I'm presenting at a Trans* 101 panel

Tomorrow, I'm giving a short presentation in my school's GSA, at an event called Trans* 101.  I haven't actually finished preparing yet.  It's kind of terrible.  My powerpoint only has three slides so far. My presentation is going to be about the complex use of language and labels surrounding the Trans* community, and, more generally, issues of sex, sexuality, gender, race, religion... intersectionality!  Woo!

My central hope is to explain the reason why it's not hypocritical to want labels to exist to describe trans* people's experience, but still reject the labels provided by the gender binary -- why it's not okay to just settle for the labels that already exist, and how to go about adjusting to the existence of labels you haven't grown up with.

So, to try and straighten out my thoughts, that's what today's blog post is going to be about.  (Until I run out of time and have to go to work.)

So... what do I call you?

Generally speaking, trans* people will let you know how they prefer to be identified, if you ask them politely.  That said, a lot of us have some pretty bad experiences with trying to get people to accept our identities.  Here are some directions that conversation sometimes goes, and a rough outline of what's wrong with it.

  • But what are you, really?  I hope it's immediately obvious what's wrong with this one, because what you're telling the person that what they experience to be true about themselves is less valid than what the civilization around them says is true about them -- and we wouldn't be having this presentation, this event, this movement if what the civilization surrounding us was getting things right.
  • But you don't look (whatever)!  There's an important set of distinctions to be made here.  This distinction itself is slightly reductionistic (I'll return to reductionism later) but it's better than what we get in the mainstream, so here we go:  A person's sexuality, sex, gender identity, and gender presentation are all totally different things.  There's no such thing as a matching set, any combination of all of them is okay, and nobody is being inconsistent by failing to match all of them up with one line in the cisgender, heterosexual convention of the civilization surrounding us.  If you meet someone who identifies their sexuality as queer, who you happen to know was assigned male at birth, tells you their gender is female, and only ever wears wizard robes, what pronouns do you use?  Does it sound hard?  Because it's not.  It's super easy.  She/her, unless that person tells you otherwise.
  • But ze/xe/they/sie is so hard!  If you make this criticism of using nonbinary gender pronouns, a lot of trans* people won't have a lot of sympathy for you.  The reason for that is, for the most part, every day of most of our lives we had people calling us by a gender pronoun that makes us uncomfortable, pressuring or sometimes forcing us to do things to conform to an identity that doesn't match our notion of ourselves, some (many) of us look in the mirror and feel kinda sick when we see the body looking back at us -- long story short, you having to learn a few new words is not ever going to be proportionate in the level of inconvenience compared to the experience trans* people have in our daily lives.

I wanted to write more in this post, but I'm basically out of time.  I've got to go, will possibly write more on my break, and will definitely be staying up late tonight to work on this presentation.  Things to come:  how to acquire language, why inadequate language is okay but even more inadequate language isn't, why dictionary definitions suck, and more!  Depending on what I have time to prepare.  I hope I can pull this together...

Kameron Hurley on secrets in publishing

There's a great article in the Locus Magazine website called "Everybody Already Knows”: How Silence About the Realities of Publishing Hurts Authors.  It's about the ways in which secrets are kept in publishing -- she compares it to problematic family secrets, like abuse, and compares new authors to small children who aren't in any way equipped to navigate the sometimes seriously screwed up situation they get themselves into just by being around. For reasons I think are obvious this article was important to me.  Here's one of the best bits:

What I began to hear from other writers as I brought up these issues and many other troubling ones in the industry was this:

‘‘Oh, everyone already knows that.’’

Everyone knows who that verbally abusive editor is. Everyone knows who that groping publisher is. Everyone knows….

But everyone didn’t know. I certainly didn’t. I learned during the long implosion of Night Shade Books that writers in our industry had many private forums and listservs and a lot of conversations at the bar about bad editors, bad publishers, and terrible agents (and the good ones, too) – but they tended to be in closed groups, not public forums. So when folks said to me ‘‘everyone knows’’ it meant ‘‘everyone on my listserv’’ or ‘‘everyone who reads the SFWA forum’’ or ‘‘everyone who was at the bar that time in San Antonio.’’

