Monday, March 30, 2009

Charlie Chaplin in Drag...

The 2009 catalog of Women Make Movies arrived in my (snail) mailbox this afternoon, & it's full of stuff I'd love to see. Three of them particularly caught my eye:

Courting Justice, by Ruth Cowan and Jane Thand Lipman: From tyranny to democracy. Fourteen years after the defeat of apartheid, South Africa’s fledgling democracy is acclaimed for its constitutional promise of comprehensive human rights and unprecedented judicial reform. But what is essential for transformation to succeed? Courting Justice profiles indomitable female judges charged with the task of guarding those rights and enacting transitional justice.

The Feminist Initiative by Liv Weisberg reveals the passion, pitfalls and promise of a diverse group of women working to establish the world’s first feminist political party in Sweden in the spring of 2005. Charting every step (and misstep) along the way, Weisberg follows an ex-party leader, a couple of '70s feminists, a group of homo-bi-transsexuals, and several enthusiastic younger women from their energetic start to the climatic moments of their inspiring, celebrity-supported rally.

Suffragettes in the Silent Cinema by Kay Sloan: In the days before movies could talk, silent films spoke clearly of sexual politics. This rare and wonderful assemblage of silent era footage opens a historic window on how filmmakers on both sides of the women’s suffrage issue used the exciting new medium to create powerful propaganda and images about women. Taking advantage of the powerful new medium, early filmmakers on both sides of the contentious issue of suffrage used film to create powerful propaganda and images about women. Suffragettes in the Silent Cinema contains clips from many films from the era, including: A Lively Affair (1912); A Busy Day (1914), which stars a young Charlie Chaplin in drag portraying a suffragist; and the pro-suffragist film, What 80 Million Women Want (1913), which includes an eloquent speech from president of the Women’s Political Union, Harriet Stanton Blatch. Silent films may have passed into history, and their representations of feminists abandoning babies or stealing bicycles to attend suffragette meetings may now seem outrageous, but the struggle for gender equality and the issues surrounding representations of women in the media remain as fascinating, engaging, and relevant as ever.

Though too pricey for individuals to purchase or rent, they'd be great at WisCon, wouldn't they? Or some other gathering, were we ever to follow through on our ideas for "feminist think tanks"...

Sunday, March 29, 2009

"Moving on" = Stuck

It looks as though the Spanish courts will soon be putting the Obama administration on the spot: to either hand over six officials of the Bush administration who played critical roles in constructing the legal framework of the US government's use of torture-- or to begin a criminal inquiry of its own. The Guardian reports that

The officials named in the case include the most senior legal minds in the Bush administration. They are: Alberto Gonzales, a former White House counsel and attorney general; David Addington, former vice-president Dick Cheney's chief of staff; Douglas Feith, who was under-secretary of defence; William Haynes, formerly the Pentagon's general counsel; and John Yoo and Jay Bybee, who were both senior justice department legal advisers.

Court documents say that, without their legal advice in a series of internal administration memos, "it would have been impossible to structure a legal framework that supported what happened [in Guantánamo]".

Boyé predicted that Garzón would issue subpoenas in the next two weeks, summoning the six former officials to present evidence: "If I were them, I would search for a good lawyer."

If Garzón decided to go further and issued arrest warrants against the six, it would mean they would risk detention and extradition if they travelled outside the US. It would also present President Barack Obama with a serious dilemma. He would have either to open proceedings against the accused or tackle an extradition request from Spain.

As the article by Julian Borger and Dale Fuchs notes,

Obama administration officials have confirmed that they believe torture was committed by American interrogators. The president has not ruled out a criminal inquiry, but has signalled he is reluctant to do so for political reasons.

"Obviously we're going to be looking at past practices, and I don't believe that anybody is above the law," Obama said in January. "But my orientation's going to be to move forward."

If "moving forward" means condoning the deliberate institutionalization of torture, it's difficult to see where, exactly, the Obama administration means to "move on" to. When heinous crimes are tolerated and dismissed as irrelevant to a nation's moral health, "moving on" implies that there may be more of the same to come. Corruption in the US became endemic during the Bush administration and remains a serious problem. Last November Obama held out the promise of a wielding a new broom: the desire for transparency, integrity, and respect for human rights was the reason he was elected. But two months into his administration, it looks as though we will continue mired in wars (and the endless corruption they facilitate) for the foreseeable future; and given the administration's desire to "move on," the Justice Department will probably not emerge from the ugly cloud.

The lawsuit claimed the six former aides "participated actively and decisively in the creation, approval and execution of a judicial framework that allowed for the deprivation of fundamental rights of a large number of prisoners, the implementation of new interrogation techniques including torture, the legal cover for the treatment of those prisoners, the protection of the people who participated in illegal tortures and, above all, the establishment of impunity for all the government workers, military personnel, doctors and others who participated in the detention centre at Guantánamo".

When governments run amok, clean-up must follow. When clean-up doesn't follow, there is always more of the same. Worse, the moral insanity spreads. Consider Pierre Tristram's thoughts on the looming Supreme Court case involving a thirteen-year old girl strip-searched under suspicion of possessing ibuprofen:

She was 13. She was being ordered to strip. Her parents were never notified. Savana did not consent to the search but complied in humiliating details. She was forced, literally, to shake her bra and her underwear, exposing herself in front of the nurse and an assistant. Nothing was found. I don't know what's more perverse: The principal's zero-tolerance stupidity over ibuprofin pills, the degrading search, or the fact that nine U.S. Supreme Court justices will hear this case next month to decide what limits, if any, there should be on school authority.

But this isn't authority. It's criminal abuse -- of authority, of the child, of human dignity. How do we come to this? Stupid question, considering the accumulating record of a society where ideals of justice and humaneness mix with the basest controls in the name of discipline and order. They're close relatives, those school officials who order a 13 year old strip searched, to those who have children Tasered, or to police officers who now use that instrument of torture as a routine means of subjugation, or to prison guards who do the same with restraining chairs. When the barbaric becomes routine, it's called protocol. What should be denounced and forbidden is accepted and debated.

