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)
2017-10-10 12:14 pm
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(no subject)

There's been some talk on Yuletide chat about creating a specific tag for people writing Judaism-oriented stories for Yuletide (putative 'Jewletide'), akin to the tag/subchallenges for female-oriented stories or smutty stories or stories featuring characters of color. The idea of those tags was both to highlight fic fitting the theme of the tag, and also to create a general encouragement to write stories that fit the tag.

I've been arguing violently against the idea in chat, surprisingly violently, honestly. I'm posting this to kind of work out for myself why I reacted so strongly against it.

One reason is that it was nearly 2AM. And, well, you know. Not anyone's finest hour. But anyway.

A brief summary of the history of Judaism and Yuletide- Millions of years ago, Yuletide was founded. It was basically a Secret Santa exchange for fanfiction of rare fandoms, with the stories revealed on Christmas Day, and particularly in the early years it was pretty common for people to write fic involving Christmas in some way (When I first started doing Yuletide, explicitly noting in your letter if you didn't want Christmas fic was a big thing). As it grew, it became less explicitly identified with Christmas, and it drew more and more of fandom in, including more Jews. Then one year, they decided to start sign-ups over the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. This pissed off some Jewish fans who started complaining about how frustrating it was that this big institution of fandom was constructed around Christmas and the Christian default and completely ignored the activity of Jewish fans. There was much wank. In the end, nothing much changed. Jews continued participating in Yuletide, while continuing to have our activity ignored, and founded Purimgifts as an alternate fic exchange that centered Jewish interests. Meanwhile some Jews argued that they valued Yuletide as a sort of alternative secular celebration on Christmas day that they could celebrate while all the goyim around them were celebrating various forms of religious and/or semi-secularized Christmas, and I am kind of confused by wanting to have that counterprogramming, but if that's how they want to think about it, bully for them. There are significant differences between how secular Jews regard Christmas and how more observant Jews do, and Jewish opinion is not a monolith that I can dictate. Anyway, that remains the status quo to this day- some Jews participate in Yuletide while the Christmas/Christian elements stick in our craw, and other Jews find the Christmas timing a sort of accidental bonus.

It's an uneasy status quo. Lots of Jewish Yuletiders I know wish that Yuletide would just suddenly not be so Christmas-oriented. But we know it's not going to ever happen and we accept that. There are also Jewish mods who are attentive to how observant Jews practice fandom and I do feel like a reprise of the particular Sukkot nonsense of '07 is unlikely (the nominations and signups did overlap Jewish holidays this year, but were advertised well ahead of time and with plenty of days not falling on the holidays.) [personal profile] evil_plotbunny talked to me last week about how she personally reviewed and handled the Hebrew script in the tags on a couple of my nominations, and I really appreciate that.

So I think the suggestion of using a tag like Jewletide immediately raised hackles for me because it reads as a sort of coopting of Jewish participation in Yuletide, to wish away the years of uneasiness and say Jews can participate fully in this institution without any reluctance in spite of there being no change in the status quo. I don't think this is fair on my part, as the people pushing the tag aren't, you know, The Powers That Be, they're just random Jews in fandom who have a different context on Judaism and Yuletide than I do. And who want to create a space within Yuletide that is for the Jews. But like I said, immediately hackles nonetheless.

I think this goes back to a thing I said to [personal profile] kass a few weeks back.

[personal profile] kass said: "...because I always experience fandom itself as a kind of Jewish enterprise (a community constituted through shared engagement with source texts -- that's fandom, that's Judaism, that's where I find my home)... "

And I responded: "I'm not sure I'm comfortable with 'fandom itself as a kind of Jewish enterprise', because I feel like that frames a very limited version of fandom in order to lay that claim, editing out the parts of the fandom that are less compatible with my Jewishness. But I do think it's possible to negotiate within fandom a Jewish path."

I think my response on chat was basically a rehash of this argument. It seemed to me that a tag for Jewletide was an attempt to say that within Yuletide as currently constituted, a full-blown 'Jewish enterprise' could exist. And my response was to say that there might be within Yuletide a Jewish path, but only if we remain aware of the ways in which Yuletide as a whole still excludes us and ignores us. Which is why I'm fine with people writing fic involving Jewish characters during Yuletide, and I'm fine with people tagging the fics as containing Jewish characters, but I'm not as okay with people supporting a subchallenge within Yuletide specifically oriented around Jewish characters. But clearly other people believe in Fandom as Jewish Enterprise, and while I disagree with them, they're entitled to their opinion.

