rinue: (Default)
I have often observed that social media is the modern equivalent of a cocktail party; everybody in the neighborhood comes over and tries to be witty and friendly, and a few people say some things that are ill considered, and a few people are delightful, and a few people leave earlier than you'd like and a few people stay longer than you'd like.

So it's hard for me to get too irritated about people posting baby photos on facebook or sending ambiguous tweets like "sigh." By and large, my use of social media has not changed my friendships; there's nobody I particularly like less after seeing them misspell something or grammar police somebody or link to a debunked article or make a duck face. (I have also not made any friends through social media, which contrasts with the lasting and significant friendships I have found through blogging.)

However, social media tends to make more obvious something with which I am annoyed offline: glibness. Superficial thinking is well suited to any headline-driven medium, and that applies to character-limited postings, particularly ones which scroll and refresh quickly and beckon for an instant thumbs up or thumbs down. It's not inevitable, certainly. Culture jamming is possible, and even rewarded. Furthermore, deep thinking isn't always essential. ("Frozen gummi bears are the best!" Yes. I like the white/clear ones particularly, and may occasionally call them polar gummis.)

But there is a sweet spot of earnestness and surface skimming that makes me want to shatter my own teeth. I don't want to be too hard on the people who do it, because their hearts are in the right place. The posts are usually (always) in the realm of social activism, but the glibness I'm talking about is roughly equivalent to patting yourself on the back for knowing the quadratic formula without understading what it means in a practical rather than number-plugging sense.

I rarely comment on the (to my mind) obnoxoius posts, and when I do, I do so warmly. But they kill me. It's my own fault, because I should just be happy that people know the quadratic equation. But it kills me.

So: some consciousness raising about consciousness raising.

"Consciousness raising" as it is currently used is a term that came out of New York feminism in the 1960s. Initially, it was a communal activity built around sharing your own truth. You had a lot of women coming from different backgrounds, most of which included social isolation. The goal of the movement was to make women more aware of each other's individual struggles and see them as part of a framework of oppression. For instance:

"My husband expects me to be charming and social with his friends, and help host their evenings together. But when my friends come over, he just disappears. He doesn't even know their names."

"My God, my husband does that too."

"Mine too. I thought it was just my husband's personality."


This kind of consciousness raising was very much in keeping with the "personal is political" idea, and was similarly criticized in some circles for being trivial and biasing toward what we might today call #firstworldproblems.

However, it crossed over quickly to the gay community, which rallied around the idea that coming out was not only self-liberating, but something which helped other gay people who might still be in the closet. The 1990s cry "We're here, we're queer, get used to it" is the end result.

In essence, conciousness raising started as a concept that was internally focused (I am going to join a group of likeminded people, and we are going to learn about ourselves) and moved into a realm of external billboarding (I am going to make sure the people outside this group know this problem exists). "The personal is political" underwent a parallel shift from "look at the problems in your personal life and realize they're coming from external political forces" to "all of your personal decisions are a public act of political expression."

This leaves consciousness raising in an odd place, serving multiple masters. Today, when I say "consciousness raising," whose consciousness do I imply is being raised? Am I trying to increase my own understanding of what is common or uncommon? Am I signaling a shared identity to a marginalized group with whom my affiliation and solidarity might otherwise be invisible? Or am I trying to make the general public aware of an experience or line of thinking which would otherwise go unseen by the majority?

It is possible I am sometimes trying to do all three at once. This is not the same thing as succeeding at all three. It would be nice fairy dust if I could find a sentence which simultaneously made me feel great, made people like me feel great, and instantly gave everyone in the world both the desire to change an existing system of oppression and a prrocess for doing so. But since different symbols mean different things to different people in different contexts and we can't even agree on things like what cheap sugar water to drink despite billions of dollars of marketing, it is more often the case I will have to target my efforts and measure my success accordingly.

Or not. Usually it's or not. Usually, it's the fairy dust option. Hence glibness. Nobody's consciousness is raised.

There are four basic consicousness raising styles I have observed, which I will rank from lowbrow to highbrow.

1. Jesus saves, breast cancer exists.

Although these posts have a pseudo-persuasive or confrontational presentation, they are at base a form of community self-identification with a group which enjoys mainstream acceptance and support (go bears). I have an easy time ignoring these posts, because they're not intended for me.

2. If we all get the right hair cut, it will end inequality.

This is the glib stuff I can't stand. It proposes a simplistic, individual-by-individual solution to an extremely complex structural problem, with a tone-deafness to the people who live with that problem or a lack of awareness of the underlying science.

You've seen a million examples. The rain forests are facing environmental collapse; let's all plant deciduous trees on the other side of the world! All our children will do well in school as long as we commit to reading to them 15 minutes a night! I'm so sad because I see all these little girls wearing skirts, which means they will never play sports.

The solutions proposed are mostly harmless and not particularly difficult, which is why I'm annoyed with myself for being annoyed. Worst case scenario, they're noise that covers up the work of the deep thinkers, and/or they let the sloganeer off the hook when it comes to doing real work. (I've done my part for the Syrian refugees by empathizing with them.) But realistically, most people not making this kind of post are also not reading heavy intellectual work on the subject and are also not taking action, so it's a wash.

