Saturday, December 31, 2011

How Not to Be A Radical

There are a lot of people in the Occupy movement; many of them are amazing, talented, imaginative, dedicated, and truly rad.  Some are...less so.

A number of self-proclaimed radicals hang around Occupy.  Much like "honest" or "nice," if you have to tell people how radical you are, you aren't.  Understand, I think being a radical is a good thing, because historically "radical" is a word people use for those who are willing to ask difficult questions and point out that the Emperor is in fact butt nekkid.  Without someone around going "Dang. This shit is messed up.  What are we to do?" no good thing would ever be accomplished.  That is more or less why I'm part of Occupy Atlanta in the first place.

However, from the vantage point granted to me by spending years running about marching in the streets and hanging out with the sort of people who also like to do that, and also due to having read some books, I have a few opinions about what being a "radical" is and especially how one can do so most effectively.  Or not.

I've spent a lot of time with some very focused, organized and accomplished activists, some of whom know how to civilly disobey with style.  I've also done my time in duress with many a poser.  Here are a few tips on how to spot your garden-variety faux radical:

1.  Capable of chanting "Off the pigs!" and asserting that this is a radical action without the faintest hint of irony or apparent awareness that that chant is fifty years old, and in that whole time it has accomplished nothing of note, but that it does tend to inspire revulsion in a large portion of the population.  Unable to draw the obvious conclusion from this.  (Note:  Lest you think this is a left-wing problem, count how many very public figures on the right advocate shooting liberals, "jokingly."  It's a vile sentiment no matter who it comes from.)

2. Prone to choosing actions, behaviors, and protests which serve to reinforce existing social and power structures, rather than the opposite.  Rich white kids using very confrontational tactics is a good example; they can get away with it much more easily than African Americans and Latinos.  This ensures that the latter will be marginalized, especially if those tactics become the central focus of the activist group and are seen as a source of authenticity.  African Americans and Latinos may therefore feel pressure to participate in activities which are more high-risk for them; they are more likely to be targets of arrest and to be more harshly punished...thus further removing them from any influence.  Bonus points if the "tactics" employed involve property damage, which is less of a concern the more affluent you are, and extra bonuses if the property damage is committed in a poor African American or Latino neighborhood.  Not only does this demonstrate a finely honed disdain for working-class (always reframed as "bourgeois") concerns with  how run-down a neighborhood appears and the relationship of that to safety, it also serves to ensure that none of the locals will wish to join the group, thus saving the trouble of having to address their concerns in person.

3. Thinks that being a Marxist makes you radical. I know tenured professors who are Marxists.  They have academic journals and conferences. It's rather like how Hot Topic killed punk:  If you can buy it in a mall store, it's no longer counter-culture.  Once you can be peer-reviewed in it, it's not radical any more. I am sorry to be the bearer of this news, which is several decades old.

4. Prone to highly intellectual, theoretical discussions about "radicalism" and "revolution" while being allergic to any discussions of practical import;  see Mouse council, re: Belling the cat.  Sometimes this extends to not being able to make decisions about food or shelter due to the weighing of political implications and ideological soundness.  Will write lengthy e-mails with footnotes and references about the plight of the worker under capitalism, but not do any actual work.

The ends shape the means; you cannot create profound change by reinforcing the power dynamics and narratives which support the status quo, even if you dress in black and shout hoary slogans from the Vietnam War era while doing it.  Never confuse offending people with changing anything.  Never confuse breaking stuff with changing anything.  Never fall in love with your own rhetoric.  Noise isn't action, theory isn't practice, and talk is cheap.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Inside Job

If you're curious about why people are protesting in the this.

Inside Job, Narrated by Matt Damon (Full Length HD) from jwrock on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

So, what's their game?

We've heard that mayors from eighteen cities were on a conference call about their local Occupations but they deny that they were discussing strategies even though police actions just happened to occur in different cities on the same nights.  We've also heard that police forces in various cities have been seeking advice and help from federal law enforcement but what they fess up to sounds relatively mild ("seek legal reasons to evict, avoid the press").  However, as Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism points out, the mere fact of coordination itself has serious consequences:  "National coordination vitiates the notion that policing is responsive to and accountable to the governed."

I somehow suspect they aren't telling us the whole story.  (No! Say it ain't so!)  I think that if you look at what is happening in the various cities, it's not only obvious that there is an overall strategy, but one can deduce what the strategy is from what they are doing...and it's anything but benign.

1. Fabricate or exaggerate safety concerns. Use them as justification for police action. This is what happened in Atlanta; we got a series of notices from the city claiming that people had put coat-hangers and bare wires into the power outlets and that our safety-rated heaters were fire hazards.  When someone showed up apparently carrying a rifle (at least one Occupy Atlanta participant says that he handled the gun and it was actually plastic), the cordon of police let that person walk on by...then used him as an excuse to come in and arrest fifty-two other people long after he left.  If the police stopped the individual to check his permit and see if the gun was loaded, then they had to know whether he was a threat and should have dealt with the situation accordingly.  If they didn't, they weren't doing their jobs.
This approach is evident in other cities as well; the justification for the recent eviction of Occupy Wall Street was a claim of "public health and safety concerns."   Which brings us to...

