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(no subject) [Feb. 20th, 2017|03:28 pm]
The weather yesterday was amazing. Not amazing for February, amazing stam. Mid '70s, plenty of sun, a little wind. I pulled out my bike for the first time since October and went for a nice ride. Two nice rides, actually- I rode a couple miles toward Target, where I was planning to buy milk and a new pair of earbuds. Then I realized I'd forgotten my wallet, so I turned back home. My second ride I instead went to the Rite Aid that's only about a mile away. All told I think I rode six or seven miles, which is pretty good given how little exercise I've gotten all winter. Target, which is about a ten mile ride roundtrip, remains an elusive milestone (er... target) . This is I think the third time I've attempted to ride there and gotten caught up short for various reasons. Hopefully as the weather gets warmer and the days get longer I'll make bike riding a regular thing again, and get better at it.

When not riding, I was vidding. I have actually finished a reasonably decent Equinox vid first draft, which is shocking to me given how recently I got the assignment. There is a particular combination of song inspiration and fandom familiarity that results in me knowing exactly what goes where- my Noah vids were like that. It also involves not being a perfectionist, which can be hard but is also I think worthwhile. [personal profile] chaila had a great (locked) post on her vid process in which she described "6) Get a full timeline! YAY! It's almost always shitty, but WHO CARES FULL TIMELINE." And it's really true- it's stunning how quickly a shitty full timeline can go to a satisfying full timeline once you get to the full timeline stage- the wrong spots jump out at you once you can see the whole shape of it. Of course sometimes you hit the full timeline and realize your whole arc is wrong and you need to rebuild the whole thing from scratch, but eh, that's vidding. They call it the worst hobby for a reason. I've already started a second vid in the same fandom, but this one is definitely going to be much slower going... I'm much less certain about how it fits together.

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(no subject) [Feb. 14th, 2017|09:18 am]
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Ran a neat D&D one-shot last night. Set-up was that the players were unpaid interns on their first day at a zoo full of D&D monsters. I drew up the zoo map a year or two ago on a previous occasion when I thought I was going to be running a one shot, but never actually ran it. This time when I was asked on short notice to run something I thought it'd be easy to pull it out of my bag, but it turns out I'd lost all prep materials besides the map drawing, so I had to scramble a little to think up some story hooks in the hour before the game. But it worked really well in practice.

In the hour I had, I typed up a schedule and a task list for the interns and embedded all the storyhooks into these materials, which the interns found on a chalkboard in the employee only area of the zoo's welcome center. There were hooks like "Feed the owlbear" and "Sing to the manticore" and "Make sure all the oozes are accounted for" and "Don't feed the trolls" The great thing about this was that it meant that for much of the adventure, I didn't need to advance the plot- the players took over management of the schedule and advanced the plot for me. All I did was serve as timekeeper and occasionally inserted an NPC to stir things up. This suited my natural inclination as DM to not do very much.

There were a lot of hysterical scenes- the drunk satyr in the petting zoo, the lovelorn chimera escaping his cage to seek the lovely hydra, the sphinx needing to be given a new riddle, but my favorite was probably the payoff on a gag from the schedule- an item said "Feed the minotaur", but there was no minotaur cage on the map. The interns ran all over the zoo trying to find a minotaur, but when the zoo's owner showed up at the end of the day to evaluate their performance, he told them "That says manticore"- the unfed manticore who got increasingly grumpy throughout the day in spite of being sung to.

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(no subject) [Feb. 13th, 2017|02:58 pm]
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After the rally, I met [personal profile] ghost_lingering and Jon at MoMa. They had a sort of special installation in recognition of Trump's travel ban on visitors from seven majority-Muslim countries. I say sort of because I'm not sure whether it really comprises an installation, exactly, except that it does.

The installation, such as it is, consists of seven paintings by contemporary artists installed in MoMa's fifth floor galleries, which typically host the museum's permanent collections- that amazing and confusing collection of Picassos, Matisses, Magrittes and Van Goghs that are the museum's most reliable draw for visitors. I've written before about how MoMa constitutes a canonical avant garde, a 'Revolutionary Orthodoxy'. The seven paintings installed in this gallery present a deliberate and sometimes really unsettling disruption of this paradoxical conservatism.

I commented partway through that it sort of felt like a treasure hunt, to wander through these familiar galleries and spot the painting that was out of place. Sometimes it was instantly obvious; other times the work blended until you took a closer look. A Sudanese painting set beside a Picasso guitar sculpture showed similar geometries and a similar color palette- and an utterly different sense of composition.