Like category one, these posts are intended for the post-maker rather than the post reader, although the post maker likely believes otherwise. The difference is that where category one is about affirmation by asserting your allegiance to something widely agreed upon, category two is an attempt to avoid confronting an existential crisis. (If you're looking for the key to why I'm annoyed despite myself, bingo.) They're the agnostic equivalent of "God will provide," and a promise that bad things won't happen if we can just be good enough, if we just pay attention.

Consequently, I would advise that although these posters might appear to want to talk about the issues and might seem to welcome a personal disclosure in the classical tradition of consciousness raising, one which deepens everyone's understanding of, for instance, the girls-and-skirts issue as lived, this is not the case. Nor is the poster interested in an appropriate charity, nor oddly enough in being reassured their kids will be ok even if they aren't read to. This is an existential crisis being avoided. It is only masquerading as conciousness raising. Stay out of that mess. Protect yourself.

3. This is intersex awareness day; a living wage is $15 an hour

Now we're getting to actual consciousness raising. These posts are a reminder that an issue exists that is often invisible to people who aren't directly experiencing it. It may include a call for direct political action, or it may simply be an attempt to "pierce the bubble," warning you to be aware of your assumptions. You could think of them as an intellectual speed limit sign.

4. My name is Foucault and I have some ideas about the way we view mental illness

Sometimes, more often than you'd think, somebody draws your attention to a useful and relevant concept you genuinely never heard of. Patriarchy, privilege, double consiciousness, sunk cost, postmodernism, the spectacle, alternate sexualities, colonialism, and on and on. Suddenly, you have a new and very powerful lens with which to re-explore what you already know. Your consicousness has been raised. You are now operating on a higher level, with an inkling that there are higher levels yet.

Category four is the ideal, or my ideal. It's context dependent; whether something is category three or category four depends on the audience (who may or may not for instance already be aware of intersex issues). It's also possible to convince yourself you are operating in category four when you are actually in category two. But category four doesn't promise to solve anything; if anything, it manages to simplify and complicate at the same time.
rinue: (Yes Thanks)
It's not a hard line or a principled stance, but I'm not usually into white chocolate. It's not my thing.

HOWEVER

When I eat white chocolate, its cocoa butter texture has a beany mouth feel, which reminds me that cocoa is a bean, and that beans may be thought of as a poverty food because of their easy availability, but from a sensory standpoint are luxurious. Consequent to eating a small piece of white chocolate, which I do rarely, I experience a halo effect which improves my enjoyment of beans and of dark chocolate for several days, and sometimes several weeks.

I am thinking of this because I had a small piece of white chocolate after eating a bowl of split pea soup, and the experience was very similar, although one was sweet and the other salty.
rinue: (Default)
I don't trust the police. I don't think you should either, based on both anecdotal experience and reams of data. The police are a loaded gun, and although they might have preferences for who they're going to shoot, their overriding preference is that they shoot someone. Even if you're the one who called for help (and it can sometimes be useful to have a loaded gun), the shot person could be you.

Most lawyers would similarly tell you never to talk to police without a lawyer present, even if you're not being accused of anything. As it happens I trust lawyers more than I do police. And I don't trust lawyers. The American judicial system is in need of significant reform. When 90% of cases settle instead of going to trial, when trials are expensive and temporally far-removed from the events under examination, and when the language and processes of the law are increasingly esoteric and impossible for a common citizen to understand, we are clearly in a system that is in violation of about half the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution, and it's only the same unconstitutional parsing of the law that allows the system to define itself otherwise.

Better people than I am are working to fix our judicial processes, many of them from within the system. I am optimistic they will eventually prevail; human beings care too much about justice for it to be otherwise. It's part of our animal monkey-screaming-in-a-cage nature. And the people who want to be judges care about this stuff even more than the general population; it's a profession that self-selects for moral fiber, even though some individuals get myopic after too much time in the system (which, for the reasons stated, does a poor job of reflecting reality).

But to really reform the justice system, you have to start with the police. Technically, police are part of the executive branch and the courts are in the judicial branch, but do you really believe they act to check and balance each other? Let's be straight: It's one branch. The pay stubs might come from different accounts, but it's a rare judge who's going to take the word of a private citizen over the word of a cop. Juries too - juries are presented with officer pomp and circumstance, instructed by the judge and prosecutor to respect rather than doubt the officer. (Have you ever felt when listening to officer testimony that the court wanted you to presume the innocence of the accused?)

There's compulsion, too: I'm intimidated by cops. Are you? They certainly do their best to look scary. They certainly can make your life hell if you go against them, pretty much with impunity. Are you going to doubt the cop who says that guy was tresspassing and find the guy innocent, or are you going to figure the cop will be annoyed with you if you find not guilty and might hassle you later? It's just a small fine. Maybe he was tresspassing. I'm not sure he wasn't. Why are you going to trust the person who got arrested? He got arrested.

This is the opposite of reasonable doubt. For this reason alone, we can't reform the justice system without police reform.

It's not the only reason. It almost goes without saying that you don't enter the criminal justice system without police funneling you there. How and who they do and don't funnel determines, more than anything, who is a criminal, often for behavior that looks downright identical to behavior which is not considered criminal.

Example: You walked across my lawn without asking my permission (criminal tresspassing). You were carrying a walking stick (weapon). A receipt fell out of your pocket (evidence; littering). You messed up the growth pattern of my grass (more evidence; vandalism). You jumped off the low wall at the end of the garden, which the next-door toddler witnessed and may try to repeat (more evidence; child endangerment). My neighbor was worried (disturbing the peace).

