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I've realized that though it might take me months to write up full fandom notes for Warning: Might Lead to Mixed Dancing, I can start unpacking it in smaller pieces. So I've written some thoughts on the title. It's over 3000 words on its own. I may have mentioned that I have a few things to say about this vid. ;)

It looks like I started using the title in January, about three months after I started vidding. Before that, the working title was simply the title of the song "Et Rekod", which is Hebrew for "A Time to Dance." I think probably the new title occurred to me because I was talking about a specific section of the vid which starts at 3:02 and which in the final draft consists of a series of scenes of gender segregated dancing in which the barriers become increasingly evident until they are ultimately breached (in early drafts, this section was simply the scene in Fiddler on the Roof where Perchik and Hodel instigate mixed dancing at Tzeitl's wedding). In early conversation I thought of this sequence from the vid as the "might lead to mixed dancing" section, and I think it eventually occurred to me that the label in some ways applied more broadly.

The phrase "Might lead to mixed dancing" is a liberal Orthodox Jewish meme with a variety of subtly different meanings in different contexts. It is a sarcastic criticism of chumras- added stringencies in the practice of Jewish law, not required by the letter of the law, but which start to take on some of the weight of Jewish law when a whole community adopts them. The ostensible purpose of a chumra is to establish good habits for the consistent practice of the required law. As a tame example, many Jews write 'G-d', when the English word 'God' is not actually a holy name required to be so euphemized, because if you were careless in writing the name in English, you might lose the habit and forgetfully be careless when writing an actually holy name of God in Hebrew.

Some chumras are ridiculous, though. They require a significant sacrifice on the part of the practitioner and the sin they're trying to help avoid is minor or only tangentially connected. Saying that the thing a chumra bans might lead to mixed dancing is the liberal Orthodox Jew's damnation that the chumra is driven by moral panic rather than piety.

Why does mixed dancing hold this status? Because mixed dancing has a fraught, difficult recent history in American Orthodox Judaism. The ban on mixed dancing in Judaism goes back to medieval Europe and somewhat more ambiguously to the Talmud. The reason for the ban on mixed dancing was fear it was immodest and might lead to further illicit sexual contact between the genders.

My parents' shul is a Young Israel, a movement of Modern Orthodox synagogues founded in the 1920s to try to create a space where young American Jews could feel comfortable practicing in the traditional rite, to keep them from being drawn to a secular life, or worse, Reform or Conservative Judaism. ;) Its main concession to modernity was that in opposition to this traditional Jewish law, it sanctioned mixed gender dances, with the goal of promoting traditional intramarriage through more intimate contact between young Jewish men and women. This approach became so common in American Orthodoxy that a lot of American Jews didn't realize mixed gender dancing was against longstanding Jewish law.

It wasn't until the post-war era that centrist Orthodoxy began to challenge the practice of sanctioned mixed dances. A massive battle of words broke out. A great summary of the history of the fight by historian Zev Eleff is here. The tl;dr is that today, it's unthinkable to imagine mixed dancing in a Young Israel synagogue, and a lot of people aren't even aware of the history, as part of a general rightward shift in Modern Orthodoxy, but the liberal faction that lost but stayed in Orthodoxy remains unhappy about the new status quo.

Thus jokes about the horror of mixed dancing. There is a famously filthy joke, the Jewish equivalent of the Aristocrats, whose punchline is "Might Lead to Mixed Dancing". There is a much shared, viral chart about the meme. At the core of these jokes there is a sense that there is something hypocritical about the attention placed on mixed dancing when we know there are young Jews who are secretly dating non-Jews, or secretly having premarital sex, while living public lives where mixed dancing at a wedding is unthinkable. There's something screwed up about the attitude about sex implied by this contradiction, some idea that sex is a thing we can wish away by not talking about it, that if men and women don't interact with each other, nothing undesired can happen. There's also a general frustration with the way Orthodoxy has taken a rightward turn in the past several decades and overturned longstanding practice that, while it may not have technically aligned with medieval Jewish law, was the commonly accepted practice of the Orthodox Jewish world.

But I want to go further than this. If my vid is advancing an argument about mixed dancing, it is this:

1. Dancing is an essentially Jewish act. In particular, dancing shamelessly, without regard to technique, to celebrate life and family and community, is an essentially Jewish act. It's so fundamentally Jewish that it was the immediate and unrestrained response of the Israelites when God split the sea. It was David's response to the dedication of God's sanctuary in Jerusalem. I sought to particularly highlight this sort of dancing in the vid, dancing whose sheer exuberance makes up for its awkwardness and lack of rhythm. Often in the original source these dance moments were played for slapstick comedy- I use them instead to represent un-selfconscious joyousness.

2. Because dancing is a time when Jewish communities come together, dancing is inherently connected to the experience of enjoying the diversity and complexity of Jewish identities. I wanted secular Jews dancing with religious Jews, Misnagdim dancing with Chasidim, straight Jews dancing together, gay Jews dancing together, straight Jews dancing with gay Jews, Jews dancing with non-Jews, male Jews dancing with female Jews dancing with trans* Jews, old Jews dancing with young Jews, white Jews dancing with black Jews dancing with Asian Jews, in as many combinations and configurations and shapes as possible. I wanted to complicate stereotypes. Judaism represents this incomprehensible world-wide community united by nothing except our mutual willingness to proclaim, sometimes reluctantly, that we are all Jewish. Jewish dancing occasions like weddings and Bar Mitzvahs are a time when we make that proclamation as a community, when we say that the divisions among us are less important than the bonds between us.

3. Gender segregated dancing still carries with it the charge of relationships. The same gender relationships I feature dancing together in the vid include lovers, friends, mothers with daughters, fathers with sons, sisters, brothers, rivals. Looking at these couples context-free in the vid, can you tell which are the siblings dancing together, which are romantically involved, which are the close platonic best friends, which are the gay guy hitting on the straight guy or the bi girl hitting on the straight extraterrestrial (<3 Susan Ivanova forever)? Especially as our awareness of the presence of gay members of our Jewish communities increases, the idea that gender segregation is meaningfully safeguarding the dignity of our relationships seems increasingly false.

4. Gender segregated dancing always exists with an awareness of mixed dancing as this possibility on the other side of the barrier. Peeking over the mechitza is an obligate component of segregated dancing, not a violation of its principles, and there is some sense in which gender segregated dancers, celebrating the same occasion from across opposite sides of a wall, are united in one interconnected meta-mixed dance. When I was working through the 3:02 section of the vid with my beta [personal profile] sanguinity, I discussed the idea that I was trying to create a sort of geography of the mechitza by using a variety of clips looking from one side to the other. I'm not entirely sure how clear that actually worked out, but it's an important idea in how I conceptualized this section. Gender segregated dancing is never just the two sides of a wall.

5. Thus mixed dancing is an apotheosis of the universal celebration of Jewish identity, in all its diverse forms, and segregated dancing is actually just a limited subset of mixed dancing, posing all of the same challenges and offering all of the same opportunities for joy. In a draft of the vid never intended to be released, I juxtaposed the fictional, segregated wedding dancing section of the vid against a video of segregated wedding dancing at my sister's wedding: Me joyously dancing with my brother, my new brother in law, my father, my uncles and cousins and friends, with my sister and her female friends and family just behind us on the other side of the wall. Shortly after that video was filmed, we moved the mechitza out of the way and our whole family danced together. It was all of a piece, parts of the same celebration.

And in fact, I would say that 'mixed dancing' in the vid hopefully grows to mean more than mixed-gender dancing, but in the swirl of different fandoms mixing together, it means a great coming together of different kinds of Jews and Judaisms.



Another context to 'Might Lead to Mixed Dancing" I should acknowledge is the vid premiering at Vividcon's Club Vivid dance party. Which is its own kind of heterogeneous dancing experience, and I was aware as I was making the vid that the specifically Jewish parts of this vid would only speak to some fraction of the audience at the convention, and that I would need to make the vid able to offer something to the people who weren't there for the Jewish content. They are not the primary target audience for the vid, though. To some extent "Warning: Might Lead to Mixed Dancing", flashing in yellow over an image of Reb Saunders dancing in The Chosen, is a warning to the non-Jews that part of this vid will be inaccessible to them. But what is there for them, I think, is the fun of recognizing favorite characters as they get their two seconds of recognition, the curiosity of wondering about the interesting clips whose fandoms they don't know, and the fun of the dancing vid choreography. (My two primary betas are both not Jewish, so I've known for a long time that even if they didn't understand all of the Jewish meaning of the vid, there was a lot for them to enjoy anyway.)

Several years ago, I had a conversation with [personal profile] troisroyaumes that's stuck with me as a vidding inspiration. "At one point, I started wanting to make a parody vid, featuring some popular U.S. TV series, set very carefully and precisely to non-English song lyrics that half the audience would not understand." To a much greater degree, that program was what I accomplished with Ma'agalim, the West Wing vid I premiered at Club Vivid last year. "Ma'agalim" uses Hebrew wordplay and makes specific visual callouts to the Hebrew lyrics a central part of its storytelling. Shwekey's "Et Rekod" has a much simpler, more straightforward lyric and understanding it is not requisite to appreciating the vid. I feel like making the more aggressively incomprehensible vid last year for Club Vivid paved the way for making this vid. And I also think understanding the lyrics of "Et Rekod" and the way they reinterpret Ecclesiastes does add something to understanding the vid, and I made this vid knowing that its first audience would largely not have that understanding. I hope that may be a challenge to the vidders at Vividcon to think about their works in a wider, more global way. To remember that not everyone will understand the cultural context of their vid. Or not.

