Harlan Ellison is dead

He was a loud-mouthed jerk, and he was also colossally opinionated and entertaining, and passionate about so many things. I first heard him speak in the early 1980s, and man, he was a fast-talking raconteur.

  • “Repent, Harlequin!” said the Ticktockman
  • I have no mouth and I must scream
  • Santa Claus vs. S.P.I.D.E.R.
  • Jeffty is five
  • Shattered like a glass goblin

What I really liked, though, was the whole of his story collections. He’d bare his soul describing how he came to write each story (although, sometimes, that soul was “I had to type fast to meet a deadline and get paid”), which was a useful glimpse into a writer’s mind.

What makes for a good homage?

The versions of Donald Glover’s “This is America” are coming fast and furious. The first one I saw was Nicole Arbour’s — she turned it into a song about the oppression of women, a cause to which I am sympathetic, but I detested her video. It had way too much Nicole Arbour in it, and seemed to be mainly about her, and it was musically flat and dull. Coming from someone who has a history of punching down, it felt more like an appropriation.

But this one is much more interesting: it’s “This is Nigeria”, by Nigerian rapper Falz The Bahd Guy.

I came away from that more aware of the problems in Nigerian culture than of how pretty the rapper is (and he’s pretty good, too). I guess my feeling is that if you’re going to steal from an instant classic like “This is America”, you’d better bring some real talent and authenticity to the table, because you’re going to always be compared to the original.

“Grave of the Fireflies” is a timely movie, all the time

You all follow Movies with Mikey, right? He’s a guy who really loves the movies, and does these wonderful analyses of pop culture — between him and Lindsay Ellis I’m learning to see movies with a fresh eye.

Anyway, he’s started a new series, “Lessons Animation Taught Us”, and it’s…interesting.

Much of it is about how children and adults see these kid’s movies with a different eye. Lessons learned:

  • He really liked Disney’s “Sword in the Stone” as a kid — I didn’t care for it myself, but I read TH White’s book first, which I found much more vivid than the movie — but it’s really the story of an abused child deprived of all agency and trapped in a fate he didn’t want.

  • “Dumbo” is horrifying. It’s the story of an abused, tortured child told through the lens of a racist culture. Don’t show it to your children.

  • But the movie we are all obligated to see, and the one we should take more lessons from, is “Grave of the Fireflies”.

    Let that one sink in for a moment.

    I took my daughter to see that one when she was a teenager. We thought, ah, Studio Ghibli, it’ll be fun and quirky and thoughtful and beautiful. It’s a about a 3 year old girl dying slowly of starvation after the firebombing of Japan in WWII. We walked home afterwards in a kind of shocked silence.

Mikey is right, though. Americans should actually all see the consequences of our actions abroad.

Has anyone ever seen a good science stock photo?

I was once drafted to be an extra in a commercial for the University of Oregon. First thing they did was hand me a white lab coat. Second thing was to complain that they’d looked around the lab they were filming in, and couldn’t find any colored solutions in the refrigerator — could I get them some? I at least managed to stop them before they started mixing up random reagents from the shelves.

Public misconceptions about how science is done are terrible. How terrible? Here’s a whole collection of terrible stock photos. This one was my favorite.

There are a lot of botanists in my department. I should ask them if they have a stethoscope.