2.  Fabricate or exaggerate health concerns.  The non-outbreak of TB in Occupy Atlanta is a excellent example of this.  TB is actually relatively common among those without shelter (or, as one Occupy Atlanta person refers to homeless folks, "the recently foreclosed upon") because they often have compromised immune systems. It's quite rare in the rest of the population, but it's not surprising that a shelter for people who have nowhere else to go such as Task Force for the Homeless might sometimes wind up with cases.  However, there were none among the members of Occupy Atlanta, and our headquarters on the 4th floor was not even put on alert.  Reports of an "outbreak" at Occupy Atlanta are factually untrue on several levels, and irresponsible...especially since nobody called us to ask before running the story.
I suspect reports of "Zucotti lung" have similar origins.  A less histrionic way of describing it would be to say that people camping out in the wintertime in New York under stressful conditions are prone to catching cold. But if you put it that way, the New Yorkers would all be taking them chicken soup. "Zucotti lung" sounds exotic and awful and like something you want to stay away from.
This is mostly not being said directly by city officials; it's coming from the news media.  But Rocky, you don't mean to say that the media are in cahoots with the government?  Aren't they supposed to be the Fourth Estate?  Don't they have journalistic morals and stuff?
I think ethical journalism went out of fashion when Edward R. Murrow died, and lingered in the vicinity of Walter Cronkite until it went to the land beyond where dearly departed ideals frolic and moral courage is a term people use without snickering. I used to be less cynical about this...about six weeks ago, in fact.  Then I saw the difference between what really happens and how it is portrayed close up.  I've seen so many journalists distort reality in the past few weeks that I've gone past thinking they are just lazy or venal to thinking there is something more to it:

3.  Put pressure on the media to repeat what officials say uncritically and bolster the government's narrative.   Admittedly, most journalists don't need pressure put on them by local government; they get plenty from their corporate bosses whose interests are being served.  But access is information which is journalistic coin, and it is the leverage that all politicians use to exert control over how they are portrayed.  That's the carrot.  The stick is that journalists who don't play along are denied their traditional privileges and become subject to arrest and harassment.  In Atlanta none of the professional journalists have been arrested yet, because they are mostly dancing to the city's tune, but three student journalists were arrested on November 5 including an intern for a local weekly.  The message for all of the other journalists is clear:  This could be you.
Before someone accuses me of conspiracy mongering, I want to repeat that what I'm doing here is looking for patterns.  If something happens once, that's the local police department doing it.  If it's repeated over and over in different cities...I don't think it's a coincidence.  Especially since traditionally in this country journalists have protected status.  When was the last time a journalist was arrested in the United States?  They get arrested all the time in places like North Korea and Iran.  Not here. Until now.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Remember also that at least in the United States, the First Amendment is at the core of the Occupy movement.  If the police and local governments are willing to trample one part of the First Amendment, why would they balk at another?
4. Identify and isolate leaders in order to remove them. Exaggerate internal divisions and exploit them. Where they don't exist, create them.  This is COINTELPRO type stuff, and is a well-known tactic which Occupy groups have mostly resisted.  The city of Denver tried to make Occupy Denver choose a leader with whom the city could "negotiate" (this betrays either ignorance of how Occupy groups function or a deliberate attempt to subvert it).  Occupy Denver responded by electing a Border Collie mix named Shelby.  In Atlanta it has mostly been more subtle; there have been several attempts to isolate members of the group who are perceived to be leaders in closed-door meetings, which would tend to generate suspicion towards them within the group and also allow officials to play a "he said, she said" game with whatever story they wished to put forth. Some of the folks who do a lot in the group have been portrayed very negatively in the press and have been otherwise targeted...sometimes from within the group.  Not everyone who shows up has good intentions.  I had one overly enthusiastic woman sit down next to me while I was trying to work one day and quiz me about who the "leaders" in the group are.  "But you have to have leaders! Tell me who they are!"  I explained that no, we really don't.  According to Capt. Ray Lewis (Ret.) of the Philadephia Police Department, "Anybody who says that is a cop." We know for a fact that there are police infiltrators in the Occupy groups, both based on past history and because some of them have been outed.  
There are certainly internal tensions and disagreements in any large group of strong personalities, and some of them run deep.  But the organizational structure and decision-making process of Occupy groups is designed to resolve internal conflicts and create consensus; it's designed also to resist co-option which is counter to the goals of anyone trying to infiltrate. When external authorities use those disagreements to justify police action, or members of the group seek to subvert consensus and foster conflict rather than resolve it, both should be viewed with suspicion.  Mayor Quan's claim that the Oakland police's attack on Occupy Oakland was somehow prompted by the desire of members of the group to "separate" from anarchists is particularly ludicrous, since the heavy-handed, over-the-top approach the OPD used was pretty much guaranteed to bolster the anarchist position that the state is inherently violent and that if you resist coercion by the forces of the state it's only a matter of time before they escalate no matter how peaceful you are.  Thanks for the demonstration, Mayor Quan.
5. Portray Occupiers as violent whenever possible.  Attempt to incite violence.  If that doesn't work, simply claim violence.  You'd think that no sane person would employ this tactic, but it has happened in New York, Oakland, and Atlanta.  Whether or not protesters became violent in response...and in Atlanta they did not...the violence came from the police first.  This is the shadow of civil disobedience, and a cynical attempt to undermine it.  The moral authority of civil disobedience comes partially from the sight of peaceful, unarmed protesters being dragged away by police.  So if you can successfully incite even a handful of the protesters into reacting, or reframe their actions to make it appear as if they have, you can attempt to undercut that moral authority.  Mostly the tactic has backfired...but they keep trying.  All they need is one good riot, you know?
I believe that the police officer who drove his motorcycle into some protesters in Atlanta was trying to incite violence.  The reason I believe that is because it happened after the group had attempted to turn off of Peachtree St. in order to complete a circuit around the park; they were blocked by a group of police motorcycles and more or less herded back onto Peachtree, where they were faced with police on horseback and a SWAT team in riot gear.  The motorcycles circled around behind the main group of Occupy Atlanta people.  It was at that point that the police officer chose to drive his motorcycle through the crowd.
You can't tell me that a policeman whose real concern is public safety and keeping the peace can look at a mass of agitated people who are mostly facing the other way and think, "Hmm, this is a great time to try to drive through that."  Brandon, the person whom the motorcycle hit, was injured, both by the motorcycle and because the police beat him up when they arrested him.  In a display of Orwellian irony, he was charged with assault.  In the reality-based community, when you hit someone with a motor vehicle you are the one who gets charges.  But "Occupy Atlanta member assaults police officer" went all over the headlines.  Strangely, when the charge was dropped, that didn't receive as much press.

