That said, it has a nasty tone and is very violent, and is sure not a show for everybody.

  6. 6
    J. Squid says:

    My favorite thing in season 1 (the only season I’ve seen – watched it years(?) ago, I think) was the hotel. Hands down, the best and most sympathetic character in the show, for me.

    Yeah, visually it was wonderful. I liked the mood, too. I thought the execution was ham handed and the dialogue and twists were clumsy, at best. But it was watchable, so they accomplished something.

  7. 7
    Ampersand says:

    It’s frankly a much more grimdark show than I usually like. I wonder if my enjoying it is in part a reaction to the current crisis.

    Still, although it’s not a show I’m going to be rushing to recommend to people, I thought it was pretty good, and will probably watch season 2 sometime.

  8. 8
    Petar says:

    You do not see a difference between having all but one Slavic characters in the first episode be one dimensional monsters and villains (the last one renounces his heritage) and having multiple characters of different ethnicities with nuanced characterizations, who may end up flawed as the season goes on, but are still recognizable as human? You seriously think that the depiction of Slavs in Altered Carbon is no worse than the depiction of Blacks, Asians, Hispanics, Muslims, etc?

    I should have expected it. No one on this site thought there was a problem with Spinning Silver, either. I can think of a dozen fantasy series in which the analogues of Eastern Europe are populated by demon worshipers, chaos abominations, subhuman monsters, etc. A Slavic name in modern SciFi and fantasy indicates a coward, a turncoat, a betrayer, or an outright villain nine times out of ten. And no one can see it even when pointed out.

    It is such hypocrisy when there is a controversy that a series depicts Asians with what is arguably questionable respect, but no one sees that the antagonists are straight Slavs… depicted without any redeeming qualities, or even basic research, leading to things like one of the main evil characters having a name that translates as Praise-the-Light.

    Of, course, it is not just SciFi and fantasy. We have all seen the thrillers which reflect the dire reality of the US murder epidemic by Russian organized crime, the rise in opiate deaths due to Russian druglords and the civilian casualties from Russian nationalists’ terrorism.

    ————–

    Can anyone come up with any positively depicted Slavic characters in recent media? I just watched Wreck It Ralph again. There are three characters with Slavic names:
    – Zanglief, who is made into a villain despite being a good guy in the game
    – Markovski, the cowardly soldier from Hero’s Duty
    – Litvak… who is not negatively depicted and whose name is Slavic, but explicitly indicates that he is NOT a Slav.

    But this is a children movie. Compared to what happens to them in Deadpool, John Wick, Boondock Saints, etc. the Slavs get off easily. Can you imagine a movie in which the protagonist massacres dozens of Black gang members because they killed his dog? Or casually dispatches every single one of the twenty Latinas packaging drugs for distribution?

    It would probably cause a stir.

    Just like a best-selling game in which a real-world crime against humanity committed by a Western Coalition was attributed to an African nation. Except that it was attributed to a Slavic nation, so no one much remarked on it.

  9. 9
    Ampersand says:

    As I already told you, I actually don’t know which characters were Slavic and which weren’t; I’d have to rewatch the episode and write down all names to tell, I guess, and even then I’m not sure I would be able to tell.

    Is the protagonist Slavic? (Or his sleeve?)

    * * *

    You didn’t answer my question about if Jews or Blacks from those regions, or descended from people who lived in those regions, are considered Slavs. I’m not implying anything by this question – I honestly don’t know.

    * * *

    I think you have a legitimate complaint about Russian mobsters being the default villains in so many movies. Back in the day it was mostly Black gangs (that seems to me to have receded), then for a while it was Mexican gangs in many movies (that’s still going on). Arab villains tend to be terrorists, not gangsters. And of course there’s the separate stream of Italian gangsters in movies, which seems never ending, and for some reason is considered high art.

    The problem is, genre movies (in certain genres) need criminal gangs, and if the movie is grimdark that gang needs to be an ethnicity. Slav gangs have been settled on, I think because Slavs in the U.S. simply haven’t organized widely enough around this issue to make movie and TV studios change their minds.

