Friday, September 30, 2016

Book Review: The Lost Tudor Princess

The Lost Tudor Princess: The Life of Lady Margaret Douglas by Alison Weir
Ballantine Books, 2016
576 p.

First of all: I really, really enjoyed learning more about Lady Margaret Douglas. Henry VIII's wives and daughters get lots of attention, as does Mary, Queen of Scots, but other women of the Tudor period tend to get short shrift, even though many of them paid large roles in the political and dynastic maneuverings of the time. Margaret Douglas was Henry VIII's niece and Mary, Queen of Scots's mother-in-law; what I hadn't really realized before reading this book was that she was long seen by various factions as a potential heir to the throne. And, of course, she's the one whose descendents have sat on the throne ever since, not Henry VIII's. The book provided an interesting look at the political situation in Scotland, England, and to some extent Europe from a different angle than the usual focus on Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.

And Margaret herself was fascinating - politically ambitious, endlessly plotting, never quite able to overcome her tendency to act impetuously rather than think about the likely ramifications from her more powerful relatives. (She wound up in the Tower a lot.) She was the dominant partner in her marriage at a time when women weren't supposed to do that, and her devotion to her husband and children - and the way they became the focus of her ambitions - provides an interesting contrast with the Virgin Queen.

Unfortunately, the book had a few big flaws that make me hesitate to fully recommend it. One of the issues I had with this book is one I've had with several of Weir's biographies of figures about whom there is less in the historical record: The narrative frequently got bogged down by shopping lists or lists of clothing or fabrics or other historical goods. I understand that in some cases these records are all we have to reveal what was going on at a specific point in someone's life; these lists are interesting from a historical perspective, of course, and I'd be all for them being included in notes or an appendix. But rather than synthesizing the useful conclusions - that a list of extravagant Christmas gifts, say, suggested that Margaret was currently in Henry VIII's favor - Weir lists out all the details, which slows down the reader and suggests Weir's just trying to pad out the length.

My main problem with the book, though, revolved around how Weir presented her sources and the information they gave. Again, especially for female historical figures, real information is sometimes scarce and sources must be considered that are not airtight - and certainly virtually no sources are unbiased. But there's a way to write a biography using these questionable sources in a responsible way, and Weir doesn't quite do it here. There's a lot of information from writings by Margaret's enemies, and Weir's pretty good at pointing out that the people writing these things had an agenda. But Weir also uses poems about and attributed to her subject to make factual statements about Margaret's actions and beliefs and feelings, and she never really examines the way poetry is really never meant to be taken as documentary evidence - or even the more interesting question of why Margaret and her allies would want her to be portrayed in certain ways at certain times. Weir also sometimes falls into the trap of asserting how people "must have felt" without providing support - a pet peeve of mine in history writing - and I have trouble taking seriously a book that casually asserts that a baby must have been born on a certain date because he "couldn't have" been conceived before his parents' wedding.

Lady Margaret Douglas, like so many often overlooked women in history, deserves a thoughtful, scholarly biography - but this wasn't quite it.

Morning Coffee (9/30/16)

Time for some happy Friday links!

Me elsewhere: I liked The Exorcist more than expected, I guess?

Princess Charlotte & Prince George Play With Bunnies, Pop Bubbles & Melt Hearts in Canada

Mallory Ortberg on making friends on the Internet is wonderful, of course: The Companions of My Heart

This is great: Historic England to relist Oscar Wilde's home and others with gay heritage

I don't agree with all the rankings but Vox's fall TV feature is fun: Every new TV show of fall 2016, ranked

Speaking of, Versailles premieres tomorrow and looks very pretty.

Hee: Famous Illustrators’ Depictions of Knitting Ranked in Order of Competency

I love John Kerry on Rosalind in As You Like It.

How Bake Off led to the rise of Mary Berry, style icon

Oooh: A Journey to Bookland

Let's run away and go on pilgrimage.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Morning Coffee (9/25/16)

Me elsewhere: I really liked the Speechless pilot.

The New York Times's endorsement of Clinton is quite something.

This whole situation is completely bizarre: The Mystery of Trump’s Man in Moscow

Drama at an Elite High School (I understand the attraction of the double entendre in the headline since this is about a theater department, but I hardly think sexual abuse of minors should be classified as mere "drama".)

Female Characters Are More Diverse But Employment of Women in TV Stalls

Hawaii Five-0 did something really weird. (Spoilers!)

XKCD's earth temperature timeline is striking.