If this scenario sounds absurd to you, you are probably white. Not all white people find it absurd. I for instance am white.

If this arrest scenario happens to you, the police will say they are following the letter of the law and trying to enforce it uniformly. Ha ha ha. The courts will repeat this when you bring up how the police acted, and tell you it's in the interest of fairness and caution. Ha ha ha.

This assumes you entered the justice system at all, rather than dying unarmed in an officer-involved shooting. You will be glad to know the officer will not be convicted of murder or even manslaughter. At least someone is getting a reasonable doubt, amIright?

Ciro and I, being science fiction writers, have been kicking around ideas about what an ideal police force would look like, and how we might get there. In theory, the police exist to protect people from predation by the cruel or exploitative, which sometimes includes protecting cruel and exploitative people from predation by other cruel and exploitative people, including cruel and exploitative people who might work their way into the police force.

Some possibilities, varying levels of plausible, no particular order:

1. Drastically redefine how we imagine the role of police officer, and shift our recruiting efforts accordingly. Most police calls are not to stop heavily armed supervillains dangling children off rooftops. Most police calls are to take a report because somebody's car got keyed, or to ask partygoers to keep it down. You know it; I know it. The thin blue line? Is ballpoint ink. Most of the time, we need the kinds of people who are dorm mothers. The police recruiting ads, on the other hand, are full of guns and muscles. These are not attracting peace-loving people.

2. Obliterate SWAT teams at the local level; call in the national guard in SWAT-type, which yes means involving the governor. Higher standard. This is what we always did until the 80s. Local police, even in big cities, do not need paramilitary units. Relatedly, it's downright jarring to see someone standing by a flag as an honor guard, holding an AK-47 for no particular reason. I just don't think people are that determined to get the flag. Appropriate levels of armament, please.

3. In much the way the fire department has retrained to provide emergency medical services, and spends as much or more time working in the healthcare system than fighting fires, the police force needs to cross-skill to offer social and psychiatric services, currently something of a patchwork of underfunded agencies. Considering how often criminal problems overlap with social services and/or psychiatric problems already (both with troubled homelifes spilling over into criminal behavior and with police asking social services to conduct wellness checks), this seems like a no-brainer.

4. Issue google glass to all police while on duty. Require them to provide a copy of the relevant section to anyone they arrest. Pull random sections monthly for departmental review.

5. More radically, stop letting the police force self-select. Use a draft police force at the beat cop level, the same way we serve jury duty, although for longer (paid) terms of service. The supervisors remain professional specialists (detectives, social workers, and the armed guys you have to call in and feel sheepish about calling in).

None of these are perfect solutions, and I'm still thinking. But we can do better. I know we can.

Heartbleed

Apr. 10th, 2014 10:42 am
rinue: (eyecon)
I'm irrationally angry about the media response to the Heartbleed bug. (Or as I would argue, rationally angry.) Not the existence of the bug - exploits happen; it's inevitable. But the enjoinder once again to change all my passwords, a different one for every site, long and gobbldygook.

You know what? I have different passwords and different user names for everything. They're many characters long and use capital letters and asterisks and nonstandard spelling.

How much does this protect me from security bugs and backdoors, like, for instance, Heartbleed? Not at all.

(Also, how many sites do I actually keep secure data on? Not many. Hackers, you are welcome to see what manuscripts I have under consideration at what magazines and how many of my friends' facebook photos I have viewed but not clicked "like" on.)

To put it another way, I don't walk around thinking that because my house has a lock on the door that nobody can break in the window. In fact, every time my house or car has been robbed, somebody has broken the window. Usually it has cost me more to fix the window than to replace the stolen stuff. When somebody breaks in, I call the police and my insurance company.

To put it another way, every merchant who has accepted my credit card has my credit card data and could run other transactions with it. I could change my credit card number every couple of weeks, or I could take the more reasonable, normal action of checking my statements at the end of the month, flagging the rare fraudlent charge and turning it over to the police. I also don't do business with credit card companies who don't indemnify me from fraud, which they all do because otherwise their product would be worthless: to act as credit, you have to be creditable.

To put it another way, anyone at all could sell a story and put my name on it, claim I directed their film, try to vote as me, and use my social security number - it's on all kinds of public records. I could panic all the time or I could realize that I'm not a very lucrative or interesting target, and that when that stuff happens either it doesn't hurt me or I find out about it and can fix it - by which I mean demand the fooled parties fix it. Because the burden isn't on me to prove that everyone in the world but me isn't Romie, and fraud has existed since the beginning of humanity. (Note the Biblical story of Jacob and Esau. It's in Genesis.)

We're in a post-password society. We don't have magic words and secret handshakes. That only works for kids' clubs, and the Internet is all growed up.
rinue: (plunge)
Ciro said yesterday that American politics is no longer about right v. left; it's a battle between people who want to make policies that reflect the world which exists and people who want to craft laws for the world as they think it ought to be. There ought to be no childhood disease, so make laws as if there isn't. Having money shouldn't mean you have outsize political influence, so make judicial decisions as if it doesn't.