  10. 10
    Ampersand says:

    Can anyone come up with any positively depicted Slavic characters in recent media?

    I’d say that John Wick himself – the character changed his name from Jardani Jovonovich – is an example of a likable, positive Slavic character, at least within the context of the genre. Laurie in Watchmen (one of the main characters of both the original graphic novel and of the recent HBO series) is a positive character, as is her mother Sally. (Do they count? They have Polish ancestry.) Lisbeth Salander, the main character of the Dragon Tattoo books, has Russian ancestry – does she count? Does Natalia Romanov – Black Widow in the Marvel movies and comics – count? (Again, Russian.) And there’s Wanda and Pietro, aka Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, also from Marvel, although their backgrounds keep on getting retconned so I’m not sure what they are now – but they’ve been portrayed as villains-turned-heroes for most of the time over decades. There’s Red on Orange Is The New Black – she’s a nuanced character, who can’t be classified simply as bad or good, but she’s also a very sympathetic character. There’s Peter, aka Colossus, in the X-Men, who is just about the most unambiguously good X-Man. He has a sister, Illyana, who can be either a hero or a villain depending on who’s writing her. Captain Krimov, aka Red Star, in GI Joe is usually portrayed as a hero, and is either one of the Joes or an ally of the Joes depending on which story you read.

    (If this list seems comic book heavy to you, that’s because I know a lot more comic book characters than other kinds of characters).

    The other medium I know is musicals. Would all the characters in the musical “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812” count as Slavic? If so, then I’d say there are multiple positive, likable characters there. Ditto for “Anastasia.” Leon Czolgosz in the musical “Assassins” is the most sympathetic main character, but since he shoots President McKinley I guess that’s not a great example. (To be fair, practically everyone in “Assassins” shoots a President at some point in the play).

    But, again, I’m still uncertain which characters count as Slavic and which don’t. It may be that I’m mistaken to classify all these characters as Slavic. But those are the ones I could think of offhand.

  11. 11
    Petar says:

    Kovacs means Smith in every Slavic language I know, except for Russian and Polish, and in the latter, there’s one letter difference. It is a very popular surname in Bosnia, Cherna Gora (Herzegovina), Croatia, Serbia, Slovenija, etc… and of all places Hungaria, although I have no idea why. It is also the form to which at least two other nationalities shorten Kovachev and Kovachevski, when they try to disguise their Slavic names, because being Slavic is not going to make you popular in the West.

    So I am not 100% the protagonist is Slavic in the TV show. He may be of Hungarian ancestry. After all, he is probably not a villain, either. I did not watch the show.

    The politics of the book have been defanged, the Envoys have been turned from government enforcers into freedom fighters, Quellcrist Falconer has been turned from a Marxist revolutionary who came from the masses into a genius inventor and romantic interest (while being given a race uplift)… and of course her philosophy of gender and social justice (in the very best meaning) has been turned into a fucking religion.

    Ampersand, you would have probably liked the characters from the book more than you liked the ones from the show. Judging from the first episode, and your comments, the TV show has been streamlined for the mainstream.

    ———

    As to how I know who’s Slavic? If a character bears a Slavic name, is identified as coming from a Slavic country, and speaks a Slavic language, (and is depicted as an one-dimensional thus to be put down like an animal) I assume that he is Slavic. I guess I am just too thin-skinned, right?

    Just like people who take offense at big nosed, greedy, treacherous aliens. Those Watto, Shingouz, Gek, Ferengi, etc. Well, at least they get a name change.

  12. 12
    Ampersand says:

    …” her philosophy of gender and social justice…” I don’t recall her stating any such philosophy in the show. In the show she seemed (to me) like an anarchist at first, in that she was anti-government, but (SPOILER ALERT) it later becomes clear that her only actual ideology is anti-immortality.

  13. 13
    Petar says:

    As I said. De-fanged, and sanitized for American Consumption.