Any crimes that happen in the vicinity of an Occupation get attributed to the Occupiers...even when they are the victims. One of the consequences of living in a park is that it's public, which means anybody can and will show up.  Incidents that have happened at or near Occupations involving participants have gotten a lot of play in the press, but as this article points out, nobody asks the obvious question:  How do the number of incidents at Occupations compare to the general population?  Or, say, your average college campus? It's my feeling that, considering how stressful living outside under constant threat of arrest can be, the Occupations are actually astoundingly peaceful.  But I would like to see some real numbers on that. I can say from my experience with Occupy Atlanta that we recognize our responsibility to keep the peace and take it seriously...but I do not think we should be held to a higher standard than trained professionals whose salaries are paid by taxpayers.
There is in fact evidence that police are encouraging drunk and aggressive people to go to Occupations, and refusing to deal with problems even when asked.   The latter happened more than once in Atlanta, including when "AK-47 Guy" showed up and was within a few feet of former ambassador Andrew Young.  Occupy Atlanta people formed a human shield between the former ambassador and the man with the gun, after the police flatly refused to interfere.
There's a saying about never attributing to malice that which can be accounted for by stupidity, and I myself have often said that just because people with the same interests and goals behave similarly it doesn't necessarily mean they are in cahoots.  If it were just that all of the mayors and police departments of the different cities were doing the same things, it might just be that they were reacting to the same circumstances from the same mindset and copying one another in a form of police state mimesis.   But we know that they were in fact talking to one another.  I hate to be so darn suspicious, but when they say they weren't colluding I am disinclined to believe them.  There's one way they could clear all of this suspicion up, however.  That's by opening up records of that phone call.
Considering that members of Occupy Atlanta have had an Open Records request out to Mayor Kasim Reed's office and the Atlanta Police Department which they ignored well past the deadline and are now stalling, I'm not holding my breath.  I think it is in the public interest, however, that we know what was really said...and why they think it's so important to stop us. Who are they really answering to?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Occupy Atlanta Ate My Life and Other Comments

Hi there, Internets.  Remember me?

Sorry I haven't written.  This social movement/political/apolitical/cultural/activism whatsit came along, I got all curious and decided to go to a meeting, and...the next thing you know, it's six weeks later and I've been interviewed by Forbes, the New York Times, the BBC, some radio station in Berkeley I can't remember, several local TV stations, and WRFG. It's quite startling to be a middle-aged college professor with some poetry and fiction publications whose last TV appearance may well have been appearing on the Scholar's Bowl show "Toss Up" in high school, and suddenly finding yourself in the middle of some international news.  Bracing, one might say.  I should also point out that, of the Media Committee, I am the most camera shy and tend to avoid interviews unless there's nobody else available quickly enough.  This compared with the list I just reeled off should tell you something.

I do like radio shows where I can show my extensive nerdy side though, and was on Just Peace yesterday, in fact.  I appear to have interested the host, Heather Gray, greatly, at least she put up a good front, and when she found out I was a writer she said, "You're writing about this, right?"  I demurred and got all shifty-eyed.  I mean, yes, I'm a writer.  I write.  That is what I do, my raison d'etre you might say.  But I've been mostly writing press releases, statements and website copy.  I've been so busy...

She admonished me that I should be writing about all this, and so I am.  Better late than never, right?

Well.  Um.  Lots of stuff has happened.  For example, I know now that you should write your lawyer's phone number on your arm if you expect to get arrested, because they take all of your things away from you in jail.  I also know that Sharpie tends to not wash off very easily.  You have to body scrub that stuff.

Also, pro tip:  Don't wear contacts around tear gas. They absorb it and funnel that crap right to your eyes.  Glasses are the best look for the nerdcore protester.  (THAT WOULD BE ME).