Everyone should have the skills and opportunity to get good-paying jobs, so no more unemployment coverage. Parents should be in an uninterrupted state of joy and engagement with their chlidren and have ample resources and no opportunity costs, companies shouldn't pollute, I should never be attracted to anyone inappropriate, roads should be perfect and without cost, everyone should agree my taste in design is the best, nobody online should misuse apostrophes, doctors shouldn't make mistakes, and everyone should have a close relationship with God; therefore. . .
rinue: (Yes Thanks)
Gardening-smug, because I have successfully not killed the container raspberry bush I overwintered in the garage and have successfully not killed the orchid in my office, which might actually bloom again someday soon - it's sending out orchid-alien probes.

Long Odds

Apr. 2nd, 2014 06:43 pm
rinue: (Yes Thanks)
Via the Boston Globe, reporting on a Harvard Medical Center survey to establish the effectiveness of mammograms by age group screened:

They calculated that 10 in 10,000 women in their 50s who are screened every year for a decade will avoid a breast cancer death; 6130 women, on the other hand, will have a false positive result that requires extra X-rays and 940 will have biopsies for non-malignant findings.


So if you're in your 50s and have a mammogram with a positive finding for breast cancer, the odds that you have breast cancer are more than 6000 to 1. (No, not 600 to one. You didn't have one mammogram; you had 10, a mammogram per year.) Odds that you are a woman in your 50s who develops breast cancer: somewhere around 1 in 60.

Seems like we might be better off randomly biopsying the population. We could use social security numbers like for the draft.

Or use a magic 8 ball. (Outlook good.)

Early detection is maybe not a thing we can actually do.

Then again, I just sent in my CV to be considered for a Studio Canal paid internship. (I have so much love for Studio Canal.) Any time you apply for something and say in the cover letter "I don't speak French, but I still think I would do really well at this job in France," you gotta think: here is somebody who doesn't care about the odds.
rinue: (Default)
Made a very quick trip to NYC to give a reading of "Three Young Men," recently published in King David and the Spiders From Mars. Subsequently, Yao (coder, cool guy, friend of C.Blacker) commented that he was thrown out of the story by the word "ego," which one of the characters uses in dialog toward the end of the story.

"Isn't that too modern a concept for Ancient Babylon?" said Yao approximately.

Yes it is.

I'm never sure how to respond to questions about my authorial intent, because as a reader I think it's irrelevant whether I meant to put something in the text: it's in the text. Author is dead.

However, I also know that not everyone takes the same approach. Otherwise they wouldn't ask me about my authorial intent. In that context, it seems arrogant to say "refer to the text and assume I did everything on purpose."

So here is a Cliff's Notes style explanation of what's going on with my story, if you're interested in that. If I have done my job right this would reveal itself to you upon rereading, making this explanation redundant, but who knows.

your choice whether to read this )
rinue: (Default)
I tend to view my body as hardworking and supportive of my goals, if sometimes out of its depth. For a couple of weeks at the beginning of the month, I was carrying around about three pounds of fluid weight (aka water weight), pretty clearly as a result of stress. (In this case, not overwork so much as disrupted sleep.) Sure enough, once I got some sleep and a day where I could sit and watch TV for a few hours, gone.

And it occurred to me today that what my body is actually doing is saying, "hey, you're stressed. You're pretty smart. You must figure we're about to walk into an ambush. I will helpfully give us some extra blood volume so that we can bleed some and still be able to fight or run away."

Thanks, body. You're the best.

Meanwhile, I have realized that my ideal career is "public intellectual," with the exception that I would like to be left alone. So really what I want to be is a private intellectual. If there are any think tanks looking to lucratively employ someone to write a lot of white papers on random self-selected subjects, you know where to find me (privately).
rinue: (Default)
Paul Krugman famously became an economist because he was a fan of Isaac Asimov's Foundation series and figured it was the closest he could get to being a Psychohistorian. That pretty much sums up my own attraction to the field, although I'd put it a slightly different way: economics is the study of counterfactuals. If this changes, what other things change? We have a whole subfield, econometrics, that helps us mathematically compare one possible future to another. If we make seatbelts mandatory, a percentage of the population will drive faster because they will no longer perceive it as dangerous; will this net more or fewer vehicular deaths? (Fewer, but not as many fewer as the people thought who didn't consider the speeders.)

It's more complicated when you can't do a direct comparison. If we tear down the sorts of playground equipment that kids fell off of, no more broken arms. But now we have kids staying inside and playing video games, developing sedentary diseases like higher rates of diabetes. Which one is more dangerous, the broken arm or the diabetes? How many broken arms do you trade for the diabetes? Do we care that we are now winning fewer olympic medals? Do we care that we are now getting very sophisticated opinions about user interface design?

It's bewildering when people don't run these thought exercises. If GMOs strike you as bad, what does not GMOs look like? If plastics are killing us, how many of us die with not plastics? Does banning e-cigarettes stop people from smoking because nonsmokers aren't tempted by cool-looking e-cigarettes, or does it drive smokers right back to more dangerous tobacco products because if you're going to get hassled you might as well? Maybe you don't have the data to know, but you can get it, or try to. You can't just end with "this has negative effects!" I need to know whether they're more or less negative than not-this.

We're all going to die. We really are. Safe doesn't exist, just safer. In the meantime, watching the news or stepping on social media is excruciating. It seems the only options are one-sided panic or false equivalence. I'd never say science is incorruptible; it can be distorted and it can be used for bad ends. But I sure don't think politicians or journalists are helping.
rinue: (eyecon)
There are a lot of jerks in the science fiction community. I don't think I'm throwing open any windows to say that. I don't know whether it's a field that attracts jerks (the self-labeling "elite"); I'm inclined to believe it's more a matter of exposure. When you predict the future, you show the inside of your heart.