But also, what premiering the vid at Club Vivid meant is that I was premiering it AT a mixed gender dance. The warning is thus inherently ironic, the vid cannot lead to mixed dancing because mixed dancing is already happening (both in the sense of males dancing with females and in the sense of Jews dancing with non-Jews). That's something that gives me some degree of pause. All of this critique of segregated dancing in the Jewish community is a commentary by an Orthodox Jew who lives in a community where mixed dancing is not always welcome. At Club Vivid, that critique in inappropriate for the venue. Was serving this vid up, with its critiques of some aspects of Jewish community front and center, to a community primarily composed of non-Jews, the appropriate introduction? I'm not sure. But a lot of the Jews who were there came up to me after the vid premiered to thank me for making it. It said something important, at least, to the Jews who WERE at Vividcon.

I'm very careful in the fannish parts of me that I present to the Jewish community, among other reasons because not everyone will respond favorably to learning that I've written (relatively non-explicit) slash fiction, but also because some in the Jewish community think that Fandom is a distraction from Torah. And I'm careful about the Jewish parts of me I present in fandom, because as an Orthodox Jew in fandom I'm rare and my actions may be interpreted as representing my community. I've tried, in my two trips to Vividcon, to make it a place where Jewish identity and Fannish identity can harmoniously exist, hosting Shabbos fan dinners and premiering vids about Jewish characters and generally being visibly a Jewish Fan, with my shiny silver Con kippah and various fannish shirts all trying to bridge those two sides of myself, two sides of myself that don't necessarily exist in harmony at all times. I like to imagine that for the four minutes or so while the vid was playing at the con, I was publicly and visibly a Jewish Fan in all that implies, and I was representing that identity to the whole VVC community. And that that was another kind of mixed dancing the vid accomplishes. Maybe that's not true, but it felt that way anyway.



Let's take a closer look at the section that begins at 3:02. We start with a bride being raised on a chair at her wedding reception. it's clearly an Orthodox wedding, as she is surrounded exclusively by women and there is a mechitza barrier clearly shown on the right. Cut to a groom being raised on a chair in parallel, surrounded by men in the black suits and black hats and beards of a Hasidic sect. Cut to the two of them raised in the air holding a kerchief over the mechitza to establish a connection over the wall without actually touching, with the camera panning from him to her. All of this is from the opening of a House episode in which the bride is about to display the symptoms of some terrible and mysterious illness and collapse from the chair. House subsequently will spend the episode hectoring her to try to convince her that her religion is nonsense while searching for a diagnosis and treatment. The opening shots establish the separation of the genders, but also through the kerchief and the photography establish that the separation creates a relationship between the two sides, a literal physical geographic connection.

Cut to women energetically dancing in a circle. Cut to two women in white dresses swinging each other around in the middle of a circle of women. Cut to two Modern Orthodox men dancing together with other men dancing in the background. Cut to a group of Charedi men dancing in a circle. These scenes are respectively from Srugim, Hasodot, Srugim, and Hasodot, two Israeli media dealing with the difficulties of life in the Orthodox world. These two scenes both have hidden complexities in the dancing: In the wedding in Srugim, Yifat is a niddah- she has started menstruating. Technically, she should have reported this to her Rabbi and made several compromises in the wedding ritual to accommodate for it, but she has chosen to conceal it from everyone but her chasan in order to fully enjoy the wedding. In Hasodot, the two women dancing in white dresses are former lovers acting publicly as if they are just friends who happen to be dancing together in a gender segregated dancing circle. These shots ignore the existence of the other side of the mechitzah, but serve both to show the unambiguous joy of dancing in segregated settings juxtaposed against the things it forces people to leave unspoken. There is a bargain being made, and the joy comes at a cost to honesty.

Cut to two women peeking at men dancing on the other side of a mechitzah from Fill the Void. Cut to two young boys peeking at women dancing on the other side of a mechitzah from House. Cut to Reuven peeking at women dancing on the other side of the mechitzah in The Chosen. Cut to an overhead pan from the men dancing on one side of the mechitzah to the women dancing on the other side of the mechitzah in House. Peeking is a commonplace, looked down upon but practiced by both sides, who wonder what it would be like on the other side. Again, there is a geography and a connection. When we see men dancing together, it's not just about them, it's also about the women on the other side of the wall. When we see women dancing together, it's also about the men on the other side of the wall. There is a permeability to these walls, people can peek through them, peek over them, peek around them. The walls are just a construct, not an unbreachable barrier.

Cut to Perchik cutting the string separating the men and women in Fiddler on the Roof. The permeability of the wall reaches a breaking point.

Cut to the bride and groom from The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox, slowly approaching each other, reaching out, and eventually touching. The barrier has been breached, to the joy and relief of everyone. Mixed dancing has been achieved, the status of full Jewish connection.



Anyway, I still have a hell of a lot to say about this vid and will do so in further posts.
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Consider this the start of me posting about the fandoms in Warning: Might Lead to Mixed Dancing. My nominations for Yuletide are fandoms I watched for the vid. They are awesome fandoms with amazing characters and relatively few people know about them.

1. Hasodot (The Secrets) | הסודות

This is an Israeli movie from about a decade ago, directed by Avi Nesher. The Hebrew title HaSodot, which literally means The Secrets, has an implication that the English title doesn't that the titular secrets involve the deep mysteries of the Bible): This movie floored me. I was nervous going in because I've learned the hard way from this project that movies involving gay Jews don't tend to work out well. (A corollary of the fact that movies involving gays don't tend to work out well, and movies involving Jews don't tend to work out well.) It did end in a het wedding, but I thought it did a much better job than, say, Kissing Jessica Stein, of understanding not only the bittersweetness of this, but the way its association of heterosexuality with happy endings makes it complicit in heterosexism. It also did not kill any of its queer characters (and this is a movie where people die! This is a movie about the consequences of messing with Kabbalah!), and its final shot was of the central queer couple happily dancing together at the het wedding. I think by the nature of the yeshiva-bound love triangle, the romance remixes and reinterprets Yentl's love triangle,- Michal torn between a conventional Torah marriage to Yanki ( who she clearly loves- the movie doesn't work the way it does if he's just a man she's forced to marry ) or a union with Naomi that would defy convention but would constitute a marriage To Torah and the joy of textual study, is a lovely requeering of an already queer text.

But more than the romance, what charmed me about this movie was the way it dealt with Kabbalah. I've never seen a movie that got the details and the feel so right. It made Kabbalah feel real and powerful and dangerous and meaningful while still maintaining a completely naturalistic environment. Naomi, in Kabbalist mode, has a stunning, arrogant command, and the rituals we see both resemble in frenzy and particulars the actual rituals of the 16th century students of the Ari and feel potent and transformative. The idea of a woman performing them and in the process transforming the meaning of the rituals is effective and powerful- I loved the scene where they sneak into the Ari's mikvah at night for a ritual immersion and in the process of doing something incredibly taboo rediscover the Bible's own sense that a woman's identity starts with her awareness of and pride in her body's physicality.

The only movie I've ever seen that handles Jewish folklore with this kind of depth of feeling is A Serious Man, and then only in the opening scene. This movie is suffused with an incredible sense of Jewish mysticism as a lived-in, comprehensible experience, not something esoteric or mysterious. As a mostly rationalist Jew, this is not my Judaism, but it's a recognizable, real Judaism nonetheless.

2. A Serious Man

The Coen Brothers' greatest movie in my superbiased opinion. Much to my disappointment, careful re-review of A Serious Man did not turn up any Jews dancing. This is the movie I most wanted to include in the vid and couldn't, because it's my favorite movie about Jews.

A Serious Man is so full of meaningful doubt, of trying to live a faithful life in a seemingly faithless world. It's great. It's also defined by a stunning realism. So many of the characters feel like people I know, they're annoying or loveable in exactly the way real people are. When I forced my father to watch it, he said afterward "I KNOW Sy Ableman. No I know TWENTY Sy Ablemans." They got the fabrics in the synagogue right. They got the look of the lawns right.

I nominated the three Rabbis that Larry Gopnik consults for advice on the meaning of life, in succession, after his wife leaves him. I love the surreal hierarchy of this subnarrative, how each succeeding Rabbi appears more serious but does not offer more serious advice. It's a brilliant parody of conventional Jewish folk narrative, a Jewish shaggy dog joke spun out with unexpected seriousness.