I've not only met State Sen. Vincent Fort, I tend to make a beeline for him whenever he shows up because he's smart and observant and has smart, observant things to say on all topics. I've met a lot of interesting people...this movement is full of smart, passionate, opinionated, talented individuals.  It's a joy to spend time with them, whenever I'm not wanting to strangle them.  (Love y'all. Really. Pay no attention to the duct tape. It's for a, uh, art project.) 

I now think it's normal to keep my sleeping bag in my trunk because I might decide to Occupy something on the spur of the moment, and my friends regularly greet me with "Did you get arrested yet?" The mayor of Atlanta appears to know who I am now, in a "dang, here she comes again" kind of way.  I feel proud. I don't know how visible I am really.  It's like living in a fishbowl with a bunch of very opinionated fish.

I feel a sense of accomplishment, and urgency.  Every day is like a year, and if I'm away for 24 hours I call up all my Occupy friends because I miss them.  There's a community forming, the seeds of something genuinely new; it's more than a social movement or a protest, though it is also that, it's a cultural phenomenon which can hopefully grow stronger and get better and thrive and spread. Things are shifting.  There's a change in the wind.  Look up and see the sky.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

State Sen. Vincent Fort @Occupy Atlanta protest

What a scary bunch of hoodlums we are.  Yep.  Have to run those people right out. Quick, get the riot gear!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Occupy Atlanta was raided earlier (last night)

The mayor told a whole bunch of lies and then gathered up some clergy to come talk us out of our escalating path of violence and gasoline-generator-related mayhem. /sarcasm

Said clergy came in today asking for a meeting time (5 pm) when we had a scheduled march posted on our website and everywhere else, ie a time they had to know we couldn't meet. We arranged to meet on Thursday at noon. The AJC and other outlets reported that we "refused" to meet with them, then later the police swoop in.

In other words, it was all theater and the outcome was predetermined. Welcome to the police state.  Don't believe anything you see on TV or read in a newspaper.  They're lying.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

We live in interesting times

I have been volunteering for Occupy Atlanta a lot lately, which means my life has been very exciting.  That is, I have been on the radio, on TV, wrote an op-ed for Creative Loafing which caused some poor Randroid such distress that he hunted down my UGA e-mail in order to tell me how wrong I was, got quoted by the New York Times, have been hobnobbing with politicians, rappers, homeless people, Marxists, anarchists, and Libertarians, and currently have a phone number written on my arm with a Sharpie.  In case I get arrested. I sold a short story and wrote this.

How has your week been?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

On consensus process and the goals of the "Occupy" movement

Author's note:  I wrote this for the Occupy Atlanta group, but it is not an "official" statement from that group. It is my own viewpoint.  When I say "we," I am speaking to, rather than for, other participants in the group/movement.  Which could be you, if you like.

"The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house." - Audre Lorde

We can't do things the same way and expect different results; that way proverbially lies madness. If you want to change anything for real you have to change culture, and culture change begins with people. Culture is people.

I've been around for a while; my first job was working for the Atlanta Greenpeace office, back when there was such a creature. I have been in a number of activist and religious groups over the years which were governed by consensus, and believe me I know the frustration that the slow messy operation of it can produce. And yet, I want everyone to understand that consensus is not just an awkward caltrop in the path to "real" action. In a very real sense, consensus process is the doing of the thing we wish to accomplish.

We aren't just pointing out the inequities of our society, or that corporate greed has brought us all to the brink of the abyss, or that the lobbyist system of government is corrupt. We might say all of those things, and a great deal more; we are a diverse bunch of people with a lot of opinions. And we're ok with that.

We aren't just here to speak a message; there are a million other organizations out there who have said what we are saying before. They are much more polished and orderly than any Occupy group probably ever will be. They are effective in various ways and to various degrees. Direct actions have also been tried before. They sometimes work, and sometimes don't. The elements of Occupy Wall Street are not really new, and yet they have captured people's imagination. Some of it is the historical moment. Some of it is another thing; the bracing shock of real freedom. We are so used to conversations that are carefully measured and weighed, calculated and manipulated, that the spectacle of a bunch of people speaking their minds about things they find important in raucous discord and occasional harmony is confusing. The news media certainly seem confused.

What we are doing is not just trying to prove a point, or challenging authority. We are demonstrating an alternative. Look around you. This is radical equality...never perfect in the moment, but in the next moment it can always be better. There is something magical about it even when it's tiresome and painful and awkward. This is what democracy looks like when you strip the motor down.

We are building the beloved community literally as we speak, and in our speaking. If you disrespect the process, or dismiss it, or look for too much focus in a polyphony of voices, you are missing a crucial aspect of the point.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Every day magic

I will be the first to tell you how Atlanta is too big for its britches and is a smoggy, traffic-ridden poster child for urban sprawl.  (This is tangentially the subject matter of the short story I am working on, "Maybelle and the Hand Grenade.")  On the other hand, I also assert that Atlanta is magical.  I mean...there's a Cernunnos statue in the middle of the Peachtree/Roswell Rd. split.  It has an extraordinary number of trees and green space.  It is also full of deer.

I've been on one of my periodic exercise rampages, which I have not been documenting here primarily because it's dull and also because it's a matter of time before I turn into a couch potato again and I'd rather not field questions like "so, how's that getting into shape thing going?" when that happens.  I am having a good time while it lasts and that's what matters.

