Randomness for 12/3

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1) Skimp or Spend, an Illustrated Mens’ Style Buying Guide

2) Seven Things I Learned Reading ISIS’s Magazine.

3) She can write like a man, they said, by which they meant, She can write.

4) Piecaken

5) I dressed like Cookie (from EMPIRE) for a week to get over my Impostor Syndrome.

6) Purple Rain, remade in a language without a word for “purple”.

7) That history of the Mork and Mindy show you didn’t know you wanted.

Zombies Beat Orcs: Persistent Racism in Fandom

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I’m about to run out the door and do some writing, but first let me drop this link from Toby Buckell: Yes, Virginia, people of color do fucking read SF/F

First of all, why write a post asking “Where Are All The People of Color in Sci-Fi/Fantasy?” in this day and age? They’re out there, and easily found for anyone willing to make the extreme effort of searching with google.

But the post I’m linking addresses a particular comment, which is emblematic of a number of shitty zombie arguments that continue to be made. At this point in history, we ought to be addressing the institutional and subconscious aspects of racism. We ought to be long past this sort of white supremacy. But we’re not. These beliefs just won’t stay dead, no matter how many times they’re buried in evidence that refutes it.

And every time I think “I should get more involved with sf/f fandom” I read something like this and just go back to my writing.

Black Man Arrested for Selling His Art

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Update: I missed the date on this. It’s from last November. Thanks to Nick Mamatas for pointing that out. In March, a judge dismissed the charges. Still, that’s a lot of months lost to a prosecutor’s ambition.

Original Post: From San Diego, a local rapper by the name of Brandon Duncan faces life in prison for making and selling a CD of his music. Why?

Duncan is a member of a local gang that has been involved in a series of high-profile shootings, although Duncan himself has not been party to any of it. However, the shootings have raised the profile of the gang, and prosecutors allege that has helped Duncan sell copies of his album.

To be clear, he created a rap album. It has nothing to do with the shootings. He has nothing to do with the shootings, except for his gang affiliation. And yet, he’s in jail on $1 million bail until his December court date and he’s being charged along with 14 others.

Would they have charged him if he’d written a book? Seriously, would they have charged him if he’d written a book about gang life? I doubt it.

Duncan’s new album isn’t available but you can still buy a copy of his older work (as “Tiny Doo”) through iTunes or Amazon, if you like that sort of thing. Maybe that would help him afford bail.

Our judicial system is supposed to be adversarial so the truth can win out in a contest of equals. Sadly, we’ve spent decades changing the rules to benefit the state, and politically ambitious prosecuting attorneys know how well a tough-on-crime reputation plays with the voters. Frankly, I’d like to see government prosecutors receive a lifetime ban from holding another elective office, so they won’t feel the temptation to pad their resumes with the unjustly ruined lives of American citizens.

Randomness for 7/24

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1. The Hot Tub Hammock.

2) If The Moon Were Only One Pixel: a tediously accurate scale model of the solar system.

3) Some kitchen gadgets are all about the NOPE.

4) Like selfies? Like toast? Now you can get your own selfie toast.

5) Keyboard shortcuts for novelists.

6) Sure, whites are privileged, but not me personally!

7) The Artisinal Landlord Price Hike Sale.

Randomness for 7/13

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1) Why do people go bald? Video

2) A conversation between graffiti artists and removers.

3) Fearless girl rips out own tooth with a slingbow. ::faints::

4) The names of ten fireworks effects.

5) Assigned to write an essay about a “leader” a group of teens decide to stand out from the pack and contact gangster Whitey Bulger in prison. He wrote back.

6) Ten Paintings of Guy Fieri as a Renaissance Baby.

7) The Detective As Speech. “An early letter I received after publishing my first book, Indemnity Only, came from a woman who wanted to know why V. I. Warshawski was allowed to “talk back” to men without being punished. The writer wasn’t seeking help in learning to talk back herself; she was criticizing V. I. for behaving in a way that was neither right nor natural.” h/t James Nicoll

Massive Failures of Copyright and Capitalism

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One of the supposed benefits of the copyright system we have is that people with a monopoly over intellectual property will have a market incentive to keep that IP going. There’s money to be made selling copies, they’re the only ones with the right to make copies, so copies will be available.

Obviously, this doesn’t really work. We have numerous examples of IP that have fallen out of print, which can not be legally acquired without paying ruinous prices for used goods.

And if you though THE FUTURE would change all of that with digital distribution, nope. FOR EXAMPLE:

ONE:

TWO:

Hopefully, those images show up, but if they don’t, the links take you to the Amazon page for the film soundtrack pages for THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING/THE TWO TOWERS – THE COMPLETE RECORDINGS, respectively. If you want to buy either one you have to pay (at the time I’m writing this) $250/$800 used, or $500/$1300 new.