Tristram calls this "institutionalized sadism." I call it the culture of fear.

My prediction? Obama will neither comply with the extradition nor start criminal procedings against these men. He hasn't, after all, released the men from Guantanamo the Supreme Court ordered released last year.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A follow-up to Ada Lovelace Day

Two Aqueductistas made posts on their blogs for Ada Lovelace Day:

Eileen Gunn posted an interview with Linda Stone, whom she characterizes as "a modern-day Ada – a geek-grrl with wide-ranging vision and a talent for articulating big ideas. Though, unlike Ada, she neither gambles to excess nor abuses laudanum."

And oursin posted about Dame Janet Vaughan (1899-1993).

Do check them out!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ada Lovelace Day

It's Ada Lovelace Day!

Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (10 December 1815, London – 27 November 1852, Marylebone, London), born Augusta Ada Byron, was the only legitimate child of George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron. She is widely known in modern times simply as Ada Lovelace.

She is mainly known for having written a description of Charles Babbage's early mechanical general-purpose computer, the analytical engine. She is today appreciated as the "first programmer" since she was writing programs—that is, manipulating symbols according to rules—for a machine that Babbage had not yet built. She also foresaw the capability of computers to go beyond mere calculating or number-crunching while others, including Babbage himself, focused only on these capabilities.

To honor her, Ada Lovelace Day has been designated

an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology. Women's contributions often go unacknowledged, their innovations seldom mentioned, their faces rarely recognized. We want you to tell the world about these unsung heroines. Whatever she does, whether she is a sysadmin or a tech entrepreneur, a programmer or a designer, developing software or hardware, a tech journalist or a tech consultant, we want to celebrate her achievements.

Please, Aqueductistas, hit it! Sing now of these "unsung heroines..."

Monday, March 23, 2009

What is easy, and what is hard

The World Bank is holding a G20 summit in London in two weeks. And the Sunday Observer (UK) reports that managing director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala says she wants the G20 to help protect the developing world against the worst effects of the financial crisis.

"We have to look at the impact of this on low income countries. Otherwise, without wanting to sound alarmist, social unrest and political crisis could be the result. It's in the self-interest of everyone to prevent that," she told the Observer.

Her stark warning came as a new report from the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) said the collapse of the global economy would cost 90 million lives, lead to an increase to nearly a billion in the number of people going hungry and cost developing countries $750bn in lost growth.

Apparently there's little hope that the G20 countries will offer even a band-aid:

Downing Street wants to secure a doubling in the resources of the International Monetary Fund, so it can bail out the worst-affected countries; and a promise of new loans to help facilitate cross-border trade.

With budgets tight at home, and noisy demands for help from domestic constituencies, however, [UK Prime Minister Gordon] Brown is concerned many countries are failing even to live up to the promises on aid they made at the Gleneagles G8 meeting in 2005. In Italy, Silvio Berlusconi has slashed aid spending in the face of a fiscal crisis.

Read Paul Krugman's column in today's New York Times: the US Government obviously intends to throw all the cash it can take from (low and middle-class) taxpayers at subsidizing the bottomless pit of failed corporations in order to protect their executives and investors from "toxic assets." US citizens who lose their jobs and their homes and go hungry don't have, as they say on The Wire, "suction" with the US government. I can't imagine that same government doing much about starving, hungry, homeless people outside its borders: though obviously we will be treated to a chorus of officials speaking mournfully on the subject as the crisis deepens. The one thing the Obama Administration does well is render lip service.

Pardon me if I doubt that the World Bank itself is interested in the predicted deaths of 90 million lives or of a billion people going hungry except as these misfortunes have the potential to generate a threat to that institution's true interests (i.e., preserving global capitalism). Certain US Senate hearings held during the Reagan Ior was it Bush I?) Administration, in which James Baker explained why deaths in Brazil were an unfortunate but necessary corollary to the fiscal austerity measures that the IMF and World Bank forced on developing countries in the 1980s, still linger in my memory.

But hey. I could be wrong! Maybe the World Bank is truly interested in sparing 90 million lives and preventing a billion people from "going hungry" (i.e., suffering from malnutrition): if so, it would bend all its efforts to implementing the measures taken by the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte, a city of 2.5 million, that has eliminated hunger entirely.

In Frances Moore Lappé's The City that Ended Hunger she describes a practical approach that the World Bank would do well to encourage elsewhere (but never, of course, would). Here are snippets from her article, which I urge you to check out.

Belo, a city of 2.5 million people, once had 11 percent of its population living in absolute poverty, and almost 20 percent of its children going hungry. Then in 1993, a newly elected administration declared food a right of citizenship. The officials said, in effect: If you are too poor to buy food in the market-you are no less a citizen. I am still accountable to you.

The new mayor, Patrus Ananias-now leader of the federal anti-hunger effort-began by creating a city agency, which included assembling a 20-member council of citizen, labor, business, and church representatives to advise in the design and implementation of a new food system. The city already involved regular citizens directly in allocating municipal resources-the "participatory budgeting" that started in the 1970s and has since spread across Brazil. During the first six years of Belo's food-as-a-right policy, perhaps in response to the new emphasis on food security, the number of citizens engaging in the city's participatory budgeting process doubled to more than 31,000.

The city agency developed dozens of innovations to assure everyone the right to food, especially by weaving together the interests of farmers and consumers. It offered local family farmers dozens of choice spots of public space on which to sell to urban consumers, essentially redistributing retailer mark-ups on produce-which often reached 100 percent-to consumers and the farmers. Farmers' profits grew, since there was no wholesaler taking a cut. And poor people got access to fresh, healthy food.

* * * * *

In addition to the farmer-run stands, the city makes good food available by offering entrepreneurs the opportunity to bid on the right to use well-trafficked plots of city land for "ABC" markets, from the Portuguese acronym for "food at low prices." Today there are 34 such markets where the city determines a set price-about two-thirds of the market price-of about twenty healthy items, mostly from in-state farmers and chosen by store-owners. Everything else they can sell at the market price.
"For ABC sellers with the best spots, there's another obligation attached to being able to use the city land," a former manager within this city agency, Adriana Aranha, explained. "Every weekend they have to drive produce-laden trucks to the poor neighborhoods outside of the city center, so everyone can get good produce."