This YA adoption anthology sounds great.

When an app tells companies you’re pregnant but not that you miscarried

America's Oldest Lighthouse Has Turned 300

At a certain point you have to start wondering just how much of England is covered by car parks.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Morning Coffee (9/24/16)

FIRST THE TRULY IMPORTANT NEWS: Mary Berry 'to lead new rival' to the Great British Bake Off on the BBC Yes, Mel and Sue are supposedly involved. THANK GOODNESS.

So, this COULD be a gigantic thing, but what's getting lost in some of the discussion is that it is being LOOKED INTO, not definite, yet: U.S. intel officials probe ties between Trump adviser and Kremlin

This is horrible: Assad and Putin are bombing Syrian hospitals on purpose

"Finally, the lie here matters because it shows how shameless Trump is and how reckless. He told this lie even though he knew he was standing next to a credible witness—Bush—who could contradict him, and he gambled that no one would discover his sworn testimony."

Palmer Luckey: The Facebook Near-Billionaire Secretly Funding Trump’s Meme Machine

Oh: Ohio Trump campaign chair Kathy Miller says there was 'no racism' before Obama

This story about the Verge employee secretly working for Apple is SO wacky.

Hahahahahaha: Studio Notes on the 2016 Presidential-Election Screenplay

!!! Apocalypse Meow: How a Cult That Believes Cats Are Divine Beings Ended Up in Tennessee

The Obscure Ultra-Endurance Sport Women Are Quietly Dominating

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Morning Coffee (9/22/16)

Happy fall! Finally!

Me elsewhere: Pilot thoughts on This Is Us and The Good Place.

Hillary Clinton: My Plan for Helping America’s Poor

Joss Whedon and friends really want you to vote.

Confirmed: Trump campaign is controlling every word of prominent CNN commentator (Also, of COURSE Lewandowski's company is called Green Monster Consulting. Of course.)

!! ‘The West Wing’ Cast to Campaign for Hillary Clinton

The true cost of mass incarceration exceeds $1 trillion

This is a headline I genuinely never thought I'd see: Dalai Lama does impression of Donald Trump

I haven't seen new show Notorious yet - it premieres tonight - but I love a good bad review and this one is great.

What do with think of the new Anne of Green Gables trailer? I'm a little skeptical but it's not as bad as I feared! And I'm all in on Martin Sheen as Matthew, obviously.

I don't know why anyone's talking about Brangelina when obviously this is the only celebrity news that matters this week: Christopher Darden Finally Admits That He and Marcia Clark Were ‘More Than Just Friends’

Sad White Person movies don’t get much better than Manchester by the Sea

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Morning Coffee (9/21/16)

Me elsewhere: Fall TV has started so so have my pilot reviews! Kevin Can Wait was pretty terrible!

"I cannot wait to vote for Hillary Clinton, but not just because I want to see Donald Trump fail and cry."

This is huge: Mass. High Court Says Black Men May Have Legitimate Reason To Flee Police

David Fahrenthold is doing such good work: Trump used $258,000 from his charity to settle legal problems

Donald Trump Jr.’s Skittles tweet: inaccurate, dehumanizing, plagiarized, and rooted in anti-Semitism

And: 'I'm a refugee' says Skittles photographer

Everything's fine: Donald Trump Jr. Has Become A Hero To Neo-Nazi Websites

This guy absolutely seems like an adult who understands the world: Gary Johnson: I’d close Dept. of Homeland Security

New York Times editor on Trump: “We will call out lies” Uh. Good?

GOOD FOR HER: School lunch worker quits after being forced to refuse hot meal to poor student (They THROW OUT lunches of students who can't pay and give them meager sandwiches instead, which costs MORE than just giving them the food. Don't pretend this is money-saving rather than deliberately shaming poor children, people.)

As with many things Anne Helen Petersen writes, this is worth reading for the insights into culture and media even if you don't care about the specific celebrities involved: Brangelina Is Dead; Long Live Angelina

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Morning Coffee (9/15/16)

Newsweek's cover story about Trump's foreign business deals is important: "If Trump moves into the White House and his family continues to receive any benefit from the company, during or even after his presidency, almost every foreign policy decision he makes will raise serious conflicts of interest and ethical quagmires."

Hillary Clinton and the Myth of Female Weakness

A sitting governor called for the violent overthrow of a potential Clinton administration.

Among other things, this Guardian piece on leaked documents regarding corporate influence on politics shows that Scott Walker was basically paid to allow lead poisoning.

