Monday, August 29, 2011

Living in the future means thinking like an sf writer

I recently read an absolutely fascinating paper at the Brookings Institution site, Endowed by Their Creator?: The Future of Constitutional Personhood, by James Boyle, a law professor at Duke University, that takes up an issue that the author suggests might be looming-- viz., the legal and ethical treatment of human/nonhuman animal hybrids and sentient AIs. He begins with a quote from an article in the Emory Law Journal by Scott Bennett, "Chimera and the Continuum of Humanity: Erasing the Line of Constitutional Personhood":
Presently, Irving Weissman, the director of Stanford University's Institute of Cancer/Stem Cell Biology and Medicine, is contemplating pushing the envelope of chimera research even further by producing human-mouse chimera whose brains would be composed of one hundred percent human cells. Weissman notes that the mice would be carefully watched: if they developed a mouse brain architecture, they would be used for research, but if they developed a human brain architecture or any hint of humanness, they would be killed.
As Boyle writes,
In the coming century, it is overwhelmingly likely that constitutional law will have to classify artificially created entities that have some but not all of the attributes we associate with human beings. They may look like human beings, but have a genome that is very different. Conversely, they may look very different, while genomic analysis reveals almost perfect genetic similarity. They may be physically dissimilar to all biological life forms--computer-based intelligences, for example--yet able to engage in sustained unstructured communication in a way that mimics human interaction so precisely as to make differentiation impossible without physical examination. They may strongly resemble other species, and yet be genetically modified in ways that boost the characteristics we regard as distinctively human--such as the ability to use human language and to solve problems that, today, only humans can solve. They may have the ability to feel pain, to make something that we could call plans, to solve problems that we could not, and even to reproduce. (Some would argue that non-human animals already possess all of those capabilities, and look how we treat them.) They may use language to make legal claims on us, as Hal does, or be mute and yet have others who intervene claiming to represent them. Their creators may claim them as property, perhaps even patented property, while critics level charges of slavery. In some cases, they may pose threats as well as jurisprudential challenges; the theme of the creation which turns on its creators runs from Frankenstein to Skynet, the rogue computer network from The Terminator. Yet repression, too may breed a violent reaction: the story of the enslaved un-person who, denied recourse by the state, redeems his personhood in blood may not have ended with Toussaint L'Ouverture. How will, and how should, constitutional law meet these challenges?
Boyle lists some of the best known genetic experimentation resulting in hybrid creatures, some of which have been used for drug testing, some as a source for harvesting stem cells, some for creating organs that can be transplanted into humans (i.e., as living organ banks). As quoted above, he says that his point is a "simple" one: "In the coming century it is overwhelmingly likely that constitutional law will have to classify artificially created entities that have some but not all of the attirbutes we associate with human beings." The rest of his paper, though, shows that it's not a "simple" one at all.

My heart sinks at the thought. Consider the state of the public sphere in the 21st-century US. Given that Guantanamo continues on, its capricious horrors and tortures all rubber-stamped by the Justice Department, its constinued existence supported by the very POTUS who claimed, on the campaign trail, that one of his first acts as POTUS would be shut that chamber of horrors down; given that so many people don't consider all human beings deserving of human rights; given the state of our many, many prisons and politicians' continued reveling in executing people known to be innocent of crimes they've been convicted of; and given that the most mundane policies of cities--that of how they treat people who lack housing-- which a UN report recently denounced as a widespread violation of human rights: I don't see a morally decent outcome resulting.

Boyle notes that collectively, in the US, we "disagree radically on the status of a fetus and... about the individual in a coma with no brain stem activity at all. How much harder will it be to come to agreement on the status of a chimeric construct or an artificial intelligence?" Boyle's exploration of this question is well worth reading, and draws interestingly on Turing's "Computing Machinery and Intelligence" as well as on a paper about the Turing test that mischievously suggests that Turing himself might not have passed it.