Another product of food-as-a-right thinking is three large, airy "People's Restaurants" (Restaurante Popular), plus a few smaller venues, that daily serve 12,000 or more people using mostly locally grown food for the equivalent of less than 50 cents a meal. When Anna and I ate in one, we saw hundreds of diners-grandparents and newborns, young couples, clusters of men, mothers with toddlers. Some were in well-worn street clothes, others in uniform, still others in business suits.

* * * *

Belo's food security initiatives also include extensive community and school gardens as well as nutrition classes. Plus, money the federal government contributes toward school lunches, once spent on processed, corporate food, now buys whole food mostly from local growers.

"We're fighting the concept that the state is a terrible, incompetent administrator," Adriana explained. "We're showing that the state doesn't have to provide everything, it can facilitate. It can create channels for people to find solutions themselves."

For instance, the city, in partnership with a local university, is working to "keep the market honest in part simply by providing information," Adriana told us. They survey the price of 45 basic foods and household items at dozens of supermarkets, then post the results at bus stops, online, on television and radio, and in newspapers so people know where the cheapest prices are.

* * *

In just a decade Belo Horizonte cut its infant death rate-widely used as evidence of hunger-by more than half, and today these initiatives benefit almost 40 percent of the city's 2.5 million population. One six-month period in 1999 saw infant malnutrition in a sample group reduced by 50 percent. And between 1993 and 2002 Belo Horizonte was the only locality in which consumption of fruits and vegetables went up.

The cost of these efforts?

Around $10 million annually, or less than 2 percent of the city budget. That's about a penny a day per Belo resident.

Behind this dramatic, life-saving change is what Adriana calls a "new social mentality"-the realization that "everyone in our city benefits if all of us have access to good food, so-like health care or education-quality food for all is a public good."

What really sticks with me is this:

"I knew we had so much hunger in the world," Adriana said. "But what is so upsetting, what I didn't know when I started this, is it's so easy. It's so easy to end it."

Sunday, March 15, 2009

RaceFail Again

I continue to be interested in RaceFail, checking Rydra Wong's links every day. I've written three long posts for my blog and then deleted them. I'm not going to delete my previous post here, though I am not happy with it, since my response to other people's unhappiness was to give helpful advice and put things in perspective. When a person is hurting, they do not want either.

I'm doing a lot of thinking about "writing the other." This is what my deleted posts have been about. But I'm not sure that I have anything to say in public.

Anyway, a very interesting discussion. I am heartened by the creation of verb_noir, and by the publications which have issued statements saying that they welcome writing by people of color. I am heartened by Wiscon's response to the controversy. I am heartened by all the people of color who are being very direct about their feelings, though I do not find it comfortable to read their posts.

P.S. A question. SF tends to write about a generic Americanized future. Fantasy tends to write about a generic fake-European past. Mary Anne Mohanraj has done a fine post about creating specific (non-generic) identities for characters. Now, the question I have is -- is it more difficult to sell fiction about non-generic cultures and characters?

It may not be possible to answer this question. Editors say they buy the best stories without bias. Writers always suspect otherwise, if they have difficulty selling. If writers don't have trouble selling, they tend to see no problem.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Last chance to sign up for WisCon Programming

Just a reminder, in case it's slipped your mind-- today's your last chance to sign up for WisCon 33 programming. Go here if you want to sign up for a reading, a panel, or giving a party.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

"Much more about mergers and collaboration than change within isolated lineages"

I've just been reading a fascinating article in The January 21, 2009 issue of the New Scientist, Why Darwin was wrong about the tree of life, which discusses the emerging significance of horizontal gene transfers. For all those who've read Gwyneth Jones's Life, this will certainly ring a glorious, wonder-inducing bell.

Some researchers are also convinced that hybridisation has been a major driving force in animal evolution (see "Natural born chimeras", and "Two into one"), and that the process is ongoing. "It is really common," says James Mallet, an evolutionary biologist at University College London. "Ten per cent of all animals regularly hybridise with other species." This is especially true in rapidly evolving lineages with lots of recently diverged species - including our own. There is evidence that early modern humans hybridised with our extinct relatives, such as Homo erectus and the Neanderthals (Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, vol 363, p 2813).

Hybridisation isn't the only force undermining the multicellular tree: it is becoming increasingly apparent that HGT plays an unexpectedly big role in animals too. As ever more multicellular genomes are sequenced, ever more incongruous bits of DNA are turning up. Last year, for example, a team at the University of Texas at Arlington found a peculiar chunk of DNA in the genomes of eight animals - the mouse, rat, bushbaby, little brown bat, tenrec, opossum, anole lizard and African clawed frog - but not in 25 others, including humans, elephants, chickens and fish. This patchy distribution suggests that the sequence must have entered each genome independently by horizontal transfer (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol 105, p 17023).

Other cases of HGT in multicellular organisms are coming in thick and fast. HGT has been documented in insects, fish and plants, and a few years ago a piece of snake DNA was found in cows. The most likely agents of this genetic shuffling are viruses, which constantly cut and paste DNA from one genome into another, often across great taxonomic distances. In fact, by some reckonings, 40 to 50 per cent of the human genome consists of DNA imported horizontally by viruses, some of which has taken on vital biological functions (New Scientist, 27 August 2008, p 38). The same is probably true of the genomes of other big animals. "The number of horizontal transfers in animals is not as high as in microbes, but it can be evolutionarily significant," says Bapteste.

Whatever happened to the Great Chain of Being? Gone the way of the Dodos, I'd say.

(Link thanks to Gwyneth Jones.)

