Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Liavek 6! Now available! Only $2.99!


"Cenedwine Brocade" by Caroline Stevermer
"A Hypothetical Lizard" by Alan Moore
"Training Ground" by Nancy Kress
"Riding the Hammer" by John M. Ford

"Liavek is a place worth visiting. Get there before another volume comes out." —VOYA

Available at:

Amazon.com: Liavek 6

Barnes & Noble: Liavek 6

Smashwords – Liavek 6

ETA: The first three stories were originally published in 1986 in Wizard's Row; the last, in Spells of Binding in 1987. For more information, see A Liavek publication FAQ.

Monday, August 29, 2016

a few quotes about philanthropy

"Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary." —Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Millionaires at one end of the scale involved paupers at the other end, and even so excellent a man as Mr. Carnegie is too dear at that price." — Hugh Price Hughes

“First they take billions from you, then they give back half. And that makes them the world’s greatest humanitarians.” —Slavoj Zizek

Related: America’s Wealthiest Family Uses Phony Philanthropy to Increase Personal Wealth | Jobs With Justice

The 19th-century critique of big philanthropy.

Three reasons why leftists don't support Hillary Clinton

There's nothing new in this. I keep having to explain these things to Clinton apologists, so I'm creating a post that I can share.

1. She supported the coup against the democratically-elected leader of Honduras, just as Kissinger supported the coup against the democratically-elected leader of Argentina.

2. She helped create the chaos in Libya that created enormous suffering and allowed Isis to thrive, just as Cheney and Wolfowitz helped create the chaos in Iraq that created enormous suffering and allowed al-Qaeda to thrive.

3. She supports mandatory private insurance rather than universal health care.

Recommended:

The Hillary Clinton Emails and the Honduras Coup

Hillary Clinton, ‘Smart Power’ and a Dictator’s Fall

How Clinton W.H. bungled health care

If you wish to comment, please don't bother talking about spoilers—if the Democrats cared about what happened in 2000, they would've begun working on ending the Electoral College then. And don't bother arguing that Trump is awful; I entirely agree he is—the only reason he has any support is because he's the only alternative to the disastrous policies of the neoliberals who control the Democratic Party.

ETA: If you're in a swing state and you want to vote for the lesser evil, I understand your fear and won't judge you for it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Kubo and the Two Strings — mini-review, no spoilers



I enjoyed this but didn't love it as much as some people have, for a number of small reasons that aren't worth going into. So much depends on endings, and this one has a smart ending, but I felt like they didn't quite nail it. So I recommend it to fans of animated movies and give it a B+. Stick around for the credits to see a little of the making-of.

While I quibble, I understand why the people who rave about it raved about it. It's an impressive accomplishment. If I hadn't seen the rave reviews, I might be writing one now—it's possible I was hoping for a little too much. There must be a term for being a bit disappointed by something you would've enjoyed more if your hopes hadn't been raised too high. If my quibbles make you go and think it's better than I've suggested, I'll both understand and be a little pleased.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

How I would rewrite The Legend of Tarzan

As a number of people have said, The Legend of Tarzan is an enjoyable movie that doesn't succeed in overcoming its white savior proposition, and perhaps because that's so noticeable, no one I've noticed has said that it also doesn't succeed in overcoming its sexist girl-as-hostage plot. I was inclined to skip the movie until I read The Legend of Tarzan (2016) | Steven Barnes, and after seeing it, I generally agree with his take.

So what would I do differently?

One minor spoiler follows.

But first, three problems that go into my revision:

Jane is generally stuck in the hostage role when she should've been consistently awesome. She's someone who grew up in Africa, and she's lived with Tarzan for some time. While she should not be his equal in the jungle, she should be his superior in some ways—like being a crack shot and a cooler head when making plans.

Making George Washington Williams able to keep up with Tarzan is wrong—Tarzan should not wait for anyone, and no one should be able to keep up with him in the jungle.

None of the African characters have enough time onscreen to become more than supporting cast.

So my first change is one I never expected to propose regarding an adventure film: Jane and Tarzan need a child who can take over the hostage role.

Which means:

Initially, Tarzan charges off alone to make the rescue. Jane, Williams, and the chief's son or daughter (who refuses to stay behind because of a need for revenge) set off in pursuit, perhaps with a few supporting characters.

Tarzan is slowed down when he fights Akut, his ape brother. Jane, Williams, and the Chief's Kid catch up. In classic film fashion, this becomes the Assemble the Squad moment: two white characters, two black characters, and an ape unite to defeat Rom.

