I like this gag from Don Rosa’s “The Magnificent Seven (Minus 4) Caballeros!” This is from the last book of the Don Rosa Library, a 10-volume collection of Rosa’s exemplary work. Vols 4&5 particularly belong in every comics library alongside Watchmen & Dark Knight.

The only reason I had children was to see their reaction to the end of chapter 32 of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I read it tonight to the little one and it was everything I hoped.

Giant Days is the best comic on the stands right now. Take the latest issue, 45. It’s a follow-on from a one-shot from earlier this month, yet entirely approachable if this were your first issue. Every character that appears feels real and true to themselves. All the jokes land.

Post-TNG Star Trek series grow into themselves well but squander good story options early on. Voyager sped past Maquis-Starfleet crew friction. DS9 could have spent a dozen episodes on Bajor’s hard reconstruction but instead featured forgettable aliens. Enterprise, well… 🖖🏻

Half of helping kids do “Hour of Code” this year is teaching them to blindly click through the blasted new cookie warning. 🙄

It seems like Worf should have been promoted when he took the DS9 job, but even in season 5 he’s still wearing ⚪️⚪️⚫️. 🖖

It’s silly that we still can’t buy Kindle books from the Kindle app. I understand the history and the reasons, but it remains silly and we’ve just gotten used to it.

Christmas Playlist ’18

I’ve been carefully building a Christmas playlist for over a decade, adding one track a year. There are now eighteen songs on the list.

  1. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” by Darlene Love
  2. “Hallelujah” by Jeff Buckley
  3. “The Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues
  4. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Judy Garland
  5. “A Holly Jolly Christmas” by Burl Ives
  6. “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby
  7. “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” By Dean Martin
  8. “Christmas Time is Here (Instrumental)” by Vince Guaraldi Trio
  9. “The Christmas Song” by Nat “King” Cole
  10. “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” by John Lennon
  11. “I Wish It Could be Christmas Everyday” by Wizzard
  12. “Here Comes Santa Claus” by Elvis Presley
  13. “What Christmas Means to Me” by Stevie Wonder
  14. “All I Want For Christmas is You” by Mariah Carey
  15. “What a Wonderful World” by Joey Ramone
  16. “Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy” by David Bowie & Bing Crosby
  17. “Father Christmas” by The Kinks
  18. “Merry Xmas Everybody” by Slade

This year’s addition is “A Holly Jolly Christmas” by Burl Ives. Every year I have a little internal battle when choosing the new song. There are so many wonderful classic tunes. Pick Burl Ives or something new or alternative or a punk cover of something? Does adding too many “obvious” picks dilute the charm of my list? Does it make it “just another Christmas playlist?” Eh. I like Burl Ives.

Update: after a good deal of thinking, I've decided to remove "Baby, It's Cold Outside" and replace it with modern classic, "All I Want For Christmas is You." I've reordered a few songs on the list and I think that the new addition flows nicely from Stevie Wonder.

While I very much like “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” I’m persuaded that the song is troubling enough that it’s time for it to fall out of my rotation. I’d like to take a moment to first defend the song, then explain why it’s nonetheless problematic even if I’ve convinced you I’m right about the “plot” of the song and its intended meaning.

The song, as described in this piece on Snopes, was written by Frank Loesser, who “wrote the song for himself and his wife Lynn to perform at dinner parties.” The context of the piece would likely be clear to people watching the performance: it’s a story about a man trying to get a women to sleep with him while she wrestles with her own desires versus the expectations put upon her by society.

The plot: a women is visiting a man at his house when a snowstorm begins. She repeatedly tells him that she should be leaving while he repeatedly tries to get her to stay, arguing that it’s too cold and dangerous for her to go. She points out that proper women aren’t allowed to stay over at men’s houses, and that if she does the whole town will think she the worst of her. All the while the two flirt, drink, and eventually do spend the night together.