Today I went to the Roswell Riverwalk, which is long and woodsy enough to keep me entertained.  It runs along the banks of the Chattahoochee (hence the Riverwalk designation) and abuts the National Park Service land.  It's pretty popular with humans, and also deer:

It's hard to see them, but there is a deer family minding their own business in amongst the trees...a young buck, a doe, and a fawn.  They pretty much ignored me the whole time; I gather they are used to paparazzi.

Friday, September 23, 2011

See my poetry LIVE!

Right Hand Pointing, Issue 44  "Kindred Spirits Worry Me" and "Water."

I have to thank my friend and fellow MFA Lee Anne Sittler for practically forcing me to send them something.  She's an instigator, that one.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

One from the vaults...

Long ago, (circa 1988-1993 or so) I used to be the graphics editor for a small SF 'zine called Planetary Previews.  I would sometimes do the cover image when our other artists flaked, and sometimes drew cartoons that appeared in the middle of the 'zine.  This was one issue's "centaurfold."

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Review: King's War by Maurice Broaddus

Caveat:  This is the third book in a trilogy, and I haven't read the first two.  However, I personally think that books in a series should be able to stand on their own. 

The concept...King Arthur retold as urban fantasy in a gang-war setting with mainly African-American and Latino awesome.  The execution is somewhat lacking. It starts slow and even towards the end the pace is glacial, especially for a story with this one's violence quotient.  Some of the Arthurian and fantasy elements...notably the Grail quest and the existence of Fae...seem a bit tacked on, as if the writer really wanted to tell a story about coming up hard, families, and betrayal and didn't weave the mythic elements in deeply enough.  They don't seem integral; you could strip them out and it would be essentially the same story.  I still don't know how magic is supposed to work in the world of the story or what its deeper significance is.

Some of the problems I would describe as technical. The eARC needs another editing pass (a seven-year-old is suddenly twelve only a few pages later, and a character description is repeated verbatim twice in different chapters). However, some issues are created by the specific choices the author made; the story is written in universal 3rd person, and there are many POV shifts and what you might call expositional telepathy....that is, we listen in on the character's thoughts as he or she just happens to be musing on things the reader needs to know.  This happens a lot.  The effect is to slow down the pace and undermine the immersive quality of the story. The prose also suffers from what I have come to think of as the Edible Person/Descriptive Default problem:  that is, the coloring and complexion of all of the PoC's in the book are described precisely, often with food adjectives ("coffee," "mocha," "toffee," "honey"), while all the white people are just white.*  The prose style smooths out in the later portions of the book and the pace moves more briskly...but this is the third installment in a trilogy, not the first. 

I liked the Guenevere character ("Lady G") and also liked the fact that she didn't just disappear into some nunnery-analog, hand to forehead; however, she doesn't seem to do a whole lot other than skulk about feeling guilty.  There are several more active female characters, but interestingly Lady G is the only one who seems to have the aura of the mythic about her that the story needs in order to evoke the source material; even Nine (ie, Nimue) is a bit prosaic and her motives, though they may have been explained in one of the earlier books, are unclear in this one.

I might be a hard sell here; I read The Once and Future King when I was twelve and loved it to pieces. I've also read Idylls of the King, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, The Mists of get the picture. And yet, when you take on a story like this, you choose exactly that kind of difficult challenge. Is it fair to complain that a book could have been brilliant but isn't? There's some potentially good stuff in commentary and philosophical underpinnings...but it just doesn't quite gel. I like the idea of the book better than I liked the actual book itself.  Arthur is such an old story with so many re-tellings that it's hard to bring a new twist to it; in that much, King's War succeeds (and, I assume, the preceding two books as well).  If you find the subject and setting compelling and are not as easily distracted by prose tics as I am, this book might work for you.  It didn't, so much, for me.

*I grant this is the kind of thing that many readers wouldn't notice, but the fact that it's invisible is kind of the problem.  Anyhow, K. Tempest Bradford was on a WisCon panel about describing non-white characters and made a crack to the effect that if she were really chocolate she'd be tempted to chew her own arm off.  And now I can't unsee it.  Thank you, Tempest.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Yay publication! For me, and maybe you...

My poem "Owling" (first published in Jabberwocky 5) was accepted for the feminist speculative poetry reprint anthology The Moment of Change.

I am being all cool about it but in reality when I first heard of this anthology I squealed like a very feminist little girl and sent off all of my poems that fit the criteria. I then spent long, agonizing months NOT pelting the editor with questions about how it was coming along or posting things on my blog (which she reads) such as "If I don't get into this anthology I will CRY."  That is because I am a professional. 

She is still looking for some poems that deal with trans-, genderqueer, or gender-change themes to round out the anthology.  They must be speculative (fantasy, SF, slipstream, magical realism), feminist and must have been previously published (reprint anthology, you see).  More about what she is looking for here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Here's somewhere you can find me...

General Orders No. 9 will be showing in Atlanta in about three weeks.  I plan to be there.  You should too.

 I keep watching the trailer over and over again, entranced.  "One last trip down the rabbit hole before it’s paved over."

Monday, July 25, 2011

Information you may not have

Especially if you are a TV journalist, apparently.

