All I Want for Solstice…

Yes folks, it is that time of year again. I shall soon be settling in with a glass of wine and a mince pie or two, and watching Santa cruise ever closer. As is traditional, I shall be relaxing to the gentle Innsmouth sounds of Mr Ogham Whaite and his Amphibian Jazz Band. In the meantime, we can all enjoy a few more tunes from the HP Lovecraft Historical Society.

This year has undoubtedly been crazier than most, so what better tune to offer you than that modern classic, “All I Want for Solstice is my Sanity.”

Coronavirus – Day #268

Right on cue, Bozo has announced that after decades of failed negotiations, he personally has wrested the Best Deal Ever from the evil foreigners of the EU. Analysis of the deal suggests that it will leave the UK far worse off than we were as members of the EU, but we will have blue passports and we can stop a whole lot of foreigners from coming to these sceptred isles, so it is apparently all worth it.

There are two main reasons why the deal has been announced now. Firstly it is good for Bozo’s ego to be able to do so. It makes it seem like he was working hard right up until the last minute, whereas in fact all he had to do was decide which concessions to make. Of course he knows that his rabidly xenophobic right wingers will be furious at what he has done, but by announcing the deal so late, and over a holiday, he gives them no time to stir up a fuss. This is far more important to him than giving British businesses time to plan for operating under the new regime. As always, Brexit is far more about internal Tory Party feuds than about the good of the country.

The Labour Party has enthusiastically embraced Bozo’s deal. Brexit appears to be one thing on which both their centrists and far left agree on.

Meanwhile, for the last two days, we have had new infection rates in excess of 39,000. We are supposed to not notice that.

Green Man Sale Reminder

It seems kind of foolish to remind you to buy a book that you almost certainly own, but you might know someone who is looking for a good read over the holidays. It therefore behooves me to mention once more that The Green Man’s Heir and The Green Man’s Silence are both on sale from that great river in the aether to UK customers for a mere 99p each. The Green Man’s Foe is not on sale, but you can get all three books for under £7 which is a ridiculous bargain. ‘Tis the season, so go ye forth and encourage people to buy. The sale ends on Dec. 31st. Linkage here.

Cooking Gadgetry Success

Because I am not completely boring, I do normally buy myself a present at Solstice, just to keep in with the spirit of the season. There isn’t much that I need, of course, but something I can treat myself with is a kitchen gadget. I’m a sucker for those, after all.

So this year I decided to buy myself an air fryer. I’d resisted buying one for a long time, because I didn’t believe the marketing promises. But I do miss proper chips (that’s fries for North American friends). The various frozen or re-heatable options that they have in Tesco just aren’t the same. Having done a bit of research (thanks, Which?), I opted for a Tefal Actifry. It was expensive, but the considered opinion of reviewers was that cheaper models didn’t do the job, whereas this one did. With some trepidation, I made myself chips to go with the venison steak for my Solstice meal.

And they were great. Considering that this was my first time using the thing, I was really pleased. There are supposedly lots of other things you can cook in the machine, but even if all I use it for is making decent chips then I shall be very satisfied.

Happy Solstice

With this year being decidedly weird, I have not being terribly efficient when it comes to holiday cards. I did get some off in time, but I totally failed to buy any from Dru Marland. The image above is what I would have sent out had I been more together. Sorry Dru, I will order some early in the new year.

One interesting side effect of the pandemic is that both Stonehenge and Newgrange have been live streaming the solstice. English Heritage have just provided camera images set to music. Sunset yesterday was pretty good, but sadly today was overcast and dull.

In contrast, Heritage Ireland has provided a hosted TV show which talks about how the Newgrange site works. Yesterday morning’s show got a pretty good performance from the sun. You can watch it here (you need to fast-forward to about 14 minutes).

In today’s show from Newgrange, Clare Tuffy notes that while there are still a few days left in the Julian calendar, as far as the solar calendar is concerned, 2020 is over and done. Welcome to the new solar year, everyone. Here’s hoping this one is less scary.

Coronavirus – Day #265

There is much excitement here is plague-ridden Brexitland. New cases of the virus are now running at over 30,000 per day, and the rolling 7-day average is up to 29,000. There is much talk of a scary new mutant version of the virus which has allegedly just been discovered. No one knows whether this new threat is a member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, or an independent operative, but I fully expect Bozo to announce that he is seeking advice from Charles Xavier any day now.

The reality of the situation seems to be that there are many mutant strains of the virus, and that this one has been known about for weeks, if not months. The suspicion is that Bozo and his spinmasters are using the idea of a deadly new strain of COVID-19 as an excuse for the government’s manifest failure in ending Lockdown #2 too early in the hope of “saving Christmas”.

