Tuesday, May 30, 2017

If Dogland influenced American Gods, other works influenced it more

Dogland was published four years before American Gods, so it's possible my take on old gods living in the present had some minor influence on Neil's, but I'm inclined to think we were both inspired by the same sources. I'll only mention two, one that's obvious to anyone who knows the history of our genre, one that calls for a love of both fantasy and comics:

Thorne Smith wrote about old gods in modern times long before Neil or I were born.

And Jack Kirby wrote about them during our childhood. You can read American Gods as Neil's adult tribute to Kirby's Marvel work with old gods and his DC work that included a book titled New Gods.


Monday, May 29, 2017

Why writers should treat fans the way teachers treat students

I was once in a flamewar where, to my astonishment, people were angry that I was disagreeing with them as though they were my equals—they behaved with the curt rudeness that's common in heated arguments, but they expected me to treat them the way good adults treat ignorant youths, with a gentleness that hides the awareness the person being addressed simply hasn't a clue. I mention that now because the phenomenon's described at Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog: Funny--On Academic Bad Manners:
Philosopher Tad Brennan at Cornell writes with an explanation:

Journalists are surprised that academics can be short with them because they last met academics in the classroom, and most professors are kind and generous when dealing with students. Serious academics save their scathing put-downs for colleagues and equals--I doubt that those quotes from Fodor and Sterelny document interactions with students.

Instead of feeling pained and affronted, the bloggers and journalists should take it as a compliment: 'hey, those academics are treating me like an equal!' That can help to salve the bruises, anyhow. And it also shows why a sharp-tongued critique directed at a non-student is no betrayal of the "tone" appropriate to an "educator". If you are my student, then I have an obligation to be your educator; if not, not. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

A handy timeline of Islamist terrorism in the West and Western meddling in the Middle East

People who blame Islam for Islamist terrorism cite the long clash of empires, which makes as much sense as blaming Christianity for the brutal conquest of the Americas—empires expand for profit, and religion is one of many excuses. This post focuses on the history that the West began to make after the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

It begins with the tangled history of Israel. Since this post is meant to be short, I'll note two facts:

In 1948, Israel takes more land than the UN gave it.

In 1967, Israel attacks its neighbors and takes more land. See 1967 War.

In 1979, the CIA begins Operation Cyclone to fund and train the Mujahideen in the war against Afghanistan's secular socialist government. The Mujahideen's most famous member today: Osama bin Laden.

In 1982, Israel begins the Lebanon War. In response, Hezbollah is born, and so is Islamist suicide bombing. Initially, Islamist terrorism is confined to the Middle East, but it comes to the west in 1985 in Spain's El Descanso bombing. The targets are believed to have been the US soldiers dining there, but many civilians died too.

In 1988, bin Laden founds al-Qaeda.

In 1990, the Gulf War begins. Sanctions against Iraq are harsh. The U.N. finds that half a million Iraqi children died as a result. In a televised interview, Bill Clinton's Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, clarifies US priorities:
Lesley Stahl: We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it.
In 2001, Osama bin Laden masterminds the destruction of the World Trade Towers, using 15 Saudis, 2 people from the United Arab Emirates, 1 Lebanese, and 1 Egyptian. In response, the US begins the War in Afghanistan.

In 2003, the US begins the Iraq War.

In 2011, the US decides to overthrow Libya's ruler. See Hillary Clinton, ‘Smart Power’ and a Dictator’s Fall - The New York Times: "The president was wary. The secretary of state was persuasive. But the ouster of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi left Libya a failed state and a terrorist haven."

At the same time, American-led intervention in Syria  began.

What follows that, you should know.

Recommended: A short history of suicide bombing | AOAV:
Muhammad Hussein Fadalallah, a spiritual guide of Hezbollah, described under what circumstances suicide bombers were to be deployed: ‘We believe that suicide operations should only be carried out if they can bring about a political change in proportion to the passions that incite a person to make his body an explosive bomb.’
Terrorist Attacks On Americans, 1979-1988 | Target America | FRONTLINE | PBS

US Aid to Israel and the Palestinians: "The U.S. provides Israel $9.8 million in military aid each day, while it gives the Palestinians $0 in military aid."

