underpinnings

A story that may have relevance for others, or then again, maybe not:

When I was in college, about ten or so years ago, I was a history major. I wanted to learn to dance, so I joined a swing dance club on campus. To my surprise, this club had about twice as many men as women (in high school, the last time I’d tried dancing, the ratio had gone the other way–lots of girls, and boys only that you could drag by their ears).

But apparently, there had been some kind of word spread specifically to the STEM guys that dance was a way that they could meet girls.

So anyway. I joined the swing dance club, and met a few guys. And at one point, when socializing with the guys outside of dance class, one of them asked me what my research was on. (I had already established that I was an honors history student doing a thesis, just as he had established that he was an honors… I’m not sure if he was CS or Math, but it was one of those.)

So I gave him the thumbnail sketch of my research. Now, to be clear, an honors senior thesis, while nothing like what a graduate student would do, was still fairly in-depth. I had to translate primary sources from the original late-Classical Latin. (My professor said, basically, that while there were plenty of translations of my source material, that I’d only be able to comfortably trust them if I had at least made a stab at a translation of my own. And he was right.) And there was so much secondary material, often contradictory, that I had been carefully sorting through.

But I was able to sift it into a three-sentence summary of my senior thesis work, you know, as one does.

So I gave him that summary, and then asked–since he was also an undergraduate senior doing an honors thesis–what his research was on.

“Oh,” he said, “you wouldn’t understand it.”

Reader, I went home in a frothing rage. Because I had thought we were playing one game–a game of ‘let’s talk about what we’re passionate about!’– and he had been playing another game, which was, one-upsmanship. I had done my best to give a basically understandable brief of my research–and he had used that against me. As if my research, my painstaking translation, my digging through archives and ILLs of esoteric works, my reading of ten thousand articles in Speculum (yes, the pre-eminent medievalist journal in North America is called Speculum, I’m sorry, it’s hilarious/sad but also true), and then my effort to sum it up for him, was nothing. Because his research into some kind of algorithm or other was just too complex for my tiny brain to conceive of. Because I just couldn’t possibly understand his work.

Now, the important note here is that the person I went home to was my senior year roommate. She was a graduate student–normally undergrads and graduate students couldn’t be roommates, but we’d been friends for years, and the tenured faculty-in-residence used his powers for good and permitted us to be roommates that year. Anyway. My senior year roommate was basically… in retrospect I think possibly an avatar of Athena. She was six feet tall, blonde, attractive in a muscular athletic way, a rock climber and racquetball player, sweet but sharp, extremely socially awkward, exceptionally kind even when it cost her to be kind, and an incredibly brilliant computer science major who spent most of her time working on extremely complicated mathematical algorithms. (Yes, I was a little in love with her, why do you ask? But she was as straight as a length of rope, and is now happily married, and so am I, so it worked out.)

(Still, yes, she is my mental image of Athena, to this day.)

Anyway, I came home in a frothing rage to my roommate, the Athena avatar. And I said, “He made me feel like such an idiot, that I could sum up my research to him but his research was just too smart for stupid little me.”

And she shut her book, and smiled at me, with her dark eyes and her high cheekbones and her bright hair, and said, “If he can’t explain his research to you, then he’s not nearly as smart as he thinks he is.”

Now I hesitated, because I’d be in college long enough to have sort of bought into the ridiculous idea that if you couldn’t dazzle them with your brilliance, you should baffle them with your bullshit. But she said, “Look, I’ve been doing work on computer science algorithms that have significantly complicated mathematical underpinnings. What do I do?”

And I said, “Genetic algorithms–that is, self-optimizing algorithms–for prioritization, specifically for scheduling.”

“Right,” she said. “You couldn’t code them because you’re not a computer scientist or a mathematician. But you can understand what I do. If someone can’t explain it like that, it isn’t a problem with you as a person. It’s a problem with them. They either don’t understand it as well as they think they do–or they want to make you feel inferior. And neither is a positive thing.”

So. There.

If you are looking into something and have a question, and someone treats you like an idiot for not understanding right away… here is what I have to say: maybe it isn’t you who is the idiot.

When magic starts to return to the modern world, barely anyone notices. It doesn’t look anything like what we imagine. People don’t suddenly start developing magic powers, casting spells, or turning into elves and dwarves. In fact, people don’t really change at all, not at first.  It turns out that the magic isn’t even here for us. It’s here for what we’ve built. 

The change is slow, and subtle, and strange, as the magic works its way into our institutions. You mail letters to dead relatives, and the post office starts delivering their replies. Late-night bus routes stop at places never seen on any atlas. Libraries suddenly include subterranean archives where you can look anything you’ve ever forgotten, from the names of your favorite childhood books to the precise flavor of your first-ever chocolate chip cookie. 