Boyle also discusses the difficulty of establishing "species identity"-- given how similar, genetically, humans are to a huge range of animals and the contentiousness of the question of which differences matter and which don't. When he poses the question of whether the Constitution "protects artificial entities," he cannily points out that according to the Supreme Court, it does: having long ago granted corporations legal personhood-- and then goes on to note that this is probably not a train of reasoning we want to follow: "The history of corporate personhood is hardly one of the Constitution's shining moments. Is its confused and partisan process of pragmatic muddling the best we can do with the more morally wrenching questions that the future can bring us?" He concludes with a reflection on Turing's article: "The most striking conclusion of Alan Turing's article may not be how difficult it is to identify machine consciousness or personhood but how uncertain we are about the boundaries of our own."

You can download a pdf of Boyle's entire paper here.

Not only must constitutional lawyers be thinking science fictionally, but apparently farmers using genetically modfied seed to grow corn for producing ethanol need to be doing so, too. It looks as though Monsanto's genetically modified corn is leading to super-resistant insects (corn borers and rootworms). Farmers using such seed are supposed to do certain things to prevent resistance from developing, but apparently are not, or are taking inadequate measures.

Reading for a Monday

It's Pat Cadigan Week at Strange Horizons, featuring an article on Cadigan's work by Tanya Brown, a reprint of Cadigan's "Home by the Sea" with an introduction by Tricia Sullivan, a review of Cadigan's most recent novel, and an essay by Matt Cheney on Cadigan's short fiction. I know may of this blog's readers will want to check it out.

Strange Horizons is, by the way, kicking off its fund-raising drive this week. They've posted the first batch of prizes for their drawings, which will include several books from Aqueduct Press. I'm not only a great fan of Strange Horizons, but a frequent contributor. The content is free to its readers, though the magazine in fact pays its contributors. I don't have to tell you what that means.

Over at the Los Angeles Review of Books, Brooks Landon offers a lengthy review of Karen Joy Fowler's short fiction in general, and  What I Didn't See in particular. I especially like his conclusion:
Fully engaging characters in their own right, people we think we know and instinctively like, Fowler’s narrators also help account for the sense one gets, from reading her, that one is in a conversation with the author herself, as she looks over her own shoulder and offers a running commentary on the very story she is writing. What results is an unusual feeling of authorial intimacy and wit, an act of friendship from a remarkable writer to her readers.

Sunday, August 28, 2011


A friend who's been visiting from NYC for the last two weeks missed the earthquake, but then had to rebook her flight back because of the hurricane. Since she was here on vacation, and her vacation's over, she's needing to work remotely for the next week (return flights now being like hen's teeth). She's happy to know the hurricane wasn't as severe as it could have been, and that her cats are safe. As any sane person would be. I really don't get the folks (George Will, for one) who are yammering about "over-reaction." Seems to me the preparations were just as they should have been.

More outrageous-- but all too typical of right-wing insanity-- are the remarks of Republican ideologues who were in full swing beforehand. First there was Pat Robertson on the earthquake-caused cracks in the Washington Monument:
“Ladies and gentlemen I don’t want to get weird on this so please take it for what it’s worth,” [television evangelist Pat Robertson] said. “But it seems to me the Washington Monument is a symbol of America’s power, it has been the symbol of our great nation, we look at that monument and say this is one nation under God. Now there’s a crack in it, there’s a crack in it and it’s closed up. Is that a sign from the Lord?”

“You judge, but I just want to bring that to your attention. It seems to me symbolic.”
Don't want to get weird on this? Take it for what it's worth? Interesting qualifiers. But his reasoning, not his declaration, is what really grabs my attention: the Washington Monument-- that great big phallus thrusting up into the DC landscape-- is "a symbol of America's power"-- and "a symbol of our great nation"-- he says, and then goes on to assert "this is one nation under God." (Hmmm.) And so: if there's a crack in it, it must be from God! In other words, God sent the earthquake in order to introduce fractures into the stone tower built to honor the first POTUS! (How did I not figure that out for myself?) And if God took that much trouble to cause fractures in a symbol of our "great nation," it must mean something BIG.