Recent Reviews of Aqueduct Books

Two blog posts on Filter House:

Tricia Sullivan reviews the collection at length here. She concludes:

Shawl is a poet, and not in a flashy, 'look at my language' sort of way. Always grounded in vivid sensory truth, her writing is damned good without ever making a big deal about itself.... The author's examination of the not-obvious angles to a concept imbues the mundane with a significance that becomes apparent in sneaky increments. Ideas creep in quietly and go to work. In the end, I suspect it is this ability to osmose their meaning across the border between external and internal that makes the stories in Filter House exceptional. I can't wait to see what Nisi Shawl does next; I'd follow her writing anywhere.

Rich Horton, briefly blogging at The Elephant Forgets, characterizes Filter House as "worth your time." He particularly likes "Deep End," which he describes as "about a prison ship heading to a new world, and a revelation about the nature of the bodies the prisoners occupy that seemed creepy and also powerfully a comment on colonialism."

And Sean Melican reviews Blood in the Fruit and Stretto, Books 4 and 5 of the Marq'sssan Cycle. He concludes:

It is this awareness of the varying reactions (and not just a simplistic dichotomy) to such radical change—from government to anarchy (keeping in mind this is not synonymous with chaos, but merely the complete lack of government agency and agencies) that imbues the series with such power. Characters are not merely mouthpieces, but are fully fleshed out and more importantly, their arguments are fully fleshed out. Duchamp does not use straw men and women. She challenges her own thoughts and assumptions. Her novels are the strongest utopias written to date.

Old School Feminists?

Over at Torque Control, Jonathan M., commenting on Niall Harrison's Reasons to Care about RaceFail, writes:

Ultimately, it strikes me that there’s fork in the road ahead. Either the existing fandom infrastructure has to make the right moves quickly and bring more people of colour into mainstream fandom or PoC fandom has to go off and do its own thing. Set up its own cons and its own imprints and its own blogs and find its own identity and voices.

I would be interested in hearing what old school feminist SF fans have to say on this matter as that second path strikes me as a very similar one to the one taken by feminist SF. Does fandom need a PoC Wiscon?

I'd never heard the designation "old school feminist SF fans" before; I suspect it might refer to Jeanne Gomoll, Janice Bogstad, Jane Hawkins, Debbie Notkin, and other WisCon Old-Timers. I find it interesting that Jonathan M. invokes them-- though the precise reasons for his doing so aren't entirely clear to me. What interests me most, though, is what anyone who is giving thought to the issues of RaceFail think of the analogy and the questions it raises.

Any thoughts on this, folks?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

International Women's Day 2009

Today is International Women's Day. The official UN focus, this year, is a harsh rather than celebratory one: "Women and men united to end violence against women and girls." But in addition to the UN's official global focus, International Women's Day events tend to focus on the issues of most pressing local interest. Photos are available here, videos here, numerous reports here, and Code Pink's site, where the day is observed every day of the year, is here. In the US, a big question this year is whether the US, under President Obama, will finally ratify the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which has been endorsed by over 170 countries. For thirty years the US has refused to do so. (For details on this, go here.)

The official website of International Women's Day offers this summary of the origins of the day:

International Women's Day has been observed since in the early 1900's, a time of great expansion and turbulence in the industrialized world that saw booming population growth and the rise of radical ideologies.

Great unrest and critical debate was occurring amongst women. Women's oppression and inequality was spurring women to become more vocal and active in campaigning for change. Then in 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights.

In accordance with a declaration by the Socialist Party of America, the first National Woman's Day (NWD) was observed across the United States on 28 February. Women continued to celebrate NWD on the last Sunday of February until 1913.

In 1910 a second International Conference of Working Women was held in Copenhagen. A woman named a Clara Zetkin (Leader of the 'Women's Office' for the Social Democratic Party in Germany) tabled the idea of an International Women's Day. She proposed that every year in every country there should be a celebration on the same day - a Women's Day - to press for their demands. The conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, representing unions, socialist parties, working women's clubs, and including the first three women elected to the Finnish parliament, greeted Zetkin's suggestion with unanimous approval and thus International Women's Day was the result.

Following the decision agreed at Copenhagen in 1911, International Women's Day (IWD) was honoured the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on 19 March. More than one million women and men attended IWD rallies campaigning for women's rights to work, vote, be trained, to hold public office and end discrimination. However less than a week later on 25 March, the tragic 'Triangle Fire' in New York City took the lives of more than 140 working women, most of them Italian and Jewish immigrants. This disastrous event drew significant attention to working conditions and labour legislation in the United States that became a focus of subsequent International Women's Day events. 1911 also saw women's 'Bread and Roses' campaign.

On the eve of World War I campaigning for peace, Russian women observed their first International Women's Day on the last Sunday in February 1913. In 1913 following discussions, International Women's Day was transferred to 8 March and this day has remained the global date for International Wommen's Day ever since. In 1914 further women across Europe held rallies to campaign against the war and to express women's solidarity.

On the last Sunday of February, Russian women began a strike for "bread and peace" in response to the death over 2 million Russian soldiers in war. Opposed by political leaders the women continued to strike until four days later the Czar was forced to abdicate and the provisional Government granted women the right to vote. The date the women's strike commenced was Sunday 23 February on the Julian calendar then in use in Russia. This day on the Gregorian calendar in use elsewhere was 8 March.

* * * * *

Meanwhile, posts continue to flow in response to RaceFail 2009. Some of them are heartening-- including apologies and statements of support from white writers. But this one, which so eloquently addresses the stakes for writers of color, is absolutely heartbreaking.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Centuries Ago and Very Fast

Centuries Ago and Very Fast
by Rebecca Ore.

Slashy. Sexy. Time-jumping.

"When I first met him running on the moors, I thought he was gypsy or part Paki with his otter body and the broad head that ended in an almost pointed chin, but he said he was European, old stock, some French in the bloodlines. His left little finger ended just below where the nail would have been…"
— from Centuries Ago and Very Fast

Aqueduct Press is pleased to announce the release of Centuries Ago and Very Fast, a collection of linked stories by Rebecca Ore, author of Gaia's Toys, Time's Child, Slow Funeral, and other well-received novels. The stories in this collection relate tales from the life of Vel, a gay immortal born in the Paleolithic who jumps time at will. We encounter him hunting mammoths, playing with reindeer tripping on hallucinogenic mushrooms, negotiating each successive wave of invaders to keep his family and its land intact, living as the minor god of a spring, witnessing the hanging of "mollies" in seventeenth-century London as well as the Stonewall riots in twentieth-century New York City. Vel has had more lovers than he can remember and is sometimes tempted to flirt with death. Centuries Ago and Very Fast offers fascinating, often erotic glimpses of the life of a man who has just about seen it all.