However, the idea of a deadly new version of the virus running unchecked in the UK has taken root elsewhere in the world. Other countries have accepted the narrative of the UK as a plague ship that must be kept quarantined. Consequently many countries have now banned travel to and from the UK. This includes closing the Channel Tunnel.

You may think that the Brexiter hordes would be cheering with glee. Huzzah! Britain is finally cut off from the Continent! We are safe from foreigners. But of course the Brexiters are Libertarians. Therefore they firmly believe that they should be free to control their own borders, but that equally no other country should be allowed to close its borders to them. There is much outrage.

All of which is largely irrelevant to your average Briton hoping to enjoy the holiday season. Londoners are already furious at new restrictions being suddenly imposed when they had been promised a free and merry Christmas. Now the entire country is worrying whether there will be enough food to last the holidays if shipments from the Continent cannot get through. Thankfully most people will already have stocked up on huge quantities of food by now, but it does look like we’ll be getting a taste of No Deal Brexit a few days early.

Talking of No Deal, we have now passed the point by which the European Parliament will be able to ratify any trade deal. Therefore No Deal has happened. Negotiations could still continue, if diplomats are able to meet, but there will at least be a short period of No Deal happening.

Given all of this, Her Majesty’s Opposition has swung into action. In order to stand up for the country, Kier Starmer has issued a demand… that under no circumstances should Brexit be delayed. There must be no extension of the transition period.

Hopeless, the lot of them.

Up On The Aqueduct

It being that time of year, I have once again contributed to the annual Aqueduct Press “The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening” series. If you want to know what I have been spending my leisure time on over the past year, you can read all about it here.

There have been a bunch of other great posts in the series this far, and I’m sure there will be many more to come.

Coronavirus – Day #262

Last week I wrote that by Christmas I expected the situation in the UK to be back where it was prior to Lockdown #2, if not worse. Well, it is no fun to be proved right, but…

Yesterday saw over 35,000 new cases, which is a record. Today was only 28,500, which is the third highest daily total since the pandemic began. The rate of deaths is now trended upwards. But Bozo has “saved Christmas” so we are all supposed to be happy.

Thankfully the local situation is still good, and I probably only need to make one more shopping trip this year.

Io Saturnalia!

Today, December 17th, is the first day of the Roman midwinter festival of Saturnalia. It started out as a one-day thing, and through the long history of Rome morphed into a multi-day epic holiday incorporating the solstice and terminating in the birthday of the sun god, Sol Invictus, on the 25th. Among other things, it has given us the concept of the Lord of Misrule.

As I have been doing a lot of Roman stuff recently, I figured that I should celebrate properly, which means Roman food. For lunch I had bread, olives, feta cheese and octopus. It was yummy. But what to cook for the evening meal?

The Romans didn’t have turkey. They didn’t have tomatoes or potatoes either. But they did have a vast empire, and if you were rich enough you could bring in food from the far flung corners of the empire. So what might Romans have in place of turkey? Ostrich seemed like a good idea.

Obviously I don’t need a whole ostrich, and I don’t have the means of cooking one, but Tesco does sell ostrich steaks. All I need is something to do with them. Does Apicius have a recipe for ostrich? Of course, he has two. I’ll be experimenting with the first of them. I’ll be serving it with one of Apicius’s mushroom dishes, and some green vegetables.

There will be wine, of course. Mustn’t forget to show respect to dear Dionysus.

Pissing in the Wind

This morning I RT’d a thread by a Scottish trans person about the futility of arguing with transphobes on Twitter. They’re right, of course. There is no point in arguing with someone who isn’t engaging in good faith and doesn’t want to listen to what you have to say. That point was made very forcibly by another tweet I saw in which a trans woman was told that proving anti-trans people wrong was a form of “rape”, because it violated their “autonomy of opinion”. The whole discourse jumped the shark long ago.

The problem with the UK at the moment is that this sort of thing isn’t just true of Twitter, it has permeated the whole of society. There’s the BBC, for example, where transphobic journalists are allowed to make their own news and then report dishonestly on it as if it were unconnected with them. And then there’s the courts.

I had written something about the shameful decision by the High Court on medical treatment for trans youth, but I haven’t published it. What’s the point? If you want a medical view, here’s a very good one from an Australian doctor. Experts in trans health from countries such as the USA and Canada will say very similar things. But the court decision was easily predictable from the fact that they refused to allow trans advocates to testify, but did take “expert” testimony from people whose only qualifications were membership of anti-trans organisations.

Because of the work I do, I see quite a bit of this sort of thing from the inside, and it is everywhere right now. Organisations go through the motions, but it is very clear that decisions have been made in advance, and reports are written to justify the results that are required. Engaging in due process gets you nowhere.