Of course, if you want to buy The Complete Recordings of Howard Shores’s Return of the King soundtrack, that’s on iTunes.

Why is the third one available for digital download but the first two are not? Good question! You’d think they would be leaving money on the table. So I emailed Warner music about it. The message I sent was lost in the contact form, but it basically reiterated what I said above, along with a request that someone put digital copies on sale. The response:

Hello Harry,

Thank you for contacting us! We do not have current plans for this release, but thank you for your email and your input. We will forward your message to our suggestion box.

Okay. I’m in the suggestion box. For whatever that’s worth.

So, here is some art work–and not obscure art work, either, it’s the complete record of an Oscar- and Grammy-winning musical score–that can only be legally acquired at ridiculous prices.

It’s ridiculous.

Look, I’m in favor of copyright. I pay my bills with the money I earn because of copyright law. And when I see something I can’t afford, I don’t try to get hold of it another way. That’s how I choose to live.

But this is a ludicrous situation to be in.

We Are Not Descended from Monsters: the Illusion of Moral Clarity

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At one point not too long ago, I had to ask myself: Why are so many dramas that examine social evils set a generation (approximately) before they were made? From Auntie Mame to Mississippi Burning to comedies like Ruggles of Red Gap, the easiest way to talk about systemic social problems is by looking at the ones you can see in your rear view mirror. Criticizing your parents (or grandparents) is way easier than taking a careful look at your own flaws.

We’re all familiar with people who imagine themselves heroes of the past, saying exactly the sort of thing this comic mocks. (I encourage you to click that link. It’s great.) But would we have been paragons of progressive virtue? Or would we have accepted the status quo with a shrug and an unconvincing rationalization?

We all like to imagine ourselves to be good people, and to be on the right side of history. Of course, when we look back we see that the ones on the right side were often killed for the cause. For people who think they would have joined the righteous protest back then, it’s important to ask if you’re doing it now. Getting tear gassed by NYC cops after they stick you in an enclosure? Getting shot with rubber bullets for marching in the street? Getting arrested at a demonstration because you flinched when a police officer reached for you? No? Hmm.

And, as mentioned above, the people on the wrong side of history were not monsters. They loved. They did charity. They worshiped with sincerity. They had strong ideas about good and evil. They acted with honor and kindness.

But they also bought into a corrupt system that was so pervasive they couldn’t even recognize another way to be. That doesn’t make them monsters, and it doesn’t make them mustache-twirling villains.

It doesn’t help that the narratives we tell are full of Evil Baddies of Evilness, who are irredeemable assholes rewarded with a bullet at the denouement. Hell, right now I’m reading Tom Shippey’s J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century and I plan to reread a one-volume edition of Lord of the Rings right after, to see if I can get through it without skimming.

That book is the archetype of othering your enemies and making monsters of them, and I’m going to read it again (right after I rewatch the movies).

Obviously, there are real villains in this world, just as there are real heroes, but everyone thinks they’re one or the other. Most aren’t. Most are caught up in the cultural assumptions around them, and are living their lives the best way they know how.

To make note of the “fossil fuel” comment by Ta Nehisi-Coates, I want to tell a brief story: Earlier this week I took my family to see INSIDE OUT. Not having a car, we walked six blocks to the bus stop. On the way, a neighbor who lives in our building drove by and parked right beside the stop. He and his girlfriend (both young and healthy) were running an errand and instead of walking on a hot June day, he drove. Six blocks. And it’s not like he was picking up a mattress or something huge.

I don’t want to seem like I’m picking on the guy; if I sold more books, I’d have a car, too. But driving six blocks? Hey, maybe he was in a hurry. Maybe he didn’t want to get all sweaty. Maybe he had another errand to run across town (it’s possible!) But getting into your car and going is how Americans live. We know the damage it does, not just to the environment but to our bodies, too, and yet we still build cities to accommodate them. Those cities that predate the car get retrofitted for them. That’s how our world is designed, from getting to work to shopping to school to everything. Going against that is hard. I know, because we’re doing it. I waste a shitload of time, comparatively, just to go to the library. I walk for an hour to take a trip that is less than 15 minutes in a car. It’s good for me, but I know the time I’m giving up is writing time, and that sucks.

But I’m not an anti-climate change hero. I’m not fighting for a better world, or setting a good example. I’m just poor. When future generations look back on our wasteful choices, I hope my descendants don’t try to defend me by saying I’m not a monster. I hope they know better.