Samuel R. Delany says: "Witty, vivid, and very thought provoking, these interwoven narratives of the most sophisticated of primitive lusts start with a gay caveman who happens to have been around over fourteen thousand years. Finishing an afternoon tryst with a Puerto Rican drag queen at the Chelsea Hotel in New York, he and his new friend wander back to Greenwich Village to end up smack in the Stonewall Riots of late June '69. Then we go hunting (and killing and dressing and eating and a few other things that might raise your eyebrow) a mammoth. But that's only the beginning. (Want to learn the right way to celebrate the winter solstice?) Ore's little book has intelligence and charm. Really, you've just got to read this!"

While Pamela Sargent, author of The Shore of Women and the Venus Trilogy and editor of the Women of Wonder series, writes: "In Centuries Ago and Very Fast, Rebecca Ore reveals the gritty and often less admirable aspects of human life without flinching but also without cynicism. These earthy, lively, and compelling stories centered around a time-traveling immortal show inventiveness, combine cosmic scope with realistic detail, and will leave readers wanting more."

Through April 1, Aqueduct is offering the special pre-release price for the book of $12 through its site. You can buy it here.

Anna Banti's "The Women Are Dying"

What do James Tiptree Jr., George Sand, George Eliot, Katherine Burdekin (alias "Murray Constatine"), Jane Austen (alias "A Lady"), Charlotte Bronte (alias "Currer Bell"), Emily Bronte (alias Ellis Bell"), Anne Bronte (alias "Acton Bell"), and Isak Dinesen all have in common? They all concealed their legal names from the reading public. There have been many reasons why writers have felt the necessity for doing this. Certainly I would argue that I, personally, have benefited from the protective resource of pseudonyms, since I would have been impoverished by being deprived of these writers' work.

I've recently been reading a translation of short fiction by the pseudonymous Anna Banti (aka Lucia Lopresti-Longhi [1895-1985]), who is best known for her fascinating novel Artemeisa. The excellent MLAA series "Texts and Translations" has published a volume by Anna Banti titled The Signorina and Other Stories, containing 5 short fictions. Because I loved Artemesia, when I saw the volume listed as one of the titles in the MLAA series, I decided I just had to read it. I'm finding the stories interesting, though sometimes frustrating. It is clear that Banti thought that each sex was locked into innate gender differences that ensured the perpetual (and perhaps even justified) subordination of women. On the other hand, she delves into relationships between women with a rare intensity. I'm particularly taken with the occasional glimpse of a feminist imagination that fantasizes things like "a senate of women" (as in her historical piece, "Joveta of Betania") without being able to realize them in any satisfactory way.

One of the stories in the volume, "The Women Are Dying," originally published in 1951, is actually science fiction. In her introduction, Carol Lazarro-Weis writes:

"The Women Are Dying" received the prestigious Viareggio Prize in 1952. Using the science fiction genre to speculate about the innate differences between men and women, Banti imagines the utopian and dystopian possibilities of a world that is biologically defined. As in her historical works, the science fiction narrative depicts the permanence of male control over history and female destiny.

Published two years after Simone de Beauvoir's novel Tous les hommes sont mortels (1947; "All Men Are Mortal"), "The Women Are Dying" shares many of its themes. Both women writers show how men's desire for immortality can cause men to lose their humanity at the same time that it motivates heroic actions, foolish or otherwise. While Beauvoir's book is situated within a debate about existential philosophy, Banti's story, a parody of Fascism's attempts to revive Italy's glorious past, emphasizes how men's desire for immortality excludes women. "The Women Are Dying" also bears a strong resemblance to Margaret Atwood's more recent dystopian science fiction novel A Handmaid's Tale (1987), since both depict the return of women's oppression after a period of supposed progress and emancipation. Banti's Agnese would agree with Atwood's handmaid narrator that it is men who possess time whereas women only endure it.

Set in the year 2617, "The Women Are Dying" depicts the return of women's oppression when sexual difference again becomes a means of isolating and disparaging women. Science has made progress in areas such as hygiene and rational education, and men and women enjoy gender equality in the public domain. However, this situation changes when men discover that they can remember past lives. This "second memory" allows them to conquer their traditional fear of death and to claim immortality for themselves through constant reincarnation. Unable to participate in this self-preserving continuum, many women retreat to female communities...

I find the notion that such memory of past lives would result in a lack of interest in existing social relations and institutions fascinating. It raises the question, for one, of whether this would be a typical reaction in other cultures and other times, or would only apply to the men living in 1950s Italy... The men in the story completely disdain their current, material lives and so lose themselves in the memories of their past lives that their only social relationships center on those memories. The provinces of literature and scholarship, considered outdated and irrelevant, are de facto ceded to women. Moreover, the story depicts such a deep, almost irrevocable alienation between most men and most women, that the only women in the story who attempt to perpetuate the institution of the family are those who despise all other women and are willing to accept that men are like gods, infinitely superior to women and thus not interested in them or in having children-- something most women in Banti's 27th Century are unwilling to do.

I'd love to hear from someone who's read this story. There's much in it worth discussing. The volume is The Signorina and Other Stories by Anna Banti, translated by Martha King and Carol Lazarro-Weis, with and Introduction by Carol Lazarro-Weis, published by The Modern Language Association of America, New York, 2001. I bought a used copy from Powells for $6.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Race Fail Challenge

Micole asked:

What would it take to change our community from a primarily English-speaking, English-writing community to a genuinely multicultural one? What might that change look like, and what might it bring us?