Definition of terrorism:  Violence carried out primarily to make a political point or for political ends including intimidation

Examples of terrorists:

The right-wing anti-Muslim conservative who blew up the Prime Minister's offices in Oslo
The man who shot Dr. George Tiller, along with all of the other anti-choice murderers
The KKK members who blew up the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL in 1963
Eric Rudolph, ie the Centennial Park Bomber who also bombed two abortion clinics and a lesbian bar
Ted Kaczynski, aka the Unabomber
Timothy McVeigh

All of these individuals, except for the Norwegian, were native-born Americans.

Not examples of terrorists:

Muslims raising money and applying for permits to build a mosque
People who are standing around minding their own business who kinda look Middle Eastern
99.99999% of airplane passengers
My cat

I'm so glad I could clear this up for you.  You're welcome.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Catherynne Valente was Guest of Honor at Mythcon...

...and proceeded to say some wise and marvelous things about fantasy and our medieval souls:  Dragon Bad, Sword Pretty.

Friday, July 15, 2011

National Wildlife Photo Contest

My sweetie is, among his other manifold talents, a photographer.  He has entered the National Wildlife Federation's photography contest, with these amazing images.  Go vote for them so he can win and buy more photography gear! ('cause you know that's where it all goes...)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Writing like a writey thing

Since I started tracking my submissions in March of 2009, I have sent out one hundred and twenty-five poems, stories, and paper proposals (some are the same piece more than once, of course).  I've gotten thirteen acceptances.

...Make that fifteen. Right Hand Pointing accepted my poems "Water" and "Why Kindred Spirits Worry Me" for their Issue #44. 

When the issue goes live, I'll post the link.  Per their website, they produce about six issues a year so it will be a little while.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Friday, July 8, 2011

High Weird With Jesus

I've been waiting to hear back from several publications and a job; today instead I got mail from these folks.

They are, by all accounts, Evangelical mail fraud, complete with fake "testimonies" and a groovy "prayer rug" Jesus who OPENS HIS EYES AS YOU LOOK AT HIM. (He really does!)*

I cannot adequately express how delighted I am with this. I was the kind of child who was very knowledgeable about parapsychology and cryptozoology, and when I was in high school, I had a copy of High Weirdness by Mail by Ivan Stang...a veritable cornucopia of crazy shit I thought was cool. Some of it was more respectable than the rest: I joined the L5 Society as a teenager, and later (after L5 merged with the National Space Institute) the National Space Society . For many years I had an NSS t-shirt. But while I took some of it more seriously than others, I adored all the weirdness equally, from Loompanics to the Erisian Liberation Front. Some people, when presented with the degree of creativity, resilience and occasional confabulation with which human beings face the irreducible problems of existence, the amount of wild-ass inventiveness and sheer effort they put in, feel pity, contempt, or despair. I think it's awesome. Whatever floats your boat down the river of life, buddy.

I discovered, in the process of writing this, that there's now High Weirdness by Web. It is a sad shadow of the print book, since the snarky entries were half the glory; also I don't find the whole SubGenius schtick as funny as I used to....something to do with my ex-husband. But it serves to remind me of things I haven't thought about in a while, along with some new ones I had yet to discover. For example, there's Factsheet5, which reviewed the 'zine** I was Graphics Editor of back in the day. I also used to talk to Kerry Thornley while hanging out in the square in Little Five Points in the 80s. I bought a signed copy of the Principia Discordia from him for $5. The book was last seen at a meeting with my oldest niece, some doughnuts and a plushie Cthulhu, and has subsequently disappeared.

Anyway, so now I have this paper Jesus eye-opening "prayer rug." I think I am going to send it back to them and see what happens.

*It's an optical illusion created by the way the image is drawn. Someone put serious effort into that.
** Planetary Previews Magazine. Many's the tale of madcap adventure I could tell.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Viking women got more respect than gamer girls

The other day the creative director of LucasArts, one Clint Hocking, made the point that if the gaming industry wants to be sustainable, they need more women. His chosen metaphor of Viking raiders unfortunately suggests a "Mars Needs Women" sort of mentality...which, ya know, could be part of the problem. Not that I think he's wrong about it.

Most of those who have responded with articles seem to agree with him, though many of the comments are predictably defensive, boneheaded, and hostile. Even the better comments demonstrate a certain degree of detachment from reality. At least one commenter claims that the problem isn't that there aren't more women in gaming development NOW, it's that women haven't "grown up" with gaming and (therefore) you need to appeal to the young kids coming up now in order to get results some time in the safely distant future. Aside from the fact that he is flat wrong about that (which I will get to in a minute), this is the kind of thinking that produces Barbie doll games and pink game controllers. I am not impressed.

Free Clue #1: Most geeky women are well-educated and well-read, and consequently highly likely to be feminists of some stripe. We are not interested in putting up with your boy's club crap.

Free Clue #2: Painting it pink will not help. That is because...and listen closely to this one, I am about to tell you a Female Type Human Secret...not all girls like pink. While you adjust to this shocking revelation, I further assert that putting a pink bow on it and calling it quits reveals that you have the mentality of an eight year old and the marketing sense of the Underpants Gnomes. "Lady gamers," forsooth.

Hocking is careful not to make the assertion that there is a vast untapped market of women gamers out there, but actually I think there might be. I base this on my own personal experience, plus my circle of acquaintance. I know a whole lot of very geeky women. I mean seriously geeky women; among them programmers, Georgia Tech and MIT graduates, LARPers, inveterate Monty Python quoters, and humanities PhDs. Some of them are gamers; some of them are not.