  14. 14
    Ampersand says:

    As to how I know who’s Slavic? If a character bears a Slavic name, is identified as coming from a Slavic country, and speaks a Slavic language, (and is depicted as an one-dimensional thus to be put down like an animal) I assume that he is Slavic.

    In that case, many of the positive/likable characters I listed are definitely Slavic. (Ignoring the requirement that characters be one-dimensional, which I’m assuming was sarcastic.)

  15. 15
    TJB says:

    To the extent it’s relevant to this discussion, I will note that several of the central characters *change* their ethnic characterizations in the second season (beauty of stacks).

  16. 16
    Petar says:

    In that case, many of the positive/likable characters I listed are definitely Slavic. (Ignoring the requirement that characters be one-dimensional, which I’m assuming was sarcastic.)

    In Altered Carbon? Not in the first episode, there aren’t.

    What show has positive Slavic characters? I’m honestly asking. I have kids and young relatives. I read and watch a ton of things, and I can count the positive Slavic characters on one hand.

  17. 17
    Ampersand says:

    I was referring to what I wrote in comment #10.

    In Altered Carbon, the original owner of the main characters body is probably Slavic. He’s a real character – he appears in the show in flashback, and his actions have consequences on the plot – and although he’s imperfect, he’s also an honest and heroic cop who gets killed because he wasn’t corrupt and wouldn’t give up investigating a murder.

    Definitely wouldn’t recommend it for your kids, though.

  18. 18
    Gracchus says:

    “Cherna Gora (Herzegovina)”

    I think you mean Montenegro, not Herzegovina.

  19. 19
    Gracchus says:

    Talking about Slavic characters, Chernobyl – one of last year’s most popular shows – had plenty of positive Slavic characters (Legasov, Scherbina, Khomyuk, Ignatenko, Glukhov, Pikalov, Tarakanov), although also plenty of negative ones (Dyatlov, Brukhanov, Charkov, Fomin) and many neutral or morally grey ones (too many to list really). The main character in Russian Doll is also Slavic and presented in a positive light as a sympathetic, even heroic, protagonist.

    You’re right to an extent Petar, the nefarious Slavic villain is something of a cliche, but it is not the only depiction of Slavic characters in western media, even in popular mainstream western media.

  20. 20
    Ampersand says:

    How did I forget Russian Doll? That’s one of my favorite shows of the last several years. (Much better than Altered Carbon.)

  21. 21
    Gracchus says:

    @Petar: Re: Kovacs being a Hungarian name, although Hungarian is a non-Slavic language, it does have a lot of loanwords from Slavic languages. Kovacs is one of them (not just as a name but also as a term for a metalworker).

    Since we are talking about it anyway, if we are going to discuss anti-Slav bias in western media, we probably have to acknowledge that the popular negative stereotype of the “Slavic villain” captures a lot of people who are not technically Slavs but are associated with them in the popular mind, e.g. Hungarians, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians etc. It’s notable that what is arguably the foundational archetype of the “creepy Slav villain” was Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, where both the actor and the character are non-Slavs.

  22. 22
    Petar says:

    Chernobyl was set in a Slavic country, so pretty much all the characters are supposed to be Slavic. Lets not even go into how realistic some of the positive characters are… people who supposedly grew up, got a job, and functioned for years in the Soviet Union, but have no idea how things work, at all.

    I wonder whether a Western View Point made-up character even counts as
    Slavic.

    —————-

    And yeah, Cherna Gora, Черна гора, and Monte Negro all mean Black Mountain. I was editing the list, trying to put it in alphabetic order, and somehow I ended up putting in parentheses something that was meant to be an entry.

    The name Herzegovina comes from the Duchy of St. Slava, and means “The Domain of the Herzog”.

  23. 23
    Gracchus says:

    “The name Herzegovina comes from the Duchy of St. Slava, and means “The Domain of the Herzog”.