Each of the paintings had a note beside it noting that the artist was from a country whose travel into the US was being restricted by the executive order, making clear how such an executive order would impact our artistic and cultural exchange with the world. But the positioning of the art within the context of MoMa's permanent collection made a sort of opposite argument, namely that these works of art are not scary, they are not foreign and weird, they're perfectly recognizable as part of the normal discourse of the art world. And that cutting these seven countries out of our American lives isn't cutting out the Other, something separate- it's cutting something out of our very heart.

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(no subject) [Feb. 12th, 2017|10:30 pm]
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Hundreds of Jewish umbrellas came out today, braving the hail and the sleet and the cold, to Battery Park, overlooking the Statue of Liberty, to say that Jews understand our moral obligation to help refugees and not deny them safety. To commit to continue fighting against Trump's hatred. To speak about our love and connection with the Muslim community. To remember the past and pray for the future. And to say that we were strangers once, in the land of Egypt, and because of that it is a mitzvah to love the stranger.

(better pictures, not taken by me)

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(no subject) [Feb. 12th, 2017|09:26 pm]
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I made three or four vids for Festivids this year depending on how you count.

My assignment was for [personal profile] skygiants, who requested a Blazing Saddles vid. She requested "a really wacky vid that embraces the genre satire; I also think you could do some really neat stuff going in the exact opposite direction and digging into sharp edges of what the film is actually about. " I didn't do either of those things, exactly. Rather, I think what I did is take the film's narrative beats nearly totally seriously. Blazing Saddles is a scathing satire of the Western genre which rigorously hits every single narrative trope of the genre it can find and rigorously checks off every required plot point of the standard Western plot. And each time it hits a required point, it informs you that it is doing it. The result is that even though it often doesn't feel like it because you're too busy laughing, Blazing Saddles is sketching out the epic saga of Sheriff Bart and his victory over the forces of evil. I tried to bring that into focus without forsaking the important themes that arise from the satire, of the erasure of minorities from the 19th century West, of white supremacy and the importance of alliances and teamwork to defeat it.

Two Against One

The song I chose to vid "Two Against One" by Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi, is incredibly apt for this balancing act. It's the work of a biracial musician reinterpreting the classic Western soundtracks of Ennio Morricone, a complicated marriage of blues and folk and spaghetti Western. I think the lyrics are actually about self-sabotage- read closely enough the 'two' opponents Jack White is faced up against are his own tendency to betray himself- and himself in a mirror! The lyrics, though, are vague enough that you need to listen closely to understand this, so I read nearly all the lyrics against their actual meanings. The 'two' is usually used for the good guys, against the one being the bad guy, as I was emphasizing the teamwork theme. The thrust of the vid is: Bart shows up in town alone, the classic Western loner, hated by everyone both for Western trope reasons of the feared outsider and because of basic racism. He forms an alliance with Jim, becoming for the first time Two against One, then enlists the the poor townfolk, women and children too, in the fight against the evil white males with institutional power.

Then I saw [personal profile] yinetime was out for pinchhit and they requested the Darren Aronofsky Noah movie. Some of you may know I've been working on a vid for this film for the past two years. It's a six minute long vid and I've laid a good timeline for about three and a half minutes of it. So I wasn't about to finish that in two weeks for Festivids, but I knew the source really damned well, so I asked myself "Do you think you can make a vid for this in two weeks?" I decided, before claiming the pinch hit, to spend a few minutes testing out ideas to make sure I could pull it off. I usually do this when claiming pinch hits for fic. In this case, I sat down and an hour later I had a full timeline for a two and a half minute long vid. And I mostly really liked the timeline! So I claimed the pinch hit.

Brings the Flood

"Brings the Flood" is set to Neko Case's ambiguous fairy tale of faith "Fox Confessor Brings the Flood". My vid centers Naamah, Noah's wife, and the ways in which Noah betrays her. He is the 'fox' of Case's song: handsome, spiritual, dangerously cunning, and for all that he loves her, not always acting in her best interests. But Naamah is cunning, too. In the end, Noah stands over Ila, preparing to kill Shem's daughters in order to annihilate the human race, and he looks at Ila and he sees his wife in her, and he overcomes the snake for her sake. And all through it, Naamah endures, endures the pains and betrayals that come of trying to live a moral and fulfilled life in a world that doesn't explain what moral means. And then the rainbow comes and tells both Noah and Naamah that forgiveness has come, even though it cannot quite wipe away the flood of tears.