US-Led Air Strikes Killed Record Number of Civilians in Syria:
...the US-led coalition killed a total of 225 civilians between April 23 and May 23, the highest 30-day toll since the campaign began in 2014

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Are Jewish converts transracial? More implications of the Rachel Dolezal case.

If you think Jews are a race, you either think converts aren't Jewish or it's possible to be transracial.

I realized that after making a Facebook comment:
This is my argument for why Jews are white (except when they're black or Asian):

For immigration purposes, European Jews were always considered white.

In the Old South, Jews were so white that Judah P. Benjamin was Jefferson Davis's Secretary of State.

The KKK hated Jews and Catholics because they weren't Protestants, not because they weren't white.

A few specific problems with the argument that Jews are a race:

1. That excludes converts. No one can convert to a race.

2. DNA does not distinguish between Jews and non-Jews from the Middle-East. The fight between Palestinians and Israelis is not a race war because there's enormous genetic overlap between the two groups.

That said, I agree racists can decide anything is a race, and many antisemites are both racists and bigots.
ETA: From DNA tester: 75 percent of Jews trace ancestry to Middle East - Jewish World News - Haaretz - Israel News | Haaretz.com:
Greenspan said he estimates that “No less than 75 percent of Ashekanzi, Sephardi or Mizrahi Jews, their ancestors came from what we call the general Middle East”
If you insist those 75% are part of a Jewish race, what are the remaining 25%?

ETA: And if coming from the general Middle East is the basis for the argument that Jews are a race, all Middle Easterners must be racially Jewish.

Earlier: For anyone who thinks Jews were not always white in the US

Monday, May 15, 2017

Internet, let's be consistent: I'm in the alt-left; neoliberals are the faux-left, "sjws" are the ctrl-left

The problem with terms chosen for their cleverness is their definitions slide like watermelons in the back of a pickup truck and the results can be just as messy. Now that Jacobin's Bhaskar Sundara has spoken (in Why the 'alt-left' will succeed where centrists fail), let's go with his acceptance of a loose grouping:
Commentators like Vanity Fair’s James Wolcott try to break down the movement’s main currents: a handful of randos on Twitter, Glenn Greenwald, Susan Sarandon, Tulsi Gabbard and Cornel West.

Not bad company, if I do say so myself. For Walcott, what we all share is a soft spot for Russia, a kind of “Trumpian” rhetoric that attacks cultural liberalism and a shocking opposition to the “CIA/FBI/NSA alphabet-soup national-security matrix” he so trusts.
Bhaskar's whole piece is worth reading and no longer than a typical Guardian opinion piece, but I'll quote another bit for the lazy:
Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon all have wide bases, built through campaigns around a social-democratic program in favor of worker protections, a social safety net, and more popular engagement in the decisions that affect ordinary people’s lives. That’s not extreme politics; it isn’t demagogic politics. It’s politics that can win over tens of millions who feel like politics hasn’t been working for them and might otherwise be won over to the populist right.

Nor is it blind to issues of identity: for good reason, struggling minority communities consistently support increased federal funding for social welfare and public education. Winning over voters takes organization and outreach, but it is a liberal fantasy to think that black and brown workers don’t care about that “white bro class stuff” like jobs, healthcare and housing.
So who is the alt-left alt to? Bhaskar covers that, too: Effectively, no one. The Democrats have been controlled by neoliberals for decades and we don't have a labor party. I'd say the answer is the alt-left is alt to the faux left, the people who prop up Wall Street while claiming to be "progressive" as the wealth gap grows between the rich and the rest of us.