The alternate, modern view of the song takes her words literally. (“I really can’t stay” […] “I simply must go / The answer is no.”) She’s told him that she isn’t going to stay and he needs to accept that and let her leave. Further, the line, “say what’s in this drink?” means, it’s said, that either he’s put drugs in her drink or that he’s getting her drunk to lower her inhibitions and, since she’s previously said “no” while sober she has not given consent to sex. I.e., date rape.

I don’t agree with that interpretation of the song. I don’t think it depicts a rape. Rather, I think the central “joke” of the song is problematic for a different reason: it makes a lark out of a woman’s “no”s meaning “yes.”

Walking through the plot of the song, we see the woman, in stages, accepting the idea of staying with the man for the night. She says she should be going. They hold hands and enjoy the fireplace. She asks for another drink. He asks her to put on some records. She takes off her hat. He moves in to sit next to her, close enough to look at her lips. They kiss. She has another cigarette, primps her hair. They touch. Each verse brings increased intimacy until, with her final pairing of his refrain, “baby it’s cold outside,” she’s agreed to stay, and we know how they’ll stay warm inside.

Critics of the song usually cite the line, “say what’s in this drink?” as proof that he’s getting her drunk to take advantage of her, that’s she’s only agreeing because of the alcohol. I actually think the line is way more insidious than that, and highlights exactly what’s messed up about the whole thing. The idea would be that she thinks he’s given her a soft drink but he’s actually served, say, a bourbon and ginger ale to get her drunk without her realizing it, thus lowering her inhibitions. But I think she clearly knows what’s going on. Instead, she’s pretending to act surprised that there’s rum in her Coke to give herself cover. Good girls don’t have sex with men they’re not married to. In order to be able to claim she’s still a good girl, she has to protest his advances and build a case that she was coerced into staying over due to them losing track of the time, her unintentional alcohol consumption, and the severity of the snowstorm. Then she can say she stayed only under protest. All the while the actual joke is the audience knows that she wanted to have sex with him all along, her protests are just an act, and that really everyone knows that the whole “good girl” thing has always been an act. We don’t want our unmarried children to have sex despite remembering whatever we got up when we were that age.

All of which is what makes the song fucked up, just not for the reason most people think. It’s not a song about a guy committing date rape. It’s a song about a woman laying the groundwork to be able to claim, if necessary, that she was raped because that’s the only way her culture will allow her to sleep over at a man’s house. And none of this is considered to be that big of a deal to them — the man is okay with her being able to credibly claim rape the next day because 1) it means he gets to fuck her tonight and 2) he knows that it’s her reputation on the line because society didn’t punish the philandering man, just the woman.

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” isn’t a song about a rape. It’s a song that uses rape culture as its central joke.

Everything about the song hinges on our understanding that 1) the man wants the woman to sleep over, 2) the woman wants to sleep over but, because of her shame, 3) must first go through the motions of denying him. At best she can convince her family that they had a completely chaste evening and she only stayed there because of the snow; at worst she can claim that, yes, they had sex but only because he got her drunk. Nowhere in the song is there any possibility that she could have sex with him because she wanted to, despite (to my ears) the clear implication that she does. This is the basis of rape culture: since women aren’t allowed to openly admit they want sex, men are supposed to know that it’s okay to press a women for sex if she says “no” as long as it’s actually true the woman is only saying “no” out of propriety, and men are supposed to be able to tell the difference between real denials of consent and play-acted ones.

So why do I still say I like the song? Because in my head all the characters involved are consenting. The woman and the man are in a relationship and they’re coping the best they can, as couples always have, with the realities of the societal pressure they’re under. She goes home in the morning, gets a few dirty looks from her aunt, tells her parents it really was too dangerous to go out, then dishes details with her sister. That is, if you can suspend your distaste for the larger culture that brings about the premise and look only at the context in which the song was written, it’s enjoyable, and, if you can’t, that’s understandable.