I'm also wary as hell that if we added an element to Yuletide that encouraged people to write Jewish stories, it would offer encouragement to the people who don't know Judaism well enough to pull it off. I'm wary we'd see the shitty culturally insensitive fic posted under the tag.

Of course, that can happen anyway. Nobody's guaranteed a good story for Yuletide, just a story. And I'm not going to oppose writing stories about Jews for Yuletide just because someone might write an insensitive story, and I myself sometimes request Jewish characters for Yuletide. But Yuletide is not a place where you can always rely on authors being sensitive about Jewish culture, and the idea of positioning a subchallenge about Jewish characters within Yuletide makes me nervous because I'm aware of Yuletide's limitations in this regard.

Anyway, tl;dr is that I was an asshole in chat and overreacted, and I should apologize to people I snapped at (anon memes seem confused about whether I mansplained, goysplained, Orthosplained, or what. It's enough to say that, as sometimes happens, I was an asshole.) , but I still don't like the idea of a Yuletide subchallenge oriented around Jewish fic. And of course, if other Jews want to do it it's not like I can stop them anyway.
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)
2017-10-07 07:59 pm
Entry tags:

Dear Yuletide Writer

Dear Yuletide Writer,

Thank you for writing a story for me!

This past year fannishly for me has mostly been dominated by one project: Warning: Might Lead to Mixed Dancing, a multifandom Jewish dancing vid with over a hundred fandoms. A lot of the fandoms in the vid were fairly obscure, and a lot were new to me. So I had the sort of archetypal Yuletide experience more often than usual this year- discovering a new piece of media, looking for more fanworks in the world, and not finding it. All of my requests this year are things I watched while making my vid, and wanted more fanworks beyond their two second representation in my vid. I'll be excited to see whatever you come up with.

But on that note, too, I should note that all of these fandoms are fandoms where Jewishness is central to their storytelling. I'm an Orthodox Jew and my Jewishness is a major component of my identity, so a story that engages with that part of the story in an insensitive way has the potential to hurt me. But I'll say this: Engage with the story in good faith and I'll be able to tell, and that's more important to me than me not being hurt. It's okay sometimes if fiction hurts. That, too, is a central theme of all of these fandoms. [I'll also put this out, since it's not obvious to everyone- the fact that I'm Orthodox does not mean you should feel restricted to telling stories where people behave in accordance with Orthodox morality. Heck knows I don't.]

הסודות | The Secrets (2007) - Naomi (Hasodot)

tl;dr if you haven't seen it: Israeli movie about two young observant Jewish women in a seminary in Safed, who fall in love with each other as they fall in love with the dangerous Kabbalistic secrets of the Ari.

Prompt: I'm interested in exploring any of Naomi's relationships with other characters, particularly the central love triangle. I think the ending is so fascinating, how Michelle and Yanki's relationship is predicated on Yanki understanding that Michelle's feelings for Naomi aren't going away, but that they don't have anything do with her feelings for him. Something of Anouk's past returning to trouble Naomi and Michelle again would also be interesting. But what I would most like to see continued exploration of Naomi's relationship to the sacred texts of Judaism. Naomi going deeper into Kabbalah, going deeper into Shas, constructing a life centered around text. Naomi as a Rabbi, or Maharat, or Yoetzet Halacha, or Talmud professor, or serving scripture and the Jewish people in some other capacity. Naomi exploring Sufism or Zen Buddhism or other religious mystical traditions, from a position grounded in her knowledge of Kabbalah.

A Serious Man (2009) - Rabbi Nachtner (A Serious Man) Rabbi Marshak (A Serious Man) Rabbi Scott Ginsler

tl;dr if you haven't seen it: The slow downfall of a Conservative Jewish father in 1960s Minnesota; as his faith is tested, he desperately seeks answers in all directions.

Prompt: I love the tripartite folk tale that is the three Rabbi storyline, and would love any story that gives me more of them- other characters consulting the various Rabbis, the three Rabbis interacting with each other, the three Rabbis reflecting on the events of the story from a position down the line. The Marshak's funeral. Internecine shul politics. Interacting with the dybbuk storyline, or the tornade storyline. Anything else you can imagine.