It’s easy to look back at the moral failings of past generations and pretend that we’re different. We aren’t. The fact that they did awful things, or fought to sustain evil institutions, or turned a blind eye to injustice doesn’t make them any different from us. Most of us do the same.

Activism. It works.

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Per this morning’s Supreme Court ruling, same sex couples can be married in all fifty states in the US. It’s a great victory for justice and equal treatment under the law, and it was accomplished through the hard work of activists all over the country.

But I want to disagree with this quote by Theodore Parker:

We cannot understand the moral Universe. The arc is a long one, and our eyes reach but a little way; we cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; but we can divine it by conscience, and we surely know that it bends toward justice.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. offered this punchier version:

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

I think that’s wrong. There is no moral universe, and there’s no reason that human beings will continue to accept more human beings into their in-groups, granting them rights and laws. We know that’s the just thing, but the passive construction of that cliche disguises the fact that justice comes about because people fight for it.

Activists fought to have the Confederate flag taken down from government buildings, and that’s beginning to happen. Activists fought to legalize same sex marriage, and they have succeeded. They have a won a hard-fought victory. Congratulations, and good luck in the next fight.

Things move quickly because we’re aching for change, stars and bars edition

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It didn’t take long for a groundswell of public opinion to start pushing against the Confederate battle flag. Walmart, Sears, eBay, and Amazon have stepped forward to say they are not going to continue selling the stars and bars. Also:

Next we should get rid of Jefferson Davis Highway, and rename the last high school in the country named after Nathan Bedford Forrest, one of the founders of the KKK.

It seems like it’s coming very quickly, doesn’t it? Public opinion is shifting decisively. All my life I’ve heard people saying that the Civil War was not really about slavery, and blah blah blah, but those old stories don’t stand up any more. They’re too easily disproven.

If you’re the jerk I recently unfriended on Facebook, you might think this is all reactionary bullshit that accomplishes nothing, but I have to lay a giant NOPE on that. There’s no serious argument to be made that the stars and bars belongs on US government buildings. It’s a flag of treason. US soldiers were shot by rebels marching under it. There’s no serious argument to be made that the flag has nothing to do with white supremacy. It was flown in a rebellion fought over the keeping of slaves, and it has been resurgent since the fifties as a giant fuck you to the civil rights movement.

Taking down one flag, changing the name of a school or highway, or moving a statue into a museum isn’t going to solve all of our problems with racism. They don’t have to. These victories are cumulative.

And they matter. They may seem like petty things on their own, but taken together they form the gigantic foundation I was talking about last week.

There’s change to be made in communities far from us and in our own neighborhoods. Make your voice heard.

This is not the floor

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It will be difficult to keep this short. There is so much to talk about, and it’s all important, that the temptation to digress is powerful, and I’m easily distracted. But I want to keep this short and to the point.

On Wednesday, Dylann Roof, a 21yo white man, walked into a black church in Charleston and murdered nine people. You can read more about the victims here and you should.

Right now, as I write this, it’s late in the day on Thursday. I’m sure there is a lot of misinformation floating around, but one thing that seems clear is that he shot those people because he is a racist.

And there are ten thousand things to say here: from the prevalence of gun violence to the friends who said nothing when Roof made racist jokes, from Roof’s claim that he was defending white women to the Confederate flag still flying all over this country.

But what I want to point out is that, for too many white people, Dylann Roof is the face of racism in this country, and that’s a problem.

When yet another white guy freaks out because he’s been called on something racist he’s done or said, it’s because he thinks he’s being compared to people like Roof. Or Bull Connor. Or James Earl Ray. He’s outraged because that’s what he things racism means.

That’s too easy, though. That’s describing the problem by it’s most extreme manifestations, while ignoring the rest. These people want to define racism by its most egregious actions, then put a floor under it. Everything below that doesn’t count. Unfair hiring practices? Police profiling? Unequal education? Refusal to cast any black actors in shows set in racially diverse cities? None of those things, the argument goes, are as important as a mass shooting. None of those things, the argument continues, deserve such a heinous label as “racist”.

Except those things are racist. Absolutely so. And being called on racist behavior is not equivalent to being called another Dylann Roof. There’s a whole range of behaviors and assumptions that make up a racist society that don’t approach the level of mass murder. And those assumptions and behaviors–and worse, the complacency in the face of continued injustice–are what makes Roof possible. He may be the highest expression of the murderous contempt that makes up white supremacy, but he stands so high because we have given a gigantic foundation.

Now is the time to mourn the victims and to speak out against racism. Now is also the time to accept that Dylann Roof is not the face of racism. He’s just the far end of the bell curve. The rest of us–me included–need to do better.