3. La'avor et Hakir (The Wedding Plan) | לעבור את הקיר

A sort of silly Israeli romcom made last year by the Breslov-Hasidic filmmaker Rama Burshtein. I imported a DVD copy from the UK when I needed it for the vid (the UK title is Through the Wall, a more literal translation of the Hebrew), a few months before it came out in the US, and then got to act all hipster when it hit the US and a bunch of my friends got excited about it and I was like "Hah! I was into that movie months ago.". #loser

Burshtein's films (this is her second) feel like they are made primarily for an audience of Breslov women and then secondarily in an ambassadorial capacity to the outside world. There's very much a sense I get that the perspective being pushed is unusual and particular and the idea of what constitutes a happy ending is shaped by Breslov attitudes rather than the ideals of a general viewing audience. The Wedding Plan is much more comic and much lighter than Fill the Void, her first film, but no less serious. It has a lovely romcom premise that a woman whose engagement is broken off decides to keep all of her wedding-related bookings and go through with the wedding, provided she can find a new husband in the next three months. And then it uses this premise to explore questions of theodicy, as well as look at coping with loneliness and one's sense of place within the community, and gentle moral teachings about how to respect other people. There's a hilarious sequence of bad dates as Michal tries to find her new 'the one'... the reasons why they are bad dates are striking. The guy who refuses to look at women he's dating until he marries so he can honestly tell his wife that she's the most beautiful woman he's ever seen is perhaps the most crystalline example of an adaptation of male chauvinism to the particular contours of the modern Hasidic world.
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Kosher USA by Roger Horowitz


This book was so much fun to read, and so illuminating. [personal profile] brainwane- I think you'd find it interesting as a supplement to my past answers about kashrut.

Horowitz's previously books have been investigations of the world of the modern American meat industry generally, and at the prodding of his family he turned to look more specifically at the kosher food industry and its evolution over the last century in this book. It features a chapter on the history of Coca Cola's kosher certification, a chapter on the history of Manischewitz and Kedem wines, a chapter on the story of Oreo's becoming kosher, a couple of chapters on the kosher beef industry, and all of them explain so much about things I've sort of halfway absorbed through a lifetime of consuming kosher food products.

There's this constantly devastating paradox of American Jewish life at the center of Horowitz's book: In order to make inarguably kosher food accessible to Orthodox Jews at reasonable cost, the majority of the people buying it need to be non-Jews. The further from this condition a particular foodstuff slips, the more the foodstuff will become inaccessible to Jewish consumers. The closer to this condition a foodstuff is, the cheaper and more plentiful it will be to Jewish buyers. And there are synergies to this process, because the food chain is complicated and interconnected, so if more processed foods have supply chains that are completely certified kosher, it means there are more input ingredients being used incidentally in other products that can then more easily and cost-effectively be certified kosher.

So, great, you might say, the primary tactic if you want to make kosher food cheap and available should be to convince non-Jews to eat kosher food! But Horowitz records a competing dynamic, which is this: When a foodstuff can be produced, at varying efforts, to satisfy people with different levels of kashrut stringency, the most stringent standard tends to drive less stringent standards out of the market. This is because the less stringent people will eat either food made to the less stringent standard or food made to the more stringent standard, and the more stringent people will eat only the food made to the more stringent standard, and in most cases the producer only wants to make one product that the most customers will buy.

This is why glatt meat has largely driven nonglatt meat off the kashrut market, and why Orthodox hecksherim grace tens of thousands of processed foods and Conservative hecksherim barely any, and why there are hundreds of mevushal wines and barely any non-mevushal wines. And taken to an extreme, this process competes with the tendency of producers to compete for the non-Jewish market, bifurcating the product line into the much cheaper non-kosher version and the much more expensive or bad tasting stringently kosher version and eliminating the non-stringently kosher version capable of competing on price and taste with the non-kosher version. So you have a tension between this dynamic, which can result in kosher products designed only for Jewish consumption at an exorbitant markup, and the first dynamic, which tends to result in kosher products designed primarily for non-Jewish consumption that are cheaper and of generally higher appeal. Horowitz has a particularly great diversion into the history of how Manischewitz wine began to market itself primarily to an African-American audience because of the chance discovery that Concord grape-based sweet wines taste similar to scuppernong grape-based sweet wines popular in the Deep South, and how this enabled Manischewitz to massively gain market share, but ultimately created a wedge that allowed Kedem to steal Jewish market share by marketing imported dry kosher wines and trying to figure out flash pasteurization techniques to make Mevushal wine taste marginally better.


The other interesting story Horowitz tells is about the way government regulation of food has interacted with the kosher industry, sometimes to the benefit of Jews and sometimes to the detriment, sometimes the same regulations! The same New York State kosher enforcement division that, with industry cooperation, minimized fraudulent kosher food and protected the food safety of New York Jews for decades eventually became a corrupt tool to enforce stringent Orthodox industrial hecksherim on those seeking to use local Rabbanim to certify small kosher businesses.

I was fascinated in particular by Horowitz's passage about the way increased record-keeping imposed by the FDA on large food businesses for health safety reasons allowed the Orthodox Union to establish computerized kashrut tracking systems and massively expand the reach of OU kosher certification. It's such a neat story. In general the role of government regulation in Kosher USA is really ambiguous- good when it works, but just as often seen justifiably as an unwitting threat to the Jewish community- as when he discusses the role of new ethical slaughter regulations in the 1970s on raising the price of kosher beef.
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1) Tuesday night, at Le Poisson Rouge I saw a pretty amazing set of musicians.

I first learned of Doveman (stage name for pianist Thomas Bartlett) from a weird downtempo cover he did of the complete Footloose soundtrack years back. Super slow "Holding Out for a Hero" is strangely wonderful, like the singer is literally *holding out* for that hero. Five years ago he did a set of concerts at Le Poisson Rouge called the Burgundy Stain Sessions, with a rotating cast of musical collaborators including some pretty big names. I never made it to any of those shows, but they always sounded neat.

This was billed as a revival of the Burgundy Stain Sessions, but it was actually a birthday celebration for his mother, full of her favorite songs and some of her favorite performers that Bartlett, an accomplished session musician who seems to know everyone in pop music, happened to know.

Musicians who performed included, in addition to Bartlett: Norah Jones, St. Vincent, Sufjan Stevens, Justin Vivian Bond, Joan as Police Woman, and John Cameron Mitchell. And a bunch of other talented musicians with less name recognition. But holy shit, getting to see that many amazing musicians for 20 bucks?!? It was an incredible set- relaxed and casual and goofy- and absolutely precise and lethally effective. I jokingly put up a 9 truths and a lie concert meme on facebook using exclusively 9 performers from this one concert, and I think it's more impressive than some of the lifetime 9 truths and a lie lists I saw when that meme was doing the rounds.


2) On Only Connect, that brutally difficult British quiz show I occasionally post about here to deaf ears, Gail Trimble is captaining a team this season! She showed up in this past week's episode with her husband and brother, no spoilers about whether she'll be returning in future episodes, but it was great fun to see her again. (Trimble was a famously brilliant captain of a University Challenge team some years back, that other [not quite as] difficult British quiz show I occasionally post about here to deaf ears. She nearly singlehandedly led her uni team to a championship, until the championship was taken away due to an eligibility scandal involving a teammate that still confuses me. I think the closest analogy for Americans is to say that Trimble was a British Ken Jennings.) Anyway, I just wanted to be sure everyone knew. GAIL TRIMBLE ON ONLY CONNECT, EEEE!!!


3)I recently did a rewatch of the complete series of Parks and Recreation. The first season and the first half of the second season are still frustratingly tonally off- they thought they were making fun of Leslie, it's weird?!. And the remainder of the show is still utterly brilliant and cheering and hilarious and inspiring. But it was interesting... I caught up with the show in a binge about midway through season 3, and watched the rest mostly in realtime as it was airing. It was interesting to binge and see my feelings about different episodes change in ways that seemed to have to do with rapid exposure to multiple episodes in sequence. Ann's pregnancy storyline made sense this time! In realtime, the clues they dropped for several episodes in advance slipped past me, but watching at speed, I saw how they'd set up Ann's emotional evolution, her realization that kids gave life value for some people, and she might be one of those people, so that episode where she randomly starts interviewing people to be a sperm donor actually didn't come out of nowhere. Jamm was also more endurably annoying racing through, because you got past him faster. Tuning in every week and realizing that there was going to be yet more Jamm to meaninglessly mess with our heroes was always a disappointment. But seeing him instead as this meaningless obstacle that our heroes would overcome with patience and wit made him fit better into the weave of the show.

But most of all, Leslie Knope is the greatest person ever. I think I used to complain about 'backslide episodes' of Parks and Rec where suddenly Leslie seemed unaware of the fact that just last week she'd learned a lesson about how she tended to steamroll people and it would cause problems later, but in the binge rewatch Leslie seemed like a much more continuous character, more self-aware of her own faults than I'd remembered, and stunningly competent in all directions. It's really telling, as I listen to The West Wing Weekly podcast after [personal profile] roga's urging, that people on the podcast keep comparing things to Parks and Rec. There is a lot of continuity there in the sense of aspirational but pragmatic idealism. Government will fail its constituents, but as long as it consists of smart people working hard to try to serve the public, it has value in spite of its failings.