I checked -- you have to be an SFWA member to get on the forum.  There's a good reason for me to double down on trying to get some qualifying short story sales.  (Or any short story sales...)

I decided to google Kameron Hurley, and I found this story, which I don't have time to finish reading right now, but is pretty cool so far:

Genderbending at the Madhattered

by Kameron Hurley, published in Strange Horizons, 2004

The popular conception of introversion pisses me off

The new Idea Channel is about introversion -- specifically, about the fetishization of introversion and some of the reasons it happens.  I'm pretty thrilled that he came out with this video, because it gives me an excuse to rant about the introvert/extrovert dichotomy.*

I just took an online Myers-Briggs test, because Mike talks about it a lot in the video, and it plays pretty heavily in the article he quoted:

We worked diligently and with enthusiasm, and perhaps unsurprisingly (given the way our culture socializes girls), all three of us tested identically: At the time, we all came out INFP.

And we rejoiced. Suddenly, we had answers. We weren’t outcasts or “nerds” [...] oh no: we were a rare personality type, one that the book said makes up only one percent of the entire human population.

I quote that section in particular because I got INFP when I took the test just now.  I, too, got the rarest personality type, apparently.

Here's the thing, though: I just got dropped into Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceiving -- rather than Extroverted, Sensing, Thinking, Judging, on the basis of these numbers:

Introverted / Extroverted: 55.88% / 44.12%  (11.76% difference) Intuitive / Sensing: 65.63% / 34.38%  (31.25% difference) Feeling / Thinking: 56.57% / 43.33%  (13.24% difference) Perceiving / Judging: 54.17% / 45.83%  (8.34% difference)

The biggest difference there is between intuitive and sensing, which surprises me, but w/e.  That's not the point.  The point is -- and, I know people love to point out that we're supposed to interpret the results as being about a spectrum -- the point is that the Myers Briggs ratings push people into a set of sixteen categories that (a.) hint at a complexity that isn't there, (b.) stampede over the complexity that is there, (c.) encourage people to embrace more unnecessary binaries in their identity, and (d.) attempt to (i.) normalize things that should perhaps not be normalized, and (ii.) force a normative structure on personality in general.

I've thought a lot about why this all pisses me off -- and there's some pretty good stuff in the above-and-here-linked article about the problems with the introvert meme, as distinguished from introversion as a clinical term -- and here are some of my conclusions.

  1. I'm not an introvert.  I'm not an extrovert, either.  I'm not sure the conventional definition, introverts are drained by social interaction and energized by time alone, whereas extroverts are energized by social interaction and drained by time alone, is in any way sensible to describe my experience of the world.  You know what I find draining?  Exertion, sleeplessness, fear, anxiety, loneliness, boredom, I could go on... You know what I don't find draining?  Being around other people -- OR -- spending time by myself.
  2. The popularity of this dichotomy has, I think, discouraged me -- and probably discouraged other people -- from acknowledging anxiety problems.  Instead of asking, "Do I feel more energized or more drained when I spend time around people?"  There are a lot of times I should have been asking, "Did I feel afraid just then?  When?  Why?"  What would probably have emerged was a fear of isolation, of rejection, of embarrassment, that made my social interactions difficult and my time alone painful, neither of which have anything to do with whether I'm more or less socially inclined.
  3. I have for long periods of time felt caught between two standards, against both of which I was failing.  In one, I'm an academic, bookworm, loner, sitting quietly in dark rooms with books written by Russians.  In the other, I keep up with my friendships, go out a lot, dance, sing karaoke, and drink at parties all the time.  Neither standard makes any particular amount of sense, neither describes more than, like, one person I know, tops, and I felt like I was failing to live up to both of them.

The introvert/extrovert narrative bothers me for a lot of reasons, but I think the biggest one was that it encouraged me to identify with my mental illnesses, and fail to seek help.  It tells a story in which all my experiences are supposed to fit into one kind of healthy or another, that things that should have been symptoms got treated like normal parts of a personality.

I'm not rejecting the existence of introverts, and I certainly don't want people who just like being alone to be treated like they're ill.  But neither do I want symptoms, things like fear and anxiety and hopelessness and inability to get out of bed, to be glorified as a kind of superiority.