לעבור את הקיר | The Wedding Plan (2016) - Michal (The Wedding Plan)

tl;dr if you haven't seen it: A Chasidic woman in Israel has her engagement suddenly broken off, and in a leap of irrational faith she decides to keep all of her wedding bookings and just find a new fiancee to plug in, in the next three months.

Prompt: I find the romance at the end of this story a little frustratingly abrupt, but if you could show their arc afterward I might be convinced, so I'd like to see what married life looks like for Michal. More than the romance, I love the female friendships in this story, and any look at any of those friendships would be great. Also, Michal and Yoss continuing as friends after she gets married would be interesting to me, they have such a sharp chemistry.

The Hebrew Hammer (2003) - Any

tl;dr if you haven't seen it: Parody of '70s blaxploitation movies starring an overly Jewish private investigator as he races to save Chanukah.

Prompt: This is one of those totally open-ended Any requests. This story is set in such a brilliantly weirdly slanted world and I'd like to see more stories that embrace the wackiness of it.
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2017-10-03 02:45 pm
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(no subject)

The holiday season's been going pretty well. I went home to my parents for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The services they've been going to for high holidays for the past several years moved to a newly built building after years of renting out a school cafeteria. It's still a bit of a schlep- about a two mile walk from my parents' house. Consequently we did not go to services for Mincha/Maariv on Rosh Hashanah, and on Yom Kippur I parked myself at the local library on the break between Mussaf and Mincha, because while I don't mind walking 4 miles on a chag, 8 is a bit much, especially when fasting.

For Rosh Hashanah, my sister and her husband came as well, so my mom had her full house back, which made her both happy and stressed out. There was this whole drama about the beds- my sister told my mom that if she was going to come for the holidays, they needed a bigger and more comfortable bed. Musical beds ensued- my sister's old bed moved to my brother's room, my brother's old bed moved to my room, my brother's couch was thrown out, all of this activity happening on various Sundays before Rosh Hashanah to make sure things would be ready for my sister and her husband. But in any case, it was a good time spent with family, and the prayer services were valuable as well as a time to take stock of where I am in my personal life and my spiritual life.

I started building my sukkah on Sunday- my brother came over for an hour to help with the two person parts of the job. I was way less stupid in my design this year and so it's actually a freestanding, reasonably solid structure, though still full of intense reminders of its own impermanence. Building a sukkah remains my favorite mitzvah that we actually carry out (My favorite mitzvah, full-stop, is v'asu li mikdash, for similar reasons). I'm really glad I now have my own backyard to build one in.

I went to a shiur on Sukkos last night and we talked a lot about a disagreement in the Gemara between Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Eliezer about whether the sukkah symbolizes the actual booths the Israelites lived in in the wilderness of Sinai, or the Ananei Kavod, the Clouds of Glory that surrounded and protected the Israelites in their wanderings. The question seems to be about the degree to which the holiday of Sukkos emphasizes either the impermanence and uncertainty of our lives or the way that our relationship with God offers a counterpoint to that uncertainty. Obviously, it's about both, but which is primary?

I think my favorite observation at the shiur was that the chuppah and the sukkah are sort of matched opposites- the chuppah has a closed roof and open walls, the sukkah has an open roof and closed walls. The speaker didn't quite get anywhere with this parallel. He said it had something to do with embodying Avraham Avinu's constantly moving, evangelical lifestyle and I'm not sure what that means, but I feel like it has to mean something more interesting than that. Perhaps it's getting at two sorts of tensions between stability and movement: The chuppah represents a time when you give up some of your freedom to change your life and promise to provide a comfortable home to a partner and a new family. So the transition is from impermanent walls to permanent roof. Sukkos is a time when you have a comfortable home that you are forsaking for a week to remind yourself that you need to embrace change, so the transition is from permanent walls to impermanent roof. I think there's something in that.

So I suppose the answer to Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Eliezer's argument is that, as usual, they're both right. Which part of the symbolism of the Sukkah matters more will depend on what life stage you're in. And that the point of Sukkos is that they're both right: Sometimes change is a good thing, sometimes you need to appreciate what you have. Sukkos is designed to let you consider both possibilities at once.
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2017-10-01 08:25 pm
Entry tags:

Process Notes

This is Part three of my vid notes on my Jewish dancing vid Warning: Might Lead to Mixed Dancing. These are the boring notes about my process.