Thus, I think the implications of the song are too dark for it to remain on my Christmas list when there are so many other completely wonderful songs waiting to take its place. I painstakingly restored Japoteurs and think it’s a beautiful piece of animation, but I don’t regularly show it to my kids and, when I do, I spend a minute explaining a little about how we were mean to draw the villains that way. I love King Kong but will wait until they’re older to show it to them. It’s a delightful adventure story with neat stop motion work but also a racist and sexist mess. Things can be both good and bad. On Friday my family hiked to Monticello, home to perhaps America’s greatest example of the complexities of humanity, Thomas Jefferson. Life is complicated but all I want for Christmas is a little joy for us all. <3

Maps that show voting information but don’t attempt to convey population density are often being dishonest, unintentionally or not.

The arguments in this New York Times piece, America Needs a Bigger House, that the size of the House should be expanded in line with other countries’ population-to-representative ratio, and, in part two, for multi-member districts, are compelling.

On a trip to visit family in Florida this week, we ditched the kids for a day and went to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We’re reading the books to the kids and plan to take them when they’re a little older and can handle the rides, but it was a lot of fun to have a grownups day where we only had to worry about ourselves. Here’s my own little guide to the park(s). I won’t spoil the experiences or any of the many surprises and delights to be discovered, but there are some things you might want to know.

First, you have to understand that the full Harry Potter experience is split between two parks, Hogsmeade + Hogwarts, which opened in ’10 as part of Universal’s “Adventure Island” park; and Diagon Alley, which opened in ’14 in Universal Studios. In order to see both areas, you have to buy a multi-park ticket. It’s expensive.

There are pluses and minuses to this approach, but mostly it’s a cash grab by Universal. There is enough Harry Potter stuff to spend a whole day doing just that (varying tremendously based on line lengths), but you could also do a few of the rides, wander around a little, and then do stuff in the rest of the park. We were really there only for Harry Potter, so it very much felt like we were being charged for two theme parks we didn’t intend to spend any time in.

All that said, the Harry Potter areas are spectacular. There’s a loving attention to detail to be found everywhere and it’s all executed wonderfully.

Second, do get there early. You’ll have at least some time in the park before the lines get too long. We were already staying with family but I personally recommend staying in an affiliated hotel. We’ll do that when we go back with the kids (probably for just one night). My feeling is that theme park vacations are expensive, and there’s little way around it. You just have to accept that, make a budget, and dive in. Staying at a hotel that offers a quick shuttle to the park means you arrive there without having experienced the stress of making everyone wake up early, Orlando traffic, and parking. You get there fresh. The Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade and The Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley both serve breakfast.

Third, consider buying express passes. We didn’t but we were there on a weekday in a non-peak month. These are very expensive. Like, they’re nearly 50% again the cost of the ticket. We were there on a day that wasn’t super busy and still waited over an hour for the Gringott’s ride. Simply put, paying to get shorter lines means you get to spend more of your expensive vacation enjoying the park and less of it standing in line with the kids’ patience deteriorating and your blood pressure rising. When we were there the park hours were 9:00-7:00. You can spend a good half of those ten hours standing in lines or you can pay to skip them and experience more or the park. It sucks and I vastly prefer Disney’s FastPass system where everyone gets three passes included in the ticket price.

A few words on Universal Studios itself. I’m… not a huge fan. I loved the Harry Potter areas but I find the rest of the park to be confusing. When you arrive, you walk through a street with restaurants and shops. Eventually the road forks and you can go left to Islands of Adventure or right to Universal Studios Florida. I didn’t find this to be well marked and none of it was very welcoming. Compare to walking through the gates and entering Disney’s town square with the castle in the distance.

Once inside Universal Studios, there are… more shops, then assorted city-like areas with some buildings that might contain rides. They’ve tried to sort of hide the rides so that you don’t see them from the main area, which is cool but in general I found like I wanted a little more orientation.