    And Herzog means Duke in German. Cheers, but in the future, please save your Eastern Europe 101 posts for others. I don’t know as much as you but I do know where the countries are, what their names are, what their capitals and languages are, etc etc.

    “Chernobyl was set in a Slavic country, so pretty much all the characters are supposed to be Slavic.”

    Again, I do know that Ukraine is a Slavic country, but… so what? You were saying there were no positively depicted Slavic characters in western media. The fact that positive Slavic characters appear in shows set in Slavic countries doesn’t really seem to change the fact that the characters exist, the shows they are in are widely viewed, and people seem to enjoy them.

    The accuracy or inaccuracy of Chernobyl is a whole other debate, but even if the characters are inaccurately depicted, that doesn’t make them less positive.

    The point is, Petar, you challenged people, with what seemed to be a good deal of confidence, to give examples of positive Slavic characters in western media. Quite a lot of examples were given, by me or others, and you now seem to be changing the subject. You don’t owe us a conversation about this, or indeed about anything, but it isn’t a very good shade on you.

  24. 24
    Mookie says:

    Chernobyl was set in a Slavic country, so pretty much all the characters are supposed to be Slavic. Lets not even go into how realistic some of the positive characters are… people who supposedly grew up, got a job, and functioned for years in the Soviet Union, but have no idea how things work, at all.

    I wonder whether a Western View Point made-up character even counts as
    Slavic.

    You seem to be suggesting that having a character be flummoxed by and acting against Soviet doctrine would be “positive” but unrealistic, for No True Slavic Person would do such a thing in real life. That assertion seems to make a hash of your complaint about a dearth of “positive” Slavic characters in American television. Make them positive (“sanitized” and “Western”) and such choices are lies and propaganda. Make them flawed, complacent, pragmatic, cynical, dangerous, and/or enabling tyranny and the writers are engaging in a bigoted stereotype.

  25. 25
    Petar says:

    You seem to be suggesting that having a character be flummoxed by and acting against Soviet doctrine would be “positive” but unrealistic, for No True Slavic Person would do such a thing in real life.

    Not at all.

    What is stupid is having a character spouting things like “Is this how the system works?”, showing surprise at Apparatchiks ass covering, or acting in ways that would have, long, long ago resulted in repercussions. I.e. acting like a Westerner air-dropped into the setting.

    By the mid 80s, there were almost no true believers left in the Soviet block, and vanishingly few in any positions of power. Practically none among the younger generations, and very few in my parents’. I knew exactly one person who believed in a bright Communist future and in Leninism as an ideology. She had grown up in an abusive, sequestered family, and was rescued by law enforcement. Her idealism lasted about two years, in the real world…

    The show was full of people who seemed to have somehow never met an apparatchik, and never even lived under one’s power. In the real world, people knew that Communism had become just the pretext politicians used to remain in power… while amassing personal power, living in luxury denied to people outside the professional political caste, and keeping their out-of-control progeny free of the consequences of their actions.

    That assertion seems to make a hash of your complaint about a dearth of “positive” Slavic characters in American television.

    To you, clearly.

    Make them positive (“sanitized” and “Western”) and such choices are lies and propaganda.

    No. It’s simply divorced from reality. Have you watched the American soldiers, tourists, businessmen in Mexican, Chinese, etc. movies? Even when they are positive, and they often are, they are caricatures.

    Have you never been struck by the portrayal of atheists as God-blaming, religion-obsessed, constantly proselytizing losers? By Southerners who are ignorant of everything, incestuous, with hygienic habits that would have then mold- and decease- infected within weeks, gun handling that would have them dead in minutes, etc?

    Well, take that and multiply it by ten.

    Make them flawed, complacent, pragmatic, cynical, dangerous, and/or enabling tyranny and the writers are engaging in a bigoted stereotype.

    When Slavs are positively depicted, they are Westerners ignorant of their supposed countries realities. When Slavs are negatively depicted, they are subhuman moral cripples who make Nazis look relatable.

    It happens to other minorities. But when that happens, people care.

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