I conceived of the idea for Warning: Might Lead to Mixed Dancing in early October. I mean, I've long wanted to do a big multifandom Jews vid, and this was just the latest of a long list of songs I considered, but it's the one that I actually committed to making. I think I had a burst of vid-making energy and confidence coming out of Vividcon 2016, a new sense that the ambitious was achievable. I also think I went to two weddings in a month that played this song, and it gelled in my head as saying the right things to the right beat. At about that time,[personal profile] ghost_lingering asked me to look through my Jewish music collection for vid song suggestions for another project, and I think the idea rumbled to the front while I was flipping through song ideas for her.

I made a list of about 50 fandoms I thought might have Jewish dancing scenes I could use to collect, using my memory, and various online listicles of "The Top 50 Jewish Movie Moments" and so on. To organize it, I used [personal profile] jetpack_monkey's multifandom vid spreadsheet, at least at first. I ripped the relevant DVDs that I already owned and borrowed some of my top target DVDs from the library and originally I thought I was going to do a long collection phase before I started vidding, so I could get a sense of what the source was going to look like. I'd gather source, I'd clip, and then when I had a lot of dancing, I'd vid. This was boring, though. Making this vid was such a time commitment that I decided pretty quickly that to get me through it I needed to frontload the fun part as much as possible. That actually became a mantra, and I think it was wise. By the time I got to the miserable and tedious parts of vidding I was full-on committed and willing to put in the time. At the start, I did minimal organization, minimal technical fiddling, and maximal throwing things on the timeline and playing around. So I made a draft of the first 30 seconds or so using vobs of the 7 fandoms I'd gathered in mid-October. I felt instant glee that yes, this could work. I passed it to [personal profile] sanguinity and got a very similar instant glee response.

[personal profile] sanguinity: MORE
[personal profile] sanguinity: MAKE MORE

Aspect ratios between the TV stuff in 4:3 or 16:9 and the movie stuff in anamorphic widescreen was not accommodated for in this first draft. Some clips were interlaced, some were telecined, There where ghost frames all over the place, and jerky motion and jagged artifacts caused by the video quality. I didn't care about any of that. In terms of the technical aspects of vidding, my vid looked like shit. In terms of pure fannish id, it was a well needed shot of happiness from the very first draft. All the joy of the finished product is there in the first draft. Every time I got a new DVD in, I ripped it and then added its dance scenes to the timeline and rewatched again. Two seconds or six seconds a week, the vid grew. Watching even my ugliest drafts of this vid was such a joy. This slow sense of accumulating depth as more and more fandoms got added was such a joy.

I signed up for Netflix DVD on the one DVD plan. This meant I was getting in roughly one DVD a week to add to the vid. I also got some DVDs from the library system- these would typically come in batches of about four DVDs every week or two that I'd rip all at once and then review over the course of a week. So by the by, I steadily added about three fandoms to the vid each week for six months, with peak weeks being weeks where I added six fandoms at most. I don't think I could have done the vid if sources had been coming in faster, I'd have felt overwhelmed. I totally understand now why most of these massive multifandom vids are co-vidded, it would have made things go much faster if you could split the source evaluation stuff into multiple parts and divide the labor and the frustration. Nothing is more frustrating than checking through twenty episodes of some show and not finding any Jews dancing (Grace and Leo have three weddings in one mega-sweeps-week episode of Will and Grace and we don't see Grace dancing at all.).

I had a full timeline, via this slow process, by the last week in December. But it was very much not a finished vid. Of my targeted 50 fandoms, there were about 35 in the vid. Much of the timeline was taken up with stuff from Fiddler on the Roof, probably a third of the timeline was Fiddler. Another quarter was The Chosen. I knew most of that Fiddler and Chosen material was going to get pared back, but again in terms of frontloading the fun, I wanted to have a full timeline as quickly as possible. So that I could watch it and see the joy, so that I could get an image of the shape of the whole vid, and so I could show it off to people and have them see what I was doing. [This is when [personal profile] sanguinity started playing the guessing game of Fiddler or Chosen? Especially in the scenes of blackhatted dancing, she initially had trouble telling which ones were from Fiddler and which from The Chosen, but trained herself over several rewatches to recognize the presence or lack of electric lighting, certain background details, and other clues about whether the dancing was from Fiddler or The Chosen. I have the best betas.] Fiddler had so much dancing material in it that it let me see the overall shape of the vid very nicely. I could use a Fiddler clip and see the kind of clip from another fandom that would have to replace it.

