Thursday, July 24, 2014

Note

I apologize to people outside the fan community for the long post on the Wiscon brouhaha. It must sound both incomprehensible and strange. I will try to stick to photos of Iceland in the future.

Sheep


From the Guide to Iceland facebook site. Because I don't have enough images on this blog.

Writing

I am currently printing out and proofing fiction: a short story due to be published soon and two out-of-print novels, which are going to come out in ebook editions. After I finish this, I have to get back to the hwarhath short story collection and the sequel to Ring of Swords and half a dozen stories in various stages of completion. I figure I have enough writing work to keep me busy through the rest of the year and into 2015.

This is good. I didn't want to spend my retirement years doing volunteer work, after having worked for years for nonprofits. And I didn't want to do nothing and get bored. I don't have enough money for world cruises. Writing is a good solution.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wiscon

At this point, the whole world has probably heard about the Wiscon brouhaha. Do I want to go into it? Not much, but here goes.

There were two complaints of harassment after the 2013 Wiscon, both involving the same person. The con committee dropped the ball on both. Briefly put, information was not transmitted through the con committee, so committee members were not aware the person had been involved in two alleged instances.

The instances were groping one woman and throwing a book at another women. They were not rape, attempted rape, murder or felonious assault. (Well, the book throwing might be felonious assault. -- I just looked the term up. -- It depends on the size of the book.) But they were the kind of behavior modern cons do not want.

The accused person was allowed into the con this past year (2014), though he was not permitted to do programming. A lot of people got very upset about this. The con committee apologized and explained that they had not realized there were two complaints against the guy when they admitted him to the con. They then set up a special subcommittee to decide if more sanctions were required -- and to look at another complaint of harassment, this one against a woman who had read a poem at an open mic poetry reading several years back. The person bringing the complaint felt the poem was aimed at her and constituted harassment.

Okay, is it clear to you?

The subcommittee has now decided to ban the guy for one to four years, depending on his behavior. If he can show evidence of reformation, he will be able to come back earlier. This decision has made a lot of people very angry. The second case -- harassment by poem -- has not been decided yet.

I should add that the woman who was groped complained both to the con and to the guy's employer. (He worked in a business with strong connections to the science fiction community.) He ended by losing his job. In addition, he has had his name plastered all over the Internet as a sexual predator. Getting banned by the con strikes me as trivial in comparison, whether the ban's for one year or life.

(There is more to this story. I'm giving you the brief version. You can find the rest on the Internet, if you really want to.)

It seems clear the guy behaved badly. There were consequences for him. I find the idea of being middle aged and unemployed horrifying, at least in this economy. Maybe the con subcommittee should have banned him for life. If they had been looking out for the best interests of the con, they would have done so to placate the people who are angry.

It's also clear, I think, that the con committee has handled the situation ineptly -- both in terms of PR and in terms of having a process they could defend. I think they should have consulted a lawyer and maybe found an organization that advocates for women to give them some advice. As far as I know, they didn't.

However, I am willing to give Wiscon another chance. Why? Attitudes in the SF community re what is acceptable behavior are changing. SFdom used to be really tolerant of behavior we now call abusive: groping women, following them around, making indecent suggestions to them... Now the community has the job of changing the rules and making it clear to everyone that the rules HAVE changed.

Cons are coming up with new harassment policies and new procedures of handling complaints. I figure mistakes are going to happen. Readercon bungled a harassment complaint a few years back and got egg all over itself.

People are saying Wiscon should be burned down. People are saying they will never attend Wiscon again. I think I am going to lose friends over this.

What I find especially disturbing is the intensity of the anger. It doesn't seem appropriate to the situation. The people involved seem to exist in an echo chamber of rage, bouncing angry messages back and forth. I get the impression that they enjoy being furious.

People disliked what Wiscon did. They have made this clear to Wiscon. It's now up to Wiscon to respond. I am not unhappy with the one to four year ban. I would also not be unhappy with a lifetime ban.

In any case, I plan to continue going to Wiscon. It's the only feminist SF convention in the world and, with all its failings, it's my favorite con.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Stressful Conversations

I took a long nap yesterday afternoon, after more discussion about race on facebook. I really have to stop getting into these conversations. They are stressful and exhausting, and I have nothing to contribute.


Green Line

I took the new Green Line light rail train to Minneapolis for a Weight Watchers meeting today.

I have lost the weight I gained last week. Now I have to continue losing. Pleasant ride on the Green Line both ways. I noticed a store I had never noticed before. It has the perfect Minnesota name: "Nice Clothing."