The people working at these places take the changes in stride. The letters from the dead just show up every morning, sorted and stamped and ready for delivery, so why not carry them? Bus drivers follow the maps they’re given without trouble, and learn to accept even small gold coins as more than adequate fare. Electricians get used to seeing warding symbols in circuit diagrams, while clerks at the DMV find a stack of forms for registering ghostly steeds as personal vehicles, and sigh in relief at finally having that particular bureaucratic headache solved. The firefighters are shocked the first time they see a giant of living water burst out from a hydrant, but after it rescues several of them from a burning building, they decide not to ask questions. They tell their stories to others, though, and soon word of the changes is spreading. 

There’s no single moment of realization where everyone discovers that magic is real; the knowledge just creeps into day to day life a bit at a time, and society adapts. Cyber-safety programs teach people to never accept a file from the electric fairies without sharing one in return, and to never accept their Terms and Conditions without searching for the subsection on Souls, Forfeiture Thereof. Students leave offerings of coffee and boxed wine to petition the School Spirit for lower tuition or exam deferrals. Nurses learn the hours when Death stalks the hospital hallways, and keep bedside vigils in the children’s ward. They bring board games and cards for when the reaper is feeling playful, and well-worn baseball bats for when he isn’t. 

There are problems, of course, like the vicious monsters of blood and fire spawned from age-old hate groups, or infestations of the writing many-mouthed worms that literally feed on governmental corruption, but really, they were already there before the change. Magic only elaborates on what we’ve made, good or ill, manifesting the latent modern mythology underpinning our society. It doesn’t offer solutions to all of life’s problem, but for a few hurting people, guarded by the concrete arms of a neighborhood come to life to protect its community, or flying away on wings of copper wire and fiber-optic cable, it’s exactly the change they needed. 

A Collection Of Books By Neurologist Oliver Sacks

If you’re interested in neuroscience or psychology, I’d highly reccomend any book by Oliver Sacks! I get asked a lot about books to read so you can also check out this video I made with my top 7 and this masterpost which includes websites where you can learn more!

1. Migrane

For centuries, physicians have been fascinated by the many manifestations of migraine, and especially by the visual hallucinations or auras- similar in some ways to those induced by hallucinogenic drugs or deliria–which often precede a migraine. Dr. Sacks describes these hallucinatory constants, and what they reveal about the working of the brain. 

2. Awakenings

Awakenings is the remarkable account of a group of patients who contracted sleeping-sickness during the great epidemic just after World War I. Frozen in a decades-long sleep, these men and women were given up as hopeless until 1969, when Dr. Sacks gave them the then-new drug L-DOPA, which had an astonishing, explosive, “awakening” effect. Dr. Sacks recounts the moving case histories of these individuals, the stories of their lives, and the extraordinary transformations they underwent with treatment.

3. The Island of The Color Blind

Oliver Sacks has always been fascinated by islands, and this book is an account of his work with an isolated community of islanders born totally colorblind.  He listens to these achromatopic islanders describe their colorless world in rich terms of pattern and tone, luminance and shadow.

4. Uncle Tungsten

A book about Sacks’ childood;  his discovery of biology, his departure from his childhood love of chemistry and, at age 14, a new understanding that he would become a doctor.

5. An Anthropologist on Mars

This book talks about 7 seemingly paradoxical neurological conditions: including a surgeon consumed by the compulsive tics of Tourette’s Syndrome except when he is operating; an artist who loses all sense of color in a car accident, but finds a new sensibility and creative power in black and white; and an autistic professor who has great difficulty deciphering the simplest social exchange between humans, but has built a career out of her intuitive understanding of animal behavior. 

6.  Seeing Voices

 A journey into the world of deaf culture, and the neurological and social underpinnings of the remarkable visual language of the congenitally deaf. Sacks writes “The existence of a visual language, Sign, and the visual intelligence that goes with its acquisition, shows us that the brain is rich in potentials we would scarcely have guessed of, shows us the almost unlimited resource of the human organism when it is faced with the new and must adapt.”

Forcing bi women and lesbians to prove that their experiences are real, that their sexuality isn’t a phase or fake, that their love for women is genuine and important to them, is dehumanizing. 

Coercing bi women and lesbians into making decisions solely centered around on how “radical” people will perceive them to be maintains the harmful politicization of their lives, which are already politicized under heteropatriarchy.

You, the biphobe or lesbophobe who does this, may think that this will lead them to examine their choices and mindsets, but all it does is discourage them from pursuing happy and healthy relationships with women, and further it makes them internalize toxic and hurtful rhetoric about themselves, each other, and their community. 

Finally, using language that implies that a bi woman or a lesbian is the same as straight women or straight people is not only erroneous - it’s cruel. 

Bi women in relationships with men are not “basically straight women”. Femme lesbians are not “basically straight women”. Butch lesbians (including trans butch lesbians!) are not “basically men”. Butch/femme dynamics do not “replicate heterosexuality”. Women who choose to get married to each other should not be held responsible for the violent institutional underpinnings of marriage - that is, if a w/w couple gets married, they are not making a “regressive” choice. A bi woman can prioritize women even if she is currently dating a man, and she did not “choose the easy way out” just by being herself. 