*No, I don't need an excuse to write about whatever I want on my blog.  Yes, I do still feel like I need an excuse to write about the stuff I already want to write about.  It would be easier to blog if I could get over that.

Nightvale, Lovecraft, Idea Channel, and an argument I had with one of my teachers today

We just got to the part of the history of western civilization in my Western Civ 1 class when Socrates shows up!  Yay... I shouldn't be totally surprised, but I was, that when we discussed Socrates, phrases like "Greatest philosopher ever" and "Still extremely relevant today" were thrown around.  I have some pretty strong contentions with that point, especially where Socrates fades into Plato, and the Western canonization of Essentialism and fundamental truths.

See, as the teacher told it, Socrates was the hero who freed Greece from the cynical Sophists, who believed there was no such thing as essential truth.  Now, I will grant that it's possible to get pretty cynical on that premise.  But I'm on the side of the Sophists -- at least, the ones who understood, if any of them did, that the point is humans don't have access to unrestrained truth, and that all we have to work with are narratives that are varyingly successful in describing and predicting the reality they attempt to describe and predict.

I brought this up with the teacher after class, and we had a fun discussion in which he asked me if I thought the Pythagorean theorem would go away if nobody knew about it, and I said "Yes."  The fact that triangles have certain relationships to themselves wouldn't, but the Pythagorean theorem isn't an insight into the core truth of the universe -- it's a narrative we use to arrive at certain among those truths.

Which is why it's pretty cool that today's Idea Channel decided to help me out by talking about H.P. Lovecraft, Welcome to Nightvale, and the huge problem most people have with accepting that some things just aren't knowable.  Whole video linked and embedded below, but I particularly want to emphasize this quote:

Philosopher Graham Harmon describes Lovecraft as a writer of gaps.  A gap specifically between what we understand to be possible, and what the characters are experiencing in the stories, expressed by the gap in the existence of something and the ability of language to accurately and appropriately describe that thing.

How Does Night Vale Confront Us With the Unknown? 

Here, I also want to throw out another Idea Channel video, Is Math a Feature of the Universe or a Feature of Human Creation?

There are totally people who believe math is a real thing, as Mike addresses above.  Personally, I think those people are nuts -- math is a narrative we use to describe things.  "Math comes from the human brain, and nowhere else."  Fictionalism ftw.

I will totally be sharing these videos with my professor.  But first!

The thing about essentialism, whether mathematical, Platonic, Christian, political, whatever -- (well, one of the things.  Well, one of the things, and the line about where it becomes and stops becoming a thing is fuzzy.  There's no real essential truth about essentialism.)  -- is that it encourages people to believe that everything should be relatively easy for humans to understand.

If we believe the Socratic claim that all knowledge is embedded in the human mind, and it just takes the right questions to unlock it, how do we ever understand Quantum Physics?  How do we even approach the question, "Can language even describe some things?"  How do we deal with incompleteness?

It also leads to a different, more cultural, problem: the danger of a single story.

In this point, I'm referring to an awesome TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a storyteller who grew up in Nigeria, embedded above.  The point I want to draw here is that the simplification of narratives that Essentialists pursue is not just wrongheaded, irresponsible, and doomed to fail:  it's also civilizationally corrosive and destructive.

Rootstrikers: Lawrence Lessig interviewed by the Harvard Law Record. Also, coming to NECC

Rootstrikers is an organization pushing for a movement to end corruption in American government as we know it.  I say "as we know it" because, as Lessig makes clear in the interview I'm about to quote, it's not about just skeezy people taking bribes, it's a systemic problem:

It doesn’t mean that Congress is taking bribes. Indeed, I think as my colleague Dennis [F.] Thompson puts it, this is the cleanest Congress in the history of Congress in that sense. But it means that they’ve allowed themselves to become dependent on an influence which is inconsistent with the intended dependence our Congress was supposed to have. So if the Framers conceived of a Congress depended upon the people alone, we’ve built a Congress dependent upon the funders of campaigns as well as upon the people. So it’s a competing dependency, and it’s also a conflicting dependency, because the funders are not the people, they don’t represent the people, they’re not in any sense representative. So that’s a corruption of the intended dependence, and in that sense it’s a corruption.