A significant, telling catch here is "primarily English-speaking, English-writing": I suspect that most members of our community are monolingual. (This being a shameful consequence of educational priorities and values in the US.) To make our community multilingual would require either that most of the people in it be removed and replaced by multilingual writers and readers, or else that a massive educational program teaching monolingual people to read several other languages be carried out.

Since the latter solution would take at least a generation to accomplish and I'm middle-aged and the publisher of a small press, what I'd like to see would be a massive project of translation. The problem with that? It takes money. I have for some time been thinking of all the feminist sf texts in other languages I'd like to make available-- and sighing wistfully without any sense of how to make that happen. There are governments in the world that pay to have texts translated into English, but the US Government has no interest in funding translations of texts from other cultures into English. Small presses like Aqueduct are unlikely to be able to afford to pay for translations, while corporate publishers are required to make profits for their owners, so it is unlikely they can be prevailed upon to undertake a large-scale initiative to do this. There might be a collective solution to this, but it would take a massive amount of effort and organizing to bring off.

And of course there are more general problems. One of the ironies of the Internet is that communities continue to be isolated from one another by both lack of contact and incomprehension. Lanugage is only one important barrier among several. It is worth noting that although the US and British f/sf communities flow into one another, communication is often sketchy. (I myself am often baffled by the frames of reference and priorities of many Brits who are active in f/sf; I know I don't get what they're saying and why. But I sometimes feel that I don't know how I could even begin to remedy that.) And there's even less flow between the US and the Australian f/sf communities. The fact is, for the US f/sf community, chief among the cultural barriers that go beyond language-differences is the assumption that not only is the center of the community in the US, but also that he center is inhabited by a certain set of persons, institutions, assumptions, and texts, and that the rest of the f/sf community must accommodate itself to and privilege that definition of the center. (As we continually see when those assumptions are challenged.)

A multicultural f/sf community would find it necessary to be in touch with other f/sf cultures around the world as intrinsic to its own health and identity. It would see the presence of heterogeneous elements as vitalizing-- and, moreover, as expanding the size and scope of the field. This is such a no-brainer, given the longstanding plaint of people in the field that the readership of f/sf has been shrinking, that one can read the lack of general rejoicing at the increasing presence of people of color writing and reading sf, attending cons, and blogging about sf, as indicative of something akin to the hatred of immigrants (who have contributed so much for so long to the US economy and culture).

A final word: in case you haven't noticed, the idea behind this challenge is that utopian visions can be useful for illuminating the paths of change. Once again, we need to remind ourselves that this is not the way it has to be. 2008 was a watershed year in the US for seeing beyond what is: but given how quickly we humans compartmentalize, we can never have too many reminders that it doesn't have to be this way.


I was hoping Timmi would pick up this discussion. Here are a couple of posts I added to Oyceter's Live Journal. I figured once I found out about RaceFail, I should prove that at least one silver-haired, old-time SF writer was paying attention.

I found out about RaceFail this evening, which is one reason I haven't commented before. I've read the comments here, but I am not sure I want to go through all the posts on all the journals. It does not sound pleasant. It also sounds like a good Wiscon topic. I don't know if it's possible to get it onto programming this year. If not, a group discussion in conference or hotel room would be worth doing.

The questions asked here -- where does fandom and the SF community stand on racism and other kinds of prejudice -- what should people who care about these issues do -- would make a good starting point.

If you want a con other than Wiscon, you might consider Diversacon,which happens in the Twin Cities in August. It bills itself as multicultural and multimedia, and it is deliberately affirmative action. GoHs have included Nalo Hopkinson, Sharee Thomas, Andrea Hairston, and the Laotian American poet and horror fan Brian Thao Worra.

I went to my first science fiction convention in 1961. There were 4 or 5 males for every female. Everyone was white. The sf community was as homophobic as the rest of America.

The first fan of color I met was Samuel R. Delany at a New York con sometime in the middle or late 1960s. He had a huge afro and a gold ring in one ear, and he stood out.

The sf community does change, although slowly. It changes because people insist that it change. It's hard work, and I can understand why people might figure they have better uses for their time. But women came into fandom during the late 1960s and 70s and insisted that their issues were important and needed to be addressed. GLBT people did the same a bit later. As the country changes, and more people of color come into the science fiction community, they will have to make the same arguments and have the same fights.

As Frederick Douglass said, "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will."

This is true even of the petty centers of power in fandom.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

RaceFail '09: This hurts us all

Micole (a poster here) was outed by W*ll Sh*tt*rly and (eta: name removed per request3). Although they have now removed her legal name, neither of them have prevented others from outing her in their comments, and WS has deleted his LJ1 and (eta: name removed per request) has taken down the entries (be warned, the one outing Mely leads to a malware site). WS has noted he will not out anyone, but quite frankly, given that he had apologized to Mely, Willow, Deepa D, and Vom Marlowe only a month before, I do not trust anything he says (the apology was on his LJ, which has been deleted). In interest of full disclosure, I note that Mely is a good friend of mine, as well as an ally I value a great deal.

I am disturbed and frightened by WS and (eta: name removed per request)'s actions, not in the least because they tie directly back in to issues of gender, race, class, and other social injustices.

Here's a timeline of RaceFail '09, so people can decide what they think themselves.

SF media and book fandoms and power

RaceFail has, from the very beginning, had authors and editors on one side and readers and consumers on another. Although authors and editors and readers and consumers are not and never will be mutually exclusive categories, it is fair to say that those who have more power in the SF/F publishing world (Elizabeth Bear, Sarah Monette, the Nielsen Haydens, Emma Bull, W*ll Sh*tt*rly, (eta: name removed per request)) were arguing against people who did not have power in that world (Willow, Deepa, Mely2), with the exception of some SF/F authors and editors such as Nora Jemisin, K. Tempest Bradford, and Liz Henry (eta: Nora and Tempest and Liz are also arguing against that power, as they are not as firmly established and are therefore risking more).