4)I think I've given up on Faye Kellerman's Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus books, about six or seven books into the series, because in spite of the fact that they continue to be billed as Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus mysteries, they seem to almost always turn out to be Peter Decker mysteries with a little background Rina Lazarus, often with Rina as a shell of the brilliant, difficult woman who makes The Ritual Bath such a delight. I like Peter, but I'm only interested in the series for that interplay between Peter and Rina. I might check out one of the later books in the series that star Peter's daughter Cindy, to see if they're any more satisfying.

On the other hand, I got through the troublesome L is for Lawless and I'm now back on the rails with Sue Grafton's Kinsey Milhone series, which is once again a delight now that I'm up to P. Grafton's dedication to not writing the same book twice is admirable in a series as long as the Kinsey books, but L was a little too far off from what I was looking for in a story about Kinsey, with Kinsey's dips into lawlessness seeming unjustified by what we'd seen of her character. (Her bouts of lawlessness in O is for Outlaw felt more of a piece with her character- not something you'd have seen from the person you meet in the first few books, but something you could believe she'd do given the circumstances and her evolution as a character. Her break-ins in O spoke really effectively of a newfound desperation for answers.)

I continue to love how Grafton uses the most vivid secondary characters to obfuscate her plots. You never know if a character is just there for two pages to deliver a piece of information, or if they'll turn out to be central to the mystery, because either way Grafton writes them as real people with lives before and after the page. I had meant to nominate the series for Yuletide, since there is shockingly little fic, but then I remembered that all my nominating slots need to go to all the fandoms I watched for Might Lead to Mixed Dancing and desperately need fic for now. More about that later.
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My uncle, my mother's younger brother, died this morning from brain cancer. He was first diagnosed about thirteen or fourteen months ago. It's been a slow and frustrating year of setbacks that brings us to today.

He was in several ways the family rebel. Unlike his sister and brothers, he didn't go straight to college after high school. Instead he worked various odd jobs and wandered around in his early twenties, before going to air conditioning repair school and ultimately getting a bachelor's degree in engineering and finding a career as a biomedical devices engineer. He was also a rebel in other ways- my mother describes the menagerie of snakes and birds he kept in the attic when he was a teenager with a bemused wonder. He was the only one of his New York bred family to flee the East Coast, living happily in Southern California. He was a person who always listened to his gut and pursued what made him happy regardless of what other people thought. I always admired him for that.

As the only engineer in the family, he was a role model for me. He gave me advice several times when I was in college about how to navigate the next step on my path to becoming an engineer. It meant so much to me, after I got my first job out of college, to be able to sit with him at Thanksgiving and discuss our work together, engineer to engineer. I think it was the thing that finally said to me that I had made it. He had a knack for solving problems with his hands. At various times he taught me little offhanded lessons about plumbing and carpentry.

He was one of the most intensely curious people I know. He was curious about people, and he loved talking to them and learning their stories. At my grandfather's shiva two years ago, he got into a long and involved conversation with a doctor friend of my father's who used the sorts of devices my uncle made. When he was leaving after the shiva visit, the doctor said to my mother, "I'm sorry it's under these circumstances, but I was really glad to get to meet your brother." My mother told me that during her last visit to see him, a couple weeks ago, he was mentally fading, but he kept being triggered by things he saw and remembering some random fact he would geekily share with her. My mother kept a list on that visit of books he insisted she needed to read, movies he insisted she needed to watch, things she needed to look up and learn more about. And it always went both ways. When I used to discuss science fiction with him, he would eagerly write down my recommendations and I would write down his. The world was a treasure chest for him that he loved to explore and learn more about.


Per his request, his body will be cremated. He was never a religious person, though he was always a proud Jew. Because of the cremation, my mother is not obligated in shiva, which she has mixed feelings about. Death is always hard to navigate, no matter the circumstances. But his life: too short, but always full, I can celebrate. Baruch dayan emet.
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[community profile] fic_corner, the fanfic exchange for children's book fandoms, revealed its stories last night.

I received a nicely complicated Sam-POV musing on the outcome of The Westing Game:

Master of the Game (1354 words) by DesertVixen
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Westing Game - Ellen Raskin
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Sam Westing & Heirs
Characters: Sam Westing, Grace Windsor Wexler, Berthe Erica Crow, Josie-Jo Ford
Additional Tags: Introspection, How the game is played
Summary:

Sam Westing ponders his game




I wrote All of a Kind Family fic. I grew up with my parents reading us these stories, which are in a lot of ways reminiscent of the childhoods of my grandparents in New York City. And in fact most of the bones of plot in this story come from my own family legends, particularly my father's joking claim that his own father had a secret fishing boat on the East River.

Papa's Fishing Boat (1033 words) by seekingferret
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: All-of-a-Kind Family - Sidney Taylor
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Characters: Henny (All-of-a-Kind Family), Charlotte (All-of-a-Kind Family), Sarah (All-of-a-Kind Family), Ella (All-of-a-Kind Family), Gertie (All-of-a-Kind Family), Papa (All-of-a-Kind Family), Mama (All-of-a-Kind Family)
Summary:

None of the girls were allowed on the boat until they turned eighteen and were properly trained in all of the safety rules.

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Meeting Ann Vandermeer at Worldcon re-energized my desire to write a commentary on her wonderful Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals, laying out the actual halachic sources for her conclusions about the kashrut of unicorns and chimeras and so on. I've been going through the relevant sections of Masechet Chullin and SA Yoreh Deah and the Rambam's Mishneh Torah to get back in the feel for the work, and I keep encountering a sort of fundamental problem with the effort that I'm going to need a general solution to.

There are several places where the commentators conclude that some ecological or anatomical niche must be completely filled by known animals based on the Torah. For example, the only animal mentioned in the Torah as having split hooves but not chewing its cud is the pig. Therefore, concludes Rabbi Yishmael, if you encounter an animal with split hooves and you know it's not a pig, you can be confident it's kosher.

These sorts of rules are important because the Rabbis were trying to develop a taxonomy that allowed unschooled people to easily determine the kashrut of animals without performing complex dissections and weighing fine anatomical distinctions. The Rabbis wanted easy rules, so that you could look at an animal and instantly tell if it's kosher. They're based on the idea that the Torah's listings of animal types are exhaustive, or in some cases that the Rabbis' knowledge of animal types is exhaustive 'based on a tradition'.

This starts to become a problem if imaginary animals are considered. A half-goat/half lion creature is probably not kosher, because the lion part is a predator, but it might well have split hooves and chew its cud. On the other hand, it's doubly excluded from existence: First, by Rabbi Yishmael's rule, and secondly by the Rambam's rule in Mishneh Torah that a kosher animal is biologically incapable of having offspring with an unkosher animal. So saying, fine, stipulating that the goat/lion is imaginary and this is a hypothetical, is it kosher? is tricky since one reason it's excluded from being kosher is BECAUSE it's imaginary and thus someone applying kosher taxonomy can assume it doesn't exist.


I think I have two general options for these rules: One is to disallow them as part of the game. In other words, say that since the game is hypothetically assuming imaginary creatures are real, we necessarily understand that any halachic principles based just on the knowledge that they're not real are not in effect. This seems like the most reasonable option, but at the same time rejecting fundamental kashrut rules from the Gemara feels like it kind of messes with the game.

The other general option is to try to taxonomize the creatures according to existing halachic categories, that is, to identify by fiat any clearly nonkosher animal that defies halachic taxonomic principles as belonging to some actual halachic taxon. Thus, some clearly unkosher animal with cloven hooves must necessarily be a pig for halachic purposes.

A third option that may be available in some circumstances is to create a distinguishment to avoid the dilemma. For example, a dog's paw has some sort of division, too, such that some commentators argue that it is like the pig in having a cloven hoof but not chewing cud. But most Rabbis distinguish the dog's foot as not being the sort of cloven hoof intended by the Torah, and thereby avoid contradicting Rabbi Yishmael's rule. Similarly, in the case of a half-horse/half-fish creature that might plausibly have the simanim of a kosher sea creature, I might conclude that the half-fish part was necessarily from a fish whose scales are not proper scales, in order to sidestep some of the halachic difficulty posed by Rambam's rule.

I may also mix and match these principles and not use one approach exclusively.
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As I mentioned a while ago, after much anticipation, Rabbi Ethan Tucker and Rabbi Micha'el Rosenberg's book Gender Equality and Prayer in Jewish Law came out earlier this year. This book, in draft electronic form, has been much circulated among Open Orthodox connected people, so I've been hearing people talking about it for years. I read it and digested it slowly, because it's dense and thematically challenging, but finished it sometime during my travels last week.

The book is not prescriptive at all- it's not p'sak, an authoritative ruling on the questions it asks. It's a review of the halachic questions involved in a)Can women lead a prayer service? and b)Can women be counted as part of a minyan prayer quorum according to Orthodox Jewish law? It's not a simple question, and Tucker and Rosenberg write carefully to force the reader to think through all of the implications of the question.