I personally grew up in the age of arcade games, and my favorite game was Galaga. I started reading science fiction when I was eleven, and my consumption of DAW paperbacks was prodigious. I've also played practically every RPG ever invented, including both Cyberpunk and Shadowrun. I used to have D&D in the pink box. I have committed LARPing. You'd think that when console games, MMO's and all the rest came along, I would have been a shoo-in. I tried; I used to play Civilization when it first came out.* Then I got bored.

And there you have it. Despite the fact that I have been heavily steeped in geek culture almost from infancy, and regularly play RPG's still, I do not play any form of MMO or console game. That is because they bore the snot out of me.

Basically, they take the things that I like least about RPG's....fight fight loot, fight fight loot...and strip away or gloss over the things I find most interesting....character creation, character development, social interaction, improvisation, and storytelling. MMO might as well stand for "Monomaniacal Munchkins Only." Based on a highly scientific survey which I conducted via the respected research methodology of asking my Facebook friends, many nerdy women agree with me. What those women like most about the games they do play are the social, storytelling aspects, and they are often frustrated by the limitations of what they are presented with. For what they can't get from MMOs and the like, they play text-based RPG's, as do I. Those are to my knowledge completely player-run. To tap that market, you'd have to offer the players something tailored to their tastes and needs which they can't already do themselves.

I occasionally get interested in the idea of working in the gaming industry, on the premise that I have something new to offer them in the way of ideas and approaches. I have an MFA in Creative Writing, am a fiction writer, and actually have professional training in educational role-playing games. Again, you'd think I'd be ideal. I've even got cultural street cred. I don't have many of the technical skills, but I'm not a complete dunce in that area plus, you know, gaming already has plenty of people who do that.** However, every single job description I've ever read for a writer or developer, even the fuzzier ones for which I don't need a lot of technical skills, includes something to the effect of, "must be a passionate gamer and familiar with all recent developments." That is, before it's even possible for me to offer a new perspective to a culture which alienates me to its own detriment, I would have to be completely immersed in that culture. In other words, in order to even qualify, I would have to not be the kind of person they presumably want to attract. I gently suggest that this might point to where the problem lies.

I don't know what else to say about that, really. Maybe someone in the gaming industry will read this and take what I've said to heart. Or maybe they'll decide the way to fix their Viking problem is to add some cute kittens.

*I tried again much, much more recently than that. Still bored.
** "Find someone just like me, only with tits" is not actually a diversity strategy.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Fundraising for "The Fifth Sacred Thing" movie

Yerba Buena Studios currently has a Kickstarter fundraising page up for this. I think it's worth supporting simply because 1) More science fiction in the theater equals yay! and 2) This is a very different kind of science fiction.

I liked the novel, though it had some flaws. But it contains a vision of a culturally diverse future, and grapples with ideas and tensions that your average movie completely ignores. They are pitching it to major studios in order to bankroll it, and it's possible that it's so different Hollywood will freak out and screw it up or they will alter it out of all recognition. But...maybe not. They made The Handmaid's Tale, right?

Monday, June 27, 2011

An opinion in five facets


I started reading science fiction in 1979. My mother taught a high school literature course on it...this was before public education got strangled in its cradle, before the rise of the Christian Right, before Reagan and the Contract With America, long before No Child Left Behind was even a malign daydream. My rural school system in southern Appalachia had a healthy vocational program, and also art, music, civics classes that taught you how government worked, local history...and science fiction.

The book was called Science Fact/Fiction
and had an introduction by Ray Bradbury, in which he talked about short stories he'd written and found difficult to sell because of their political and religious content. One dealt with civil rights, another with the question of what is or is not "human" (one of the great themes of science fiction, surely), another with the skin-color-based caste system and classism. That had been in the 1950s, and from the vantage point of the mid-Seventies he said, "It is hard to remember an America so involved with such shadows and such fears."

I was eleven years old.


There was a conversation not too long ago about a comment made by Eric James Stone on a post titled "Perfecting the Saints in Utero" in which he proposes that eugenics is just dandy as long as it is rooted in homophobia instead of racism. The comment was made several years ago; the present conversation was prompted by the fact that his novelette "That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made" won a Nebula and some folks were saying, "Do we really want to be giving this guy awards?"

My position on that was that I saw plenty of problems with the story in and of itself without bringing in any extraneous data. Also that considering how many talented writers are also jackasses, I felt a strong sense of impending impracticality.

I also, to be clear, think that the correct response to a problematic statement is to address it directly, and to a problematic piece of writing is to respond any of the ways that writers have challenged each other down the centuries...with open criticism, with parody, with creative responses of various types. Leaving out the occasional brawl. I think it's perfectly appropriate for someone to call him, or anyone, out. Or to write a different story...


So, apparently Lavie Tidhar wrote a microfiction called "The School." I won't spoil it with summary...suffice it to say that it calls out several science fiction authors by name, including Eric James Stone, and effectively skewers the "metaphor for race" trope among other things. According to Tidhar, two different markets declined to publish it as it was, because of "potential fallout."