Nevertheless, it makes me angrier when science fiction writers are stupid than when the general population is stupid. I hold us to a higher standard, because come on.

I'm patting myself on the back real hard today because I told an extremely self-satisfied luddite he's saying idiot things, but did not say "you're so self-righteous you might as well be an antivaxxer."

Patting real hard.
rinue: (Default)
[In that imaginary world where I have free time, I could pitch these as articles and then write them up at much greater length for money. For the time being, I am simply copying comments I left in other people's blogs.]

A comment on Val's Blog

Medicine is in a weird place right now. There is a ton of information to keep up with, whereas before it was like "here, you can use this for a cough, and if that doesn't work just wait and if that doesn't work I guess you're going to die."

At the same time, practictioners don't particularly know their patients anymore. Everybody moves; everybody changes insurance; everybody is going to a bunch of different specialists and the doctor has certainly never been to your house.

The only way to cope with this is large databases, most of which are online. And either you're putting your own information in, or doctors are doing the exact same thing at the office.

As much as I am a Person of Science, I kind of feel like doctors have turned into librarians. You find the thing and come to them and they say "yep, you can check that out, here's the treatment" or they say "hmmm, that reference is out of date and also you've been checking out a lot of books and not returning them, so no."

Which is very useful! But not the way doctors are used to thinking of themselves at all, and certainly not the way they are trained (which cost them a lot of time and money). So there's friction and dissatisfaction all around.

A comment on Spacefem's blog

The whole "turning on each other" thing happens a lot in marginalized groups - that thing where suddenly we have a new superhero we all love and will not hear criticism about, and then a few weeks later we all hate that person and anybody who likes that person. It happens a lot in feminism, but I've also seen it happen a lot in queer spaces, and among mid-list fiction writers.

I suspect it's related to the Bases of Power theory. People who don't have much access to coersive power, reward power, and legitimate power (the stuff that comes from being on top of an org structure) or expert power and informational power (because they're getting most of their information from the same sources as the people they're talking to and/or believe it's been corrupted by the self-interested) have to lean really hard on referent power: I approve or disapprove this, loudly. I get to say what's good, and you can't take that away from me.

[As feminists of color have repeatedly brought up, including Flavia Dzovidan, blackfeminpower, and Gradient Lair, this power can be appropriated - white people trading on the referent power of black people, straight people trying to assume the moral authority of gay people, etc. My personal feeling is that building a movement solely on referent power is standing on shifting sands.]
rinue: (inception train)
I'm a showman of the old school, by which I mean my goal is to strike a balance between meeting audience expectations (give the people what they want so they'll keep coming back) and defying them (because if I'm only showing you what you already know you like, what do you need me for?) It's the reason I am, at bottom, a filmmaker, even though I am prolific at other forms of expression; film, particularly as constructed in the US, sits halfway between commercial art and fine art. But this approach holds true pretty much regardless of the medium. Depending on your affinity for this philosophy, you could call it a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, bait and switch, boundary pushing, setup and punchline, subversive manipulation, or an editorial eye.

(Key problem: I am horrible at guessing what other people expect. I don't think it's exaggerating to say it is the pinacle of my incompetences. However, I am good at being pleasant, which often suffices. In any case, this proclivity of mine is probably more apparent in the things I like than the things I make.)

It is not something I do by instinct, although instincts are involved. It is something I do deliberately.

I don't think it's particularly in step with this cultural moment, which seems to be about purity. But! I think purity is kind of horrible, more shortcut than ethic. I do not particularly want single-sourced cocoa beans; I want a nice rounded blend, with an amount of cocoa butter that gives a good mouth feel even though it means a lower percentage of cocoa solids.

A couple of weeks ago, Strange Horizons published an article partly by me called "Defining Speculative Poetry: A Conversation and Three Manifestos." If you've read it, you know it's a stretch to call what I wrote a manifesto. It provides something of a manifest; you get a not innacurate sense of my personality and can guess at least a little how this influences my editorial choices. However, it fairly obviously takes an external point of view to define a genre (this is how people seem to apply this title; these are characteristics of some of the markets; here I'll describe back to you what you're saying to me). Which is a fairly tricksy vantage point to claim when I am an insider with direct influence on the future of speculative poetry.

But there's that key giveaway line, buried way down there: "I look to speculative poetry to push the mainstream forward."

Which, given my actual rather than assumed vantage point means: I am actively publishing liminal work which I hope will redefine both this subgenre and poetry at large, but am trying to do it in a friendly enough way you'll keep reading, because I can't manipulate an audience that I've driven away. And I understand you, I think, because look there I just described what it seems to me you like, in the most flattering possible terms.

I do this not just for me, but for you, because it's what I want you do to for me in return. I would prefer your mix tape throw in some bizarro obscure spoken-word piece at track four. One you think I'd enjoy the fifth time through, if maybe not the second time.

However (so many howevers): This puts me in a sometimes difficult position as regards outsider art. Because: I can only publish so many poems. Sometimes: I think it is a good thing to publish something there is no way you'd see if I didn't publish it. On the other hand: I know the poet is not skilled enough for me to want to read more than one thing by them in a lifetime; what attracts me is the serendipity.