These guys, I guess, really do beleive that, as Israelis were the chosen people of Yaweh, the US is the chosen "nation" of the Christian fundamentalist version of God. All these different Gods. All this magical thinking. It's not only enough to make my head swim, it gives me a vision of historians in the future reading such tripe and deciding that 21st-century North Americans had a mythopoetic view of the world (as I wrote in a paper back in the mid-1970s that Columbus and Cortez held a mythopoetic view of the world, based on their interpretation of what they saw and experienced in the "New World.")

And then there was Glenn Beck. Hurricane Irene, he tells us, is a "blessing." Actually, it turns out he has a financial interest in the nature of this "blessing."
“Warning! Warning! We are headed for global disruption in food,” Beck proclaimed on Friday. “I asked you two weeks ago, how many warnings do you think you’re going to get, and how many warnings do you deserve? … This hurricane’s that is coming through [is a warning] … for anyone who’s in the East Coast and has been listening to me say, ‘Food storage! Be prepared!’”

As Mediaite explains, “Beck has been talking up the need to stockpile supplies due to what he sees as a coming ‘global disruption in food.’”

Last October, however, Business Insider commented on the commercial relationship which appears to be behind Beck’s crusade for food preparedness. “You may have heard about Beck’s relationship with Goldline International, which urges people to buy gold and stay safe from the supposed inevitable devaluing of the dollar,” the website noted. “Now meet Food Insurance, which sells survival kits of freeze-dried food and other items to help people live from two weeks to 12 months, depending on the plan purchased (and post-apocalyptic conditions). Beck has promoted the company’s products, is featured prominently on the company’s website, and a banner ad for the company, bearing Beck’s image, was spotted on his website Monday.”

Beck is no longer with Fox News, but his passion for food preparedness appears to be as strong as ever. “You’ve heard me say this for years. People have made fun of me,” he concluded on Friday. “If you’ve waited, this hurricane is a blessing. It is God reminding you — as was the earthquake last week — it’s God reminding you, you’re not in control. Things can happen. Be prepared!”
And then there was Ron Paul, who thinks we'd all be better off without FEMA and, like Eric Cantor, is calling for additional spending cuts before allocating so much as a dime on hurricane relief.

Seems to me, also, that they ought to change Grand Old Party to Party of Lunatics. It really is time.

To get us back to reality, consider this: recently large blooms of crude oil have been seen swelling up to the surface above the Deepwater Horizon drilling site. A few people are concerned that it could "indicate the formation of fissures on the seabed" of the plugged oil well that's already done so much damage. Not a sign from God, perhaps, which means it won't cut any ice with the POLs. But I hope someone's looking into it.

ETA: I didn't actually mean to slight Michelle Bachmann. She, too, has been telling folks that God sent the hurricane (as well as the earthquake) in support of the Tea Party's message. But it seems that there must be a sane person on her staff: according to the Washington Post blog, Bachmann's press secretary has since been spinning this pronouncement, saying that Bachmann was "saying it in jest to prove a point."

Unfortunately, that same blog cites a Public Religion Research Institute/ Religion News Service poll from earlier this year reporting that nearly 40% of USians “believe that earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters are a sign from God.” I'm beginning to feel like an inmate in one gigantic asylum. I can't help wondering if these same people also believe the earth is flat. In Europe, in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, they blamed earthquakes on "sodomites" (and, sometimes, Jews). I guess we can just be thankful that notion got lost somewhere along the way.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Reading for a Monday

Vandana Singh's column is up at Strange Horizons today: Diffractions: On Science, Emotions, and Culture, Pt. 1. She takes up an issue that has long been of interest to feminist science fiction:
There are two main stereotypes of the Western scientist: the mad scientist and the coldly logical Vulcan. One type is distanced from emotion entirely, while the other is literally deranged, with an emotional spectrum restricted to the dark pleasures of world domination. Both are usually male. In the Western perspective, science itself is emotionless, as is the universe at large, a view well expressed in the classic SF story, "The Cold Equations" by Tom Godwin. Reading Justine Larbelestier's excellent book, The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction, I was struck by how overt early American science fiction is with regard to both women and emotion. In one early SF story it is only after women are eliminated that humanity (i.e. men) can found a truly scientific culture. Other stories and letters from readers of the era reveal an attitude that conflates the existence of women with emotion, and science and real science fiction with things that are emotion-free.
Check it out.