Bi women and lesbians are not privileged for their sexualities. 

They do not have to prove anything to anyone. Leave them alone. 

(Don’t touch this post if you’re a transmisogynist, a biphobe, or a lesbophobe. Nothing in this post is up for argument or discussion). 

huffingtonpost.com
Why the Rolling Stone's Fansplaining of Harry Styles Misses the Point
Saskia Postema, Contributor

It is safe to say that almost the entire world has recently been exposed to the solo debut of Harry Styles, member of the band One Direction. While he was not the first one to start up a solo project – Zayn Malik left the band in 2015 to pursue a solo career, whereas both Niall Horan and Louis Tomlinson released solo material in 2016 – he was, perhaps after Zayn’s dramatic departure, the most hyped and anticipated artist out of the original bandmembers.

It’s been two weeks since Harry released his incredibly successful #1 debut single, Sign of the Times, which leads his self-titled LP that will hit stores on the 12th of May. Subsequently, critics have been quick to write their reviews, labeling the rock anthem as an epic song that establishes Harry as a credible artist. Part of the promotional roll-out of Harry’s debut seems to be centered around the cultivation of that notion: Harry Styles is to be seen as an authentic, honest, yet mysterious, credible musician. Given the fact that Rolling Stone profiles itself as the market-leading music magazine when it comes to crediting such artistry, it was to be expected that a profile and cover issue of Harry Styles would follow suit.

In a companion piece, Rolling Stone published a so-called ‘fansplaining’ column on their website – delving into the fanbase that has supported Harry Styles throughout the years, probably aimed at gauging their reaction to his debut. An interesting take, given the fact that the journalistic lens of Rolling Stone seems to focus mostly around discrediting the opinion of young women, particularly those who have been avid fans of the music that One Direction has put out in previous years, and who have supported Harry and his peers throughout that time. Aside from the fact that such an understanding of music is abhorrently misogynist, as it values the middle-aged white male’s opinion as somehow more legitimate than those of women (even when those women were able to recognize the artist’s talent years prior to those men who were blinded by their fragile masculinity), the article also failed to do what it intended: Explain what makes these fans so loyal to their idol.

There seems to be a deep-rooted misunderstanding of the relationship between fans and the artist they support, starting with the idea that all fans are the same. They are not. As such, many internal disagreement can exist within a fandom, while all maintaining the same admiration for the artist. It should be clear that fans are perhaps, aside from the artist themselves, the most critical of the output provided. People might find that contradictory, but I have found this to be true amongst many different groups of fans. It is similar to having a best friend that loves you unconditionally, but that will set you straight and call you out on your mistakes when you stumble. Fans are there to help the artist along, but that doesn’t mean they will not hesitate to analyze, criticize and educate their idol as well as their peers if they feel this is necessary. Such criticism stems from the expectations they have formed about said output products. Most fans will distinguish between music on the one hand, and image on the other hand. This is separate from the expectations and perception fans have from their idol’s personality. However, they will expect both music and image to reflect the personality of the artist – this is where the honesty comes into play.

For those who have been following One Direction’s career and musical development, the style of music chosen by Harry did not come as a surprise. In fact, while many reviewers seem to shy away from making the comparison, it seems that Harry’s music seems to progress most naturally out of the latest albums of One Direction. Songs like Walking in the Wind, If I Could Fly, or the slightly older Ready to Run and Where do Broken Hearts Go all reflect similar soft-rock vibes. It also fits the fans’ perception of what Harry’s personal taste in music is like, as he’s always hinted at big artists from the 70s and 80s as his big musical influences. His continuous rejection of explaining his lyricism is also consistent with the Harry fans have come to know and love over the years – he’s expressed many a times how much he values music as art. And art is interpreted by the person observing the artpiece, he likes that a song might give different people different perspectives, as long as it resonates, it’s enough.

This links back to image. In my view, many fans see Harry as fiercely protective of his private life. And with good reason, given how he had to grow up in the limelight – starting off on the X Factor, a reality show that is as much a storytelling drama series as it is a singing competition. However, this is also where there is a deep dissatisfaction amongst fans. Part of celebrity culture is providing the public with certain glimpses into your private life, and fans are quite ambivalent in their appreciation of this. On the one hand, fans want to see their idols be happy and have the opportunity to talk to them, or get to know them. On the other hand, fans recognize the flagrant violation of privacy in terms of stalkers, paparazzi and ‘inside sources’ speaking to the press.