This is gross: Simone Biles and Williams Sisters Latest Target of Russian Hackers

Ooh, here's the National Book Awards nonfiction longlist.

Um. Someone’s Heart Was Found In A Ziploc Bag In A Field

Here's a fascinating read about the history and progress of women working in the White House.

Yay! ‘Rock star’ Baltimore librarian makes history at Library of Congress

Why It’s So Hard To Find The Next Earth, Even If You’re Looking Right At It

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Morning Coffee (9/13/16)

My friend and boss Maureen Johnson has a new politics podcast! With the @MayorEmanuel guy!

Big news: "Based on the NCAA's commitment to fairness and inclusion, the Association will relocate all seven previously awarded championship events from North Carolina during the 2016-17 academic year. The NCAA Board of Governors made this decision because of the cumulative actions taken by the state concerning civil rights protections."

"Now imagine if Mitt Romney had run exactly Mitt Romney’s campaign but then suddenly in mid-September went on television and called Elizabeth Warren Pocahontas for no reason. It would have been huge."

This from Ta-Nehisi Coates is important, about how accusing anyone of bigotry is seen as unforgivable even when it's factually accurate: How Breitbart Conquered the Media

Fascinating and appalling: Inside the Federal Bureau Of Way Too Many Guns

"Elections are always imperfect, and infused with personality, tribal loyalties, and blind party affiliations as much as substance. But there's usually some substance."

Black Teachers Matter

This survey of women in tech has some interesting stuff even aside from the politics - I would not have guessed that Asian women hold the smallest percentage of leadership roles and Hispanic women the largest.

Awesome: D.C. will hide once-banned books throughout the city this month

I like Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling but I'm dubious of them in these particular roles in A Wrinkle in Time.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Morning Coffee (9/8/16)

ICYMI, your belated August book review went up yesterday! If you want more book reviews, come join me on Patreon.

This LIU lockout - stripping faculty of their health insurance, among other things - is terrible.

On the one hand, YAY. On the other, THE FIRST? In 2016? Obama nominates first Muslim-American federal judge

"Last week, a casual news consumer wouldn’t have come away thinking Clinton’s and Trump’s sins were equivalent; they would have instead learned that Clinton’s sins were real and Trump’s trivial or non-existent."

Minnesota Republican Chair: Trump’s ‘Imperial Presidency’ Is ‘A Huge Risk’ (but he still supports him)

I'm genuinely glad Bernie Sanders is at least trying, now.

Shocker: The “Taco Trucks on Every Corner” Trump Guy Is a Serial Scam Artist

13 Tips For Reading General Election Polls Like A Pro

Whoa: Nobel Prize judges fired in scandal surrounding trachea transplant surgeon

New research shows women do ask for raises as often as men—they just don’t get them

Did Shakespeare really invent so many phrases? (I mean, obviously this guy is right that Shakespeare couldn't have been constantly inventing stuff out of whole cloth or the audience wouldn't understand him, but I think "turned something into A PHRASE" is different from "put a combination of words together for the first time.)

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Book Review: Dating and Sex: A Guide for the 21st Century Teen Boy

I'd never really thought about it, but most books about dating, sex, and relationships for teens are aimed primarily at girls; this is one of the first specifically written for teens who identify as male. While - especially in regards to feelings - I have a kneejerk "no, wait" response to anything that suggests that people's emotional lives and tendencies are determined by gender, Smiler is careful here to discuss the specific pressures guys might feel to conform to certain cultural norms while making it very clear that those stereotypes are not desirable or even truly widespread. And even aside from that, I definitely see the benefit of presenting the book in a way that would make some boys more willing to read it and take it seriously even if they'd be inclined - or have been conditioned - to write off this subject matter as "girly."

Dating and Sex: A Guide for the 21st Century Teen Boy does a great job of presenting information about healthy relationships, sex, consent, puberty, and more in a friendly and fact-based way. Smiler is a therapist and researcher who specializes in male sexual development and relationships, and his extensive knowledge of and experience with his subject are evident throughout. The book focuses on showing boys how to make decisions based on their own values rather than prescribing any particular belief system, making it useful to a wide variety of teens, though obviously parents who want their kids to approach situations from the perspective of a specific religion or other set of beliefs should be ready to supplement this text with more information. (Smiler is inclusive and respectful but doesn't try to explain what any specific religions do or don't consider "okay," as that's outside his area of expertise.)