I've been following Rootstrikers for a while, and it looks like they're gearing up a bit more intensely than when I last checked.  Or, they're gaining steam, at least.

It occurred to me to look into it again, after a couple months of not checking up, because Lessig is going to be speaking at an event at my school on Oct. 3.  And, since I found it very difficult to track down information about the event:

[important]On October 3rd, 2013, an event called the Money in Politics Forum will take place at Northern Essex Community College (NECC) on the Haverhill Campus, in the Spurk (C) Building, in Lecture Hall A.  The publicized guests are Dr. Lawrence Lessig (of Rootstrikers), Jeffrey Clemens, and Mass State Senator Susan Tucker as moderator.

Important and relevant keywords include the names of the sponsor organizations: The League of Women Voters of Greater Haverhill, The Contemporary Affairs Club of Northern Essex Community College, Haverhill Matters, The Democratic City Committee of Haverhill, and the Repbulican City Committee of Haverhill.

The event is at 7pm, again on Oct. 3, 2013, and takes place at 100 Elliot Street, Haverhill, MA, in the Spurk building, also known as the C building, in Lecture Hall A, which is strait ahead when you come in through the big doors in the middle of the building.

Source: the League of Women Voters of Greater Haverhill website.  (Thanks!)[/important]

Right.  That should take care of the problem of people trying to google the event and failing, because the phrase Lawrence Lessig NECC shouldn't fail to produce this result.

Back to the interview:  There were a couple points that really stuck out as relevant to me.  One was that Lessig is pushing for a 3-year solution to this problem.  It's very encouraging to hear that, and he totally nails down why:

[...] You know there’s a big, quote, “campaign finance reform movement” that envisions a 20-year struggle that gets us to the place that we finally have enough votes to pass fundamental reform to the system. I think the 20-year struggle is certain to lose. Certain to lose. We’ve got to think about a fight that’s a kind of 3-year fight. We’ve got to figure out how to engineer a 3-year fight because that’s the only thing that could possibly win. [...]

Also, apparently New Hampshire is going to be super important.  'Cause we always have the first US presidential primaries, so we can shape the course of the election.  I'm looking forward to taking part in that:

[...] One thing that’s interesting about the New Hampshire Constitution is that it explicitly says the people of New Hampshire have an obligation to rebel. And so the idea is we’re bringing people into New Hampshire in these off years to say to New Hampire citizens, “you have an obligation to make this the issue the New Hampshire primary turns on.” [...]

Altogether, potentially good news for the future of America!  Or, at least, I'll know in less than a decade whether or not we're totally screwed.

Stuff about Schizophrenia: American exceptionalism is real!

via Boing Boing

On the nature of schizophrenia as it relates to culture

The New York Times recently posted a story about research in schizophrenia patients in India and in America, and revealed something kind of disturbing about what seems like it must be something to do with America's culture:

In the past few years I have been working with some colleagues at the Schizophrenia Research Foundation in Chennai, India, to compare the voice-hearing experience of people with schizophrenia in the United States and India.

The two groups of patients have much in common. Neither particularly likes hearing voices. Both report hearing mean and sometimes violent commands. But in our sample of 20 comparable cases from each country, the voices heard by patients in Chennai are considerably less violent than those heard by patients in San Mateo, Calif.

Describing his own voices, an American matter-of-factly explained, “Usually it’s like torturing people to take their eyes out with a fork, or cut off someone’s head and drink the blood, that kind of stuff.” Other Americans spoke of “war,” as in, “They want to take me to war with them,” or their “suicide voice” asking, “Why don’t you end your life?”

In Chennai, the commanding voices often instructed people to do domestic chores — to cook, clean, eat, bathe, to “go to the kitchen, prepare food.” To be sure, some Chennai patients reported disgusting commands — in one case, a woman heard the god Hanuman insist that she drink out of a toilet bowl. But in Chennai, the horrible voices people reported seemed more focused on sex. Another woman said: “Male voice, very vulgar words, and raw. I would cry.”

(emphasis mine.)