In Harry’s case, this is where the dichotomy is most apparent. While he himself never speaks out about his private life or relationships, not even his friendships with other celebs such as Ed Sheeran, Alexa Chung or Nick Grimshaw; his private life has quite possibly been most speculated about and most prominent in tabloids out of all the One Direction members. Rolling Stone does an abysmal job at respecting the same mysteriousness they hail Harry for trying to uphold by filling in the blanks and pushing him to talk about relationships he’s chosen not to address in the past. Their leading title for their profile does not focus on the music, or him as a new solo artist, but rather on him ‘opening up about famous flings’. It is a common misconception that fans want to hear him say that he’s single, or want to know the ins and outs of who he beds. Rather, fans want to hear what makes Harry happy. They don’t want to marry him, they want to know if he’s hydrated and well loved by his family and friends – if he’s taken enough holidays and if there’s anything in particular he still wants to achieve or cross of his bucket list; that is if he has one. They want to hear him honour the fundamental friendships that underpin the appreciation and adoration fans carry for all One Direction members. They want to know what inspires him – not who. Does he order a cheeseburger at McDonald’s, or does he enjoy a Big Mac on cheat days? 


Similarly, many fans will find the sudden recognition by Rolling Stone and other acclaimed music reviewers to be bittersweet. While they will feel proud of Harry at seeing him succeed and get this approval, they also call it for what it is: a thinly-veiled rejection of One Direction and the Harry Styles prior to his solo debut. It is an honour to be hailed as the next David Bowie or Mick Jagger, but the line between inspiration and imitation is thin, which makes fans wary. What is more – the celebration of Harry’s apparent ‘new honesty and authenticity’ (again a rejection of his previous work) is rather awkward, when the reviews do not seem to provide Harry Styles with the room to be iconic as himself. They make sure to draw comparisons with a multitude of icons from the past, as if every choice he’s made has been infused with the mentality to emulate his predecessors. Fans want Harry to succeed by being true to who he is, and while his music gets recognition, it’s still not perceived as being something that is only fully Harry’s.Finally, it is important to not just address what fans expect from their idol, but also what they take away from them. In Rolling Stone, Harry Styles shared that what hurts him are fundamental issues that are lacking in today’s society – things like ‘equal rights, for everyone – all races, sexes, everything’. He’s a feminist, has been involved in the HeforShe campaign, and has expressed his support for LGBTQ+ as part of One Direction. He was frequently seen waving a rainbow flag in concerts, stated that ‘here at One Direction, we love love. Love is love,’ and has worn rainbow bracelets – most recently even a rainbow pin proudly fastened on his shirt. Moreover, he’s taken great care in answering questions about partners, favouring the word ‘spouse’ and always using gender-neutral pronouns. Harry is proud of the fact that he wears 26inch women’s skinny jeans, and continues to present himself as vulnerable in photoshoots, and to break gender norms by not shying away from the colour pink, silk and sheer, glitter boots, or wearing nailpolish. While some might not see the significance in this, these moves are incredibly powerful and can help people of all ages feel more accepted and comfortable with being who they are – it makes them feel normal and safe in a heteronormative world that is dominated by gender stereotypes. What is more, it reinforces their love and support for the artist, as they agree with their worldview – it’s a connection on a more fundamental level, that is not fueled by romantic love interest, or aesthetically pleasing faces and outfits.


Moreover, it inspires fans to change their views on society, and to extend the same charity and empathy as their idol does. In this respect, One Direction and its individual members have - unfortunately - been grossly underrated. Only recently did Steve Aoki note the incredibly power held by this fanbase in particular, calling the fans ‘an institution, like an army of bees’, recognizing how Louis Tomlinson’s fans were mainly responsible for his debut single’s smash success – creating and coordinating their own promotional campaigns, creating merchandise and posters, and requesting the song on radios. But this dedication does not limit itself to seeing their favourite artist succeed. Inspired by the great amount of charity work that One Direction has done itself, ranging from participating in Comic Relief and being patrons of numerous charities to Louis Tomlinson spending over 3 million pounds to organize a fundraiser in the form of a Princess Ball for ill children, the fans have bolstered this attitude to give to those in need and started charity drives in honour of the multiple members. The popular account 1DFansGive encourages fans to donate money to the charities that Harry and his peers are patrons of or have expressed their support for – with unparalleled, consistent success.


These positive aspects of the unique relationship between Harry Styles/1D and the fanbase are entirely lacking or even erased in media representation, which further fuels the dichotomy and love-hate relationship that fans have with media outlets. They stigmatize his fans as being teenage girls who fantasize about a relationship with him, and therefore are obsessed with his sex life – when this is frankly an insulting and gross overgeneralization. It is off-putting that fans are shamed for behavior they do not demonstrate, all the while the press engages in exactly that same behavior. It is not fans who force the idea of Harry Styles dating Taylor Swift or Kendall Jenner down anyone’s throats – it’s the press. It is not fans that prioritize his romantic relationships over his musical abilities and interests – it’s the press. On the other hand – it’s not the press that makes an artist successful, it’s the fans. And most importantly, it’s not the press that annually raises thousands of dollars inspired by an artist’s activism - it’s the fans. And the press doesn’t even report it; not even when they attempt fansplaining.