In particular, Rabbis Tucker and Rosenberg take care to make sure halachic decisors do not reach the right end (which for them is clearly a reformulation of Jewish ritual practice that creates more space for women to participate equally) for the wrong reasons. For example, some prominent halachic decisors offer rulings that appear sympathetic to the egalitarian position, but which emerge from sexist understandings of a woman's capabilities and role in the community. One might be tempted to say "Oh, the Ran says this is okay, he's a Torah gadol, we have support to do what we're doing," but if holding by the Ran's position means affirming a sexist idea about women, that may undermine the egalitarian effort altogether.

Or a leniency on letting women participate may implicate other unintended consequences we wish to avoid. For example, such a leniency may exist in a statement about the participation of both women and minors in a service- we may wish to let women participate but continue to limit the participation of minors, and using this particular leniency would not allow us to do this.

A third set of such cautions applies because many of the restrictions Rabbinically applied on female participation in prayer services are in the name of kavod tzibbur- the honor of the synagogue community. This is a general sense the medieval Rabbis had that allowing women to lead services diminished the honor of the synagogue for some reason- there are various post-hoc theories about what the reason is, whether it's because it makes the men of the congregation seem uneducated, or because women are seen as inherently sexualized and impure, or something else. There is also a long body of Rabbinic literature that says that a community can waive a restriction about kavod tzibbur because of some other conflicting communal need... i.e. if a community only has nine men, some Rabbis say that they can waive kavod tzibbur in order to fulfill the minyan with a woman as the tenth. But, point out Rabbis Tucker and Rosenberg, waiving kavod tzibbur involves acknowledging the dishonor inherent in the act you're allowing. Thus to an egalitarian it's much preferable, though halachically more difficult, to establish that the act involves no breach of kavod tzibbur at all rather than waiving concern for kavod tzibbur. They offer some suggestions toward this end, arguing for example that women in the secular modern world are expected to participate equally in social institutions so that actually excluding them is a greater desecration of kavod tzibbur. This answer is not responsive to the medieval commentators who seem to think that the status of women as violating kavod tzibbur is not dependent on community context but is inherent in the shape of God's universe, but this position is clearly not uncontested.

I think I emerge from the book no more certain how the halacha should play out, but more certain that Orthodoxy needs to work harder to involve women in ritual. And I appreciated the way Rabbis Tucker and Rosenberg challenged me to think about the halacha in new ways and in deeper, subtler contexts. It's an unquestionably brilliant and important work.
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King Porter Stomp

Jelly Roll Morton - "King Porter Stomp" 1924
Benny Goodman and his All Stars- "King Porter Stomp" 1935
Pat Williams- "King Porter Stomp" 1968
Manhattan Transfer - "Stomp of King Porter" 1997
Wynton Marsalis - "King Porter Stomp" 1999

Women in Jazz

Billie Holliday- "They Can't Take That Away From Me"
Ella Fitzgerald - "Take the A Train"
Mary Lou Williams with Andy Kirk and his Twelve Clouds of Joy - "Mary's Idea"
Albinia Jones with Don Byas' Swinging Seven - "Evil Gal Blues"
Terri Lyne Carrington - "Mosaic Triad"

Jazz as Concert Music

Miles Davis- "So What"
Charlie Parker - "Ornithology"
Thelonious Monk w. John Coltrane "Bye-Ya"
Dizzy Gillespie - "Salt Peanuts"

Modern Jazz

The Bad Plus- "Smells Like Teen Spirit"
Esperanza Spalding - "Endangered Species"
Vijay Iyer - "Optimism"
Ikue Mori - "Invisible "Fingers"
Matana Roberts "Pov Piti" from Coin Coin vol. 1
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Worldcon, as mentioned, was something of a mixed bag. Helsinki itself was great, but the con had ups and downs.

I got in Monday afternoon and spent the afternoon holed up in my hotel room torn between a strong desire to start exploring and a brutal jetlag exhaustion. Exhaustion won, but I managed to stay awake in a stupor long enough to knock myself into the right time zone for Tuesday.

Tuesday I went on a con-organized bike tour of Helsinki. Helsinki has a billion to one scale model of the solar system scattered through the city and we set out to go from the sun to Pluto. The total ride including getting to the sun and getting back to return the bikes was about 25 miles, by far the longest bike ride I've ever done, and it was amazing. The views of the city we got were stunning, the treasure hunt aspect of finding the planets was a lot of fun, and I got to meet a variety of Worldcon members who I stayed in touch with throughout the con.

Subsequently I took advantage of Helsinki's city bike program to borrow bikes for shorter trips, mostly to-and-from the hotel and the convention center. Helsinki is full of bike lanes and people seem to be using them quite a lot. My hotel was about a 3/4 mile walk to the con... not a walk I minded doing, but it was much faster doing it on bike.

Wednesday morning, worried about undercurrents of uncertainty about lines for registration, I got to the con early... and was in and out with my badge in five minutes. Registration: Well managed, never the problem, unlike at Loncon where lines to get badges were over an hour in length for quite a while. Left at odds until the con started in the afternoon, I schlepped down to central Helsinki, prowled the streets for a while admiring the architecture and the trees, visited the Ateneum national art gallery (Finnish art has such an unsettlingly beautiful aesthetic!) and got lunch at the only kosher restaurant in Finland.

Then I headed back to the con, caught the opening ceremony, and then spent a few hours failing to get into panels. It turns out this Worldcon got a lot more people than expected, than they had space for, and than they had programming for. Particularly on Wednesday and Thursday, if you wanted to get into panels, you had to show up most of an hour before the panel started and get on line. This meant that you basically had to alternate panels and queueuing rather than being able to go to a panel every hour. It was frustrating. As time developed, they added more programming space and repeated some popular panels, and at the same time, people got a better sense for how long to wait for a panel, so the lines got better, though it remained a challenge all weekend to ensure you actually got into panels you were interested in. This was frustrating even though I didn't really care all that much about missing most of the panels, because other people were and it made everyone's time management much more finicky. It was a lot harder to make plans to hang out with people when they needed to budget not just an hour for that panel they wanted to see, but also the hour before for line waiting. I got a lot of my hanging out with friends time at Worldcon done waiting on lines for panels I didn't even want to see, because it seemed like a better use of my time than waiting alone on lines for panels that sounded more interesting to me personally.

After a bit of line waiting, I went to the FFA meetup, which was a better use of my time. Things said under the seal of FFA meetup are protected by privilege, but it was fun to meet FFA people from all over the world and we hung out for several hours avoiding panels and then stayed on line together for an ultimately disappointing panel on Pirate Erotica.

Thursday I skipped the con in the morning and instead met [personal profile] ambyr and her friends for a tour of the Helsinki synagogue. In the afternoon, I missed the chance to attend a panel on Golems ([personal profile] ambyr reassured me it wasn't very good), caught a panel on the history of fandom that did the usual stuff about Worldcon I and the Exclusion Acts but then swung over to an interesting and somewhat novel survey of the early history of Nordic fandom, saw a disjointed but compelling panel on diaspora writing with Zen Cho, Ken Liu, Liu Cixin, and Israeli editor Ehud Maimon, listened to Jeff Vandermeer do an excellent job of interviewing Johanna Sinisalo and drawing out her literary themes and structures. Then I caught up with [personal profile] ambyr and her friend and we got on line for the clipping concert.

clipping was so great! Daveed Diggs has incredible charisma and the lyrics are so densely clever and so intensely science fictional both in the sense of being preoccupied with technology and in the sense of being about estrangement, to borrow the theme of the Worldcon academic track. There was, however, this to-be-expected tension between hip hop culture and SF fan culture at the concert, made even deeper by con staff's refusal to remove the chairs from the concert hall. Diggs encouraged everyone to make into aisles and non-chair laden spaces in order to dance, which we did, but that only reinforced the way the concert had been artificially limited in scale by an inappropriate venue. More hilariously, when Diggs asked the room "Who here's from Helsinki?" and got a couple of polite hands raised, he doubled over laughing and then said "Let me explain something to you: At a hip hop concert, when someone mentions the place you're from, you're expected to make noise at the top of your lungs." The very premise of a hip hop concert at an SF con in Helsinki seemed fundamentally culturally mismatched, but it was a spectacular show that I'm so grateful to have seen even in its weird context.


Friday morning, I did the Stroll with the Stars constitutional with Guest of Honor Walter John Williams and Lawrence Schoen, then attended the Business Meeting. After contentious debate, the business meeting ratified the unnamed Young Adult award and approved the name Lodestar pending reratification by San Jose.

After the Business Meeting I was pretty peopled out. I went back to my hotel room for lunch and then was so zombied out that I decided to skip going back to the con in favor of chilling out in my room watching sitcoms and cheesy action movies until the Hugo Awards.

The Hugo Awards were fun to attend, though the ceremony dragged on a tad too long because of the decision to include the awarding of the Seiun (Japanese fandom awards) and Atorox (Finnish fandom awards) as part of the ceremony. It was a nice thought to internationalize the ceremony but in practice it didn't really give those awards the attention they deserved and made the Hugos run long. N.K. Jemisin won the Best Novel Hugo again (well deserved IMO, it was the top of my ballot), Ursula Vernon gave a delightfully ridiculous speech about whale fall, and the Puppies weren't even really able to mar the joy of the ceremony at all this time.