So it looks like there is something special about America: we're so violent, we make our mentally ill people extra-violent!

[notice]I'm being pretty much totally unfair here.  The size of this study was 20 comparable cases from each country, which means either 20 or 40 people -- either way, it's not enough to draw the kind of sweeping conclusions I've made here.  But we'll see, when the research continues.[/notice]

On facing vs. denying mental illness

In another very small trial, patients with schizophrenia

...[C]reate[d] a computer-animated avatar for their voices and to converse with it. Patients chose a face for a digitally produced voice similar to the one they were hearing. They then practiced speaking to the avatar — they were encouraged to challenge it — and their therapist responded, using the avatar’s voice, in such a way that the avatar’s voice shifted from persecuting to supporting them.

All of the patients experienced a decrease in the frequency and intensity of their hallucinations, and three of them stopped hearing voices entirely.

The article also discusses a movement, called "Hearing Voices," who encourage patients with auditory hallucinations to communicate honestly and openly with them, rather than trying to suppress them.  On their website, they say the voices are "...a variation in human behavior, like being left-handed."

Altogether, lots of interesting things going on with schizophrenia these days.

On the inherent harmfulness of poverty

I just read an article on The Atlantic: Cities called The High Cost of Not Having Enough, which was a follow-up to an earlier article -- both articles are about a recent study that explores cognitive bandwidth -- the amount of attention a person has for any given problem -- and, specifically, the impact of poverty on a person's ability to concentrate and function. (I just tried to get to the actual study, abstract here, but apparently my school doesn't have access to the digital edition of Science, and we have not yet received the issue of the print edition that that article appears in.)

I was thinking, while I was reading the article, that it would be cool if we could take skeptical rich people and put them in situations of abject poverty for a few months, just to show them how that feels.

My next thought, though, was, "No, wait, that would be ridiculously unethical."

I kinda felt like I had been hit over the head with something.  Yes, it would be massively unethical to take someone who is currently above the poverty line in the US, and put them in a situation where they had to live beneath it, for these, and other, reasons:

  • They would necessarily have to be exposed to increased risk of physical injury or illness, while having the best possible care withheld from them for at least the duration of the experiment;
  • They  would likely have to work more than 60 hours a week to keep the home they have for the duration of the experiment, and may still be unable to keep up with all the necessities of life;
  • If they have children, for a complete picture of the experiment, they would still be responsible for those children, who would (unfairly, having been unable to consent to the choice) go through inadequate education, greater exposure to harmful chemicals, a less healthy diet and possibly some amount of malnutrition or even starvation;
  • They may temporarily lose access to vital elements of human survival, like heating in the winter;
  • And so on...

If a group of scientists were to attempt this experiment, it would probably generate some fairly large amount of moral outrage, as it probably should.  No one should be deliberately left in a position of predictable, avoidable suffering.

No one.  Including all the people who are below the poverty line in the US now.

The study found that people living in poverty suffer from stress and distraction due to constantly facing potentially life-or-death problems equivalent to about a 13% drop in IQ.  They said it's like having missed a night's sleep, all the time.

It's nauseating to think that, as a civilization, we allow this to happen.  That some people actually blame people in poverty for their situation, as if, in the poor people's shoes, they'd climb back up to the middle class in a matter of weeks.  I wish we could actually put some of those people into those shoes.  But we can't, because it would be morally monstrous.  Pretty much like the situation we're in now.

Dead industries, undead industries

I know my blog has been kind of dead lately -- this "Blog on days off" approach works less well when I only have two days off a week -- so I'm going to try to start throwing up additional posts, not on any particular schedule, but just when I have an idea and the time. So, this morning I was thinking about how pissed I am that I have to drive, despite everybody driving being a terrible system for getting everybody around.  And that got me thinking about all the industries that exist in the US that survive, in whole or in part, because the US government defends their continued existence.  (Coincidentally, Charles Stross just wrote about a similar topic, declining employment rates, at his blog.)

