Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Why I'm an agnostic

Arguments between theists and atheists make me think they're both missing the point. People have belief systems. If yours doesn't make you hurt anyone, it's fine by me, and it's even better if yours helps you do good things. Some of my favorite people are theists, some are atheists, and some are agnostics. Two of my favorite bits of Christian wisdom are Jesus's "Ye shall know them by their fruits" and James's "Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works."

Agnosticism was coined by Thomas Huxley, so any discussion should keep in mind his definition:
Agnosticism, in fact, is not a creed, but a method, the essence of which lies in the rigorous application of a single principle … Positively the principle may be expressed: In matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard to any other consideration. And negatively: In matters of the intellect do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable.
That works for me.

That said, Steve Brust makes some fine points in Steve vs St. Thomas, which he just characterized on Twitter as "New blog post: Why I'm not an agnostic."

ETA: Because I just love to quote Malcolm X: "Since I learned the truth in Mecca, my dearest friends have come to include all kinds — some Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, agnostics, and even atheists! I have friends who are called capitalists, Socialists, and Communists! Some of my friends are moderates, conservatives, extremists — some are even Uncle Toms! My friends today are black, brown, red, yellow, and white!"

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Excluded by intersectionality: Cameron Redus

Addicting Info – Chilling Audio With Student’s Last Words To Cop Released: ‘So You Are Going To Shoot Me?’ (VIDEOS): "The details of the case remain murky, because of course Cpl. Chris Carter didn’t have his dash cam turned on. He claimed he stopped Redus for speeding and driving erratically, and that he had to shoot because Redus acted drunk and belligerent. Apparently, white privilege doesn’t go as far as it used to. Still, five shots seems rather excessive."

Two thoughts about free speech, plus afterthoughts

The only people who do not deserve free speech are the people who mock it—but they should have it anyway.

"I believe in free speech, but..." is the censor's equivalent of "I'm not racist, but..." The "but" reveals the truth.

ETA: A dictator is literally "the one who speaks". Only would-be dictators dream of silencing others.

ETA 2: "If all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed."
—Benjamin Franklin

ETA 3: Mark Twain is often wrongly credited with a quote I like: "Censorship is telling a man he can't have a steak just because a baby can't chew it." Whoever actually said it might've been inspired by this:

"How anybody expects a man to stay in business with every two-bit wowser in the country claiming a veto over what we can say and can't say and what we can show and what we can't show — it's enough to make you throw up. The whole principle is wrong; it's like demanding that grown men live on skim milk because the baby can't eat steak." —Robert A. Heinlein, The Man Who Sold the Moon

ETA 4: "Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost." —Thomas Jefferson

ETA 5: On "speaking to truth to power":

"All censorships exist to prevent anyone from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorship." —George Bernard Shaw

ETA 6: I've shared this before, but it's always good:

"To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker." —Frederick Douglass, "A Plea for Free Speech in Boston"

ETA 7: In the comments at I BELIEVE IN FREE SPEECH, BUT… | Pandaemonium, I said:
I am always struck by how “but” works. People who say “I’m not a racist, but…” go on to expose their racism. People who say, “I believe in free speech, but…” go on to expose their opposition to free speech. Free speech is not the right to say what you want to say—the worst tyrants support their right to say what they want to say. Free speech is the right for others to say what you do not want to hear.
Jody Wheeler responded:
There’s a saying I taught others when I was a therapist, taught to me by another therapist, who in turn had it taught to him: “Everything before the ‘but’ is bullshit.”
Amazing how many buts you encounter in the world.
ETA 8: An older post of mine: The curious contradictions of censorial socialists, and a few comments about Charlie Hebdo

Friday, March 27, 2015

Three ways to see Cats Laughing at Minicon 50

1)      Live at Minicon 50
     FridayApril 3 ~ 8p
     Doubletree Inn – Bloomington
     $40 at the door one-day registration for the convention also gets you into the concert
2)      ConcertWindow – live streaming concerts on your computor
3)      Buy the DVD of the once-in-a-lifetime event.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Excluded by intersectionality: David Kassick

Cop charged with homicide for shooting unarmed man who was tasered and lying facedown in the snow: "Pennsylvania police officer Lisa J. Mearkle was charged yesterday with criminal homicide in the shooting death of 59-year-old David Kassick. Mearkle shot Kassick twice as he lay facedown in the snow, after a traffic stop—for an expired inspection sticker."