And there are other poets who I do want to see more work from who I would be passing on because I know I will see more work from them. And it's awfully unpleasant to see something published in a magazine that's rejected you and think "I am so much better than that." It makes me stop reading the magazine a lot of the time, because here I felt welcomed and like we were on the same page, and clearly we're not.

On the other other hand: I am absolutely terrible at predicting how other people interpret my artwork.

On the other other other hand: Although I talk about curating as the artform of the 21st century and mean it, found art is inherently hostile. Friendly hostile. But hostile. Both to the people viewing it and to the people/context appropriated from.

And yet: Lines of power are what they are and if they can't be permeated, that's its own unfairness. And yes, it's awful to be the first woman to attend the Citadel and it's awful to be the first family to integrate a neighborhood, and maybe you're subjected to a lot of violence. A lot of violence. An outsize amount of violence, some of which is visible and some of which is invisible. But does that mean the person who let you in hurt you? (I think yes? And yet they would also have hurt you by not letting you in?)

I am maybe more aware of the ethical conundrums of being a gatekeeper than is practical when the name I'm playing with is not my own. I'm not the founder of Strange Horizons. I'm not the sole or even senior editor. And yet I was hired for being myself, which I have been the whole time.

Anyway, I'm not agonizing over this. It's just that when I'm going through submissions, and I run across something I like, a certain amount of the time, the thought follows: the other editors would not choose this one. And I'm never quite sure whether that means I should give it less attention or give it more attention. Particularly since I always like more poems than I have room to publish. I wish I could show you some of the stuff I reject. I really love it.

Meanwhile, I still have a cold. Multiple colds on top of each other. Drinking a lot of water. Drinking a portion of limoncello. King David and the Spiders From Mars is out. I have a story in it which among other things tells you the process that happens to you biologically if you're burned alive.

And I almost never talk about things that haven't happened yet, less out of superstition than because I don't like getting advice from people (unless I specifically ask, in which case you know because I've asked) and because I find it excruciating if I don't do something I've told people I'll do. That's not leverage I like to hang over myself if I can avoid it. But even if this doesn't go anywhere, it's nice: I've agreed to give a British director named Paul Gay (who directed the first couple episodes of Skins) a short-term free option on "A Robot Walks Into a Bar and Says. . ." to shop around and see whether he can get a feature greenlit.

No idea how likely that is, and no idea whether the critical success of Her is an advantage or disadvantage, but it's nice to be asked. Nice because it's fun to imagine, and nice because Jonathan Lethem was nice when I wanted to adapt one of his short stories, and that generosity meant something to me.
rinue: (Default)
Taking another time-wastey "what [blank] are you" quiz (I go through binges of doing this every couple of years, and now is the time!) was brought up short by a question: Pick a murder weapon. The choices are roughly those in the Clue Master Detective set - rope and pipe and revolver, poison, wrench, knife, etc. (Incidentally, I have played a lot of Clue in my time. It is probably some of where I got my aptitude for if-then statements.)

And I had to close the quiz, because I felt complete revulsion. I imagine intentionally killing even a fictional evil stranger, and it's vivid. I think about how it feels for a knife to go into something or how it looks when blood comes out; I think about how long it takes to strangle somebody with a rope, I think about how unpredictable poisons are and how they are not clean deaths, not at all.

It's very strange; I can separate truth from fiction, but it's hard for me to take violent death lightly anymore. I've stopped playing most video games; realistic violence agaist human-like figures makes me physically sick, as though I went through Clockwork Orange conditioning. But there's no obvious inciting incident it lines up with.

My instinct is that it has something to do with physics engines and aesthetic trends in media rather than something internal, but who knows. Mostly, it draws my attention to how much humans killing humans is something that requires imposed intellectual distance, once you get down to the physical reality of making someone die while you're watching. I think (for reasons that have to do with bravado, posturing, and wanting to look like a coral snake so people leave you alone) there's an impulse to say (and believe) that you could be the baddest stone cold and kill without mercy if somebody pushed you too hard (or there was enough gain in it, or it was just, or whatever else), but who are we really fooling.

I can sympathize with murderers by thinking about their motivations, and I wind up feeling sorry for them because something has clearly gone very wrong. But the actual wanting to kill somebody part . . . it's a bit like saying "yes, I can see why you'd want to chew your own leg off." And although as a society it makes sense we'd pretend otherwise (see above king/coral snake reference; see also "an armed society is a polite society") I'd like to see more acknowledgement that we are just pretending. Even in a situation where somebody's attacking me or a friend of mine, I'm trying to flee or incapacitate so I can flee. Not because I'm particularly noble, but because death is horrifying.

For me.

Mar. 9th, 2014 02:45 pm
rinue: (Default)
You got: The Fountain, by Marcel Duchamp

You’re either mind-blowingly lazy or the greatest genius the world has even known. Either way, the fact that nobody can figure you out gives you a considerable amount of power. Wield it well.
rinue: (Default)
I've always had trouble with questions like "are you an optimist or a pessimist." Part of that is my general trouble with binaries. I can say that I reject binaries, because that feels proactive, but I don't reject them; I'm not taking a stance. When I say binaries at large don't work for me, I mean they don't make sense or accurately describe my intellecutal landscape. This is not resolved by making them scales. On a scale of one to 10, how optimistic are you? 6, I always answer six. It doesn't matter what the question is, 6.