  • The automotive industry:

The United States puts a huge amount of energy into making sure we can keep making cars -- which is a terrible idea.  Cars aren't a good idea anymore, and probably haven't been a good idea for a very long time.  If it weren't for the GI bill, America couldn't possibly have had the proliferation into suburbs that we have today, so the major vital function of cars -- the commute -- would disappear.  Apart from that, the United States government artificially minimizes the cost of parking.  Like, to a crazy degree.  It should probably be prohibitively expensive to use a car all the time, because, subjected to market forces, nobody would be able to afford to park.

  • The entertainment industry:

The entertainment industry as it exists today relies entirely for its survival on the government's defense of copyright law that protects only the corporations that profit off artists' work.  I don't want to trivialize the role of institutions in the creation of art, but copyright doesn't need to protect an artist's right to profit from their work seventy years after they die.

  • The recreational gun industry:

Really?  Like, seriously, we need this?  Nope.  Not even a little.

Like I said earlier, today's a work day, so I've only got about three hours of free time today, and I need some of that to eat breakfast and get ready.  I don't want to spend the rest of it researching for this post, so it's going to have to be a kind of a summary.

If you check out the Stross post I linked earlier and will link again here, you can see that the American government has let plenty of other industries die, the same thing that's happened in every other industrialized country.  In general, only about half of people in industrialized countries work, in any sense that contributes to an industry.  And that's fine.  I don't expect the government to protect every job.  The fact that an industry was once profitable does not entitle anyone to continue making money doing whatever that industry did.

What I expect, in fact, is the opposite:  For the government to let die even the industries that the American people have a fetish for, and to resist the pressure lobbyists put on them to pass bad laws to protect dead companies.

Readercon: I'm home!

I am sorry there was not a post yesterday.  But here is more stuff that happened at Readercon following my cellphone post on Friday night (very early Saturday morning). Books I purchased:

  • The Drowning Girl by Caitlin R. Kiernan, which was frequently referenced.  Also, I wanted to start reading Kiernan's stuff.
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, which I bought because I knew I was going to want to get it eventually and it seemed pointless not to get it this weekend, when I wouldn't have to pay shipping.
  • Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link, which I read some of a while ago, and was $15, which is quite cheap for a hardcover.
  • The Earthsea Trilogy by Ursula K. LeGuin, which is 3 books, each of which cost 3 dollars at one of the used book dealers.
  • Salsa Nocturna by Daniel José Older, a collection of short stories.  I went to his reading on Saturday, and decided immediately that I needed to buy his book, which I did, later that day.  I got it signed by him on Sunday.

Here are some links that I have not yet explored, but that I know I want to check out:

  • Ally's Choice, an episode of Radiolab that I mentioned in the last blog post.
  • Myth Happens, the Livejournal of Sonya Taaffe, also mentioned in yesterday's post.
  • rides.tv, which features interactive stories (games?) by Maureen McHugh.
  • The missing stair, a blog post on "The Pervocracy," which I'd read before, but was reminded where it comes from.
  • Long Hidden, an anthology about people who have been marginalized or ignored in history.  I have a story that might be appropriate to submit (I need to read it again to decide whether or not I think it is) but either way I'm going to want to get it when it comes out.
  • Things I will not do to my characters.  Ever.a blog post by Seanan McGuire about characters being raped. [EDITED: I accidentally linked to Long Hidden twice, instead of setting this one to go to the blog post.  It's fixed now. 2013-07-17]
  • I got raped, then my problems started, by Gina Tron, about institutional re-traumatization that occurs in the process of trying to report a rape.

There is so much more in my notes that I need to pick through -- earlier today, I went through it with a highlighter to highlight all the people and things that I specifically intend to do additional homework on -- but that's all the stuff that, on one pass of flipping through, I was able to quickly Google and find links.  Now, it will all be in one nice, neat place for me -- and for you, too!

One more point, apparently the book I read when I was a child, that was suddenly revealed to me in a massive room full of SF/F fans shouting, is "The Dark Lord of Derkholm," that's Derkholm with an E, not Darkholm.  I will be checking it out from the library almost immediately.