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

An internet meme about the female gaze and male objectification

Saw this going around:

(click to enlarge)

The cartoonist main character fails to grasp that her idea of a sexy Batman is not every woman's idea. It's not dishonest, of course, because it's her idea of sexy. But if you want to know what most women think a sexy guy looks like, romance covers are a useful place to start.

By the by, I agree with her that Batman should be built for dexterity. For me, this is the canonical Batman:


ETA: I hate it when memes lose the names of the artists. The cartoon is by David Willis.

Friday, March 20, 2015

the less-quoted Martin Luther King: bits from July 4, 1965, "The American Dream"

"...we traveled all over Jamaica. And over and over again I was impressed by one thing. Here you have people from many national backgrounds: Chinese, Indians, so-called Negroes, and you can just go down the line, Europeans, European and people from many, many nations. Do you know they all live there and they have a motto in Jamaica, "Out of many people, one people." And they say, "Here in Jamaica we are not Chinese, we are not Japanese, we are not Indians, we are not Negroes, we are not Englishmen, we are not Canadians. But we are all one big family of Jamaicans." One day, here in America, I hope that we will see this and we will become one big family of Americans. Not white Americans, not black Americans, not Jewish or Gentile Americans, not Irish or Italian Americans, not Mexican Americans, not Puerto Rican Americans, but just Americans. One big family of Americans."

"This is why we must join the war against poverty and believe in the dignity of all work. What makes a job menial? I’m tired of this stuff about menial labor. What makes it menial is that we don’t pay folk anything. Give somebody a job and pay them some money so they can live and educate their children and buy a home and have the basic necessities of life. And no matter what the job is it takes on dignity."

"I’ve seen my dream shattered because I’ve been through Appalachia, and I’ve seen my white brothers along with Negroes living in poverty. And I’m concerned about white poverty as much as I’m concerned about Negro poverty. So yes, the dream has been shattered, and I have had my nightmarish experiences, but I tell you this morning once more that I haven’t lost the faith. I still have a dream that one day all of God’s children will have food and clothing and material well-being for their bodies, culture and education for their minds, and freedom for their spirits."

Thursday, March 19, 2015

When a black woman thinks Jay Smooth is co-opting a culture, or What almost everyone gets wrong about Nancy Giles' comment

The "anti-racist" internet thinks Nancy Giles, a black woman, thought Jay Smooth, who identifies as black, was white when this happened:



As usual, not nearly as much attention is given to Giles's tweet in an attempt to clarify things: "FYI I knew Jay was African-American. Was intrigued by the voice on the video vs the voice of the guy next to me"

At Awkward: CBS Host Assumed Jay Smooth Was Co-Opting Blackness Until He Said, ‘I’m Black’ - The Root, I left this comment:
I think she was trying to get at the fact that Jay Smooth comes from a privileged background, yet he uses the language of the street. He considers himself black, but nearly 40% of black people would say he's not. As Pew Reports noted in 2007, "African Americans see a widening gulf between the values of middle class and poor blacks, and nearly four-in-ten say that because of the diversity within their community, blacks can no longer be thought of as a single race.""
What Giles seems to be saying is that Jay Smooth is co-opting the language of working class black folks in order to seem more authentically black. It's an interesting notion. What privileged black folks call "code switching" is often just pretending to be one of the people rather than one of the elite. And there's nothing wrong with that, of course—to be human is to appropriate, and to use language is to use as many languages as we possibly can.

Recommended rant about Jay Smooth: L'HĂ´te: bullshit social climber faux-antiracism

ETA: A gratuitous question about people who identify as the race of one parent rather than "mixed": if you identify as being of your father's race, are you being sexist? The answer partly depends on whether you look more like your father, of course, but since race is only a social construct, that can't be the whole of the answer.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Two writers of color on the toxicity of call-out culture, with a reference to Racefail 09

From A Note on Call-Out Culture – Briarpatch Magazine:
What makes call-out culture so toxic is not necessarily its frequency so much as the nature and performance of the call-out itself. Especially in online venues like Twitter and Facebook, calling someone out isn’t just a private interaction between two individuals: it’s a public performance where people can demonstrate their wit or how pure their politics are. Indeed, sometimes it can feel like the performance itself is more significant than the content of the call-out. This is why “calling in” has been proposed as an alternative to calling out: calling in means speaking privately with an individual who has done some wrong, in order to address the behaviour without making a spectacle of the address itself.