Saturday morning, I once again attended the Stroll with the Stars, with the always entertaining Scott Edelman as the star. (Helsinki totally half-assed Stroll with the Stars, which is usually a favorite part of the con for me. Past Worldcons have gotten more than just a single 'star' for the walk, and have had locals to guide the walk to introduce visitors to parts of the city they otherwise might have missed. The walks in Chicago took us through parts of Grant Park and other highlights of downtown Chicago. In London we got some walks along the Thames. In Helsinki, in addition to getting far lower attendance, the organizers didn't even bother to go along with us on the walk, leaving a bunch of visitors to Helsinki to navigate on their own.) Then I went to the business meeting again, where the Best Series Hugo became a thing after much argument. I was pretty peopled out after this, too, so maybe 'peopled' out shouldn't be the term I use so much as 'angry at the world because of the business meeting', but I went to various panels all afternoon anyway, including a panel on Netflix Marvel shows that was largely dissecting the many, many problems with Iron Fist, a panel on the trend to more SF being translated into English, and a panel on the way digital distribution was potentially going to force the Hugos to rethink some of its categories, one of these days. I otherwise hung around the convention talking to people, skipped the masquerade but caught some of Sassafras's Norse eddas-themed halftime show, and then went back to my hotel for the night.

Sunday I did Stroll with the Stars a last time, met up with [personal profile] liv and [personal profile] jack for a far too short ten minutes, then headed to the airport to go home.


I met a lot of awesome people, had a great time in Helsinki, and there were some really cool things at the Con. But the lines were a serious damper on the fun and I hope future Worldcons will be able to do better at managing crowd sizes..
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Vividcon in general was an amazing time. Highlights were pretty much as predicted- I had a lot of fun doing my jazz panel, which I've separately written up. Premieres was full of beautiful and smart vids. Club Vivid was wonderful, and dancing to my vid was a high I may never come down from. My Shabbos dinner was terrific, with the lovely company of [personal profile] kass, [personal profile] roga, [personal profile] bironic, and [personal profile] ride_4ever. Playing a half-orc bard in [personal profile] jetpack_monkey's D&D game was a blast. And hanging out with so many awesome fans and talking about vids and fandoms all weekend was wonderful. I'm really going to miss Vividcon after next year.


Favorite Vids from the con (but there were so many others beyond these that I liked)

-[personal profile] gwyn's Star Wars vid Battleflag, which jumps from era to era beautifully telling a story of fighting for what you believe in against great odds.

-[personal profile] cherry's Thor vid Monsters of the Cosmos, which okay, I HATE the Symphony of Science because I think it fetishizes science, stripping away all the hard work and controversy and pretends like science is something inherently and unambiguously beautiful, emerging from these lone genius scientists for whom the beauty of the cosmos just magically unfolds.

And I'm frustrated with Thor because of its science-as-magic ethos, which only rarely the movie lets Jane Foster do battle with.

So the idea that I love Monsters of the Cosmos astounds me, but it's such a brilliant mashup of different kinds of fake science, and the way it centers Jane's journey is wonderful. Like, in Thor I, Jane is searching for evidence of an Einstein-Rosen bridge, a theoretical mathematical model of the interaction of exotic particles and relativity. In finding that it's real, she instead of getting entangled in the physics finds herself entangled with the literal monsters of the cosmos. It's like she gets swallowed up by something that should have just been a metaphor, while the song is elliding the fact that the idea of monsters is just a metaphor. The song says "Truth is stranger than scifi," and this is the kind of line that in my opinion has no place in a serious conversation about science, but it's the world Jane inhabits!

It's such a brilliant combination and the timing and arrangement of the visuals is stunning.

-[personal profile] dar_vidder's Harry Potter vid "The Tale of the Three Brothers", part of a yet further extended set of Harry Potter vids to Fantasia that I have not had a chance to fully watch yet. But this piece is gorgeous and grounds the whole Harry Potter series in a saga that goes back much farther and reaches much deeper than Harry's experiences, centering Dumbledore as the man who digs up ancient and powerful magicks that end up exacting a heavy toll on the lost boys around him.

-[personal profile] pipsqueaky's Keanu Reeves multivid Incredible Thoughts, about all the deep thoughts that much be going on behind Keanu Reeves's blank face. Brilliantly hilarious.

-[personal profile] sisabet's New Girl vid Wake Me Up Before You Go Go because it lets Schmidt be a total douchebag and Cece be a total bitch and still takes them seriously and celebrates their undying love for each other.

-[personal profile] anoel's Star Wars vid Carry that Weight even though I'm not capable of coming up with the words to explain how amazing it is, how it celebrates Leia and Rey, and Carrie Fisher and Daisy Johnson, and appreciates how significant they are as focal points of female pride, and yet they also reflect a fundamental failure to center women's stories in the SF we consume. I love how the end of the vid widens the scope.

-[personal profile] sweetestdrain's Harry Potter vid Blackbird, which overlaps significantly with [personal profile] chaila's amazing "I am the one who will remember everything" in terms of source footage used, but which by moving more linearly presents the clear and stunning image of McGonagall as a woman on a mission.

-[personal profile] grammarwoman's Star Wars vid "That's What's the Matter" (not yet online that I can see), which uses a Union song from the US Civil War to snark at the Imperials so cleverly.

-[personal profile] bessyboo's Ghostbuster's vid Light 'Em Up from Club Vivid, for so much exciting Ghostbusting action.

-[personal profile] sisabet and [personal profile] trelkez's Thor vid "Tubthumping" (Not yet online that I can see), so delightfully over the top.

-[personal profile] jetpack_monkey's Wuxia multifandom vid Uptown Funk, capturing the tropes and the balletic joy of the genre.

-[personal profile] pi's multifandom older women vid Worth It, proving that writing this post in one sitting has exhausted me because I have lots of feels about this vid but nothing to say except Watch it.




Now I am in Helsinki for Worldcon. Worldcon is more of a mixed bag, but mostly I'm having a great time in Helsinki.
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Because I am perverse, I structured my vidding panel around the reasons why you shouldn't vid jazz music. I had come up with a pretty good list of reasons before the panel:


-unstructured 'songs', not necessarily verse-chorus-verse-chorus
-many different versions of songs, no 'canonical' expected version from audience
-audience not as familiar with the music as with pop songs
-vidder not as familiar with the music as with pop songs
-sounds old-fashioned
-Can be hard to follow the melody
-syncopation/swing makes tricky rhythms to cut to
-Songs often much longer than typical vids
-concern to be sensitive about jazz as an African-American music and avoiding racism/appropriation
-not a lot of female musicians visible in the genre/misogyny in the music


The audience agreed that yes, these were all good reasons not to vid to jazz. We considered adjourning the panel right there. Instead, I tried to play a variety of kinds of jazz music to illustrate some ideas I had about how to overcome these problems. I didn't manage to mention all of my ideas in the panel, so these notes will constitute both an attempt to summarize what we talked about at the panel and an attempt to restructure the panel retrospectively so that it conforms more closely to its platonic ideal form.


The first set of music I played was five version of Jelly Roll Morton's classic jazz melody "King Porter Stomp." Composed in honor of his friend and fellow pianist Porter King in the early 1900s and first recorded by Morton in the early 1920s in the infancy of recorded jazz music, "King Porter Stomp" has had long, long legs as a jazz standard.

The playlist was

Jelly Roll Morton - "King Porter Stomp" 1924
Benny Goodman and his All Stars- "King Porter Stomp" 1935
Pat Williams- "King Porter Stomp" 1968
Manhattan Transfer - "Stomp of King Porter" 1997
Wynton Marsalis - "King Porter Stomp" 1999

By looking longitudinally at one song, we get to see the way jazz reinvents itself while retaining its history. Goodman's version is considered historically important as the kickoff of the big band era, at a seminal Los Angeles concert that told the record companies that swing would sell. The subsequent recordings retain specific and calculated quotations of both the Goodman and Morton arrangements- the Williams recording opens with the exact piano riff from the Morton version, the Manhattan Transfer version uses the Goodman arrangement but interpolates lyrics relating the story of the creation of the Morton version, and the Marsalis version returns to the original Morton arrangement only with a more highly prominent trumpet part and better recording fidelity and .

I had intended to talk more about the recording technology and the history of jazz, as I think it's actually important to keep in mind since jazz's history overlaps almost exactly with the history of recorded music. Until the mid 1940s, jazz was recorded to wax, which was then laboriously transferred to a metal master for pressing to 78 rpm vinyl. The result was mono both in recording and playback: If you wanted to 'mix' different instruments you did so by literally rearranging the musicians with respect to the recording head, moving the horns to the back to keep them from drowning out quieter instruments and so on.

In the '40s, three technologies emerged in parallel that changed this: the electronic microphone allowed instruments to be recorded individually with different recording settings, magnetic tape allowed those recordings to be separately edited and mixed and overdubbed, and the LP allowed those recordings to be played back at a substantially higher fidelity. As a bonus, the LP gave musicians the choice of either writing multiple songs to fill a side, or for the first time recording songs longer than ~ 3 minutes. The technology changed the way jazz was performed once artists assimilated the new capabilities.