I hate this holiday (Independence Day, July 4, United States)

Yup.  Hate it.  Don't like it.  Don't like it so much.  Here are some of the reasons:

  • I'm not at all convinced we should have seceded from England in the first place.  Here are some of the things that England did peacefully that either did, or would probably, start a civil war in the United States, that we would have had to just do if England were able to tell us to:  Ending slavery.  Socializing healthcare.  Ending the casual civilian ownership of guns.  Here are some of America's greatest accomplishments since striking out on our own:  Inventing all the worst weapons.  Keeping by far the world's biggest organized killing force.  Crashing the world's economy, twice.  This stuff does not all seem worth the revolution, which basically boiled down to a bunch of rich dudes complaining that they were expected to pay their taxes.  (A tradition well upheld throughout the subsequent history of the country.)
  • I hate the decorations. Honestly, red, white and blue isn't a great color scheme.  I'm not really sure why most of the European countries decided to use it.
  • It's basically a nationwide excuse to eat meat and drink beer.  Not that Americans tend to need a reason to do either of those things, but it's problematic that we often think of the most centrally American act consists of eating cow (a massively overpopulated animal, the farming of which is arguably responsible for world hunger) and drinking beer (which is gross).
  • I don't like fireworks.  This is probably mainly because of association -- Americans really only do fireworks for the Fourth of July.  But, also, I don't see the appeal of watching them for more than a couple of minutes.

I'm going to close with a quote by Fredrick Douglass that I've seen a few times today:

What to the American slave is your Fourth of July I answer, a day that reveals to him more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy’s thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.

Cory Doctorow explains why Prism is awful

[pullquote align="center" textalign="center" width="90%"]Once a computer ascribes suspiciousness to someone, everything else in that person's life becomes sinister and inexplicable. -Cory Doctorow, "NSA's Prism: why we should care"[/pullquote]

Thoughts on the Santa Monica shooting

NOTE: This post was written on 2013-06-08, but scheduled in advance, because I’ve started to notice that my work schedule is heavy enough to prohibit regular blogging.  I will try to update this post if important details come out between today and the day this post is scheduled to go up, 2013-06-11.

As of writing this post, the BBC says that at least five people were killed in Santa Monica on Friday.  The Guardian says four.  It was, as far as the news seems to suggest, a pretty standard school shooting:  the shooter killed some people in his family, then started trying to kill random other people.  He was shot on the scene, and a suspect was taken into custody as a potential confederate, but later released.

I'm writing this less than an hour after finding out about it, and I just feel a sort of dull anger.  I don't have much to contribute to this conversation -- nothing that hasn't been said before, better, by smarter people, in clearer and more organized ways.

I just want to point out that this continues to be part of an absurd, dangerous trend that kills people all over the country, and we continue to be stalled on preventing this kind of thing because a certain minority of Americans have a massive boner for the Constitution's errata.  I have trouble figuring out what to do about it, apart from saying something.  So, I'm saying this: the second amendment, as it functions in the 21st century, is inhuman, and that trumps whether or not it's constitutional.

Kindle Worlds: ick

Amazon is putting together a platform to legitimize fanfiction!  Yay! Sort of. Well, not really.

I found out about Kindle Worlds through John Scalzi's blog, where he posted his initial thoughts, and I have some initial thoughts as well, mostly building off and responding to his.

Amazon Worlds gets all the rights to your story once they publish it, including the right to republish it wherever,  whenever and however they want, and the original content's creators (the people on whose fiction writers will be building their fanfiction) get the right to steal whatever they want from the fanfic.  They get to do this stuff without ever offering any more royalties to the author, anywhere, ever.

It reminds me of Nintendo's recent move, to claim copyright over all the Nintendo Let's-Plays.  The spirit of the move is this (using Star Wars for an example, just so I have a set of names to work with):

George Lucas makes Star Wars, and it's a huge success.

Another artist, let's call him Mike, puts in a huge amount of effort making a new work of art that is intimately tied to Star Wars, because he loves Star Wars so much.  This work, let's call it Star Peace, would be impossible or nonsensical without Star Wars, so Mike thinks he should give Lucas a cut of the profits.

Lucas disagrees.  Instead, he thinks he should give Mike a small cut of the profits from Star Peace -- which Lucas did nothing to create -- and then keep all the rest of the rights and profits from it.