The tactical leader is Williams; he's both the oldest and the one with military experience. The final assault is co-ordinated by him, and all five get to do Cool Stuff. The Chief's Kid kills whoever killed the chief, Jane and Williams free the hostage, and Tarzan defeats Rom.

Ah, well. I enjoyed the movie, and Emma may've enjoyed it even more than I did. The scenery's gorgeous. I would've liked less CG action, but I'm not complaining about that. Will-Bob gives it a solid B, and maybe a B+.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Liavek 5 is now available! Four stories and four songs for only $2.99!


"An Act of Mercy" by Megan Lindholm (Robin Hobb) and Steven Brust
''The World in the Rock" by Kara Dalkey
"Baker's Dozen" by Bradley Denton
"Green Is the Color" by John M. Ford

Bonus! Four songs:

"City of Luck" by Jane Yolen
"The Ballad of the Quick Levars" by Jane Yolen
"Eel Island Shoals" by John M. Ford
"Pot-boil Blues" by John M. Ford

"Liavek is a place worth visiting. Get there before another volume comes out." —VOYA

Currently available at:

Amazon.com - Liavek 5: Wizard's Row

Barnes & Noble - Liavek 5: Wizard's Row

Smashwords - Liavek 5: Wizard's Row

Pet peeve: Being "nice" has nothing to do with being good—as Hitler proved

Many people offer niceness as a reason to support someone as though niceness is what matters. I could respond by pointing to all the killers whose friends and neighbors said, when they were exposed, that they seemed so nice, but I'll hammer the point with the 20th century's best example of evil, Adolph Hitler.

His bodyguard, Rochus Misch, said Hitler was "friendly" and "nice" and a "wonderful boss" who liked to tell jokes.

The nurse in the bunker where he died, Erna Flegel, said, "He was always polite and charming. There was really nothing to object to." She noted, "Hitler was fond of (Goebbels) children, and drank hot chocolate with them and allowed them to use his bathtub."

Reinhard Spitzy, who become a member of the German resistance, said Hitler was a "perfectly nice person" and described him as "charming, humoristic, and a very good mimic. He used to do imitations of actresses and King Victor Emmanuel by moving his upper lip like a rabbit's."

Hitler was mostly vegetarian and extremely concerned with animal welfare.

If you think Christianity is part of niceness, note this quote:
"We are a people of different religions, but we are one. Which faith conquers the other is not the question; rather, the question is whether Christianity stands or falls... We tolerate no one in our ranks who attacks the ideas of Christianity … in fact our movement is Christian. We are filled with a desire for Catholics and Protestants to discover one another in the deep distress of our own people." —Adolph Hitler, 1928
Hitler was nice and he was still one of the worst human beings humanity has produced. If you think that's contradictory, remember that humans are contradictory too.

Relevant: Adolf Hitler, man or monster? - Telegraph 

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Debunking the myth of an immigrant/Muslim rape crisis in Sweden—and one of its promoters, Ingrid Carlqvist

On Facebook, I came across an Islamophobe who promoted the rightwing claim that Sweden is suffering from a rape crisis. As proof, he shared a video by Ingrid Carlqvist of the Gatestone Institute. I watched it, googled a bit, and found as I suspected that it's nonsense.

Most amusingly, my research brought up an article by Ms. Carlqvist which partially debunks her own video by pointing out some of the problems with careless use of Swedish rape statistics. From DSK case shows Sweden must deal with false rape complaints:
In April 2009 we read a shocking report claiming Sweden was the #1 rape country in Europe. More than 5,000 complaints per year is twice as many as #2 England.

The feminists say it's because Swedish women dare to file complaints.

The statisticians say it's because the concept of rape is much broader in Sweden and that therefore one cannot compare statistics like that.

The Sweden Democrats say it's due to all the immigrants coming from countries that don't respect the women's rights to not wear a burka.

I says there's a bit of truth in each of those explanations, but there's another explanation that's the most important, that always portrays men as perpetrators and women as victims. Most rape complaints are false. I base my conclusions on the hundreds of preliminary investigations and verdicts I've reviewed in my 30 years as a journalist.
Ms. Carlqvist really needs to read her own work. She was right that the Swedish numbers can be very misleading.

For a hard look at the statistics, see How Anti-Immigration Activists Misuse Rape Statistics | Debunking Denialism.

For a simple look at the legal concept of rape in Sweden, see Sweden's rape rate under the spotlight - BBC News, which includes this:
Klara Selin, a sociologist at the National Council for Crime Prevention in Stockholm. She says you cannot compare countries' records, because police procedures and legal definitions vary widely.