It isn’t just trans people, of course. The same sort of thing is being done to the Windrush families, to the families of the Grenfell fire victims, and to many other victims of the current government’s passion for cruelty. I worry a lot about my friends of European heritage who are still in the UK, because they are going to be made scapegoats for the Brexit disaster.

There are still people who are able to engage in the political process, and some are kindly willing to carry on fighting for others even though the game is clearly rigged against them. For those of us on the bottom of the pile, however, self-care needs to come first. Enjoy the holidays, folks. Next year is going to be brutal.

Coronavirus – Day #255

Gosh, it has been a long time since I did one of these.

Anyway, the UK came out of Lockdown #2 on December 2nd. The rate of new cases of COVID-19 had been falling for a while, and the death rate had started to fall as well. Predictably, as soon as Lockdown ended, the rate of new cases started to rise again. We had over 20,000 yesterday. Deaths are still falling as they tend to lag a week or two behind the new cases, but by Christmas I expect things to be back where they were at the last peak, if not higher.

Thankfully the situation locally is very good. There were fewer than 10 new cases in Trowbridge in the past week, and much of the town is currently rated “supressed”. I’m not planning to go anywhere much over the holidays.

The vaccine is now being rolled out, and a few people in Bristol have already got their jabs. I am by no means vulnerable or essential, so I expect it to be many months before my turn comes around.

Meanwhile Bozo has managed to thoroughly piss off the EU leadership and major European heads of state. A “no deal” exit from the EU now seems inevitable, and indeed Bozo has been on the BBC boasting about how good this will be for the country him and his cronies. Indeed, if news reports are to be believed, they have something like £8bn staked on a collapse of the pound.

As I am paid primarily in US dollars, I’m not too worried about collapse of the economy. I am very worried about what the next year will bring for the trans community in the UK. Because of the work I do, I get to see some of what is being done behind the scenes to dismantle trans rights. You don’t need government action to take people’s rights away. Just as the value of the Equality Act has been people knowing that discrimination was illegal, so the government flagging its desire to dismantle that Act leaves people feeling free to ignore it. Or, if it is more convenient, interpreting the EA in such a way as to conclude that trans people are a danger to everyone else and need to be denied services.

Oh well, in 50 years time historians will have a lot to write about.

Favorinus, Hadrian and Me

Thanks to Paul Weimer, I was invited to do a guest slot on a popular podcast. Wonders of the World looks at history via the lens of famous buildings. For annoying reasons, the episode on Hadrian needed to be re-recorded and I saw a request for people with interesting things to say. As a result, the new version of the episode has me wittering on about my favourite Roman, the philosopher, Favorinus. I also get to talk about Hadrian’s trip to Egypt, and why rich Roman women had a thing for Sapphic poetry. My thanks to Paul for the tip-off, and to Drew for inviting me on. You can listen to the episode here.

A Worldcon in December

Vaccines for COVID-19 are finally starting to be rolled out in some countries, but it will be a very long time before everyone can be inocculated, and before we know how long it is efffective. Events trying to plan for 2021 are still in a very difficult position.

In view of this, the 2021 Worldcon, DisCon III, is giving people a choice. They can run a primarily virtual event on their expected dates; or they can move to mid-December when they believe that an in-person event will be safe to hold. You can register your opinion here.

Obviously I voted for a virtual event, because I cannot travel to the USA, so I can only attend Worldcon if it is virtual. I’m sure that is the case for many other people too.

On the other hand, I know that most Worldcon regulars view the event as an opportunity to meet up with friends, and thus for them an in-person event is the only option that fits the bill.

The obvious solution is to run some sort of hybrid event, and DisCon III has held out the possibility of some online programming even if they move to December. However, they haven’t specified what form that will take. And at SMOFcon over the weekend there was a substantial core of people who were dead set against running hybrid conventions.

I don’t want to go into the hows and whys of hybrid cons now. I’ll save that for this month’s Salon Futura. I will note that we are committed to running a hybrid event for Westercon 74. Also, if you are someone who cannot attend Worldcon regularly in person, but would like the opportunity to do so virtually, please fill out the DisCon III survey and let them know.

The way in which big conventions this year have become genuinely international has been a delight. It would be a shame if major events such as Worldcon and World Fantasy forgot that and went back to being conventions only for those who can afford to attend in person. Of course if they do then the future of fandom will shift to events such as FIYAHCON and FutureCon, because the future will happen, regardless of whether people want it to or not.

I believe that the deadline for responding to the DisCon III poll is 5:00pm EST today. Sorry about the short notice.

The Big Give

You have probably been bombarded with emails today headed Giving Tuesday. Quite why the day to give money to charity is just after a weekend of solid fanatical consumerism is a mystery to me, but there it is.

Generally I steer clear of this stuff, but here in the UK we also have a project called The Big Give. What is does, for this week, and this week only, is double any donations made to selected charities. This year two charities close to my heart are beneficiaries.