In the context of call-out culture, it is easy to forget that the individual we are calling out is a human being....
From Strange Horizons Columns: Movements: Taking Stock: Encouragement and the Antidote to Toxicity, by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz:
Just recently, a young writer wrote me to apologize for making use of my culture without asking for permission.

I sat there looking at the email and my heart broke as I thought of the anxiety that must have preceded the writing of this letter.

I became aware of genre debates soon after RaceFail took place. The discussions at that time made me anxious about the way I approached the culture in which I grew up. Should I write about it? Was it right to write about it? If I wrote about it, would I be commodifying my culture? What if I got it wrong? What if people got angry? What would I do then?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Eksperimentas VERTIMAS: a beautiful short video about racism in Lithuania

I've never seen a flamewar, or any war, fought by people who were kind

A review that makes me want to see the new Cinderella movie: Domythic Bliss: Have Courage and Be Kind. It has a few comments on the importance of kindness, which made me think how wonderful the internet would be if we could all agree to be kind, especially when we disagreed, and that the heart of acceptance of other people's differences, the one requirement for making a world in which we all live together as one without trying to force each other to think alike, is kindness.

Excluded by intersectionality: Cecil Clayton

Why Missouri death-row inmate seeks last-minute clemency - CSMonitor.com: "Missouri's oldest death row inmate, scheduled to be executed Tuesday by injection for the 1996 shooting death of a sheriff's deputy, is asking the U.S. Supreme Court and the state's governor to spare his life. Attorneys for Cecil Clayton, 74, argue in last-minute appeals and a clemency request that Clayton has dementia and brain damage from a 1972 sawmill accident."

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Signing while dancing: Snubbe teckentolkar i melodifestivalen

I Challenge You to Stop Reading Economically Privileged Authors for One Year?

Like most voracious readers, I thought I read diversely when I was young because I didn't care about an author's race or gender. In the 1960s, Andre Norton was one of the first science fiction writers who I loved, and once I had found my favorite genre, I fell in love with writers like Ursula Le Guin and Zenna Henderson. When I was fourteen, my favorite writer in the universe was Samuel R. Delany. Around that time, outside my beloved genre, I was reading people like Ralph Ellison, Malcolm X, Oscar Wilde, and Mary Renault. But apparently, there are readers who mostly read white, straight, cis male writers. K. Tempest Bradford seems to be one; she's crying, I Challenge You to Stop Reading White, Straight, Cis Male Authors for One Year.

Neil Gaiman said, "For anyone hoping for outrage, I think that @tinytempest's article at http://www.xojane.com/entertainment/reading-challenge-stop-reading-white-straight-cis-male-authors-for-one-year … is great, & don't mind being the posterbook."

But one of the people responding to him, brianbeise, noted, "too bad for young white male authors still looking for their readers."

Brianbeise sees what Gaiman misses: Established white male writers can afford to be amused by calls for limiting one's reading based on race and gender; their books will still be available in another year. But most writers get a narrow window of attention, and then their work slips away if the promotional efforts on their behalf have not succeeded.

This is one of the rarely spoken truths of publishing: Most writers come from backgrounds of economic privilege. This includes Bradford, who was privileged enough to go to New York University, one of the most expensive schools in the US. It includes Gaiman. It includes Le Guin and Delany. And it includes me.*

When I was reading Le Guin and Delany, I never noticed their economic backgrounds. Class is such a taboo in the US that people just don't talk about it. You have to look for clues, like the schools they attended or their casual allusions to traveling to distant countries or attending far-off conventions for fun rather than because their bosses sent them there.

The subtitle of Bradford's piece is "I thought: What if I only read stories by a certain type of author?" The answer is, "You will miss great work outside your echo chamber."

Now, I don't challenge anyone to stop reading anything. But I suggest that when you think about reading more diversely, you think about more than skin and religion and sexual preference. If you want to try eliminating some writers for a year, eliminate people like Tempest and me who were luckier than most people who want to write. It's not always easy to tell who we are, but so far, the writers I've seen promote Bradford's notion have been writers like Benjanun Sriduangkaew who believe poor white men are privileged and rich women of color are oppressed—avoiding any of those writers for a year couldn't hurt.