Strange Horizons is also running a review, today, of Kristin Livdahl's A Brood of Foxes. If you haven't already read this novella, you probably need to know that the review is loaded with spoilers. Whether that matters to you or not depends, of course, on the kind of reader you are. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Oh Grant Morrison no (fourth in a series of disillusionments)

Grant Morrison, a lifelong Leftist who's written some awesome heroines, responds to outrage over the elimination of most of DC's female writers and artists by cracking wise about putting on a dress. The experiences of the woman who asked the question says something sad about group dynamics at the comic con she attended (via Cheryl Morgan, who notes that Paul Cornell was the only man present who seemed to take the question of underrepresented women seriously).

[ETA: I mean, look at this chap. He sometimes thinks about these issues: he's capable of criticizing the ubiquity of "rape-as-plot-device" and even saying explicitly that "the sexism in DC because it's mostly men who work in these places." But when faced by a question at the comic con, he just goes along with the crowd and doesn't say anything that would contradict the attitude projected by his bosses. Which I imagine a writer of his stature could safely do.]

Saturday, August 13, 2011

"Heartbreaking and joyful"

Nancy Jane Moore has posted Reading for Fun: L. Timmel Duchamp’s Never at Home at Book View Cafe. I'm a bit worried that this collection is flying under even my usual readers' radar, so I'm thrilled to see it.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Help On the Way

THE HELP Juggernaut is about to cruise through International Cultural Waters!

The cover of Entertainment Weekly (August 12, 2012) features Emma Stone, Viola Davis, and Octavia Spencer from the upcoming film, The Help—based on the best-selling novel by Kathryn Stockett. The feature article promotes the film in which two black women maids are encouraged (enabled) by a white woman writer to speak out for Civil Rights.The article does mention the fact that the success of the novel might have to do with an aggressive marketing campaign to readers of all colors that the vast majority of black woman authors have never gotten. However this inequity is not Kathryn Stockett’s fault!

Besides, The Help’s a good story!

Critics on the wire give The Help thumbs up and urge us to go see a film that takes on serious, touchy themes without getting “preachy.”

That’s code for: white people won’t have to feel guilty.

There’s still some small worry that black people might cringe.

The rest of the world can hopefully just sit back and enjoy a good screen story.

The premise of The Help grates on me (and on others—see Martha Southgate’s response) but I plan to attend the film. The performers are supposed to be phenomenal and how many blockbuster Hollywood features offer so many actresses a chance to fill the screen? Besides those mentioned above, there’s Bryce Dallas Howard, Sissy Spacek, Allison Janney, Cicely Tyson, Mary Steenburger, and Aunjanue Ellis. Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer proclaim that their characters are the most dimensional they have gotten to portray. Dark (and even plump!) black actresses don’t get much play in Hollywood so Davis and Spencer were, after initial skepticism, excited to sink their teeth into meaty roles. They get why folks might be suspicious, but plead for a chance to be seen.

I find their pleas incredibly painful.

The filmmakers have screened the film for black audiences and received much applause and also blessings from revered elders—like Andrew Young. The filmmakers don’t want a firestorm but a sweet box office swell.

If we—the audiences who want to see black actresses on screen but are troubled by the premise of The Help and the politics of Hollywood Blockbuster films and Mainstream Bestselling novels which still, in 2011 not 1963 or some other painful past, exclude black screenwriters, directors, actresses, and novelists from the kind of support and marketing that made The Help a juggernaut—if we don’t go to The Help—why the Hollywood machine won’t risk featuring black ladies again, probably for a long time. The systemic repercussions will be our fault, not the writer’s fault. I keep hearing this. If the film fails, if execs don’t greenlight films featuring black ladies after a disappointing showing for The Help, it’ll be because we—the skeptics—didn’t give this movie a chance.