My advice? Don’t try something if the verb is derived from a harmful, toxic, divisive, humiliating and belittling behaviour that takes away someone’s voice and agency. Fansplaining is just as appreciated by fans as mansplaining is by women - not at all.

Beauty and the Beasts’ Gay Moment: AKA The Whole Movie

Much ado has arisen regarding Beauty and the Beasts’ “exclusively gay moment,” regarding the film’s character LeFou – who is regarded as the first openly gay character in a live action Disney film.

However, the film in its totality is heavily tethered to the gay experience.

As he wrote the lyrics for the film’s numerous iconic songs, Howard Ashman was secretly living with AIDS, a diagnosis he received just after receiving a Best Song Oscar for “Under the Sea.” 

Disney sought out Ashman to return to work on Beauty and the Beast, understandably eager for the award-winning lyricist’s participation. Ashman sympathized with the Beast, drawing parallels to his own experiences, and requested that they make the character into a more humanized role upon agreeing.

Together with his writing partner Alan Menken, Ashman crafted songs that would be cherished for generations – but he did so from home, growing more and more ill.

Throughout the process, the Beast’s character came to be regarded as a metaphor for living with AIDS.

Bill Condon, the director of the new film, said, “He was cursed, and this curse had brought sorrow on all those people who loved him, and maybe there was a chance for a miracle—and a way for the curse to be lifted. It was a very concrete thing that he was doing.”

Producer Don Hahn tied the “Kill the Beast” song to the feeling of societal ostracizing against those struggling with AIDS, stating, “He was really dealing with a debilitating disease, in an era when it was stigmatized. And so, there were so many of those underpinnings to the movie that people may not have seen.

Tragically, Ashman passed away before the film was released. In tribute, the filmmakers included the dedication: “To our friend, Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul, we will be forever grateful.”

Beauty and the Beast was the first animated film to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.

Happy National Dog Day!

Dogs evolved from a shared ancestor with wolves at least 10,000 years ago. Studies show that, compared to wolves, canines are generally more interested in humans and more cooperative with their commands. Recently, scientists have posited that there’s a genetic basis for this bond, with hypersocial dogs carrying variants of genes that underpin their friendly behavior. Other researchers argue that humans may have bred a behavioral syndrome into dogs as canines were domesticated over the years.

Some research suggests that dogs can read human facial expressions and intonation, display empathy, and even communicate jealousy. They tend to yawn more in response to their owners’ yawns than to the yawns of unknown humans, and they can read our gestures more readily than chimpanzees can. One experiment even shows that staring into a dog’s eyes can activate the same hormonal response that bonds parents to their babies.

How are you going to celebrate National Dog Day? Let us know in the comments!

Trump’s tweets attacking the judiciary go well beyond conventional criticism of judicial opinions on the substance or of “unelected judges” who are said to be overstepping their power. The description of the judge who first blocked his ban as a “so-called judge” directly targeted the judiciary’s institutional legitimacy. And it’s not hard to imagine where Trump’s explicit claim that any terrorist attack should be blamed on the judiciary will take him next, if such an attack does occur.
 
 
Trump recently claimed that “any negative polls are fake news,” particularly those from major networks like CNN, NBC and ABC. He added: “Sorry, people want border security and extreme vetting.” In other words, any poll that finds that Trump or his policies are unpopular is suspect or invented by definition. Multiple polls have shown that majorities reject his travel ban and his border wall, and global protests have broken out against the ban in particular. In other words, the public backlash to the first two major efforts to translate Trumpism into policy reality has been severe. In response, Trump is explicitly telling his supporters that any empirical evidence of that backlash must be discounted as fake news — particularly if the polls in question come from major news organizations, who are thus being cast as deliberate deceivers of Real Americans.
 
 

You cannot divorce that last point from the larger context here: Trump and Sean Spicer spent days attacking the news media for accurately reporting on his shriveled inauguration crowds, and Stephen Bannon has claimed that Trump’s “populist nation-state policies are supported by the vast and overwhelming majority of Americans” — in other words, that a vast silent majority is rooting for Trumpism to succeed. But that’s just nonsense. The effort to falsely inflate impressions of popular support for Trump — and for policies that in reality are deeply controversial and divisive and are being rejected by majorities — is concerted and deliberate. And the unabashed use of obvious and demonstrable lies to carry out this deception campaign is remarkably brazen.
 
 

Trump is now claiming that the media is covering up terrorist attacks, saying that “ISIS is on a campaign of genocide, committing atrocities across the world,” and that “in many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it.” The larger context here is crucial, too: The media has in fact been invaluable in rooting out the dangerously incompetent process that led to the creation of this ban, as well as the ugly, discriminatory ideological underpinnings of the idea. In response, Trump, once again, is moving to obliterate the very possibility of shared agreement on the legitimate institutional role of the news media in informing the citizenry — right when it is playing that role to great effect by shedding light on the truth about his latest and most visible exercise of executive power, thus demonstrating that it can function as a check on him.