* For more about my economic background: A short autobiography by Will Shetterly

ETA: A general point about class-based solutions versus race and gender based solutions: A class-based solution will disproportionately help women and people of color because our society is racially and genderly disproportionate, so if your concern is about women and people of color getting help, a class-based solution will help them while it also helps poor white people and poor men whose social identity did not keep them from the lower rungs of the economic ladder.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Dear internet, please stop confusing the political left with the moralist left

I've been meaning to post something about this for a while, and The University of Oklahoma's SAE Fraternity and the Limits of Free Speech is my tipping point. The people who want to restrict speech in the belief that it will help marginalized people--brown people, queer people, trans people, etc.--are not leftists, because those are not right or left issues. Log Cabin Republicans and Libertarian Party members and sane Republicans support those rights, as do most Democrats and every socialist and anarchist I know. Obama, whose politics are right of center, supports those issues. They are centrist issues.

These people who want to limit speech are the modern Reverend Bowdlers and Mrs. Grundys who want to impose their vision of niceness on everyone else. They're not on the political right, but if they're not promoting anything left of the Democratic Party, they're not political leftists either. They're just authoritarians, no different than the Maoists and McCarthyites of the last century.

Among the many things they do not understand is that a right to free speech is the only thing that guarantees marginalized people may speak.

Recommended: I BELIEVE IN FREE SPEECH, BUT… by Kenan Malik

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

About the female Thor, the black Captain America, and fanboy sexism and racism


The best explanation I've seen yet for why fanboys are cool with a black Captain America and upset with a female Thor: wolfofthewest_ comments on How to calm an Asgardian.

I haven't been following comics closely for 20 years, but I agree with wolfofthewest about the nature of the mythologies. Captain America is a role; anyone can take on the job. Thor is a person--it makes as much sense to create a female Thor as it does to create a male Venus.

If I'd been at Marvel and someone told me they wanted a female Thor, I'd propose doing it the same way characters in the past have become Thor: by having Odin cast Thor's soul into a woman's body. My suspicion is a transgender Thor would've made fanboys much happier, and would've made Marvel's decision-makers much more nervous.

The black Captain America is a fine test for fannish racism: only racists insist Captain America must be white. But if you want a sexism test, Captain Marvel is much more useful than Thor—have any fanboys insisted that Captain Marvel must be male?

ETA: Regarding discussion in comments, for clarity's sake, I changed "the same way characters in the past have acquired "the power of Thor"" to "the same way characters in the past have become Thor". I goofed up by failing to be precise, because as serious fans know, being Thor and having the power of Thor are very different things.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

dance for the sake of your brain

One Twin Exercises, the Other Doesn't - NYTimes.com:
...eventually the researchers homed in on 10 pairs of male identical twins, one of whom regularly exercised, while the other did not, usually because of work or family pressures, the researchers determined.

The dissimilarities in their exercise routines had mostly begun within the past three years, according to their questionnaires.


The scientists invited these twins into the lab and measured each young man’s endurance capacity, body composition and insulin sensitivity, to determine their fitness and metabolic health. The scientists also scanned each twin’s brain.

Then they compared the twins’ results.
It turned out that these genetically identical twins looked surprisingly different beneath the skin and skull. The sedentary twins had lower endurance capacities, higher body fat percentages, and signs of insulin resistance, signaling the onset of metabolic problems. (Interestingly, the twins tended to have very similar diets, whatever their workout routines, so food choices were unlikely to have contributed to health differences.)
The twins’ brains also were unalike. The active twins had significantly more grey matter than the sedentary twins, especially in areas of the brain involved in motor control and coordination.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Asking how to write characters of one sex "right" is asking the wrong question

I just noticed that one of the unkillable questions for fiction-writing essays is being asked and answered twice at Tor.com: Kate Elliott is doing Writing Women Characters as Human Beings and Ilana C. Myer is doing Oh No, She Didn’t: The Strong Female Character, Deconstructed. Now, I haven't read either, so this post isn't to disagree with any of their specific points.

It's to disagree with the approach to the challenge of writing women well.

Because identitarians insist people of different social identities can't write "the other" well, I'll note that the feministsf wiki said my “work features strong women characters and people of color”, so if you think I'm not entirely disqualified to speak on this subject, here's my advice:

Don't write men.

Don't write women.

Write people.

Write people who love some things and hate some things and want some things and don't want some things. Write people who agree with some aspects of their society and disagree with others. Write people whose assumptions about the world are constantly being challenged.

Make those people specific. Unless you're doing a fairytale in which the point is that you're writing an Everyperson, define the character as thoroughly as you can while remembering that no single characteristic is the whole of a character. Huckleberry Finn and Becky Thatcher's defining traits are not that one's male and one's female.