The logic of this is brutal. We are blamed for systemic problems, but those capitalizing on them are just doing…well, good art. Who can blame them for that?

The premise of the film is the familiar “whites enable colored people to fight for freedom” myth. This storyline gets published or produce more than the colored people enabling each other story. Avatar and Mississippi Burning leap to mind. Good is subjective, of course. Still, it’s not so much a question of whether Avatar or The Help are good stories with complex characters well told, but what kind of good story is aggressively marketed? A story that doesn’t center on the intervention of a benevolent/repentant member of the privileged class helping the downtrodden to rise up is a less marketable “good” story. If the help help themselves out of the stinking mess, odds are against the story. The story might even be labeled preachy, angry. Mainstream audiences might feel guilt just watching the trailer!

That we get the same "good" story over and over again is no one’s fault! Certainly not the author of The Help who wrote her particular heart-rending version of it, nor the actresses who play their complex incarnations of the familiar. Who can blame the author for taking advantage of a system stacked in her favor and stacked against other writers? Who can blame the actresses for snapping up the opportunity? So few of us get any kind of opportunity!How many Blockbusters have more than one woman featured?

What do we want? What do we expect? A revolution? This is commercial literature and film for God’s sake. Would we rather see nothing at all?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Stuff of Interest

--Wendy N. Wagner interviews Nisi Shawl for Fantasy Magazine.

--Nnedi Okorafor offers her personal definition of feminism.

--Brit Mandelo reviews Joanna Russ's We Who Are About to..., of which she says:
Books rarely ask so much of the reader, true, but perhaps they should. We Who Are About to… is brutal, unforgiving, and also supremely, astoundingly beautiful, not simply because of Russ’s phenomenal, unmatched prose but because of the journey it takes the reader through. In fact, I might go further than Delany—I might be willing to call this book perfect, not just pristine, in the sense that it does exactly what it was intended to do, on every level it was intended to do it on, at the same time.
--Karyn Huenemann reviews Ursula K. Le Guin's Cheek by Jowl for the International Research Society for Children's Literature.

--Jo Walton reviews C.J. Cherry's Cyteen, about which she notes
I’ve probably read Cyteen forty times, but it always grabs me and won’t let go, and I always see more in it.
--After reading Patricia Anthony's The Happy Policeman, Gord Sellar wonders
why she is one of those authors I feel like we don’t remember in SF, and I think this fact in itself indicates something problematic in SF circles. Authors who have impressed me less (or at least less consistently — Harlan Ellison and Norman Spinrad, among others) are far better-remembered, and I think there are perhaps a few reasons for this.
This is the sort of question for which one explanation will not suffice as the definitive answer. Back when Anthony was still writing and publishing, she was on my sight-unseen must-buy list. In his list of possible explanations, Sellar misses at least one that occurred to me when I read that Anthony had decided to leave the genre and found myself wondering the same thing.

Here, by the way, is Anthony herself, speaking to to Sara Martin, on her career difficulties:
Your work is habitually labeled as science fiction or speculative fiction. How does labeling affect you as a writer?

To be frank, it destroyed my career. For the first few years I'd not seen myself as a science fiction writer, but instead as something of a thriller writer whose books just happened to include aliens. Well, my fault - what can a bookstore do with an alien except sell it as science fiction? But I'm afraid that I disappointed many s.f. readers who came to my books seeking a "worlds of wonder" adventure, a high concept cerebral story, an escape from the day-to-day troubles in their lives. Hah! My books are not concept-driven, but character- and story-driven. They deal with very real, very mundane tragedies, more the fodder of mainstream readers. But because the books contained aliens, a very small number of mainstream readers would read them. Neither were they accepted by the s.f. audience. By the way, I caution new writers to try not to make the mistake I made. I don't know the solution to this dilemma, since how else can bookstores make sense of their inventory? And yet slotting a writer kills a lot of creativity. Many of the books available out there tend to look and sound the same.