Having the full timeline let me see what was missing and where the vid didn't celebrate the diversity of Judaism I wanted to, and I altered my priority list of things to add, deprioritizing a few things I'm fannish about but which overlapped too much with things I already had. The final vid ended up with two Seth Rogen films and three Barbra Streisand films, and I don't begrudge them that, because Barbra's the best, and because both of them have made careers out of refusing to deny their Jewishness for anything (Rogen starred in a Christmas movie and still played a Jew!),. But I could have easily had five Barbras and four Seths, and that would have been overmuch. And more broadly I took survey of the kinds of Jewish identities I was and wasn't highlighting yet. I particularly had a goal of increasing the representation of queer Jews in the vid, and Jews of color. It turns out that most such films are incredibly depressing, so that was an interesting adventure when trying to make a dance vid. The initial 30 second draft had only two queer Jews- Susan Ivanova and Willow Rosenberg, both of whom have female lovers die over the course of their series. I watched a whole bunch of queer Jews die stupid, futile deaths designed to make me feel sad. It did make me feel sad, but it also made me feel weary. It didn't make it in, because the only dancing is underneath the final credits, but I watched a movie called "Oy Vey, My Son is Gay." Yes, that is a thing that exists. It was terrible, as you'd expect given the title, but the queer Jew didn't die, and I think it was the first time in the whole process that happened. Representing Jews of color was harder. I managed to find a few to include, Cristina Yang and Lester Patel and maybe one or two others, but there simply isn't much out there, and what there is doesn't dance much on film.

Early January:

[personal profile] seekingferret: Sadly Sara Rue does not dance in Dorfman in Love.
[personal profile] ghost_lingering: D: Tragic!!!!
[personal profile] seekingferret: I kind of love how my only criterion to determine whether a movie is good over the past couple months has been "Do Jews dance in this?"

By late January I had hit 50 fandoms. And it was clear that I was not done, that I had room for more fandoms. In the process of tracking down the 50 sources, I'd gotten lines on some more things to check out, in a cascading process. So with 50 fandoms, I tentatively predicted I could fit 60 fandoms in the vid. And then I hit 60 and predicted I could maybe fit 70. And then I hit 75... I kept finding new things I wanted to add, by following up on other things a Jewish director had made, by following up on other things a Jewish actor had made, by skimming the DVD section of more and more libraries in my county system, by going on Wikpedia crawls, by talking to friends. And I kept getting better at the choreography, at figuring out how to match movement in one clip to movement in another, and use shorter clips to fit more movement in without it seeming jerky. So there kept being places I'd look at and think I have room to squeeze in another fandom here, and the more fandoms I stuck in, the better my eye got at spotting those little places.

I just rewatched one of my November drafts and it's striking a)how many clips from those early drafts stayed in the same place in the final version and b)how many of those clips have been dramatically shortened to now contain three or four other fandoms in the same time stretch. Cutting faster has always been one of my week points as a vidder, I've struggled to make faster cuts legible. I don't struggle with that anywhere near as much anymore- the new vids I've been working on this summer feature much bolder, more aggressive cutting, technique I've become comfortable with because of this project.

Mid March:

[personal profile] seekingferret: i really thought i was down to the last three or four fandoms to add to Et Rekod, and then something happened and my to-collect list ballooned by another ten or fifteen fandoms.
[personal profile] sanguinity: /cackles

In mid-March, with about 80 fandoms in the vid, I decided it was time to eat my vegetables, since the CVV deadline was in less than two months. I took a little over a week (mostly two weekends, really) to re-encode all of my vid clips. I cropped everything to a consistent 16:9 aspect ratio, making decisions about what part of the frame to include, and converted to an editing format that helped me get rid of ghost frames and do speed adjustments in clips easier. It was mostly a pretty brainless process, and I'd gotten practice at it when making my West Wing vid, since West Wing switches from 4:3 to 16:9 halfway through the show and a vidder needs to decide which aspect ratio to work with. But there are decisions to be made. About 60% of anamorphic or 4:3 clips can just be evenly cropped from each side because the action is centered, but the rest you need to make compositional choices about what to crop to make things fit 16:9 nicely. A few clips just got rejected in this phase as unworkable in 16:9.

The process was tedious and annoying but straightforward. I moved to this two step vidding process a couple years ago and it feels counterintuitive, like I'm creating double work for myself, but it seems to work better. Clipping as a process unconnected to my final identification of where useable clips will end up on the timeline rarely works for me. I end up clipping a bunch of stuff I'll never use, have trouble figuring out which clips are which and what I want to use. By roughing out the vid using low quality source, I save time when I do clip and keep my workflow way more organized. For very generous definition of 'organized'.