Returning to Harry Potter, I recommend you go to the Islands of Adventure park first and do Hogsmeade. This is counter to the narrative of Harry in the books, where you start as a young Harry experiencing Diagon Alley for the first time, then riding the Hogwarts Express to the school. Diagon Alley is a better experience, though, so I think it’s best to save it for last.

After arriving in Hogsmeade, the first thing you should do is go to Olivander’s to buy wands, especially if you have kids with you. Throughout the park there are brass plates on the ground indicating an interactive feature that requires a wand. Park employees (dressed in appropriate costumes for the area) are always nearby to help instruct guests with wand movements, which will cause a quill to fly through the air, a suit of armor to move, and so on. (Wands are about $50. Without them you can’t do the interactive spells.)

You can buy wands at several places in the park, but Olivander’s in Hogsmeade admits a handful of kids at a time and lets each try out several wands before buying one. It’s a good experience, and a reason I said to get there early. You want the wand with you as you explore the park but don’t want to wait in a terribly long line to buy one. (And yes, Olivander’s should technically be in Diagon Alley, not Hogsmeade, but it opened there before the second part of the park did so they’ve kept it there. Diagon Alley does also have a wand shop but not the personalized shopping experience.)

Which brings me to a note about shopping: it’s a huge part of the experience. Without realizing it, J.K. Rowling wrote a world perfectly suited to become a theme park not just because of its incredibly imaginative setting and scenarios, but because of all stuff you can buy. There are candy shops full of chocolate frogs, clothing stores with Quidditch apparel, shops with quills and stationary and stuffed phoenixes and all of them accept Apple Pay. You can even change your muggle money for galleons and you might as well because you’re going to be spending it left and right so why not, right?

After Olivander’s, wander around Hogsmeade, take in the sights, maybe get breakfast, and just marvel at all the little touches they’ve put into the place.

When you’re ready, go up to Hogwarts Castle for the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride and the Flight of the Hippogriff roller coaster.

Universal has done a spectacular job at designing the line experience for these rides. Even if you bought an express pass, take some time to look at all the stuff you pass by. (If you didn’t, you’ll have plenty of time, but if you did, slow down even and check it all out.) In the Forbidden Journey ride, you go through several classrooms in Hogwarts. In Gringotts, you’re in bank vaults. Newspapers sitting idly on desks have animated photos. Portraits move and talk to you. It’s splendid, and the story of the ride starts in the line, giving you context and plot setup for what happens when you get to the front of the line.

(A note on Harry Potter chronology: the rides feature events spanning most of the books, but some do explicitly reference events from books six and seven. I’m not sure the degree to which a kid can avoid Harry Potter spoilers these days, but you’ll get them in the park.)

Now, I have, lamentably, to tell you that I got fairly carsick riding Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. I didn’t throw up but was pretty nauseated by the end, and it took me some time to shake it off. The ride has you sitting in a cart that moves sideways while you watch its events unfold. Sometimes these are animatronics but often you’re in front of a screen simulating movement. Your cart will dip down, wind will blow at you, and the screen will have you flying really fast, and it was all super cool and very well done but my inner ear wasn’t fooled. I will sometimes get a little woozy if I’m trying to read in the car or look backward while the driver is accelerating or turning. I wouldn’t say I’m particularly prone to carsickness but it happens sometimes. All that said, I really don’t know how to advise you on this ride. My wife had no problem at all on the ride and I was fine on the Harry Potter and the Eacape from Gringotts ride. The Forbidden Journey is such a good ride that I don’t want people to skip it. I’m not sure I even regret going. If you know you are someone who gets very carsick, maybe reconsider, or just prepare yourself to close your eyes as needed, because what causes the nausea is the friction between what your system is experiencing and what it’s seeing on the screens.

After seeing everything you want in Hogsmeade (I won’t describe everything — just explore and enjoy), go to the train station and ride the Hogwarts Express to London. (Make sure you ride it back later. The story’s different each way.)