There are a bunch of grain elevators near the U. They used to belong to Archer Daniels Midland. (I can make out the faded ADM.) Now, there are large, black, block letters saying, "UNITED CRUSHERS." I have no idea what the company does. But I am not sure I ever want to do business with them.

Most of the ride is along University Avenue, which is both urban and boring. But there are a few spots of greenery, either planted or wild. I especially like the wild areas -- uncut grass and wild flowers blooming white, yellow and purple.

A facebook colleague checked and discovered that "UNITED CRUSHERS" is graffiti -- very impressive graffiti. The letters are huge and way high up.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Safe Spaces

I managed to extract myself with something approaching grace from a discussion of racism on facebook. One of the other people said I was being 'directive' -- pushing the discussion in a direction I wanted. It reminded me that more than 40 years ago, a woman in my feminist consciousness raising group accused me of dominating the group intellectually.

I think I understand what was going on in both cases. I stayed in the consciousness raising group till it finally broke up. But in general I should stay away from situations like this. Many women and members of minorities feel they are silenced by men or white people or other majority groups. The consciousness raising group was a safe space, where women could finally talk -- except I and one other woman like me were in the group, and we were used to talking and argument. We were silencing the other women.

I need to remind myself that these conversations, even if they are in public, are really taking place in a safe space -- an environment for people who feel their opinions have been silenced and ignored and who need a place to express feelings and work out ideas, without bull-in-the-china-shop interruptions. This is important. This was the reason for consciousness raising groups. The problem, as I wrote above, is when safe spaces are not clearly marked. Right now, Wiscon is a blurry mixture of unmarked safe spaces and areas where contentious discussion is okay. I think the con needs to set up separate tracks. The same problem happens on the Internet. There are discussion threads that are meant to be a safe space, but are in public, and someone like me can blunder in.

Wiscon (or any con) could have discussion groups, possibly closed, with clear rules of behavior: they would be collaborative, respectful listening would be required, challenging other members would not be acceptable... And so on. The open panels would allow more dispute. Con members would know where they needed to go for safe discussions...

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Today

Today was a trip to the bank and library, then a stop at a coffee shop I like next to the Mississippi River. I took galleys along to proof at the coffee shop. It's nice to sit in a big, soft, comfortable chair and proof.

I need to get out more. Yesterday was awful, hot and very humid. Today is cooler and drier. I decided not to take books to the library. My bag was too heavy. But I remembered I had four silk scarves at the cleaners and picked them up, stopped at the bank and then stopped at the library for a book that will be discussed at the next meeting of the Rivendell book discussion group.

I went past the Science Museum to the river. The museum has a garden in back, on the river side -- very nice, with a fountain, an artificial stream and plantings of wild flowers. The milkweed and butterfly weed were blooming, along with more flowers I didn't recognize.

The river is high. Part of the path along it is blocked off and under water. It's moving fast and carrying fallen trees.

The Chinese are right. Art should consist of rivers and mountains, flowers, birds, fish and bugs.

I noticed no bugs, which is disturbing. There should be butterflies and bees on the flowers.

That aside, a lovely day. I settled into a comfy chair at the coffee shop. Their gas fireplace is still on, burning faux logs, but the AC is strong enough to defeat any heat produced. I read all the galleys I had brought along and found only one problem. The stories are pretty good. I felt happy with them.

Then I read some poetry by David Mura, which inspired me to write haiku. This was the best of my poems:
The air smells of summer.
Grass, butterfly weed,
Plants I don’t know --

All scent the air,
Milkweed blooming, vines blooming
Red and purple blooms.
It isn't really a haiku, since the two stanzas are one thought. But what the heck.




Iceland Photo


I don't post enough images on this blog. So here is one from Iceland, my favorite country. It's from the Guide to Iceland website.

The Rhetoric of Harm

Someone on facebook posted a link to You Are Triggering Me! The Neo-Liberal Rhetoric of Harm, Danger and Trauma. It's by Jack Haberstam, someone I don't know, but I liked a lot of the essay, and I linked to it, saying the following:
I know nothing about Jack Haberstam other than this essay. But I found the essay interesting. It addresses trends that I have found problematic. I think Haberstam is onto something: if movements are going to work, they have to be broadly based. The focus on harm to the individual is neoliberal, because the basis of neoliberalism is a focus on individuals. As Maggie Thatcher said, "There is no such thing as a society. There are only individuals and families."

What Haberstam is saying, I think, is that we talk too much about personal harm and trauma these days, rather than speaking about collective harm: global warming, for example, or world poverty or racism or war.