I note in passing that Stone's story, with its triumphalism and homophobic subtext (not to mention ham-handed Austen references), was not (to my knowledge) rejected due to fear of "potential fallout." Nor do I think it should have been. I think we should fear not to challenge controversy: publish 'em all and let God sort them out.

I also believe that authors giving each other a hard time is an ancient and honored practice; at least as old as the Greeks and likely older than that. There is probably an as-yet-undiscovered cuneiform tablet of Enheduanna, the first recorded individual author in history, slagging off one of her upstart rivals in the hymn-writing business. As long as it is done elegantly and with substance, it contributes to the discourse.

The story is indeed substantive. Godwin's Law is not a can make the reference to Hitler when the comparison is apt. Which, when your story is about a future where humanity's ambition has been reduced to genocide, it is.


One commenter on "The School" complained thusly: "Just in case you forgot to feel guilty for a few hours while reading escapist sci-fi, Lavie Tidhar has followed you into your fantasy, nagging you from behind. Now there is nowhere safe from White Guilt."

You know what? Nobody held a gun to your head and made you read it, dude. Nobody chased you down, either. Plus, the premise that science fiction is and must be escapism is one I deeply loathe. Those of us who act like it has relevance in the real world...that is, who take it seriously...are not parade-raining spoilsports who peed in your cornflakes.

The presumption that some kinds of science fiction are "escapist" and therefore politics-free, and that those should be free from criticism, is simply wrong. It asserts that ideas and tropes and values which the speaker finds comfortable are not political. The implication is always that only the ideas they find uncomfortable are the political ones.

Let me go all old-school Second Waver feminist on you for a minute here: It's all political. Just because you are comfy with the notion that, say, some people are genetically superior to others, or it might be unquestioningly accepted by your social circle, does not mean the idea is not political. It just means you are complacent about it.

Besides that...anyone who thinks that science fiction = escapist adventure stories, and (by implication) it's just these modern blacks and wimmenfolk and gays who want to muck up your perfect Boy's Life nostalgia genre...hasn't really been paying attention.

The "Golden Age" of science fiction was dominated by people who came of age during and shortly after World War II, many of whom grappled seriously with the implications of nuclear weapons, imperialism, racism, sexism, environmental destruction, political paranoia, and perpetual war. Heinlein (whose issues in other areas I could write a dissertation about, but won't) wrote a story about sexual harassment on the job called "Delilah and the Space Rigger." It was published in 1948...when the propaganda push to get women out of the factory and back in the home was in full swing, and hardly anyone else had even heard of the concept. One of the stories in Science Fact/Fiction,
"Disappearing Act" by Alfred Bester,was a ferocious indictment of militarism which began, "This one wasn't the last war or a war to end war. They called it the War For the American Dream." That one was originally published in 1953. Judith Merril's short story "That Only a Mother, " published in 1948, has similar themes and was voted one of the best science fiction short stories of all time.

I grant you that women, people of color, and sexual minorities are often culpable for the promulgation of such notions. However, we have been doing it for at least sixty years. That ship has already blasted off.


Octavia Butler, in her essay "Positive Obsession," talks about being told "Negroes can't be writers" by a well-meaning aunt, and later, that black women didn't write science fiction. She also talks about being asked, "What good is science fiction to Black people?" At this late date, the "debate" about representation and inclusion of women and minorities in awards, tables of contents, and discussions is still raging...underneath which in the subtext is a question from the Implied Default Humans, why should we have to read their stuff? What good is it to us?

To which I must respond...why were you reading science fiction in the first place, again?

"What good is science fiction's thinking about the present, the future, and the past? What good is its tendency to warn or to consider other ways of thinking and doing? What good is its examination of the possible effects of science and technology, or social organization and political direction? At its best, science fiction stimulates imagination and creativity. It gets reader and writer off the beaten track, off the narrow, narrow footpath of what 'everyone' is saying, doing, thinking---whoever 'everyone' happens to be this year."

Tell it, Ms. Butler.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Twitter Chat!

I will be moderating a #FeministSF Twitter chat on world-building tomorrow (Sunday, June 26). Following it on will make it easier to deal with. Look for my Twitternym, GollyMollyB.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Raising the banner of mythpunk in academia

I will be presenting a paper on "Mythpunk Poetry in the Classroom" for the 2011 SAMLA conference in November. That's South Atlantic Modern Language Association for those keeping score at home. Regional conference, so not as many cool points as the MLA, but it also is in Atlanta and therefore easier to get to. The panel is called "Statues Talking Back, Beauties Becoming Beasts, and Little Red Riding Hood Laughing at Wolves: Revisionist Mythmaking in the Classroom." I totally intend to namecheck Catherynne Valente, Amal el-Mohtar, Erzebet Carr, JoSelle Vanderhooft, Rose Lemberg, and the rest of those miscreants.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Tornado Relief

Tornado Relief

People are rebuilding and still need help.

Friday, May 27, 2011

"America is a family of rainbow-colored ducks"

Dropped by Outlantacon/Gaylaxicon to drop off flyers for Southern Fried Weirdness: Reconstruction, my son in tow. Ran into some Outer Alliance folks, including Julia Rios who does their podcasts. Hilarity ensues!

Outer Alliance Spotlight #79 (you can hear me and Raven starting at about the 52 minute mark)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Skidaway Island Deer

I went hiking at Skidaway Island State Park last week.