"In Sweden there has been this ambition explicitly to record every case of sexual violence separately, to make it visible in the statistics," she says. 
"So, for instance, when a woman comes to the police and she says my husband or my fiance raped me almost every day during the last year, the police have to record each of these events, which might be more than 300 events. In many other countries it would just be one record - one victim, one type of crime, one record."

The thing is, the number of reported rapes has been going up in Sweden - it's almost trebled in just the last seven years. In 2003, about 2,200 offences were reported by the police, compared to nearly 6,000 in 2010.

So something's going on.

But Klara Selin says the statistics don't represent a major crime epidemic, rather a shift in attitudes. The public debate about this sort of crime in Sweden over the past two decades has had the effect of raising awareness, she says, and encouraging women to go to the police if they have been attacked.
Recommended: The Sugar Mama of Anti-Muslim Hate | The Nation: "Philanthropist Nina Rosenwald has used her millions to cement the alliance between the pro-Israel lobby and the Islamophobic fringe."

One of America's Most Dangerous Think Tanks Is Spreading Islamophobic Hate Across the Atlantic | Alternet: "The Gatestone Institute has pumped out reams of dangerous anti-Muslim propaganda, and its ties to UK groups deserve close scrutiny."

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Adolph Reed expresses more clearly my reservation about the US's Green Party

From Vote for the Lying Neoliberal Warmonger: It’s Important:
Jill Stein and Greens typically proceed from a quite different view of electoral politics, one that has much more in common with bearing witness or taking a personal stand on principle than with seeing it as an essentially instrumental activity. The Greens’ approach generally, and Stein has shown that she is no exception, is that all that is necessary to make a substantial electoral impact is to have a strong and coherent progressive program and to lay it out in public. That view is fundamentally anti-political; it seeks to provide voters an opportunity to be righteous rather than to try to build deep alliances or even short-term coalitions. It’s naïve in the sense that its notion of organizing support reduces in effect to saying “It’s simple: if we all would just…” without stopping to consider why the simple solutions haven’t already been adopted. This is a politics that appeals to the technicistic inclinations of the professional-managerial strata, a politics, that is, in which class and other contradictions and their entailments disappear into what seems to be the universally smart program, and it has little prospect for reaching more broadly into the society. And Stein and her followers have demonstrated that this sort of politics is tone-deaf to what a Trump victory would mean, the many ways it could seriously deepen the hole we are already in. I get the point that Clinton and Trump are both evil, but voting isn’t about determining who goes to Heaven or choosing between good people and bad people. Indeed, that personalistic, ultimately soap-operatic take on electoral politics is what set so many people up to be suckered by Obama. (And does anyone really believe that a President Trump, who routinely spews multiple, contradictory lies in a single compound sentence, would actually block the Trans Pacific Partnership or retract the imperialist war machine?)

Why I can't decide if I'll vote for the Greens or the SEP or another lefty party

Two things first:

1. Spare me the lesser-evil argument. Even if I believed in supporting lesser evils, I'm in a blue state, so, thanks to the Electoral College, giving my vote to either major party is the purest example of throwing it away. The only way my vote can matter is by helping a third party win major party status in Minnesota.

2. Capital-L Libertarians claim they're an alternative to left and right, but they lie to us or themselves. You only have to look at their founders to see what they are. While I, a left-libertarian, agree with right-libertarians on many issues of personal liberty, I disagree with them on many issues of social responsibility. I wish they hadn't spoiled the meaning of "libertarian" in the US. They should've just called themselves the Return to the Gilded Age Party.

My take:

I believe in voting because it's the only way to register a protest. If you don't vote, the plutocracy's talking heads say you're content with the two parties. The two-party system is a classic Catch-22—it's designed so leftists can't take over a major party (as Debbie Wasserman Schulz just reminded us) or create a third party that can win. But that doesn't mean we should submit. If an issue as big as slavery comes along, a third party can replace an existing party. Without an issue that big, a third party still pushes the two parties—the Democrats only swing left when they're threatened by socialists.

When I ran for Governor of Minnesota in 1994, I checked out the third parties. I liked many things the Greens said, but their platform bothered me. It was a collection of issues without a uniting theme. The Greens that I met seemed nice, but they tended to be academics and idealists, people with sweet goals but no understanding of the crass side of democracy. I ended up running with the Grassroots Party, a local legalize-marijuana party, because they were just as idealistic as the Greens, but they had a strong sense of pragmatism that isn't associated with people whose politics center on pot. They did what third parties need to do: they focused on one issue and let their candidates disagree on others.