And then I recalled another song I'd noticed when scanning my music library for songs about floods and oceans and water: "Theme from Flood" by They Might Be Giants, the goofy radio-jingle of a theme song for the TMBG album of the same time. And I said two things. First "Wouldn't a Noah vid to this be hilarious?" and Second: "I told [personal profile] sanguinity that I just made a treat in an hour, to try to throw her off the scent of guessing I made the Noah pinch hit. But she's still going to know that I made the Noah vid, because of course I made the Noah vid. But if I made a TMBG Noah vidlet that will clearly only take a few minutes of work, she might think this is the Noah vid I was talking about, and somebody else made "Brings the Flood". Except she's still going to know I made "Brings the Flood", because of course I made the Noah vid." So I made "They Might Be Nephilim", this overly obvious Ferretvid, because it made me laugh and because it might decoy [personal profile] sanguinity, though probably not. And then [personal profile] thirdblindmouse made "Chess: The Musical", which is basically the exact same joke. I'm awed by how similar they are.

They Might Be Nephilim

That's three vids. What's the fourth? I made a third Noah vid, but I didn't post it because it's a little messy and also because if I'd posted three Noah vids, there wouldn't have been any question in the world that I made all three, especially since I reuse a lot of clips in complementary ways from vid to vid. The third vid is a Tubal-Cain POV vid about his relationship with Noah. It's set to Arcade Fire's "Ocean of Noise", off an album dismissively but for these purposes appropriately titled "Neon Bible". "Noah" is very much a film, I know I've written, about the way that it can feel that if the Creator has a plan, it's never communicated very well to the actors carrying it out. Noah is prophetically warned of the flood, but that doesn't tell him how to respond to it, doesn't give him certainty about what redemption may or may not come. And Tubal-Cain is given even less than Noah. All he can see is that the power to rule has been placed in front of him by the Creator and he sees that as his own sort of prophecy, an obligation to act in the Creator's image by creating a civilization of great strength and achievement. Genius.com's annotator sees "Ocean of Noise" as a struggle for primacy between absent father and rebellious son, but I don't find that perfectly obvious. More clearly, it's a song about an opposition that may appear rational, but if examined decays into an ocean of noise. In the end, Noah and Tubal Cain are both just fighting for the survival of themselves and the people that matter to them.

Ocean of Noise

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(no subject) [Feb. 9th, 2017|08:51 am]
This Week... I would like it to be over.

We have various government proposals due at various point this week. As a result, I went into work for a half day on Sunday, worked late on Monday, and on Tuesday I was there until 10PM. Most of the proposals were submitted then, and I left on Wednesday only marginally late, but we have one more due Friday around noon, and... now we are getting 8 inches of snow today and I have decided I do not wish to drive into work, so I am assuming my boss is going to be upset at me for not being as available to work on the proposal as he would like. I haven't actually heard anything from him since I emailed saying I wasn't coming in, and offered to do whatever I could do from home, so maybe he's managing... in spite of hyperbolic threats yesterday against anyone who couldn't get into work because of the snow.

In the meantime, I have a snow day, albeit at the moment a somewhat tense one as I wait to see if I actually am going to have to do work or if I'm free to relax and enjoy the day stuck in my apartment. I cannot wait for these damn proposal deadlines to be over for a while.

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For the Record [Feb. 7th, 2017|08:30 pm]

I get great benefit from the Orthodox Union, including but not limited to its kashrut cerrtification, and I am a part of several communities that provide funding to and work closely with the Orthodox Union. I've been part of Orthodox Union sponsored youth groups and participated in a number of Orthodox union sponsored events as an adult. I generally have supported their lobbying efforts in Washington on a wide range of issues related to the Jewish community, and their outreach efforts to provide Jewish services to Jews in localities that cannot sustain a dedicated synagogue.

And so when I say that the Orthodox Union's recent ruling on women acting on clerical roles in OU affiliated synagogues seems ill-thought, you should read that as my feelings being a lot more extreme than that and being moderated only by my deep and longstanding admiration for the institution.

I'm presently in the middle of reading Rabbi Ethan Tucker and Rabbi Micha'el Rosenberg's new book Gender Equality and Prayer in Jewish Law, which I've literally had pre-ordered on Amazon for two years. I will have more to say on this subject when I've finished reading it.

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(no subject) [Feb. 4th, 2017|08:44 pm]

Festivids revealed last week!

I received two lovely gifts. Both are vids for The Cape, a superhero TV show from about five years ago that pretty much landed with a thud, but which I've always loved. It was doing camp Batman when Chris Nolan was doing grimdark Batman, and it was doing it beautifully, with a sense of humor and a sense of social justice, and so even though the dialogue was usually ridiculous and the characters weren't emotionally full creations, I loved it. I do love a glorious failure.