6 is my internal mental code for "not quantifiable but I'm being polite." I use other numbers when I need to get something. Say 2 so they'll leave you alone, say give me medicine right now if I need medicine your numbers are pseudomathematical bullshit. Let's be honest about our shortcuts. You are trusting me or not and numbers are not evidence of dispassion.

I don't like answering "realist" to "optimist or pessimist" because I don't see either of these viewpoints are more or less realistic. There are ups and downs. I don't like answering "centrist" to "liberal or convservative." In the US, centrist means either conservative trying to not look like an asshole or liberal trying to make a point about Europe. "are you a revolutionary or do you like the status quo" not particularly. "Practical" introduces value judgements, "utilitarian." Might as well say "I'm correct. That's what I am. I'm someone who has the best ideas about things."

It occurred to me overnight that my status is "salvager." In the way that means I will carefully restore this battered antique and the way that means I am looking at an aftermath and trying to figure out whether there is a section worth sifting through or whether it's trash I can't sell. In a way that means sometimes cut and run but to another junk heap.

At all times, I feel like this is a disaster. Often a pretty one, out in the open air. With dangerous buried bits. With valuable buried bits. With struturally important remains. I will help out and pick through and smash and be hungry. And it's mine. It's no one's and mine.

Is that optimistic or pessimistic? Revolutionary? Conservative?
rinue: (Default)
A friend from college shared another of those "disgusting things you don't realize you eat" lists that tells you how various food additives come from coal tar, sand, hair, etc and how some of those chemicals are also used in flame retardants, antifreeze, and so forth. And while everybody is doing the "oh my god gross I only eat organic" dance in the comments, my reaction is. . .

AWESOME.

I already knew about those chemicals, but it's a pleasure every time someone points them out. Any time I start to doubt humanity, I see a list like this, and I think, I am an omnivore and I eat the world. The whole world.

Anybody who tries to tell me other animals are as impressive as human beings doesn't understand how dominant we are. The world for our dominion indeed.

Tomorrow, Mars.
rinue: (inception train)
There was a flap over the weekend about Jonathan Ross being asked to host the Hugo awards and then being asked not to host the Hugo awards after twitter blew up; it's not really possible to get a telling of it that doesn't slant one way or the other, but I like this roundup from Bleeding Cool because it's predominantly direct quotes from primary sources. (Hat tip to [personal profile] treehavn for the link.)

The summary: Jonathan Ross is a British comedian/host. For an American analogue, imagine Jimmy Kimmel crossed with Jon Stewart. When it comes to awards shows, he's an entertaining host, which means he teases people. That's one of the jobs of an awards show host, whether it's Billy Crystal or Whoopi Goldberg or anyone else. You keep the proceedings from getting so self-serious that they collapse under their own weight.

Jonathan Ross is about at the Tina Fey or Ellen DeGeneres level when it comes to teasing. He's not Chris Rock or Ricky Gervais or Stephen Colbert (all people I like as hosts). He also has bona fides with the SF community - he's written SF; he's been married for almost two decades to Hugo-winning screenwriter Jane Goldman; he's a fan who was going to host for free and who would have brought more viewership to the awards.

He was a great choice to host the Hugos.

Just not this year.

This year, the SFWA is deep into a major schism between people who think as a professional group it should be more welcoming to racial minorities and to women, and people who have literally said girls can't write, don't have senses of humor, need to keep out of the clubhouse, etc. It's been nasty. Any male host at all was going to get caught in the crossfire, and LonCon3, the organizers who asked Ross to host, did him a disservice by setting him up for that fall without (1) warning him and (2) giving him a lot of backup.

Personally, I think the organizers should have been careful to pick a woman, for the symbolism of it, although she would also have had fallout (from the women are not funny, blame the pc police contingent) and would also have needed to be backed up in the face of a predictable flame war.

This was the SFWA's mess, not Ross's, and not really the people who were anti-Ross. Not that there's much SFWA could do to make this year's awards cordial: with the controversy and side-taking, all of which the participants on both sides take very personally, it was inevitable that this year's awards were going to feel like the Gym Mambo from West Side Story. It's too raw right now. Nobody wants to be teased, or have outside attention.

However, I don't think the loudest pro-diversity voices have shown themselves in a good light. I think we've come off like assholes. I think we've done that by being assholes. And yeah, our feelings were hurt and our feelings have been hurt for a really long time, and it's not fair etc. etc. I empathize with us, I really do.

Yet we must acknowledge that we came off like whiny babies, and like everything the other side is afraid of - that we're humorless; that we crucify "nice men" who we take as random symbolic targets; that we're so emotionally damaged there's no point being nice to us; that you wouldn't want us around anyway.

Shit, I don't want to hang out with you people, and I am you people.

In particular, I would like to strike the phrase "safe space" from our vocabulary - the vocabulary in our mouths and the vocabulary in our heads. "Safe space" as in the sentence "this con was supposed to be a safe space for me."

Y'all.

Y'all, let's be real about patriarchy.