Early April:

[personal profile] seekingferret: vidding related psychosis has advanced to a new stage: i am watching two different medical dramas at the same time. scanning through an ER episode on one screen to get to Dr. Greene tangoing whilst watching an episode of Chicago Med to see if Dr. Latham ever dances on the other screen.
[personal profile] sanguinity: Only two screens?
[personal profile] sanguinity: Elementary's Sherlock would be watching seven.

From this point on, I kept going, adding more fandoms as I acquired them. I hit 94 in Mid-April and basically said "This vid is done." And I was truly right, I could have submitted it, it was a great vid. But the number 94 nagged at me. I was so close to 100! And then they announced an extension to the submission date for CVV and I said okay, I'm going for 100. Then I blinked and I had 104 fandoms. (It was kind of a slow blink. I think I hit 97 and then I identified ten more possibles and put them on Netflix/library hold and seven came in within time for me to add them. I distinctly remember a conversation with [personal profile] ghost_lingering where I said "I'm just shy of 100, just going to add a couple more fandoms to finish at 100, and she said "There's no way you're going to just stop at 100." She was right.)

The day before Club Vivid vids were due, I went to the liquor store and bought a bottle of Slivovitz. I'm... not sure it's fair to say I dislike Slivovitz. Most of the time I dislike Slivovitz, but then I get into moods where it feels like the right thing to drink. It is the drink of the old country. This was one of those nights. I poured myself a shot, uploaded the vid to the Vividcon site, and then downed the shot. I felt lightheaded and relieved.


-10/1 First conceive of vid idea
-10/15 Started collecting sources
-11/29 First export, just first 30 seconds, 7 fandoms, no deinterlacing or cropping aspect ratio mismatches. Expected to use about 50 fandoms
-12/28 First full timeline render. ~35 fandoms
-1/21 Up to 58 fandoms, expecting to use about 5 more and then run out of space
-1/28 Up to 61 fandoms, thought was up to maximum
-2/26 up to 74 fandoms
-3/14 up to 78 fandoms, discover another 10-15 possibles
-3/23 begin remaster for finished clips, finally fix all the aspect ratio mismatches
-4/1 remaster finished, up to 85 fandoms
-4/16 up to 94 fandoms, happy with draft but gnawed by the sense of how close to 100 I am
-4/23 up to 97 fandoms
-4/27 up to 99 fandoms
-5/7 up to 104 fandoms
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2017-10-01 11:23 am
Entry tags:

(no subject)

[community profile] equinox_exchange has revealed its fall round. I skipped this round because I didn't find the theme that exciting- when I'm fannish about a book, I read the book a lot, I don't usually seek out the movie version.

Most of the fandoms that were vidded are not fandoms I'm familiar with, but I loved the film "Hidden Figures" and it prompted six awesome vids in the exchange, and let me at least commend you to all of them. There's not a bad one in the set:

Hidden Figures vids from Equinox Fall

The Whole Collection
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2017-09-20 08:57 am
Entry tags:

(no subject)

Listening to the West Wing Weekly podcast, I'm up to 2x3 The Midterm Elections and one of my least favorite scenes in the West Wing, when President Bartlet 'dismantles' Dr. Jane Jacobs's homophobia.

Good. I like your show. I like how you call homosexuality an abomination.

I don't say homosexuality is an abomination, Mr. President. The Bible does.

Yes, it does. Leviticus.


Chapter and verse. I wanted to ask you a couple of questions while I had you here.
I'm interested in selling my youngest daughter into slavery as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7.
(small chuckles from the guests) She's a Georgetown sophomore, speaks fluent Italian, and
always clears the table when it was her turn. What would a good price for her be? While
thinking about that, can I ask another? My Chief of Staff, Leo McGarry, insists on working
on the Sabbath, Exodus 35:2, clearly says he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated
to kill him myself or is it okay to call the police? Here's one that's really important,
'cause we've got a lot of sports fans in this town. Touching the skin of a dead pig makes
us unclean, Leviticus 11:7. If they promise to wear gloves, can the Washington Redskins
still play football? Can Notre Dame? Can West Point? Does the whole town really have to be
together to stone my brother, John, for planting different crops side by side? Can I burn
my mother in a small family gathering for wearing garments made from two different threads?