Chess: The Musical, except not at all is um... hard to explain. Chess is the bad guy in The Cape, a billionaire crony capitalist with multiple personality disorder who goes around in a mask killing people. They Might Be Giants are one of my favorite bands. This is a match made in casting heaven. It's also the kind of vid where if it weren't FOR me, you'd be guessing that I was the one who made it. I <3 it so much.

For I am the Cape (AKA The One with the Raccoon) is my main gift, and it's just glorious.

The first time I signed up for Festivids, four years ago, I jokingly said that I thought all vids should be made to Eastern European wedding dance music. And my vidder apparently dug that up and made me a The Cape vid to Eastern European wedding dance music. And it works! Which I am of course not surprised about, because all vids should be made to Eastern European wedding dance music, that wasn't a joke at all. No, definitely not.

The Cape is at its heart a debate about vigilantism. On the one hand it keeps shouting at you that vigilantism is a terrible idea, that one man fighting crime can't take down a corrupt system and that if he tries all that's going to happen is he's going to get hurt a bunch, and the people he loves will keep getting hurt, too. Yet it keeps valorizing Vince and his struggle anyway, because when you're stuck in a corrupt system and you can't take down the system, what else can you do? The show flirts with Richard Schiff's wonderfully ridiculous Patrick Portman, beleaguered director of Palm City's broken prison system, as an alternative in-system hero- and then Portman dresses up as The Cape himself for a costume party!

Ultimately Vince comes to an uneasy compromise where he works outside the system with Orwell to prop up the honest parts of the system, including Portman and his public defender estranged wife, against the forces of corruption and indifference.

This vid shows that evolution, how Vince moves from anarchy and unaimed criminal behavior that results from his untrained vigilantism and slowly learns how to be a useful agent of political change. And it does it without any lyrics to support it, just using the sheer rhythmic momentum of Eastern European dance music to show Vince dancing his way through his ad hoc training and into the fray as a hero for Palm City. It's such a beautiful, brilliant vid.

I've liked a lot of other vids I've seen, and I encourage people to check out the rest of the list, but I feel like I'd be remiss if I didn't highlight two in particular that I think are particularly amazing.

A Better Son/Daughter is a vid about Carrie Fisher, her life and her struggle and her triumph and what she meant to all of her fans. I dare you to watch this without crying. Seriously, I dare you.

Anything Goes is a Pitch vid, about Ginny Baker and the glass ceiling the show depicts her fighting to shatter, but it's also about baseball history and the way sports has always litigated culture, but with nice neat endings in a way that culture doesn't always have. It's incisive and thought-provoking and also just gloriously optimistic.

Like I said, there's a lot of other great stuff in there, including my own vids, which I will reveal in a week, but those two are for me the cream of the crop.

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(no subject) [Jan. 30th, 2017|04:41 pm]

I've started reading Michael Meyer's Response to Modernity, his attempt at a history of the entire Reform Movement in Judaism. I'm only thirty pages in and it is fantastic, but also tantalizing. I feel like I want to read a whole book about every two pages of this book. (This is partially because I am still in the 1810s, when the history of the Reform movement was essentially intertwined and indistinguishable from the history of Haskalah and other Orthodox reform movements.)

Topics I want to read whole books about now:

-Jacob Emden and 18th century Anti-Sabbateanism (Was that actually a thing? A hundred years after his conversion and death, people still thought Shabbetai Tzvi was Moshiach?)

-Moses Mendelssohn (everything I've read about him is hagiographic and notes the fact that all of his grandchildren ended up Christian as some sort of ironic footnote, but Meyer represents him as a more confusing figure who used his tremendous reputation for scholarship to direct the public discourse, but ultimately set a path for disciples who repudiated his fundamental principles while speaking in his name and citing his precedents.)

-Eliyahu Baal Shem (Ancestor of Emden and not at all related to the story, but the offhanded reference made me curious to look up his Golem legends)

-Napoleon's Sanhedrin

-The history of Jewish emancipation in Western Europe ( so far much of Meyer's story seems more like Reform Judaism began as a political movement than a religious one)

-Ashkenazim vs. Sephardim in early modern Jewish Amsterdam

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(no subject) [Jan. 24th, 2017|03:07 pm]
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Vividcon posted its dates. It is the weekend before Worldcon. I have flight tickets to Finland the Sunday of Vividcon. So... I'm not sure if I'll be going to Vividcon. It's still possible- I'd just fly from O'Hare to JFK Sunday morning and do a self-transfer to the flight to Helsinki, which leaves JFK at 5:40PM. But that's a lot of travel.

But I want to go to Vividcon. I had a great time this year in spite of missing a third of the con because of travel issues. And I have a Club Vivid vid I've been working on that I would like to dance to in person. Hmm.. I'll have to think about this.

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