So if you are looking to use a jazz song from the '20s or '30s, one of your difficulties is that it's going to sound like shit, and it's specifically going to sound old fashioned, because that grainy, mono sound is what we think of when we think of old fashioned music. You have several ways of dealing with this. One is to embrace it. If you're vidding a 1920s fandom, or vidding something more modern that you want to sound old fashioned, then choosing something recorded to wax will give you the sound you're looking for. The other alternative is to look at recordings like the Marsalis recording- there are musicians today who are recording consciously nostalgic versions of classic jazz songs, with the latest and greatest new recording technology.


The other thing we pointed out about the set of "King Porter Stomp" covers is that the song is a dance song, with a straightforward 4:4 time signature, obvious and repeated jazz form, and a lot of elements that make it fairly unintimidating to vidders compared to a lot of jazz music. In the late '40s and into the '50s, jazz was transformed from primarily being a dance music to being as much a concert music for sitting and listening to as a dance music. The next set of music I played was a collection of jazz music from this period of transition, highlighting the new sounds coming into jazz: Trickier rhythms, stranger harmonies and dissonances, faster note patterns. Music not consistent enough to dance to, but music that relied on the individual voices of its lead practitioners to tell expressive, emotional stories through music.

The playlist was:

Miles Davis- "So What"
Charlie Parker - "Ornithology"
Thelonious Monk w. John Coltrane "Bye-Ya"
Dizzy Gillespie - "Salt Peanuts"

To counter comments from the audience about the difficulty of finding structure in these more musically complex pieces, I pointed to specific structures common in jazz music, like the precomposed call and response passage that opens "So What", a technique originating in jazz's history as a music inspired by African folk traditions, and a technique we'd come back to in the Modern Jazz playlist to follow. I also pointed to examples of improvisional structures such as 'trading fours', the technique of two soloists altenrately improvising four measures back and forth. I also pointed out that the classic AABA 32 bar pop song form and 12 bar blues song form don't go away in this concert jazz era, it's just that rather than repeating the melody each time, the chord progression is what's repeated, embellished and revoiced to suit the individuality of the soloists. Someone in the audience pointed out that this individuality of instrumental expression offers opportunities for vidders to associate particular instrumental parts with themes or characters.

It was particularly hard for me to cut these songs down to a minute or so, because their overall structures play out over the full scale of the song.


The next set I played was Women of Jazz, to present some female voices, both singers and instrumentalists, as a counter to the idea that jazz is this male-driven genre. Because I do think this is a problem for vidders, who are predominantly women. This set also let me revisit some genres and techniques otherwise not as well covered by my music choices- Ella Fitzgerald's song highlighted the use of vocalese or scat, a technique of singing nonsense syllables that offers tremendous potential value to vidders who are often thwarted by that one lyric that undermines our whole vid. "Take the A Train" is also the prototypical 32 bar song, and "Evil Gal Blues" is a prototypical blues, so it let me talk more about the importance of those song structures to jazz music, and to consider those structures if you need to cut down a song. Meanwhile, Mary Lou Williams let me bring in some more swing music that wasn't "KIng Porter Stomp", and Terri Lyne Carrington introduced listeners for the first time in the panel to contemporary jazz sounds.

The playlist was:

Billie Holliday- "They Can't Take That Away From Me"
Ella Fitzgerald - "Take the A Train"
Mary Lou Williams with Andy Kirk and his Twelve Clouds of Joy - "Mary's Idea"
Albinia Jones with Don Byas' Swinging Seven - "Evil Gal Blues"
Terri Lyne Carrington - "Mosaic Triad"


I concluded with a set of music from the last ten years or so, contemporary jazz in some of its multifarious forms.

The playlist was:

The Bad Plus- "Smells Like Teen Spirit"
Esperanza Spalding - "Endangered Species"
Vijay Iyer - "Optimism"
Ikue Mori - "Invisible "Fingers"
Matana Roberts "Pov Piti" from Coin Coin vol. 1

It's a bare sampler of the diversity of modern jazz, but it at least hints at all the directions jazz is heading in, use of electronics alongside acoustic instruments in Ikue Mori's music, use of rock and roll idioms in the music of Iyer and the Bad Plus, use of funk and soul idiom alongside jazz improv in Spalding's music, the incorporation of spoken elements in "Pov Piti" and the consciousness of modern political struggle. And I pointed out that the opening call and response between piano and bass in the Bad Plus "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is an almost explicit homage to Miles Davis's "So What", that no matter how much jazz pushes in new directions, what makes it jazz is its awareness of its history and its relentless reinterpretation of that history.

So I think the bottom line of the panel was that jazz is a terrible music to vid, but it's awesome music, and the more you learn about how jazz works, its context and its history and its structure, the easier it will be to overcome the inherent difficulties it presents to vidders. That's not necessarily an easy answer, there's no great and simple technique that solves all the problems, but different jazz music suffers from different problems, and in this way the diversity of jazz is a tremendous asset to vidders.

I will post a download link for all this music once I'm back at home after Worldcon.


Also, [personal profile] settiai posted notes on the jazz panel
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
Motherfucking time zones, how do they work?
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
Title: Warning: Might Lead to Mixed Dancing
Responsible for the lack of consistent title block from vid to vid: seekingferret
Vidder: seekingferret
Song: "Et Rekod" by Yakov Shwekey
Fandom: Um... all of them? Or at least 104 of them.
Content Notes: Warning: Might Lead to Mixed Dancing
Length: 4:16
Summary: All the Jews! All the Feelz!. The Jewish dance vid of my heart.
Premiered at: Club Vivid 2017
Thanks to: Oh, man, the list. First and foremost, thanks to [personal profile] sanguinity and [personal profile] ghost_lingering for so much support and helpful feedback. Thanks to [personal profile] kass for positive feedback when it was desperately needed. Thanks to J,L,L,T, and B for giving me the opportunity to watch people respond to the vid in person and see what was landing. Thanks to a different J and L for offering a round of specifically Jewish feedback. Thanks to [personal profile] thirdblindmouse for canon suggestions and source provision. Thanks to anyone who has listened to me babble about Jewish movies in the past year, which is most of the people I know, even if they didn't necessarily know the reason I was watching a particular movie or show.




(Download available through the Critical Commons website. Note that you have to get a free account.)

(also posted to youtube)

I have so much to say about the making of this vid and my feelings about all the characters and fandoms in it that it's honestly a little paralyzing. I've written thousands of words of reveal notes and I still have thousands of words to go, but here is the vid! I worked on this vid from October to May and I poured all my heart and all my soul and all my might into this vid. It feels so amazing to finally share it with the world. It was so amazing to dance to it at Vividcon, wearing my Soulless Golem T-shirt.

Song lyrics )

List of all fandoms, not quite in order )

Vividcon!

Aug. 4th, 2017 03:34 am
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
Like last year, I had airplane trouble, but unlike last year my flight was not cancelled, just delayed three and a quarter hours! I am now at Vividcon, it is now after 2 in the morning though my East Coast brain still believes it's after 3 in the morning, and I should be sleeping.

Also [personal profile] ghost_lingering owes me a drink- while we were commiserating over her delayed flight at LaGuardia and my delayed flight at Newark, we decided to race to Chicago- the winner would have to buy the loser a drink. She beat me by about fifteen minutes, proving a miserable night was had by both of us.

But I am so excited for todya at the con! My jazz panel! Vid Roulette! Vividcon Shabbos! Premieres! Other cool vidshows! Many many awesome people!
seekingferret: Photo of a button saying "Yes You Can Argue with Me" (argument)
I think this is a really interesting question the Talmud in Sanhedrin deals with, using the model of Moses and Aaron.

If two people disagree about something involving money, they can sue in court and have the court issue a ruling over who is right. There will be a clear winner and a loser and it will be unambiguous who is who, and this may result in bad feelings lingering between the two parties afterward. The result may be just according to Torah law, but that justice may not necessarily be the only thing that matters in the interpersonal relationship.

So suppose you valued peace between people more than you valued getting the 'correct' resolution to the dispute. You might, when approached by two disputants, suggest that rather than trying their case in Beit Din, they first talk to a mediator or arbitrator who can help them figure out a way to settle things out of court in a way that makes everyone get something. According to Talmudic law, such a mediation agreement is generally binding- if both parties agree to the settlement, they can't then go to a Beit Din and ask for justice, unless there was some corruption in the selection of the mediator.

This might seem like a better approach in a lot of situations. Some of the Rabbis in Sanhedrin say it's an obligation on the judge to suggest mediation if they think it will help. But others raise really salient objections.

What if you're a judge and two disputants come to see you. One is rich and powerful, the other is poor. They start telling you about the case and ask if you'll judge it for them. You hear enough detail to know that if you hear the case, the rich man is likely to lose. Is it corrupt for you to suggest mediation, knowing that the outcome will likely be better for the rich man than if you were to enact full justice? Perhaps, because you're not supposed to favor a rich man over a poor one as a judge. BUT what if the virtue of peace is greater than the virtue of justice? Perhaps it's more important to achieve a resolution where both the rich and poor men are satisfied, even though it means harming the poor man financially?