Earlier I was complaining about how Universal Studios sometimes hides its rides, but I’ll say the effect for the London area completely works with the Harry Potter experience. It’s a tiny, Muggle London, and there are magical things to find but the way you can’t see Diagon Alley at all from the street is executed perfectly and matches the in-universe illusion. And then when you do take one of the passages through and see Diagon Alley… wow!

I really want to compliment the work Universal did on the sight lines here. Diagon Alley is a competent immersive experience and you can’t see any other part of the park when you’re inside. Hogsmeade gets like a B, maybe B- there but Diagon Alley is perfect. You’re just… there. You can walk around, use your wand, shop, do the Escape from Gringotts ride, buy butterbeer, change your money, shop, try to find Knockturn Alley, and shop.

Another word, then, on shopping. I saw a lot of guests wearing their wizard robes and man, this is an area where it’s unfortunate the park is in Florida. It was 83° (24°C) in November. I’d be comfortable wearing a Hogwarts uniform complete with robes if it were 60° (16) tops, probably? For reference, the robes they sell in the park are very nice, not cheap costume material, but they’re $115. (You do get a discount if you also buy a tie and scarf, though!) I didn’t buy a robe but totally did get a Gryffindor cardigan. You could easily blow $300 or more outfitting just two kids with wands and uniforms, and that’s before you consider t-shirts, hats, joke shop memorabilia, and so on.

Butterbeer. I wrote last month about how most butterbeer recipes are gross and offered my own, simpler recipe. I’m happy to say that what they sell in the park A) isn’t gross and B) is pretty similar to what I came up with. It’s a tasty vanilla soda with a light butterscotch finish and a nice froth on top. You can get it regular, frozen (like a Slurpee), hot (which I didn’t try), or as a soft serve ice cream.

Summing up, I’ll say that the entire Wizarding World of Harry Potter experience itself is everything I think it could have been. It’s majestic and fun and I can’t wait to take the kids. I’d prefer for it to be its own theme park and not a part of other Universal parks, and I’d especially like not to have to buy tickets to not one but two Universal Parks to be able to go.

Honestly, I am completely aware that I’m thinking about it wrong. If you think about it as just part of the Universal experience, then you get to go to the Harry Potter things in addition to all the other attractions at those parks. But in reality, I’m only 20% interested in the other stuff and 80% there for Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. Approaching it like I did, you’re basically going to see a small theme park but paying more than twice what you would if it were a standalone place. That’s what I was there for, and I decided to accept that, but otherwise I prefer Disney’s parks. (In another few years there will be an interesting comparison when the Star Wars area of Disney’s Hollywood Studios opens. How will its value compare to its surrounding park?)

But yeah, go to the Wizarding Word of Harry Potter. Accept that you’ll be spending a lot of money, budget for that, and enjoy the butterbeer.

If Lego were to annually release a series of spooky minifigures in poly bags for Halloween, I’d absolutely spend a fortune on them and give them out instead of candy.

Halloween Playlist

Here’s my stab at a Halloween playlist. Turns out there’s a lot of silly Halloween hip-hop on there. 🤷🏻‍♂️ You’ll have to indulge me there at the expense of most of the silly Halloween 50s songs, and I avoided the zillion great metal songs that I could have used. I did spend some time on the sequencing so hopefully there’s some flow at least.

A lot of playlists seem to want to include things that have Halloween-y type words in their names (like “Bad Moon Rising”), which I tried to avoid, though “Superstition” snuck on their just because it’s great. I also left off instrumentals and movie themes and such, excepting “Frankenstein” because it’s a good closer.

The correct time of the year to watch A Nightmare Before Christmas is exactly when it’s set: just after Halloween.

Also, since I just bought a wireless charger, I full expected AirPower to debut. I assumed its mention in the pamphlets included in the new iPhones wasn’t a mistake.

The new iPad Pro approaches what I imagine to by Jony Ive’s ideal. All screen. No notch. And Apple Pencil, already close, is there now with magnetic charging and pairing.