One25 is raising money for their Peony Project which helps women recover from addition and trauma. This being One25, trauma for these women often means having had to sell their bodies to get food.

SARSAS (Somerset and Avon Rape and Sexual Abuse Support) are raising money for general operating funds. I was horrified to learn from their email that referrals to their services are rising by 20% per month at the moment.

Of course if you are a UK taxpayer you can also add to your donation with GiftAid. So now is a really good time to donate.

I note that I have done training for both of these organisations, so they are both trans-inclusive.

Green Men Going Cheap

Amazon really loves Juliet McKenna. Once again they have chosen the Green Man books to feature in a promotion. I can see why. The books do seem to sell remarkably well.

This time it is The Green Man’s Heir and The Green Man’s Silence that are on sale at 99p each. The deals are UK only. I dearly wish that they would put them on sale in the USA as well. I could do it myself, but the books won’t get anywhere near the same visibility on the site as they do as part of an official promotion.

The Green Man’s Foe is still £4.99, but maybe the sale for the other two will be good for sales of that too.

In theory the sale is in place for the whole of December, so I will get quite boring reminding you about it. Sorry.

That Cyber Monday Thing

This is the time of year in which half of the internet is yelling at you to buy stuff, and the other half is yelling at you to boycott all of that awful consumerism. Well, you do you. But if you are in a buying mood, please remember that Wizard’s Tower authors get more money if you buy ebooks direct from us then if you buy from that big river in the aether. Also this is pretty much your last chance to do so, because I’ll have to close the store in January thanks to Brexit.

If paper books are your thing, I’m pleased to report that, after a short distribtion hiccup, Wizard’s Tower books are available again from UK. If you buy from them, we get a cut, and they give money to independent bookshops in the UK as well.

Thank You, Good Law Project

Here’s something else to be thankful for. The Good Law Project is a legal initiative that seeks to provide legal redress for the disadvantaged and voiceless in the UK. It is a non-profit organisation funded largely by donations. It is currently suing the government over various apparent breaches of public procurement law in which contracts for things like PPE have apparently been handed to companies run by friends of Cabinet ministers without competitive tender, or even proper scrutiny. But that’s not what I want to talk to you about today.

For a year or so now, well-funded anti-trans organisations have been bringing malicious law suits against anyone who dares to stand up for trans rights. The objective appears to be to scare the likes of local councils, the NHS and so on into withdrawing trans inclusion policies. Faced with a threatened law suit, management of such organisations will often cave in to demands rather than face the expense and guaranteed negative press coverage that would result from fighting a case they should win.

The trans community, of course, cannot fight back. Despite the constant allegations on social media that we are somehow funded by George Soros and an International Jewish Conspiracy, we have no money. Nor do we have the expertise.

However, the lovely people at the Good Law Project have decided to lend a hand. They have set up a fighting fund for taking cases on behalf of the trans community. There’s a public appeal here, which aims to raise £20,000. That’s a small amount compared to what anti-trans groups regularly raise in their campaigns, but it is a start. If you have a few quid to spare, please consider sending it in their direction.

Thank You, USA

Despite having spent quite a lot of time in the USA, I’ve never really got into Thanksgiving. It seems a somewhat dubious holiday that really ought to be more focused on saying thank you to the people whose country got stolen, and improving their lot in the world.

However, in this particular year I want to say a huge Thank You to the people of the USA for voting out the Orange Idiot. The world will be a much safer place with Joe Biden in charge. Also the fact that the US President is no longer selfish and authoritarian has had repercussions here. Bozo’s styling himself as a mini-Trump no longer seems a wise strategy, no matter how much it does for his ego. It will be a long and hard road before we manage to relieve ourselves of this particular yoke, but the change in leadership across the Atlantic has made an immediate noticeable difference here. I am very thankful.

I’m not a big fan of turkey, but I am planning on celebrating with y’all over there. There’s nothing quite as American as pepperoni pizza, is there? (Actually I almost bought a packet of Hostess Twinkies today, because there are places you can buy them in the UK, but I came to my senses quite quickly.)

TDoR 2020

It is that time of year again. As usual I have been helping read the list of names at the Bristol Trans Day of Remembrance ceremony. As by no means usual, this year it was virtual. I think that made it easier somehow.

Also I wrote a thing for the lovely folks at A New Normal. You can read it here.

Social media has been the usual mix. I was pleased to see Joe Biden and Kamala Harris issue a very supportive statement. I was less keen to see politicians who have spent the year bending over backwards to appease the transphobes in their parties suddenly want to be seen as trans allies. It is not a good look. This year has taught me a lot about who I can count on as allies. The number of people in that group is a lot smaller than the number of people who wave trans flags today and spit on us for the rest of the year.