If some new artist, who we'll call Clara, creates some huge project based closely off Star Peace, which I'll call Star Peace V: The Ambassador Strikes Back, she doesn't get to ask Mike how he thinks the deal should work -- she only gets to go through Lucas, who gets most of her profits, too (because he did create Star Wars) but Mike doesn't see a dime from Clara's work, even though it would be impossible or nonsensical without Star Peace.

If we look past all the reasons this makes no sense (Lucas no longer owns Star Wars; Mike, a friend of mine who does one day hope to write for the Star Wars extended universe, would never write something as dumb as "Star Peace," or agree to a contract that bad; Clara is a fictional character) it pretty much describes the way copyright works now.

That's what Nintendo is doing with the Let's-Plays, and that's what Amazon is doing with Fan Fiction.  While it's true that right now copyright law gives the creators of derivative works no rights whatsoever (and so legally anything Amazon wants to offer them is more than they're entitled to), creators obviously deserve more rights than a tiny bit of money for playing along.  If new work that would have been impossible without their work starts to explode in profitability, they deserve a fair share of all those new profits, just like the original rights holder deserved a fair share of the profits from the new artist's fanfic.

Alan Moore on taking writing seriously

Alan Moore is a great writer, and it's a lot of fun to watch him talking about the craft of writing.  The reason I think it's fun is because he takes it very seriously, and I'm generally pretty sure he's right.  Not about the metaphysics, because he thinks writing is literally magic, but about all the stuff that his metaphysics implies. [pullquote align="right" textalign="left" width="55%"]"You have to give up the stuff that you get really good at.  I don't know if that holds true for other kinds of work, but I was really surprised, I had not anticipated that I would have to stop doing things once I got okay at doing them."

-- Kelly Link[/pullquote]In the video I've linked,  Moore talks about real writers, versus career novelists.  He talks about one piece of writing advice that I turn over in my head all the time -- I first heard it from Kelly Link, at her Google talk with Karen Joy Fowler:  Basically, you have to stop doing anything you get too good at, or you'll get stale.  You'll stop surprising your audience, you'll stop growing as a writer, and you won't accomplish all the things you might otherwise hope.

In the interview, Moore said:  "In my -- probably somewhat extreme -- opinion, to stop is death.  The death of creativity.  To decide that you're satisfied with what you are doing, that is when you are probably finished as a writer."

I can't think of a time, ever, when I've heard a successful writer say anything resembling "Don't worry, eventually you'll get used to it and it will be easy from then on."  The most consistent advice that comes out seems to be that if you work as hard as you can, your reward is that the work gets a little harder.

So, I'm looking forward to that.

Re: Stylish Punctuation

I follow a handful of mens' fashion blogs on Tumblr, because I like fashion and dresses don't have pockets.  Today, I follow reblogged another fashion blog, that saw fit to extend its purview beyond clothes, and into writing. The post was called "Stylish Punctuation," and it's linked here but its main thesis was that people who punctuate poorly are dumb, undesirable, and essentially bad people.

This is a topic I feel strongly about, so I responded.  And, because I like the response, I've reproduced it here:

###

Bullshit.

I don’t object to your criticism of the exclamation point, but I do — strongly — object to your suggestion that poor punctuation implies “a poorly organized mind.”

There are certain principles in English writing that people who spend a lot of time thinking about it will tend to converge on, although even that is touchy.  minimizing the use of the exclamation point.

But when that tendency doesn’t emerge in a person’s writing, it does not mean that they are thick, or slow, or mentally disorganized.  All it means is that they don’t feel it’s necessary to bother mastering English writing to the highest possible degree — usually, because they know the people they’re writing to will take their messages in good faith and interpret them as though they were writ, reasonable person.

If you don’t need your writing to be comprehensible by a large, diverse audience of strangers, or by strangers who speak a wildly different version of English than you, or who may be reading your work hundreds of years after you’ve writ, and if your meaning is not so complicatedly precise that you need to have a perfect mastery over syntax to not screw it up, then it’s fine if you end your messages with forty!!!

When some, it’s not a freaking catastrophe, it doesn’t make them a bad person, and while it’s not intrinsically wrong to be annoyed by it (your emotions being more-or-less out of your control) judging people for it doesn’t make you discerning, it makes you a dick.