— 

Trump is now attacking all the institutions that could limit his power.

This is not what a president in a democracy (or, pedants, representative republic) does. This is what an autocrat who hopes to be a dictator does.

Congress is doing fuckall to stop this madman and his puppet master, Steve Bannon. We have to keep calling, keep marching, and when we have a chance, defeat these cowards in the next election. This means we start working now, and we don’t stop until they are gone. We will lose more battles than we win, but the ones we win will be fundamental to protecting our country.

enough about makeup culture, let’s talk about diet culture. let’s talk about how many people die every year from complications of eating disorders and let’s talk about how, by some estimates, up to 70% of american women engage in disordered eating. let’s talk about the psychology underpinning eating disorders and how it ties in with purity and misogyny. i don’t care about makeup anymore.

6: “Marry me” (part 2 from the 5/6 request, also andreil!)

It takes 4 months and 2 weeks to organize Matt’s proposal to Dan. 

Neil knows because he’s been pretending to understand most of what Matt says to him for 4 months and 2 weeks.

It’s not that he’s not happy for them, it’s just that being told to celebrate love feels like being told to celebrate the way the world turns, or the gravity that continues to pin us like the bar on a rollercoaster seat. Neil celebrates love by staying alive to see it. He celebrates it by keeping it.

He looks at prospective rings and says they’re fine over and over again. He dutifully tells Dan nothing even when she asks outright. He answers the phone when Matt calls him in a panic at midnight and says “what if she says no” so many times that Neil hands the phone to Nicky.

It does make him think though, about Andrew. Without meaning to.

He doesn’t think of it as marriage in his head (to Neil, marriage has always been something that swallows you like quick sand). Tying himself to Andrew though — having something legally binding like Neil Josten on his documents, like their names on the lease, like his contract with his team — that means something to Neil.

Being with Andrew is the thrill of being in the game, but having it on paper would be like points blinking onto a scoreboard. He knows he’s scoring now, but he wants the crowd to know too. He wants this win to stick.

He doesn’t mention it because it doesn’t matter, ultimately. Neil doesn’t need other people to tell him that they love each other.

Andrew scoops Sir off Neil’s lap and smuggles him to his side of the couch. He pours one bowl of sugar crisp and one bowl of granola in the morning. He catches Neil’s sleeve before he goes for a run and uses every ounce of 5 AM energy he has to hold Neil’s eyes. Neil knows how he feels.

But he really does support Matt and Dan, separate from the way he’s scared of hospital rooms he won’t be allowed into or the box on a form that labels them ‘roommates’ like that’s anywhere close to enough.

The engagement lines up with a weekend that all the original foxes are scheduled to meet up on, scraped together by Matt’s meticulous hands and Nicky’s constant phone calls.

Andrew isn’t interested in going, but Neil asks, so. They’re the first ones there.

Keep reading

wannabanauthor  asked:

Hi there! I love your blog! I've seen you mention a few TV shows and movies for research, and I was wondering what your opinion is on the show Leverage and it's accuracy for social engineering in potentially violent situations. I remember one character saying that "Thieves look for entrances, but grifters create them." They'll often use approaches like this to avoid violence.

If the question is: can you use social engineering in order to defuse or avoid violent situations? The answer is yes.

Grifters are conmen, and like spies, they don’t want to fight unless it is absolutely necessary. Whether they can fight or know how isn’t really the point: combat makes messes, big messes, and draws the kind of attention they don’t want/can’t afford.

As for the line, “thieves look for entrances, but grifters create them” the point of it is that grifters focus on people as the exploitative aspect to get what they want. After all, it doesn’t matter how good your security system is if your infiltrator is expected to be there. When someone opens the door for them, they didn’t have to break in.

It is worth pointing out though, being able to stop, defuse, avoid, or redirect violence via social engineering (especially when the character is the target) is very difficult and requires someone who excels at rapidly changing their story/manipulating under life or death pressure while also maintaining their consistency/re-establishing their innocence/regaining their target’s trust.

That’s masterclass social engineering. The average person, even the average grifter can’t do it. When we see Nate Ford, Sophie Devereaux, or Michael Westen on Burn Notice socially engineer their way out of potentially explosive and violent scenarios, we’re supposed to understand this level of manipulation is very difficult. You need a solid ability to read people, predict their behavior patterns, understand how to shift your role so you suddenly seem trustworthy, confuse them, and then redirect their anger somewhere away from you.

You can see another variant of this kind of social engineering on display in The Negotiator. Samuel L. Jackson’s character is a hostage negotiator. Deliberately maneuvering a man who’s taken a child captive around his apartment so he can be taken out. You can see him joking with the target, gaining his trust, distracting him, and guiding him off topic until he’s in a position to be neutralized.