I know I've complained about similar rhetoric before. The argument is this: There are things in the Bible that a modern religious person doesn't observe. This abrogation means that any parts they do still observe are inherently hypocritical, because if they claimed to follow the Bible they would follow the whole Bible.

This is a really stupid argument. Christianity explicitly rejects some of the Hebrew Bible's obligations. It's not hypocritical for them to not observe these things, it's inherently doctrinal, and it could even be argued (as I've sometimes been forced to, because sometimes Christians do weird and offensive things with Jewish ritual) that it's hypocritical if they DO observe those things. The Christian Bible says that Christians do not need to keep kosher. It's right there in the text!

And even things Christians do still observe that are mentioned in the rant are not necessarily observed in the Biblical way, on purpose! Jesus doesn't condemn the idea of the Sabbath, and Christians do observe a Sabbath, but Jesus condemns the idea of putting people to death for breaching the Sabbath. So Christians have a much more relaxed approach to the Sabbath than Jews do. Again, this does not make them hypocrites. It means they ARE observing their religion.

This infuriates me particularly even though I usually don't care all that much if Christians are revealed as hypocrites, because this argument is the classic anti-Judeo-Christian argument: Ostensibly directed at Christians by people who don't bother to distinguish between Jews and Christians. Jews have our own approaches to difficult passages in Tanakh, but generally we don't believe that the ritual law has been abrogated. We think we still are obligated in most if not all of the things Bartlet mentions as absurd rituals. Orthodox Jewish farmers in Israel, to this day, don't plant two crops side by side in a field. And though we don't have the executive ability to carry them out, most of the stoning laws Bartlet mentions are still technically on the books.

And Orthodox Jews generally still believe we are obligated in the prohibition of et zachar lo tishkav, no matter how difficult that may be to reconcile with modern ideas about love and sex. But it's not like the fact that I don't eat shellfish is what allows me to hate gays without hypocrisy! That's the frustrating part of this argument for me. If you accept it, you seem to be accepting the idea that IF Christians hadn't abrogated parts of the Torah's ritual law, they'd be free to consider homosexuality an abomination. But the people who are making this argument clearly don't believe that. They believe that considering homosexuality abominable is evil and homophobic regardless of whether you eat shellfish. So people making Bartlet's argument are making an argument they don't actually believe to try to trap religious people with sophistry.

So when you're criticizing Christian homophobia, or Jewish homophobia, try to do it with an argument that you actually believe, and which actually engages with Christian or Jewish doctrine rather than with your imagined fake version of that doctrine. Ask a Jew how they reconcile Veahavta lereacha kamocha with the idea of telling your neighbor they can't marry the person they love. Ask a Christian how they can send their churchmates to abusive conversion therapies when Jesus preached kindness and humility and not judging the sins of others.

But don't ask them these things because they're traps you're seeking to catch them in. Ask them because religious people have thought about these questions and we have answers to them, answers our critics often refuse to listen to, and because the conversations about these questions are worth having and worth struggling with. These are hard questions that challenge our faith, and serious theists ask them. Serious atheists ought to, also.

And what frustrates me most about this scene, why it's one of my least favorite West Wing moments, is that President Bartlet, deeply Catholic, who once considered the priesthood, must have some answer to these questions that isn't dependent on taking Catholics to task for eating shellfish. This scene is profoundly out of character on a theological level for the man delivering it. And I don't like when President Bartlet lets me down.

Edit: Thanks for comments- I will not be able to respond until after Rosh Hashanah at earliest
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2017-09-10 09:57 pm
Entry tags:

(no subject)

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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2017-09-10 08:53 am
Entry tags:

My Yuletide nominations

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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2017-09-09 10:06 pm

(no subject)

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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2017-09-09 08:11 pm

(no subject)

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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2017-09-03 08:50 pm
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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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2017-08-29 10:39 am
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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

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)

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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2017-08-27 02:41 pm
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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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2017-08-18 03:57 pm
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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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2017-08-15 07:12 pm
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Downloadable Playlists from my Jazz Panel at Vividcon

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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2017-08-15 05:00 pm
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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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2017-08-11 03:27 pm
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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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2017-08-07 08:01 pm
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Vidding to Jazz: An Attempt at a Panel

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)
2017-08-07 04:51 pm

In Helsinki!

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)
2017-08-06 01:32 am
Entry tags:

Club Vivid Premiere!!!!!

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 )