Patriarchy is everywhere, including inside your head. The thing about patriarchy is that there isn't an outside of it. You can make a space within a patriarchal system that is safe-er. You can strive to make a space welcoming to minorities, to the disadvantaged, to those of us who have comparatively less patriarchal privilege. You can strive to elevate the voices which have been unheard. And you should. But you can't make a safe space. My feelings regularly get hurt when I'm alone in my own house, when a sad thing occurs to me, like that I'm alone in my own house.

As we know from recent priestly child abuse scandals, the walls of a sanctuary don't actually keep the devil out.

We could also maybe acknowledge when criticizing the "white dude parade" that many of us making these criticisms are also conspicuously white?
rinue: (Yes Thanks)
Recent work by Benjamin et al (2013, 2014) confirms that people do not exactly maximise their wellbeing when making life decisions, but they often come very close. If so, those whose wellbeing will be improved by having children will have children, and those whose wellbeing would be worsened by having children will not. But the two groups have different tastes – most obviously in their preference for children – so we have no a priori basis for expecting one group to be better off than the other once they have made their choices. Would be parents who cannot have children are certainly likely to be dissatisfied relative to those who do, and people who do not want a child would no doubt be dissatisfied if they accidently acquired one. But non-parents are not failed parents, nor are parents failed non-parents.

And that is about all that we can say.


The concluding remarks of a monograph by economists Angus Deaton and Arthur Stone, peforming an analysis of claims that parents or non-parents are happier or less happy than they would be otherwise.
rinue: (eyecon)
Feeling very ranty today. (Not demonstrably different from any other day.) Absolutely everthing is rubbing me wrong, whether it's hearing a young girl talk about how she and her mom watch Supreme Court oral arguments together (no you don't; you listen to them while the screen displays headshots. Cameras are not allowed in the courtroom) or seeing the Globe yet again reprint the advice that children even under one should have twice-a-year dental appointments, the source for which is the Association of Pedatric Dentists, who I'm sure are totally disinterested and don't have a financial stake in this altruistic recommendation.

But mostly I'm feeling annoyed with people who don't understand copyright who ought to. I submitted something to a writing contest the other day, just for the heck of it (the contest doesn't pay; I thought the prompt was fun), and in the small print of the website it says that by submitting my story I automatically give them exclusive rights to the story for a year in all media regardless of whether they accept it.

Needless to say: no, they don't. Even though I've read those words, I didn't sign anything or click anything that said I accepted, and more importantly, they didn't give me any real and valuable consideration. If I haven't been paid at least a dollar, we don't have a contract.

If you think about it, this is obvious: you can't buy my publishing rights without buying my publishing rights. I can give you permission to publish something, but I can also withdraw that permission, and you can't do anything, because you don't have the rights. You have my permission. And it's conditional.

Companies put this kind of stuff in their terms of service all the time. "Facebook has can use your posts in promoting facebook," etc, etc. "Facebook can tell other people you use facebook." It's there to protect them from nuisance lawsuits - "I saw a status that looked like mine in one of your ads, so you owe me a million dollars!" The average person who sued facebook would lose that suit, because you can't seek damages where there weren't damages. If the uncredited status post didn't get me fired, no harm done. I wasn't going to be able to sell "soooooo tired lol" to anybody for any sum. facebook didn't steal from me; there was nothing to steal.

Unless, of course, there was. If I'm Joe Nobody and facebook says "Joe Nobody uses facebook," no big deal. If I'm Kate Winslet and facebook says "Kate Winslet uses facebook," wait a second. The name Kate Winslet is actually worth money. A Kate Winslet endorsement is something people pay for. There's money in the mix, hence damages. Can facebook advertise using Kate Winslet just because it says so in the terms of service? No.

Most of this stuff is like the liability waivers they made me sign as a kid to go on fieldtrips. My kid signature doesn't mean anything. The school or venue is completely liable for damages if I get hurt. You can tell because if you were on a jury, and a building collapsed on a kid, and the company's defense was "well, the kid was told by a teacher to sign this piece of paper," you would not be persuaded that the company was blameless.

So I understand both sides of these sham contracts. But I hate them. The reality of any contract is that it documents an agreement between a few people at a certain point in time. It's not able to supercede the law, even with money behind it; you can take it to a civil court, where a jury will determine what's fair. That's the determination that has legal force. A judge is going to look at your prenup, but they're going to look at a lot of other things, including a law that says 50/50, before they decide how to divorce your assets. Signing or not signing the prenup has meaning, but it's not binding. That's just a word thrown around on television dramas. I can't, for instance, sell myself into slavery, no matter how "ironclad" the contract, because slavery is illegal.

Going back to the facebook example, facebook could have used Joe Nobody's innoccuous public update without him signing those terms of service. It just wants to raise the odds he won't sue them frivolously, which would take money to defend. So it pretends it made a contract it didn't make, since he doesn't really understand his rights to begin with. When facebook says the terms of service protect facebook, they mostly protect facebook from Joe Nobody. Who didn't have any power at the outset, but who needs to pipe down, facebook thinks.

I hate fake contracts because they confuse people about the role of law; they make the law seem like a power game instead of a mutually-agreed, societally-mediated determination : I will pay you this, and in return, you will do this thing of value to me.

I hate fake contracts because they're a type of bullying. Where a real contract is a document that clarifies what's expected of both parties in a way they both understand, a fake contract is a bunch of noise and bright flashing colors, trying to scare me away from the things I own. It's a sham. Nothing more than sham.

What a shame they don't teach these things in civics. Or in fact teach civics.
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