Veejane has posted about SF book fandom versus SF media fandom. I generally do not agree with posts that hold up media fandom (eta: this circle of media fandom, not all media fandoms) as something to be learned from, as it is not a haven to fans of color or a hotbed of diversity. However, the divide between SF book fandom, particularly the segment that is directly involved in the publishing industry, and SF media fandom exists, and as a whole, SF book fandom has had more professional power in terms of the publishing industry, more men, and probably more white people. It's not some accident or random twist of fate that created this divide. The unofficial nature of media fandom is indirectly responsible for its relatively larger diversity—and I never thought I would say this, because being more diverse than media fandom is not that high of a bar—institutional power makes it that much easier for white people, abled people, male people, middle-aged people, middle-class people to get in and to stay in. There are, of course, disadvantaged people in SF book fandom and in SF publishing, and I personally benefit a great deal from people like Nalo Hopkinson and Tobias Buckell and organizations like the Carl Brandon Society and Wiscon. But the face of SF book fandom is very limited.

This is why WS and (eta: name removed per request)'s attempts to reframe the argument in their own terms is so harmful. They are attempting to force a conversation which started in LJ and make it follow their own rules. WS is doing so after having had an LJ for many years, and both WS and (eta: name removed per request) are doing so after many people have told them repeatedly about pseudonyms and about the dangers of outing. It is widely agreed upon by nearly everyone in media fandom that outing someone is unacceptable; furthermore, this is not LJ specific. Political and personal bloggers around the internet have lost jobs by being outed, and that's only one consequence. The important thing is not that they are reframing the conversation around pseudonymity and outing, it is that they are reframing the conversation so that it once again leaves that of race and racism in SF fandom. This reframing of the argument is not dangerous simply because of this one incidence of race fail; it is dangerous because it is representative of what happens when a group with more power and a group with less power argue.

This reframing is a cousin to the tone argument (search for "tone"). Both are ways of asserting power, of staking metaphorical ground; they are rhetorical forms of control that deliberately uphold current power structures. Mely writes, "This conviction, in the face of public conversation and well-documented timelines, that a discussion about race in science fiction is about the personal grudges of white people -- this inability to recognize, hear, or speak to the people of color involved in the discussion -- this in itself contributes to the institution of racism and the continuing whiteness of science fiction." Note how frequently WS and (eta: name removed per request) refer to race and racism in their posts. There has been an amazing moving bar of who has the "right" to speak; first, Deepa and Willow didn't critique Bear's book properly because they were too "emotional;" now we are too educated, not oppressed enough. Furthermore, WS in particular has had a long history of changing the subject. The arguments happening don't start with WS talking about classism; they start with someone else talking about racism. This is power at work, trying to keep itself in power.

SF book fandom, where are you?

Although a few authors and editors have come out against what WS and (eta: name removed per request) have done, where is the rest of the fandom? Like Jane says earlier, "Where are the con-comms, going apeshit to distance themselves from these serial fails of race and culture? Where are the guests-of-honor, specifically inviting underserved communities to visit at an upcoming con? (Where are the "discount if this is your first con evar" programs?) Why aren't the SF organizations like SFWA (okay, bad example) having a cow and putting out official position statements on outreach? Where are press-releases from the publishing houses, explaining their diversity efforts (in their lists and in their workplaces)?"

Why the resounding silence? Editors, authors, fans—all the people who were not talking about RaceFail and what people in their field were doing: where are they?

If the prior months of RaceFail were "both sides behaving badly" (which I disagree with), what is this, and why has no one said anything?

Mely previously wrote, "Is group protest always right or good? No, it's not. It's a way to establish and enforce community norms, and it's only as right and good as the community norms are. It can be profoundly oppressive and profoundly abusive. But silence in the face of injury is also a way to establish and enforce community norms. You don't opt out of a community by remaining in it and never commenting on its big controversies; you just opt to abide by whatever party wins."

What SF book fandom is telling me—a woman, a person of color, and a long-time fan of SF books and a con-goer—what you are telling me is that you don't care. That these are, in fact, your community norms, that you are all right with people who have more power in your community (by virtue of profession, race, and gender) using that power to harm other, less powerful, members of your community. That you are fine with the erasure of women, of people of color, of those without the same professional privileges you enjoy, and that you are willing to stand by silently and let people be hurt. This is how it affects us. This. And this.

Your silence speaks volumes.

The intersectionality of threats

Even though this started as RaceFail, it does not affect "just" race. For one, that assumes that people of color only suffer from a single oppression. Secondly, as many, many people have noted, outing can be threatening on many levels, and I would like to highlight that it can seriously harm women who are being sexually harrassed, GLBT people who are not out, POC who have been threatened, and etc. Media fandom is a safe space for some people. Again, this is something I never thought I would say, as it has proved time and again that it is not a safe space for all people. But in this particular case, it is more of a safe space than SF book fandom because of media fandom's lack of business deals and money-related matters, because of the general lack of ways to retaliate in the offline world. The act of outing comes out of the attempt to control conversation and thereby acts as an attempt to control the people having the conversation, and it comes from not just from two individuals trying to silence an anti-racist ally, but also from a community with more power in terms of gender and race.

WS and (eta: name removed per request) did not do this in a vacuum; they did it in an environment in which they could reasonably not fear many consequences (and as far as I can tell, they will not suffer consequences at all, save being banned from some blogs they probably never visited). They may not have knowingly taken advantage of this power, but they did regardless. And right now, that same environment's reaction is saying that it's ok.

This is why I think a threat to one of us is a threat to all of us. It is upholding a social norm that makes it ok to make threats against people talking about issues of social justice, and even more, it is upholding a norm that says these issues of social justice do not exist at all. I do not think feminists or GLBT activists or anti-classists or anti-ablists will be attacked right this second. But I do think the reduction of social justice is something that affects us all. If nothing else, these few years in my communities have taught me that yesterday's classism is today's anti-Semitism and becomes tomorrow's misogyny. And quite frequently, these attacks hurt the same people, because oppressions do not come singly.

What I want

I want to know if this is the norm for SF fandom. I want to know what SF fandom is doing to welcome oppressed groups—actively welcome, because simply saying "Come in" to someone who has just been assaulted in your house is not the same as showing them the precautions you have taken against further assault. I want to know if I and my allies will be safe.