The Grifter is not a fighter, they are a talker and their trick is getting people to move however they want. A skilled grifter can slip in, turn the best of friends against each other, and walk away without a care. Grifters don’t punch. They trick other people into doing the punching for them. When sitting down to write a Grifter, remember: their first instinct is getting others to act in their place, to create the openings they need, and be their fall guy.

On the whole, I’ve liked Leverage ever since the episode where Eliot pointed out that guns are ranged weapons, and the most common mistake people make is giving up the distance advantage by getting in too close. However, I’ve only watched the first season. I liked what I saw, it’s an enjoyable caper show in a similar vein to The Equalizer, Person of Interest, or Ocean’s Eleven. Not quite in there with the original Law & Order when it comes to accuracy (in this case for cops) but certainly better than White Collar, which uses similar techniques (though never, ever pay attention to White Collar’s usage of the FBI… ever). The X-Files, meanwhile, fudges a bit but it’s pretty good when you’re wanting to get a grasp of the FBI’s culture and what happens to someone who doesn’t come from a military/law enforcement background.

Of course, the patient zero for these types of shows is the original Mission: Impossible. The television show, not the Tom Cruise movies. Mission: Impossible is all about flipping people and manipulating them into positions to do what you want. The A-Team is its slightly more pulpy counterpart, but its a similar (though far less subtle) deal.

On the whole, Leverage tends to explain itself better, which is helpful when you’re trying to learn or take techniques from a television show rather than just absorb.

The reason why I often suggest Burn Notice and Spy Game is not necessarily just because they’re good, but also because they teach. The narrator on Burn Notice, especially in the first season will offer up a lot of helpful/beginner tradecraft for a variety of situations. This, ultimately, will help you more for taking pieces and creating your own characters than a show that’s trying for smoke and mirrors like White Collar. The same situation is there with Spy Game, where Robert Redford’s character is teaching Brad Pitt’s on how to be a spy. Ultimately, more helpful in the long run than just watching The Recruit. The Michael Mann films like Heat and Collateral are exceptionally good for learning tradecraft, but you have to know that’s what you’re watching/looking for. You’ll learn more by watching them together, rather than separately. The Borne Identity novels are also very good at showing the tradecraft, while the Le Carre ones tend to be a little more hit and miss.

When you’re new, you want sources that are free with their information. Who are good at getting you to think, to take what you’re seeing and apply it to new settings. You may not ever figure out how to build a car bomb, but learning about how the thought process of a spy, criminal, or conman works will serve you better for your writing than a hundred other movies that only show.

After you’ve drawn back the curtain then you can turn to those other shows, novels, and narratives with new eyes. Once you see what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, and why when they don’t explain you’ll get more out of those other sources than you did before.

When you’re watching a well put together show like Leverage, start questioning character motivations. Not just whether the social engineering there works, but why the characters are choosing to go that route or which routes they prefer. Leverage gives you five characters with different specialties, four thieves and the guy who made a career catching them. They all think in different ways and have different approaches when it comes to problem solving. Leverage offers up a heist per episode, so you have lots of opportunities to see the characters in action. Evaluate their problem solving methods and you’ll come away with more than just questioning whether or not it works.

How and Why.

Then, go find a good video on YouTube where a professional magician explains pickpocketing. It’s the art of misdirection.

Once you understand basic theoretical underpinnings (whether or not you could ever actually pull the real thing off) then you can apply it to many different situations in a fictional context.

When it comes back to applying this to the combat arts, learning to see the big picture is the first major difference between trained and untrained. The untrained only copy surface level, singular techniques, while trained delves deeper to understand how these techniques work together.

My advice for when you’re wanting to pick and choose television shows for accuracy is to check who their consultants are/were, and what experts in the show’s chosen field say about it. That doesn’t always guarantee accuracy, but it will help you flip through the rave reviews.

If you want to watch more fun shows with Timothy Hutton or just like detective shows, I recommend Nero Wolfe.

-Michi

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some thoughts about jaylah the magnificent

- Within her first week at Starfleet Academy, Jaylah hacked into the environmental controls and security systems of her dorm– because she was bored and twitchy, because she didn’t know what to do with a home she had not taken apart and re-wired herself. 


- She broke into the cafeteria after hours and told herself it was just to see if she could. She skipped class to go wander the streets and build a map of the city, of these concrete canyons and glass-and-steel cliff walls, of which way she would run if she needed to. She played her music too loud. Kirk wrote her from deep space, further and further away as the months and maydays of their mission moved on, to ask if she was trying to beat him in demerits earned in an Academy tenure. She took that to mean he approved.


- Jaylah had had a big brother, once. Elah had taught her about engines, about how to wrestle, and a lot of really terrible jokes, once. But Scotty walked her through the Enterprise’s engines, when she was rebuilt and shining. They got grease and fluids all over their overalls. Kirk and Spock sparred with her while they waited for the Enterprise’s next mission to come through– Academy martial arts and Vulcan holds and corn-fed Iowa brawling tricks. Uhura provided the bawdy humor, parsed out smugly at the edges of social gatherings. 