In times of upheaval, should there be one story, and one story only?

When an event that has bee recognized as a crisis is underway, the official news media always make it clear that they're there not to offer comprehensive coverage and an attempt to present the many different stories that would be helpful for understanding what's going on, but merely to reiterate the one monolithic narrative that is meant to be the official view. They do this, I presume, to make sure that people don't draw their own conclusions at a time of upheaval, when new perceptions might conceivably occur to the those who are watching. Sometimes the media will give voice to an "opposition" narrative, but it's always one that's carefully crafted to be rejected, one without nuance, one that is represented as tired and subjective.

Don't you just love the way people in the news media (in this case the BBC) ask questions of people who are not one of them (or one of the 5%) and then either ignore and mischaracterize what they say (CNN recently did this when asking "people on the street" their opinions of the "debt crisis") or try to put words in their mouths and then when they refuse inform them they're wrong and then go in for wholesale character assassination? This YouTube video, of the BBC interviewing Darcus Howe, a West Indian writer and broadcaster, offers a classic example:

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Fonts that push our buttons

Fonts, of course, are a major deal for publishers. And that's because they're a major deal for just about anyone who's a reader or writer. I swear Kath's favorite part of the production process is choosing a book's display fonts. (Walbaum is the house font for our larger trade paperbacks, so there's no choice there, unless the text requires an additional font.) Before the days of computers, writers didn't have much choice, except during the 1970s, when IBM allowed the typist to change the ball that provided the typeface, and she had a choice in font size (10 or 12) and in font, either "Elite" or Courier. (Elite was similar to Times-Roman and made Courier look flabby and cold by comparison.) Some fonts, as we all know, are laborious to read. Some are just plain ugly. A post at the NYRB blog, The Human Face of Type by Edward Mendleson, discusses these aesthetic and, dare I say, emotional, reactions to fonts, in the wake of his seeing a documentary film titled Helvetica, which he characterizes as 
a sharp comic essay about human folly. Its unspoken and apparently unintended theme is the folly of utopianism, the ancient fantasy that disorder can be tamed, that the disruptive elements of life can be suppressed, and that people can be shaped and trained into behaving as the authorities think they should. The film’s comic hero is an anti-utopian rebel who despises Helvetica for its corporate anonymity. A utopian graphic designer who seems to prefer Helvetica to human beings is its comic butt.
Mendleson confesses he put off seeing the film because of its title. Mendleson detests Helvetica. Fortunately, the film does too!
Helvetica was also designed in the 1950s, but some of the designers interviewed in the film seem almost surprised by the fact that it was made by human hands and not generated parthenogenetically by the simple lines and curves that shape its letter forms. Unlike the greatest type designs, which are always the work of individual artists, with their own unique genius, Helvetica was produced by two designers working together to create a neutral typeface, neither of whom (as the son of one of them says in the film) was capable of designing a typeface by himself. Still, Helvetica is so anonymous and impersonal that the thought of two human beings conceiving it over a drawing board seems faintly obscene.
That "also" in the first sentence above, by the way, refers to Courier. Courier, he notes, was based on the type designed by Howard Kettler for IBM typewriters in the 1950s. Reading that gave me a Eureka! moment. Designed in the 1950s! That explains why it has that inelegant, soulless look, like so many things designed during the first decade of my life. If I had only known that earlier! IBM probably thought it was producing a modern look. Instead, it cursed a couple of generations of editors with chilly typescripts trying to project objectivity.