But mostly, I want to know what you who have been silent are going to do.

I say this because it is all too easy for me to stay on the periphery. So don't tell me. Show me. Not via links or comments, but by making changes—in yourself, in one aspect of your life, online or offline, public or private, large or small. Help us all change.

What I'm going to do

I'd like to spend this week focusing on POC; in particular, I will try to catch up on all my backlog of book write ups by and about POC. I am going to read the 12th POC in SF Carnival. I will continue working on making my blog a safe space for oppressed people and issues of social justice. I will work on my pieces for the Asian Women Blog Carnival and the Remyth Project. I am going to continue to deal with these same issues of safety and trust and social justice offline.

eta: Also, any pointers about bringing up these things and dealing with them offline are incredibly appreciated.

Rules of discourse

I will be on- and offline periodically tomorrow, but I will still be moderating comments. I will also attempt to coordinate any ETAs on this post and the one in my LJ, although there may be a time lag depending on my internet access.

1 It was deleted when I wrote this, and he restored it while I was editing this prior to posting. (eta: deleted again as of 3/5)
2 No, I don't think having worked nine months for an SF/F publishing house thirteen years ago is the same as being an editor or an author right now.
3 I removed the poster's name to prevent Aqueduct from having to suffer any consequences for my own statements, which are not associated with those of Aqueduct Press.

x-posted here

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Vandana Singh's Distances Reviewed in Locus

The March issue of Locus carries the first review we've seen of Vandana Singh's Distances. This is by Rich Horton, and here's a chunk of it:

...a long novella mixing mathematics, gender issues, and an exotic look at human colonization of the galaxy. Echoing Le Guin to some extent, Singh follows Anasuya, who has a visceral ability to understand mathematics, as she helps visitors from a distant planet.... It's a complex setup, hinting at quite a fascinating galactic backstory. Nice work from a writer who seem ready to emerge with something really amazing.

Horton, by the way, puts Distances on his monthly list of recommended stories.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Revisiting Dangerous Space

Learning that "Dangerous Space" is on this year's Nebula ballot Asheville, NC bookseller Rich Rennicks, who praised Dangerous Space at the time of its release, decided to reread the collection. After rereading the book, he finds:

The opening line that I wrote last year is still true: this is the best collection of short stories I’ve read in forever. Cutting edge in every sense, Eskridge mines the raw edges of emotion — love, lust, and fear — and places her characters in settings just a little bit different to our own — the near future, the recent past, or the slightly fantastical.

In this second review, Rennicks takes a closer look. You can read it here. His bottom-line conclusion is that rereading all the stories is rewarding.

On Reviewing, Redux

Check out the conversation Anna Tambour and Niall Harrison have been having in the comments following Jonathan McCalmont's review of Ellen Datlow's Poe anthology.

My Weekend in Silicon Valley

Delightful, energizing weekends like the one I just had at Potlatch in Sunnyvale, California, sometimes make me question whether I'm truly the introvert I know myself to be. The panel I moderated, "The Many Roads of Narrative" was stimulating and interesting and scintillated with several lightning moments, when the panelists (Jeanne Gomoll, Howard Hendrix, Ursula Le Guin, Vylar Kaftan, and Naamen Tilahun) sparked off audience comments or questions and left me with that so-desirable sense that if we'd had another hour, the discussion might well have explored lands we could, by the end of the panel, glimpse beckoning in the distance. My writing workshop proved to be a pleasure, likely because we collectively achieved the degree of focus that for me, at least, makes workshops interesting and valuable. On the personal side: spending time with friends I don't often get to see, renewing acquaintances, and making new acquaintances warmed and cheered me. I even got a little bit of Aqueduct business done, too, which is so much easier (not to mention more fun) doing in person than via email. Face to face may not always make for superior communication, but it often feels better, no?

Before our flight, Tom and I had time to visit the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, where we watched Charles Babbage's Difference Engine calculate the table of values for a polynomial. The Difference Engine, as you may recall, was designed by Babbage in the middle of the 19th Century. Babbage was never able to afford to build it in his lifetime, but one was actually completed in London in 2002. The construction of the one on exhibit in Mountain View was commissioned by Nathan Myhrvold, formerly chief technology officer and Group VP at Microsoft. It's an elegant piece of work, as one would expect of steam-punk technology. Photos of the Difference Engine are available here. The museum's website offers this description:

Its 8,000 parts are equally split between the calculating section and the output apparatus. It weighs five tons and measures seven feet high, eleven feet long and is eighteen inches deep at its narrowest. As a static object it is a sight to behold - a sumptuous piece of engineering sculpture. In operation it is an arresting spectacle.

It is surprisingly sleek and shiny. Why do I say surprisingly? I suppose it's because of the contrasting impression made on me by more recent outdated computer technology on display in the museum's "Visible Storage" room. A stroll through aisle after aisle of old computer technology from the 1950s on left me oddly nonplused. I recognized quite a few pieces there, which of course made it more interesting. But with each moment of recognition came also the disconcerting thought of how Shiny and Sleek and Fast and Modern all these objects once appeared to my eyes, when now they appeared so dusty, clunky-, and even cheesy-looking. (Sort of the way the tech in Star Trek OS and 1950s & 1960s sf movies look improbable and silly.) I hasten to note that of course they weren't literally dusty: I only felt as if they would be dusty to the touch. I suppose what disconcerted me was my experiencing a sort of affective disconnect between memory and artifact. Once the patina of infatuation has worn off, once exciting and highly desirable objects become, simply, curious old things made of glass, metal, and plastic. I knew all this intellectually, but it's not a comfortable thing to experience in the moment.

Aesthetically, none of our recent technological objects can begin to compare with the Difference Engine. In a sense, the Difference Engine has the same sort of enduring beauty one often finds in musical instruments. I can think of several reasons for why it is that 20th- and 21st-century technology is largely indifferent to creating objects of enduring aesthetic beauty. Perhaps we need a panel on this at WisCon. (It's too late to propose for WisCon 33, but maybe next year?)