I am very pleased that thanks to the Grassroots Party, I finished third in a field of six.

I moved away from Minnesota after that. The Grassroots Party split in two, and since I returned, I haven't looked at either. My vote might go to them, but I'm waiting to see who's on the ballot before I decide.

Though I think the Greens are a gaggle of interests without a uniting principle, I've voted for them in the past. (Anyone who wants to bash me about Nader should read The Ralph Nader Myth and notice that for all the whining Dems do about 2000, they don't try to end the Electoral College because it's a useful tool for maintaining the two-party system.) I like Nader and Stein. I think the Greens could become a practical party with an influx of people who're willing to make democratic socialism their central cause.

But I like the Socialist Equality Party too. I've read the World Socialist Web Site off and on for about as long as it's been online, I suspect. I agree with a great many of the things they say, but I get annoyed whenever they veer from bashing capitalism to bashing other socialists. I realize they want to grow and therefore see other minor parties as major competition, but the greatest problem the left has is a love of ideological purity.

The SEP has a picture on their website now which illustrates how extremely conformist they appear to be: their candidates are two bearded white men in glasses who wear blue blazers and blue shirts with open collars. They could be cast as father and son. They might even be cast as clones of different ages. They suggest that joining the SEP is no different than joining a cult.

Please note when I say this that I'm not inviting people to bash the SEP. I admire their commitment, and while their current candidates are amusingly similar in appearance, parties usually run people who are alike. Neoliberals keep saying Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama are historically unprecedented, but that's because they don't realize that the rest of us look at them and just see the latest rich candidates whose first concern is Wall Street.

I want a party that's somewhere between the Greens and the SEP, a party that has a unifying message and yet is able to build a broad base, a party that understands that allies are people who disagree on some issues but will work together on others. I haven't found that party. I respect what Kshama Sawant and the Socialist Alternative have managed to achieve in Seattle—maybe someone will come forward in Minnesota with a similar combination of idealism and pragmatism.

My suspicion is I'll vote for Stein because the Greens have the best shot at making major party status this year. But I haven't decided. Expect a follow-up post when I have the chance to see the ballot.

Possibly of interest: The True History of Libertarianism in America: A Phony Ideology to Promote a Corporate Agenda

ETA: Standard disclaimer regarding the Libertarian Party: I don't like right-libertarianism, but I like some Libertarians. Radley Balko's a bit of a hero.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Sorry, girls didn't invent superheroes—Jews did. On Superman, the Phantom, and the Scarlet Pimpernel.

This has been making the rounds for obvious reasons:


I shared it on Facebook because it's fun, but it's not true. When someone proposed Hercules as the first superhero, I replied,
The canonical superhero has three things:

1. A unique codename.

2. A distinctive costume.

3. Special abilities.

Hercules had one of the three. The Scarlet Pimpernel had two. The first superhero was probably the Phantom, who had all three, but they really came together with Superman, who is the reason we call them superheroes.
The Phantom appeared in 1936. He has a special name, but he doesn't quite have a secret identity—a secret identity traditionally is a superhero's daily self, which can take two forms. The Scarlet Pimpernel established one version: Sir Percy uses his real name, but a false persona—his real character is only revealed when he goes into action as The Pimpernel. The Green Hornet established the other version: Britt Reid runs a newspaper, but to fight crime, he becomes the Green Hornet. The Phantom is in the tradition of the Lone Ranger (created in 1933), a hero who gives up his previous identity to take on a new role.

And the Phantom had special abilities, but they are not unique. He pretends to be supernatural.

So I give The Pimpernel one point on the superhero scale for his unique codename. If you insist fencing and espionage count as special abilities, I'll give him half a point more, because those special abilities are no more special than the abilities of any human hero.

The Phantom gets two points, one for a codename and one for a costume. If you want to say pretending to be supernatural is a special ability, he gets another half a point.

But all the things that make a superhero came together in 1938 with Superman, the creation of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, two Jewish New Yorkers who gave the world something new.

ETA: Defining "superhero" and why Fantomah isn't quite one

Interracial romance in comic books

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Speech, the greatest divider

“We do not like outsiders or people who are different from us, whether difference lies in how they look, how they act, or, most important, how they talk.” —J. D. Vance, speaking of Appalachians, but noticing a condition that, to some degree or other, affects everyone.

"[H]istorically it is pretty well proved now that the ancient Greeks and Romans knew nothing about race. They had another standard—civilized and barbarian—and you could have white skin and be a barbarian and you could be black and civilized." —C.L.R. James