Even though this is aimed at teens, there were a bunch of important points - especially in the discussions of communication and how to build a healthy relationship - that I was tempted to quote to various adults I know. While many (but not all) teen relationships will be shorter and less serious than adult partnerships, I think it's so, so important that teens get used to good communication and other healthy relationship behaviors from the start, and I thought Smiler did a very good job of walking the reader through how to behave in a mature manner without implying that the relationships themselves had to be super-serious.

Smiler has obviously made an effort here to be inclusive in as many ways as possible, though obviously marketing a book toward "boys" embraces to some extent a gender binary. I was happy to see that the text referenced guys dating girls AND/OR guys throughout, and also discussed a variety of non-binary gender and sexuality labels. The chapter on consent, section on coming out, and emphasis throughout on not using sexist, homophobic, or degrading terminology all helped the book to feel truly modern and useful for both boys who consider themselves "stereotypical boys" by our culture's standards and those who do not.

(Note: The author is a friend and sent me a free copy of the book.)

Morning Coffee (9/7/16)

Whoa: giant for-profit ITT is closing.

Nothing to get people moving on the Paris climate agreement like the threat of Trump.

Trump dismisses questions about improper gift to Florida attorney general

MEANWHILE: Wall Street Journal Scandalizes Hillary Clinton's Attendance At Her Husband's Birthday Party

Matt Yglesias makes some great points against transparency (in some cases).

Trump Is Now Being Sued by Little Girls

The fall of Elizabeth Holmes is fascinating.

New Pop Warner Lawsuit Raises Hard Questions About the Future of Youth Tackle Football

Carrie Fisher's advice column has started and it's great.

Oh my God: The first humans in Australia may have encountered eight-foot-tall kangaroos

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Morning Coffee (9/6/16)

Phyllis Schlafly, Conservative Leader and Foe of E.R.A., Dies at 92

U.S. investigating potential covert Russian plan to disrupt November elections

Um: Donald Trump volunteers are signing a lifelong contract never to criticize him (I signed NOTHING in order to volunteer for Clinton, for the record.)

This could be worth, you know, talking about... EXCLUSIVE: Donald Trump made millions from Saudi Arabia, but trashes Hillary Clinton for Saudi donations to Clinton Foundation

This is great, from Paul Krugman, taking his own paper (and many other outlets) to task: "If reports about a candidate talk about how something 'raises questions,' creates 'shadows,' or anything similar, be aware that these are all too often weasel words used to create the impression of wrongdoing out of thin air."

The Sandy Hook conspiracy theorists are really some of the worst people in the world.

John Le Carre has a new memoir out and the Guardian has an excerpt!!

This New Yorker profile of New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells is fascinating and just really good writing.

And Vulture has a great Ann M. Martin profile. She fosters kittens!

This piece about 18th century female felons is interesting and involves YARN-RELATED CRIMES.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Morning Coffee (9/1/16)

Yay, it's September!

This piece about the erasure of women's achievements, both historically and currently, is phenomenal.

Former Models for Donald Trump's Agency Say They Violated Immigration Rules and Worked Illegally "These days, Kate said, she believes that Trump has been fooling American voters with his anti-immigrant rhetoric, given that his own agency had engaged in the practices he has denounced. 'He doesn't like the face of a Mexican or a Muslim,' she said, 'but because these [models] are beautiful girls, it's okay? He's such a hypocrite.'"

Yay: Debbie Wasserman Schultz fends off primary challenge from insurgent backed by Bernie Sanders

"Consider the contrasting situations: Donald Trump, who wants to be the president, recently hired a purveyor of white ethno-nationalism who had been accused by his wife of assault and who is alleged to have fired a woman suffering from MS while she was on maternity leave, as the CEO of his campaign. Hillary Clinton, who wants to be the president, has employed since the 1990s a woman who in 2010 married a guy who turns out to be really skeezy."

"Weiner is like the Icarus of dick pictures and sexts, if Icarus were given three sets of wings and multiple chances not to burn and drown in the sea."

Heh. The Borowitz Report: Obama Pays Mexico Five Billion Dollars to Keep Donald Trump

How the ‘alt-right’ checkmated the media

You're the Worst came back last night and Alyssa Rosenberg has a great interview with creator Stephen Falk.

Fox is developing an Arthurian show, but as a modern police drama. Art is a graffiti artist. Hahahahaha. This is going to be amazing.

"The people we admire for being resilient are not hard; they are ardent."