This is a hard topic to nail down since -- as the Second Wave of feminism said -- the personal is the political. A statement about the one can be a statement about the other. But it's also possible to use the personal to evade larger political questions. If we don't get past the individual to the collective, then we are stuck in Maggie Thatcher's world.

I have been bothered on the Internet and at Wiscon by rather too much concern with people as victims. We should never see people as victims. It turns them into objects, rather than subjects. I've been concerned by rather too much interest in feelings. We live in a difficult world, and we can't protect ourselves or one another from painful experiences. Reading the news is a painful experience. The whole damn world is triggering. We have to learn to cope, and we have to work for change. It is not a political statement to say, "You made me feel bad."

An essay in response to Halberstam can be found here: Jack Haberstam's Flying Circus: On Postmodernism and the Scapegoating of Trans Women. The author blames postmodernism for the atomization of the left.
Postmodernism enforced a ruthlessly pointillist perspective on politics. Even as we spoke of grand social structures like white supremacy, patriarchy, or capitalism, we became fixated on the individual as the prime site of resistance. The war would be fought on our bodies, with our clothes, our motility, our speech, every millimetre of social practice. All would inform the struggle. We became fixated on distinction rather than commonality, developing lightning fast reflexes to point out when someone said something that, for instance, could not be applied to all women. Distinction mattered over all else.
Postmodernism may be the villain in academia. I don't know that it is where I live in the outside world. I would guess that the villain is the collapse of the left. In spite of Occupy and the Moral Monday actions in North Carolina, both of which are impressive, I do not get the sense that the American left has much in the way of energy or direction.

Why did the left collapse? My first answer was the collapse of the Soviet Union and the transformation of China into a capitalist state. This was the end of a dream, and the left hasn't found a new dream to replace it. Something similar has happened in Europe: Neoliberalism is eroding the gains made by unions and Social Democrats after WWII. Another dream -- that of the sane and humane Nordic societies -- is gone or going.

I am not saying that people have stopped struggling and given up. There are interesting things happening all over the world. But the two big dreams, that of Communism (the Third International) and Social Democracy (the Second International) have mostly vanished.

I'm not sure this explains the US, since Americans don't pay a lot of attention to the rest of the world. Maybe the American left was simply worn down by 30 years of conservative counter revolution.

In times of setback, the left usually turns aggression inward, breaking into ever-smaller factions. Maybe the ultimate faction is one person, complaining about he or she has endured.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Farmers Market

So I went to the Farmers Market wearing a white Oxford shirt that Patrick bought and then realized the label was wrong. It was way too big for him. I figured it would work as a boyfriend shirt for me. I was buying some parsley when the vendor said, "You are a noose?" I asked him to repeat, but I still couldn't understand him. Finally the guy next to me said, "He's saying, are you a nurse?" I was embaressed and tapped my ear and said to the vendor, "I'm sorry. I'm going deaf. " This is sort of true.

Summer squash is at the Market, also lettuce and kale and collard greens and bokchoy. New red potatoes. Scallions. Early onions. Lots of herbs. I got yellow summer squash and parsley.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

The Fourth

We could see the St. Paul fireworks clearly from our livingroom, plus two more distant fireworks. Very nice. We did not like the two rockets set off in the street next to our building by some idiot, which wizzed up and exploded just above us. Another idiot was continuously yelling, maybe in response to the fireworks, though it sounded as if he were saying, 'I am here. For God's sake notice me.' I like fireworks, though I don't go out of my way to see them.

The blog Naked Capitalism has a discussion of what it means to be an American posted right now. The responses were all pretty negative. This reminds me of the time I was walking around a lake in Minneapolis, and a group of high school kids with a camera stuck a mike in my face and asked me if I was proud of America. I think that was the wording. I said I liked the landscape and many of the people. I would stick by my response. And while I can feel negative about big corporations and rich people and the current state of the federal government, I still like Joe Hill and Mother Jones, who strike me as very American, though Joe was a Swede. What is more American than the IWW? I like jazz and blues and Utah Phillips. I used to like -- and collect -- the Folkways recordings of elderly people in Appalachia singing old ballads. I like Minnesota. Even the government is not bad, since it's controlled by the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party at the moment.

I also don't like the streak of deranged religiousity that goes through much of the country or the racism, which is basic to American culture, I think. That doesn't mean racism can't be pushed back and maybe someday ended. But I was trying to stick to things I like. Paul Robeson. Sojourner Truth. I could celebrate the Fourth with fireworks and Robeson singing, "Didn't my Lord deliver Daniel, then why not every man?"

And I do like the landscape.