And then there's that angry group that gets called "sjws" who are defined by their identitarianism but whose politics range from neoliberalism to a very fuzzy socialism. Call them the ctrl-left. Their anger and their authoritarianism makes them the natural counterparts of the alt-right.

If you doubt that I'm a libertarian socialist....

It must be true because a test on the internet says so:

More: 8values Results

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Safe Spaces For Ideas or From Ideas? About Conventions and That 4th Street Panel

DangerousVisions(1stEd).jpg

Harlan Ellison is infamous for failing to deliver The Last Dangerous Visions, the third volume of his Dangerous Visions anthologies. Many reasons have been offered, but I like this one: When the first was released in 1967, its visions seemed dangerous to conventional thinkers. Five years later, Again Dangerous Visions came out, every bit as inventive as its predecessor, but it didn't seem dangerous. By then, science fiction and fantasy had become a literature of dangerous visions, a genre without taboos, a field where ideas were expected to test the bounds of what might be done. Even the most radical vision seemed a bit status quo. So when it was time for the final book to appear in '73, no story could live up to the promise of being a dangerous vision. Rather than release an anthology that might now be titled The Usual Visions, Ellison set it aside.

The field's expectation of intellectual freedom was reflected at conventions. On panels, any thought could be explored so long as it was discussed amicably. People understood that exploring an idea was not the same as endorsing it. Those of us who grew up then assumed that spirit of tolerance would last.

Yesterday, on a Facebook post that I made comparing two related things, a self-styled "progressive" told me something that I used to only hear from militant conservatives: "It's not okay to even suggest that the situations are the same."

For most of human history, it has been "not okay to even suggest" many things. But sometimes, for the lucky, there have been safe spaces for ideas. Science fiction, especially during the New Wave of the '60s and '70s, was one. So were universities. So was "the left", whether you meant liberals or socialists. We were responding to the repressive '50s, to McCarthyites and prudes and racists and sexists and bigots who believed blacklists and censorship were proper tools to make the rest of us conform. In response, we rejected their tactics as well as their philosophy—we hoped to make a world where any idea could be examined with the faith that discussing ideas would test and improve them.

Then came the backlash. As the nation began to become a safer space for ideas in the '70s and '80s, Ivy Leaguers like Derrick Bell and Kimberlé Crenshaw began developing a theory of racism and sexism built on the religious concept of social justice. They had no interest in Malcolm X's and Martin Luther King's criticism of capitalism—that would undermine their privilege as part of America's upper class. Because their approach was attacked from the left and right as unscientific and ahistorical, they and their followers began demanding "safe spaces" where no criticism was allowed.

The desire for spaces free from critique crept into science fiction at the beginning of the 21st century as academics and computer professionals gentrified our field. They had no name for their ideology, a merger of Bell's Critical Race Theory and Crenshaw's intersectional feminism, so I'll follow Adolph Reed's lead and call them identitarians. Like most privileged people, they wanted to be validated, not challenged. I noticed them in 2007 during Blog Against Racism Week—their race-only discourse struck me as simplistic, so I began writing about the interplay of class and race, which they denounced as "derailing". Until then, I had never thought discussions should stay on rails. I've always believed ideas should be explored and conclusions should be discovered. But ideologues believe in staying on rails that lead to the destination they've chosen.

Over the next six years, fandom's identitarians gained influence. They doxxed and terrorized a young woman who had mocked them under the pseudonym of Zathlazip. They conducted a months-long race-reductionist flamewar that's remembered as Racefail. In acts of censorship of the sort the ACLU denounces, they prevented Elizabeth Moon from being a guest of honor at WisCon and William Sanders from being a Guest of Honor at ICFA. In both cases, the identitarians would have supported their targets if identity alone mattered, but Moon's politics were more conservative than the WisCon community liked, and Sanders, a Cherokee, had working-class manners that infuriated his more economically privileged critics—in colloquial terms, he didn't act white enough for them. It seemed every week brought a new reason for outrage and call-outs.