But I must not end on a note of hysterical accusation. (You see how emotional some of us get about fonts?) In fact, not all fonts designed in the 1950s suffer from that decade's pretensions. Here is Mendleson on Optima:
Optima is the anti-Helvetica. Zapf designed it in the early 1950s, around the same time that Helvetica was taking shape, but he had a completely different and far more profound sense of what a typeface ought to be. Instead of being mathematically perfect and untethered to a particular time or place, Optima embodies a subtle understanding of history. It is nominally a sans-serif, but its lines swell subtly toward their endpoints, with the result that they suggest classical serifs without actually having them. Zapf based the letterforms on carvings he found on Italian renaissance grave stones, and their overall shape and proportions unmistakably derive from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. But their sleek lines suggest the aerodynamic curves of modern technology, and the whole design could only have been invented in the mid-twentieth century.

People who love type have been known to confess to each other in secret—so they can avoid being quoted in Private Eye’s Pseuds’ Corner—that in certain moods they are emotionally moved by Optima. Its echoes of renaissance carvings evoke nostalgia for a lost and unrecoverable past. Its streamlined curves evoke the forward-looking hopes of the machine age. Like other great works of art it prompts intense mixed feelings, a double sense of loss and gain: it simultaneously portrays something that has receded into the abyss of time and something that is still emerging.
The lesson here is: if you have a favorite font, cherish it, if only in private, for the first draft of anything you write is an intimate undertaking. You'll feel better about your writing if you do and have a better sense of when you're getting it right. It takes only a few keystrokes to switch the font of your ms to Times-Roman, Courier, or --goddess forbid--Helvetica and is easier, probably, than changing your clothes.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Murder, She Blogged

Jess McCabe has been presenting a series of posts-- Murder, She Blogged-- at Bitch Magazine that you might want to check out, if the detective genre (some print, mostly television) appeals to you. (She's about halfway through.) Here are the posts she's made so far:

Murder, She Blogged: Why Detectives?
Murder, She Blogged: The First Female Detectives?
Murder, She Blogged: Class and Fashion in Miss Marple
Murder, She Blogged: Retrosexism in Life on Mars and LA Noire
Murder, She Blogged: Let's Celebrate the Spinster Detective
Murder, She Blogged: About the US Killing
Murder, She Blogged: Lund
Murder, She Blogged: Castle
Murder, She Blogged: Detectives in Distress
Murder, She Blogged: Prime Suspect
Murder, She Blogged: Mrs. Columbo

I was pleased to see her citing Lucy Sussex's work in her post on the first female detectives.

Invisible Heroism

The Talk About Equality blog asks: If a Married Lesbian Couple Saves 40 Teens from the Norway Massacre and No One Writes About it, Did it Really Happen? 

The story has been well-covered by International media and the mainstream press here in the US.

What you probably have not heard about is the married lesbian couple who rescued 40 teenagers during and after the bloody event. Several blogs and gay and lesbian publications are now picking up the story, but the heavy hitters who usually kill for hero stories like this, have remained silent.
(Link thanks to the F-Word Blog.)

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Building Irony's Abs and Pecs

Wow. this situation is that the entire debt debate was catalyzed by a financial crash which the credit agencies directly helped cause

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Aqueductista News

--At Alexandria's Eve, Nic has posted a thoughtful review of Nicola Griffith's With Her Body.

--Marjorie Senechal reviews Chandler Davis and Josh Lukin's It Walks in Beauty: Selected Prose of Chandler Davis, at length, for the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics. I think I can safely aver that this is the first time an Aqueduct Press title has been reviewed in a mathematics journal.

--I'm going to the dentist this afternoon, to have a "tiny" cavity filled. More exciting is that I've just received, in the mail, this year's Clarion West tee-shirt. This year's class didn't put a brain with a fork on it, but it's not without its own particular moment...

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Appeals court rules that corporations can own genes: they just keep piling on the woe for the "lower" 95%

Remember the case of the corporation taking out a patent on one of the genes for breast cancer? In the Psychotic Congressional Drama of the last week, you might have missed the report on the Appeals Court ruling. Here's the July 29 press release by the American Civil Liberties Union:

NEW YORK - July 29 - In a 2-1 decision, a federal appeals court today partially reversed a lower court’s ruling in a case challenging patents on two human genes associated with hereditary breast cancer and ovarian cancer. The court ruled that companies can obtain patents on the genes but cannot patent methods to compare those gene sequences.