Advice about how to write men and women is always wrong because it begins with the assumption that writing one sex is different than writing the other. If you can't write people, you'll never be any better at writing men or women than you will be at writing tall and short people, or loquacious and taciturn people, or trusting and suspicious people, or obedient and rebellious people, or cruel and loving people.

Here's all an artist needs to know about writing believable characters: people are people. If you don't understand that, all the information you're given about writing an "other" of any race or sex will only be information about how to write a stereotype.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Excluded by intersectionality: Derek Cruice

Man shot in face by Volusia County deputy dies, Sheriff’s Office says | Local News - WESH Home“There was no advancement. There was no reaching for anything. The guy was wearing basketball shorts like I am. It’s kind of hard to conceal anything or hide anything when this is all you have on,” said Cruice's friend, who asked not to be identified.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Privileged people love Privilege Theory, Example #1: Brianna Wu

I haven't looked into the background behind Brianna Wu declaring her opponent is privileged, but I don't think this requires context:


Privilege Theory lets the privileged feel like they're Robin Hood instead of Prince John.

There's a great deal more about Wu's privileged past at a conservative site: The Wacky World of Wu: The Tortured History of Gamergate's Self-styled Feminist Martyr.

ETA: Warning about the link to the conservative site: the writer's a gay conservative who uses language that will upset some transfolk. I never mean for a link to imply endorsement of a writer's views, but that's especially true here. So far as I'm concerned, transfolk deserve no more shit for their identity than anyone else does.

Monday, March 2, 2015

A sloppy post (with great music!) about class and gender, with Astrud Gilberto, Frederick Engels, and Sharon Smith



Lyrics to Astrud Gilberto's "Maria Quiet":
They say that I was born
Of slave mogama and white man
My father slept in iron bed
My mother on cold sand
When my father called
My mother would come
Never said a word
As if she were dumb
A woman who will talk too much
Is soon to lose her man

They say God made man first
And made a woman second choice
And so that’s why woman should
Obey her master’s voice
When the man is hungry
She bakes the bread
When man is cold
She warms up the bed
Standing up or laying down
The woman has to work

They say poor man wakes early
And he works until it’s night
The rich man wakes up late
And tells the poor man what is right
So the poor prays to shango up above
So the rich will lose the money they love
But rich or poor the woman has
To work for both of them
I love this song, but the last line's a lie. Gender affects class, but it does not trump it. The poor man obeys the rich woman. I recently left this comment at "If you're a white man, you're playing life at the lowest difficulty level"
Here's the problem with Scalzi's analogy: Is it better to play the game as a rich black woman or a homeless white man? If your answer is (a), the lowest difficulty level is rich, not white or male. If your answer is (b), give away everything you have, live on the streets for a year, and get back to me.
Anyone serious about Marxist feminism, either for it or against it, should read Frederick Engels' The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, but before you do, I recommend the always-insightful Sharon Smith's essay, Engels and the Origin of Women's Oppression. She discusses some of the ways in which Engels' work was limited by the state of research in the late 1800s, and addresses a few of his later critics, and ends with this quote from Engels:
What we can now conjecture about the way in which sexual relations will be ordered after the impending overthrow of capitalist production is mainly of a negative character, limited for the most part to what will disappear. But what will there be new? That will be answered when a new generation has grown up: a generation of men who never in their lives have known what it is to buy a woman’s surrender with money or any other social instrument of power; a generation of women who have never known what it is to give themselves to a man from any other considerations than real love or to refuse to give themselves to their lover from fear of the economic consequences. When these people are in the world, they will care precious little what anybody today thinks they ought to do; they will make their own practice and their corresponding public opinion about the practice of each individual–and that will be the end of it.
This post was inspired a bit of twittering about whether the faddish concept of "intersectionality" is useful. As I tend to, I took a couple of positions, saying
It's a fancy word for what's obvious to most people: you can be oppressed for more than one reason. It leads nowhere.
And to Jasper's "I find that intersectionality is always strategically deployed and almost always erases class," I said:
Intersectionalists treat class like trinitarians treat the Holy Ghost: they mention it out of duty sometimes.
In a more conciliatory mood, I said,
Where "intersectionality" may be useful is not race and gender, but gender and class.
But after rereading Smith's piece, I don't think I can make an argument for that.