I realized my side had lost when I was on a panel prophetically titled "Journey's End" at the Fourth Street Fantasy Convention in 2013. I had worked on the con during the time I first lived in Minnesota. When I came back after fourteen years, I knew the convention would have changed, but I expected it would still be a place where no idea was taboo.

I was very wrong.

I thought "Journey's End" would focus on things like the Harrowing of the Shire and Odysseus's killing of Penelope's suitors, exploring what it means to finish a story by completing a character's journey through strange lands with the arrival at a place that had been home or would become home. But Fourth Street has single-track programming, so ideas from one panel often affect the next. In this case, the moderator decided to continue with the previous panel's concern, which had officially been "Syncretism, Real and Fantastic" but had turned into a discussion of cultural appropriation.

The term comes from anthropology. It refers to what all living cultures do: they take ideas from cultures around them and make them their own. It's natural and desirable—only xenophobic cultures try to prevent it—but identitarians appropriated the term to criticize people who make art that draws on other cultures than the one they were born into. The most extreme identitarians believe writers should only write about their own ethnic traditions.

So I came to "Journey's End" expecting to talk about the metaphor of the journey and found myself in a discussion of an idea I reject, the idea that writers should restrict their subject matter. My take for my entire career has been simple: "Write what you know" is shorthand for "if you don't know something, research it."

The panel's discussion of cultural appropriation grew passionate, and then an unprecedented thing happened. The moderator told me to drop the subject.

This croggled me as much as if she had slapped me. I had not insulted anyone. I had not threatened anyone. I was not saying anything that was not supported by history. I was not "derailing" because, until that point, the moderator and the panelists had chosen to explore the subject. As moderator, she could have set us in another direction at the beginning since "cultural appropriation" was not part of the panel description. But now she was stopping the discussion abruptly because the loudest members of the audience accepted the identitarian definition of cultural appropriation and were angry that I did not.

My first reaction to being told to stop was to insist we continue.

Then the loud members of the audience began shouting that the subject must be dropped.

So I did as the moderator requested and dropped it.

The panel fizzled out after that. That's usually what happens when a lively discussion is brought to an early end and someone without a clear plan tries to redirect it.

Rejecting taboos has consequences. In a blog post, one writer joked about things that didn't happen at Fourth Street, and one of the things was expressed as something like "Will Shetterly behaving well". I felt insulted until I realized that by his standards, he was right—I had behaved badly by acting as if we were using the old rules. I had thought I was in a safe space for ideas, not a safe space from them.

After the convention, I wrote the appropriation of "cultural appropriation", but I didn't completely understand then what had happened. Some things take time.

Now, four years later, I'm no longer sure I'm on the losing side. If you compare the identitarian revolution in fandom to the French Revolution, fandom's conflict peaked in 2014 when moderate identitarians turned on their Robespierre, a woman who used a name that fit their general approach, RequiresHate. In the wider world, the contest between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton showed that millennials, who overwhelmingly supported Sanders, reject the identitarianism of those who preferred Clinton because of her gender. Sanders feminists know what identitarians don't care about: because women are disproportionately poor, Sanders' policies would help more women than Clinton's. Millennials grasp that deeds, not identity, ultimately matter.

If fandom's identitarians fail to keep millennials out of our genre, conventions will once again become safe spaces for ideas. If the identitarians succeed, fandom will stay safe for those who don't want their ideas challenged, and by staying safe, it will wither and die.

Ah, well. I am looking forward to Fourth Street this year, no matter which sort of convention it turns out to be. I can enjoy a space that's safe from ideas, so long as I know those are the rules in a place I'm visiting. I just can't live there.