- They had set the ruins of the Franklin up as a museum, tucked into the floating bubble of Yorktown. Schoolchildren would take field trips to wander the halls of her house. They invited her to the opening ceremony, cut the ribbon while she and the Enterprise crew were still wandering, limping, through those clean curving streets, but she did not attend. 


- Instead Scotty showed up at her doorstep with a bottle of Scotch stolen from Chekhov. They played her music so loud it shook the walls and earned them a dozen pissed off texts from Bones and a single sternly disapproving note from Spock. They ignored them all and toasted the Franklin, a good lady, a fine home. 


- When Jaylah boarded a transport ship for Earth, for California and San Francisco and the Academy that lived in the shadow of that golden bridge, the whole surviving crew of the Enterprise came out to the loading dock to wave her good-bye. It had been so many years since she had known any faces so well, living, other than her enemies’. She pressed up against the window and watched them– peach and blue and brown and black and green– disappear. 


- No matter how hard she fought and hoped, she had thought she would never get off that planet. The moment she saw her father go down, she had thought she would never be able to survive that stab in his gut, that light that went out of his eyes. She had been small, willow limbs and shaking hands, and she had thought she would never see another sky again. 


- She got up early on cold mornings and walked through the swirling San Francisco fog. She greeted the sun as it climbed up over the Bay and burned the sky back to blue. 


- The crew pooled their credits and bought her a motorcycle for her next birthday, to replace the one they’d left on the planet. Jaylah had left a lot of things in that boneyard. She drove the steep streets on her humming bike and felt like perhaps she had not left everything. 


- When Jaylah took the Kobyashi Maru her final year, she watched her classmates complain and rant afterward about unfairness, about no win scenarios. She did not speak up, just took her results and left. The lesson was one she had already learned, already buried in herself. Sometimes you cannot win, no matter how good you are, no matter how brave, no matter how much you love your daughter and want to live and live and live for her. Sometimes all you can do is die the best way you know how. 


- (When the ruckus had finally died down on Yorktown Base, after the smoke had settled, after the crowds had parted, Jaylah had seen Demora Sulu run to her father’s arms. She had seen Hikaru kneel in the rubble and lift his daughter into his lap and hold her safe in his arms. She had thought, I would have died for this. I am alive, and I am glad, but I would have died for this, I would have, I would have died for this)


- (Her little sister Jessy had been about Dem’s age, the last time Jaylah had seen her alive). 


- She didn’t declare an emphasis in her Academy studies for two years. Scotty thought she should go into engineering, because as a traumatized, escaped child she had reverse-engineered repairs on the Franklin that could only be matched by his own genius. Kirk thought she would make an excellent command officer. Uhura, impressed by how she had taught herself Federation Standard from the Franklin’s logs, made sure the communications department paid friendly attention to her. 


- Instead, Jaylah took the introductory classes for every field of study in the Academy, ignoring the disapproving cries of her guidance counselors. In combat she was years ahead of her peers. She found languages easy, but their technical underpinnings were unengaging and confusing. In engineering she was gifted, but decades behind the state of technology. Scotty had happily dragged her through the Enterprise’s rebuilt engines, but her heart and her blackened fingers would always belong to engines lifetimes older.


- The Enterprise crew were on their second five year mission when Jaylah graduated from Starfleet Academy. They gathered in the main mess hall, all the crew that had survived the Enterprise’s first death, and the new crew members who had heard stories of this adopted daughter of the ship for years. They live-streamed the ceremony. Scotty wore a ‘PROUD BIG BROTHER OF A STARFLEET GRADUATE’ shirt Sulu had hand-lettered for him. Bones opened a bottle of good ol’ Earthside bourbon and pretended not to tear up when her name was called. 


- She wore medical blue.  


- After years of Academy schooling and medical training, Jaylah stepped onto a Starfleet ship, her badge pinned to her chest. The corridors curved into the distance. The lights hummed and lit up as the ship floor murmured under her feet. It felt like coming home. 


- But there were no rocky hills out her shipboard window, no dull sky, no shimmering shield to hide her from her enemies. There was just space– black, cold, endless; brilliant, star-studded; full of discovery and danger and things worth dying for. She was ready to boldly go. She was ready to bravely go. She had thought she would never see another sky and here she was, older than her oldest brother had ever gotten to be, with hands that could defend lives and save them and heal them. The universe was spreading out before her, endless stars lighting the skies of endless planets. She was ready. 

Books permit us to voyage through time, to tap the wisdom of our ancestors. The library connects us with the insight and knowledge, painfully extracted from Nature, of the greatest minds that ever were, with the best teachers, drawn from the entire planet and from all our history, to instruct us without tiring, and to inspire us to make our own contribution to the collective knowledge of the human species. I think the health of our civilization, the depth of our awareness about the underpinnings of our culture and our concern for the future can all be tested by how well we support our libraries.
—  Carl Sagan, Cosmos