The classic homiletic is that Aaron was rodef shalom, a pursuer of peace at all costs. Whereas Moses believed in seeking true justice even when it harmed the peace.

The Talmud finds a middle ground. Its rule for judges is that they can propose mediation if they fear that they will be forced to rule against the powerful person, however once they hear enough of the case to know that they are likely to rule against the powerful person, they cannot propose mediation. That is, it's corrupt to act when you are sure that your actions are benefitting the rich person, but when it's merely a possibility that it will benefit the rich person, it's okay even if you're hoping for that possibility.

Within this principle, the dispute is between Rabbi Shimon ben Menasya and Resh Lakish over when the moment is when they've heard too much of the case to offer mediation. Rabbi Shimon holds that as soon as they've heard the case, they've heard too much. Resh Lakish holds that even after they've heard the case, as long as they've not made up their mind, they can suggest mediation. This seems to be a dispute about optics vs. intention. Rabbi Shimon ben Menasya thinks optics matter for justice, if the appearance is there that the judge pushed for mediation to favor the powerful person, it is a corruption of justice, while Resh Lakish thinks that so long as the dayan didn't act corruptly, the optics are less important than the pursuit of peace.
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This past shabbos was the monthly Shabbos afternoon picnic. Temperature was in the high nineties and the park was a little under two miles away, so I got a workout walking over to the picnic. We hung around drinking beer and tossing a frisbee and talking about superhero movies and it was a lovely time.




Monday night was my regular biweekly rpg night- we're questing in the Crimea for a lost Eastern Orthodox monastery rumored to have a mystical weapon capable of holding back the apocalypse. My favorite dialogue exchange of the night.

Me: We're searching for the daggers.
NPC Priest: So you're... treasure hunters?
Me: Well... technically, I guess. But we're ethical treasure hunters. We believe in catch and release!

The session ended on a cliffhanger with the sword wielding cultist lackey about to detonate a dynamite vest just outside the entrance to the monastery.



Later in the week, I'm supposed to get a drink with the daughter of one of my father's co-workers. My father didn't exactly do a great job selling the shidduch. It's better than the time all I was furnished was my potential date's height, but I'm not entirely sure on what basis my dad thinks we'll be compatible other than his desire for grandchildren. But whatever, I'm at the point where I'll consider any suggestion if it seems to come from a well-meaning place. There's little harm in going out for a drink.



And next week gets exciting. I fly to Chicago for Vividcon a week from Thursday. I'll be modding a panel on vidding jazz music, premiering a vid, and looking forward to lots of fun hanging out. Sunday I fly Chicago->New York->Amsterdam->Helsinki and then I'll have a couple days of exploring the city on my own before Worldcon. I don't really know what I'm going to be doing at Worldcon other than the usual, I haven't really given it much thought. I skimmed the panels but didn't see anything all that exciting. I'm sure there'll be entertaining things to do and the Hugos should be a blast, but mostly I'm going to Worldcon because I'm excited about Helsinki and because it's a place I go just to hang out with SF fans from all over the world. My parents don't understand this. My mother, whose ideas about cons all come from TV, grills me about whether I'm going to be wearing a costume, and which famous people I'm going to see, and seems disappointed when I tell her it's mostly just about hanging out and talking scifi. But whatever.


I'm also hoping at Vividcon to pass out discs for Vid Roulette. A while back at Dollar Tree there were a bunch of DVD multipacks on sale for a dollar a piece and I bought three or four. Each multipack has several DVDs in it and each disc has several movies, and most of the movies look terrible. I feel like it could be fun to randomly distribute the DVDs to vidders, sight unseen, and see what vid they can make from their randomly assigned disc. Hopefully I'll get participation for that.
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
I noticed the Daf Yomi cycle of daily Talmud study was working its way around to the start of a new tractate and decided to try to get back on board. Sanhedrin daf 2 started last Tuesday.

I picked up Daf Yomi at the beginning of the cycle and learned all of Berachos and the first quarter of Shabbos before I fell off. That was a couple of years back, I think I lost momentum when we lost power for a week after Sandy and never regained the habit. This time around, I'm still figuring out how to build the habit- I've slipped behind a couple of days already.

Masechet Sanhedrin contains the laws of the Jewish legal system- courts and judges and the evaluation of evidence and so on. It also contains digressions of all sorts because the Talmud is the most ADD legal text ever. I'm given to understand that the court system described in Sanhedrin lasted only a couple of hundred years at most, in the Second Temple era, and when the Gemara is describing its details, after the Churban, the system was largely no longer in place. So I think understanding its meaning in a modern setting requires a little bit of creativity- you have to try and read it as a philosophical exploration of the meaning of justice and the best ways to attain it. You also need to recognize it as an act of creative historical reconstruction on the part of the Rabbis, the analysis required to rediscover the legal system that represented for them not merely a lost cultural and legal heritage, but an ideal of perfected justice. The legal system described in Sanhedrin is a fusion of what we would think of today as a typical secular legal system, with wise, theoretically neutral judges appointed to adjudicate interpersonal conflicts and exact punishment for violators of the law, alongside a theocratic legal system where mystical invocations of God's name reveal the just path forward. God's guidance of just judges underpins the system, which doesn't truly hold together in the absence of God.

Nonetheless, a lot of the teachings of Sanhedrin still have value today, both as general principles of how to attain fairness in resolving interpersonal conflict, and as the guiding ideas of the much scaled back Jewish legal system of Batei Dinim we have today. I was just describing to my father- an experienced lawyer who recently became a worker's compensation court judge- the fascinating Jewish legal conflict between two Brooklyn pizzerias across the street from each other. He was surprised by the field trip the Dayanim took to visit each pizzeria. That sort of trip is pretty much unheard of in the American legal system, where the judges' job is to listen to evidence presented to them by the parties and reach a judgement based only on legally presented evidence, not to act as investigator seeking evidence on their own. My father has complained from time to time about lawyers failing to present evidence in front of him that he believed would make it easier to rule in favor of their client, either out of laziness or some more complicated legal strategy. In those cases, all he could do was ask the lawyers if they had the evidence he was looking for, not go out and seek it. But in the Beit Din system, the responsibility of the Dayan is to reach a just conclusion even if it requires seeking information withheld by the parties.
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
Yet the gods do not give lightly of the powers they have made
And with Challenger and seven, once again the price is paid
Though a nation watched her falling, yet a world could only cry
As they passed from us to glory, riding fire in the sky


I skippped out of the Dreamwidth meetup at Loncon for a half hour, making apologies to [personal profile] liv and [personal profile] starlady and others, to see Jordin Kare's filk concert. It left me weeping in sadness in places, and laughing in delight in others. I bought a CD from him afterward and thanked him for his music.

For the engineer sighed as he studied those plans
And he read the demented designer's demands
Then he called in his techs and he said to his crew
This guy seems to think that there's jobs we can't do
And parts we can't build so let's give him a thrill
We'll build his machine and then send him the bill


I'm sad to hear Dr. Kare passed away the other day. His music and his science inspired me constantly.
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)


When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

~Walt Whitman



I first encountered this poem in high school English, and I come across it again every few years. I can't explain entirely the rage it summons in me.

But maybe this is the point I wish to make. A friend mentioned the Randall-Sundrum model of the universe and I went to that wikipedia page to try to learn what that was. Pretty soon I was desperately linkhopping- I have a basic education in relativity and differential geometry, but pretty basic, and even the vocabulary I did learn at some point, it's been a decade since and I needed to refresh my memory.

So I clicked on anti-de-Sitter space and from there to Lorentzian manifold and from there to Riemannian manifold, and I want to point out something about these four articles.

The article on Randall-Sumdrum model begins "In physics" The article on Anti-de-Sitter Space begins "In mathematics and physics." The articles on Lorentzian Manifold and Riemannian Manifold begin "In differential geometry." There's that tricksy slippage between physics and mathematics Whitman is writing about. Are the learn'd astronomer's "proofs, the figures," his "charts and diagrams" a meaningful and interesting representation of the actual stars, or are they just lifeless mathematical models that lack the "mystical" potency of observing the stars with the naked untrained eye? Aside from answering this question, though, the distinction is, I think, actually important to doing physics. Because if you theorize that spacetime takes a certain shape that can be modeled by a particular manifold, and then your measurements in an experiment don't match the manifold, you have to consider two different possibilities: One, that spacetime doesn't match your theorized model, and two, that your measurements were inaccurate. But if you're a mathematician working with a manifold and it doesn't match your expectations, only your math is wrong.

So this distinction Whitman writes on matters. There are the mathematical models of the stars, and there are the actual stars themselves, and if you forget this you end up confusing the manifold with the spacetime. A physicist needs both to do their work.

Nonetheless, I feel a great rage when I read Whitman's poem, a rage at the idea that the untrained eye bestows a more exciting and therefore truer reality than the subtle delver into the measureable mysteries of the cosmos can attain through experimentation and analysis. This may be dogmatic scientism on my part, but if so, let it be!

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