The ruling follows a lawsuit brought by a group of patients and scientists represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) and calls into question the validity of patents now held on approximately 4,000 human genes.
“Today’s ruling is a blow to the idea that patent law cannot impede the free flow of ideas in scientific research,” said Chris Hansen, a staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. “Human DNA is not a manufactured invention, but a natural entity like air or water. To claim ownership of genetic information is to unnecessarily block the free exchange of ideas.”

The lawsuit against Myriad Genetics and the University of Utah Research Foundation, which hold the patents on the genes, charged that the challenged patents are illegal and restrict both scientific research and patients’ access to medical care, and that patents on human genes violate the First Amendment and patent law because genes are "products of nature."
“As the dissent from today’s decision explains, pieces of the human genome are not patentable,” said Daniel B. Ravicher, executive director of PUBPAT and co-counsel in the lawsuit. “This is because no one ‘invents’ genes. Inventions are things like new genetic tools or drugs, all of which can be patented because they are not genes themselves.”

The specific patents the lawsuit challenged are on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.

Mutations along those genes are responsible for most cases of hereditary breast and ovarian cancers. Many women with a history of those cancers in their families opt to undergo genetic testing to determine if they have the mutations on their BRCA genes that put them at increased risk for these diseases. This information is critical in helping these women decide on a plan of treatment or prevention, including increased surveillance, preventive mastectomies or ovary removal.

One of the judges on the panel dissented in part with the decision, writing that patents on the genes should be invalid. “…[E]xtracting a gene is akin to snapping a leaf from a tree,” Judge William C. Bryson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit wrote. “Like a gene, a leaf has a natural starting and stopping point. It buds during spring from the same place that it breaks off and falls during autumn. Yet prematurely plucking the leaf would not turn it into a human-made invention.”

The lawsuit, Association for Molecular Pathology, et al. v. Myriad Genetics, Inc., was filed on behalf of breast cancer and women’s health groups, individual women, geneticists and scientific associations representing approximately 150,000 researchers, pathologists and laboratory professionals. Because the ACLU's lawsuit challenges the whole notion of gene patenting, its outcome could have far-reaching effects beyond the patents on the BRCA genes. Approximately 20 percent of all human genes are patented, including genes associated with Alzheimer's disease, muscular dystrophy, colon cancer, asthma and many other illnesses.

The patents granted to Myriad gave the company the exclusive right to perform diagnostic tests on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes and to prevent any researcher from even looking at the genes without first getting permission from Myriad. Myriad's monopoly on the BRCA genes makes it impossible for women to access alternate tests or get a comprehensive second opinion about their results. It also allows Myriad to charge a high price for its tests.
“The court has made the wrong decision for a women’s health,” said Sandra Park, staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “No corporation should be able to claim ownership of a woman’s own genetic information.”

Several major organizations, including the American Medical Association, the March of Dimes and the American Society for Human Genetics, filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of the challenge to the patents on the BRCA genes. In addition, the United States Department of Justice filed a brief arguing that many of the gene patents issued by the Patent Office are invalid.

Attorneys on the case include Hansen and Aden Fine of the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project; Park and Lenora Lapidus of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project; and Ravicher and Sabrina Hassan of PUBPAT.

Today's decision can be found online at:

More information about the case, including an ACLU video featuring breast cancer patients, plaintiff and supporter statements and declarations and the legal complaint, can be found online at:

New Ebook Collection from Nancy Jane Moore

Book View Cafe has just released my ebook collection of very short stories, Flashes of Illumination. These 52 stories include everything from slipstream to science fiction to fantasy to memoir.

As with all Book View Cafe ebooks, this one is DRM-free and comes in a variety of formats so that it can be read on all reading devices. It costs $2.99.