Monday, May 8, 2017

The fiction writer under 21st century capitalism

A Facebook friend asked,
...would you decry for-profit fiction as capitalist fiction? Or is the fact you don't need some "means of production" beyond your computer and internet connection mean it's not really about your control of capital at all but your personal perspective and persistence that's behind your work? I ask because a lot of freelancers are idealists out for the truth, selling into a marketplace. Sure, some buyers only want stories that line up with an agenda (and you can read stories those buyers offer you with an appropriate perspective, if at all) but one needn't depend in the age of the Internet on one of a couple of big print houses, no?
The answer could be a book. I apologize for making it a short, hasty blog post instead.

For-profit fiction falls into two categories, sincere efforts of people who want to make a living from telling stories and calculated efforts of people who want to sell stories that make a lot of money.  I've almost always been in the first group. Technically, both groups are producing capitalist fiction because capitalists who own publishing houses and distribution services are profiting from their work. But when I talk about capitalist fiction, I'm usually talking about fiction that's written to be commercial, the sort of fiction that wouldn't exist under socialism because writers would be writing with other concerns.

Traditionally, socialists classify writers as bourgeois or petit bourgeois because we own our tools,  I quibble with this. In Marx's time, all workers were effectively free-lancers: they could be fired at whim, and sometimes they owned their tools--for example, cowboys might own their saddles. Today, writers are not as dependent on publishers as once we were, but we're just as dependent on distributors like Amazon and the surviving chain bookstores. We have no negotiating power. We do our work and take what corporations are willing to give, or we accept that what we're doing is a hobby that we can never hope to live on.

So I think of writers as working-class. Since socialism is not identitarian in nature, this is purely an intellectual distinction and could be considered one of my quirks. What matters under socialism isn't your class, but your class allegiance. Mine's to the working class.

Two quibbles with the American Gods TV show

1. Where are the kickass female gods? So far, female gods stick to sex and fortune-telling. I'd like an Athena or an Oya, a female god who is any male god's equal in might as well as sex or trickery.

2. The trickster Anansi would understand the African slave trade in all its complexity—Africans sold Africans to Europeans, then many black Americans stayed slaves while some became slaveowners in turn, and when the racial statistics of police killings became perfectly proportionate to the racial statistics of the US class system, a black man held the country's most powerful office.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Why there's no statute of limitations on spoilers

Funny, but wrong, and if you don't want to know how King Kong ends, skip this joke for what follows:


There's no statute of limitations on spoilers for the general public—everyone should have the chance to experience a story as the writer intended. If you don't know how Oedipus Rex ends, I won't be the one to tell you. I envy people who don't know the endings of great stories.

There is a statute of limitations on spoilers for critical pieces that assume the reader or viewer knows the piece in order to analyze it. But even then, the ending shouldn't told be in the title of the critical piece—it's more considerate to title something "About That Big Star Wars Reveal" than "About R2D2 Having Hitler's Brain."

That said, the accidental revelation of an ending is no big deal. Like stepping on someone's toe, it happens. Only jerks do it on purpose.

The intentional revelation, though? A story spoilered cannot be unspoilered. I oppose the death penalty, but I'd make an exception for those who love to spoil.

ETA: There's no such thing as new stories and old ones. There's just stories you haven't read and stories you have.

ETA: If you wouldn't reveal the end of a mystery, don't reveal the end of any story. All stories are mysteries when first experienced. #spoilers

ETA: I saw Citizen Kane for the first time at a revival house not long after this Peanuts cartoon came out. Among the minor regrets of my life is that thanks to Schulz, I missed the opportunity to experience the movie as Orson Welles had intended. Click to embiggen if you wish.

Monday, May 1, 2017

On people who object to being mistaken for clerks

When people object to being mistaken for clerks, you know what they think of clerks. (I've been a clerk and been mistaken for one.)

I shared that comment on Facebook. To my surprise and delight, people began telling about times someone had mistaken them for clerks.

Perhaps the most useful advice: Jonah Earl Thomas said, "If you just tell them Aisle 3B they'll go away."

Perhaps the funniest: David Cummer said, "I was once mistaken for a mechanic at a gas station and thought "I have just achieved the goal of many a gay man from the 70s"."