Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Issue #27 of Crossed Genres: Ensemble

The new issue of Crossed Genres is up!

This month's issue, Issue 27, is Ensemble.

From Elizabeth Beechwood, we have a lyrical tale from a novel point of view -- the mountains speak to us about those who live on their slopes and in their valley, in "Stone Dove."  (See an interview with Elizabeth Beechwood, here.)

From Peni Griffin, a magical story about family and families, of all kinds: "Quiet Hour."

And from one of my favorite writers, Tais Teng, a tale of life in the near future, "Any House in the Storm."

Monday, March 02, 2015

Why [Some of] Your Students May Have Trouble With Facts

Or rather with telling fact from opinion.

If your education was like mine, your grammar school teachers spent a small amount of time teaching you the difference between fact and opinion.

You probably remember, as I do, the worksheets and the games.

Chocolate is the best ice cream -- fact or opinion?
Kansas is a state in America -- fact or opinion?
Wood will burn in a fireplace -- fact or opinion?
Crash is the worst movie ever -- fact or opinion?

What could possibly be controversial about this, you wonder?

Ha.  This is because you are not a Far-Right Religious Conservative.

Rod Dreher explains to us that this is a very offensive and incorrect division, which will teach our young students to think "chaotically."

Why so?

Well, he says -- or at least links to Justin McBrayer (a perfect name) who says, and then agrees with McBrayer -- that this fact/opinion division is incorrect.

First, you see, it is scientifically incorrect.  Think of science, this gentleman exclaims.  There are things that could be true in science which you could not prove, and yet --

The example he gives is life on other planets.  You can't prove that there is (or is not) life on other planets, and yet there may well be (or not be) life on other planets.

This, of courses, misses the entire point of the exercise.  We don't need to be able to actually prove the thing; we just need to know whether we could prove the thing.

Let me give McBrayer an example closer to Earth.

My cat weighs 11 pounds -- fact or opinion?

Do y'all need to actually weigh my cat to know whether that is a fact or an opinion?  No, Socrates, you do not.

You don't even need to know whether it is true or not. Its truth is something we can determine, and will want to determine if we are good critical thinkers -- but whether it is a fact we can determine by its nature of being verifiable.  I can, that is, in some way, in the future, find out whether it is true.

Now it is true that at this moment we can't determine whether there is life somewhere else in the universe.  But I can visualize ways in which that question can be factually determined.

This is different from "My cat is the prettiest cat," which is opinion*; or "A beach vacation is the best vacation," which is a matter of taste, or "Jesus is God," which is a matter of faith.

None of those can we imagine any criteria, now or in the future, for factually determining.

Rod Dreher goes on to object to the fact/opinion binary, arguing that this division makes morals not-true.  But this too is specious.

The only one putting ethics and morality into the not-true* box is McBrayer and Dreher and, frankly, the other Far-Right Religious Christians.  I have never once heard an atheist or a Secular Humanist do so.

Far-Right Christians love to set up this dichotomy -- to claim that if you don't believe in their Jesus, you can't possibly behave ethically or morally, because without Jesus and God there with their Code Ethics and their threat of Hell, no one would ever behave.

And yet, children raised with reason and empathy tend to be just fine morally -- often, much better than children raised with the threat of hellfire.  They're almost always much better at critical thinking, also, which is no surprise, since they're encouraged to argue and talk back, to question authority, and to engage in reason-based critical thinking.

And no, they don't think "Treat others as you'd like to be treated" is "not true," or that "Don't kill people" is just an opinion, or that "Don't be evil" is something you can take or leave, depending on how you feel that day.

Though, frankly, from some of the posts Rod Dreher has posted lately, that does seem to be his moral stance.

*She totally is, though.

** How, I have heard Far-Right Religious folk demand, can we Secular folk know that our ethics and morals are correct, if we don't have a God to tell us they are correct?  This answer is simple.  It is the same reason we know that the cat is on the mat, or that gravity is true.  We know that our ethics and our morality are correct because they work.  This is also -- no big surprise -- how we can tell when our ethics are not correct.  We do what is right so long as it is right.  When it stops being right, this is a signal to us that we should stop doing it.

You will note that Far-Right Christians have a problem with the second part of this formula.  They will just keep right on doing what they have been told is "Right" even when everything around them shows clearly that it is definitely wrong.  And they will insist that it must be "Right," because their God and their Code Book says it is "Right," no matter how many people are being hurt, and no matter how badly those people are being hurt.  You would think eventually they would learn.  But not so far.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Not Spock

I have to say this one is hitting me hard.

Plenty of people loved Kirk, or Bones.

Spock was always my character, as I think he probably is for many writers and artists, with his backstory -- the perpetual outsider, with his inability to ever grok, exactly, this strange warm human world that intrigued him so much.

Hard to think of the world without him.

               He disappeared in the dead of winter:
               The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
               And snow disfigured the public statues;
               The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
               What instruments we have agree
                The day of his death was a dark cold day.


Thursday, February 26, 2015


It is that time of the year again, when the thoughts of faculty turn lightly to WTF, why do we do this, WHY.

Faulty evaluation time.

Holy hell, why.

We must assess ourself, y'all.

We must set goals.

We must say what we hope to achieve with these goals.

We must say how we will assess those goals and achievements.

And -- but of course -- it must not be in English.  It must be in adminspeak.

We must create one document* for 2015 (the present calendar year) and one for 2014 (the completed calendar year), the former detailing what we hope to achieve, the latter assessing what we have achieved.

Due on Monday, in both electronic and hard-copy form.

These are the days when I wish I had chosen the life of a quarry worker instead.

*create a document = admin speak for "write."

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Destroying the World, One Analogy at a Time

Over on FB a little while back, one of my Grounded Parents compadres had a fight with an idiot an under-informed young man about why women's trousers don't have pockets.

My compadre's position was clear and had the benefit of being correct -- women's trousers don't have pockets because those people who design, manufacture, and sell women's clothing have decided, for their own reasons, that women don't need pockets.  I suppose they are assuming that we don't need to carry money around?  That we all have giant purses?  Who knows.

The result is that women don't have pockets in their trousers or their shorts, and so we either have to carry giant purses everywhere we go; or we have to carry wallets and phones and keys in our hands everywhere we go; or we have to buy men's trousers (my solution).

ANYWAY.  My compadre raised this pocket issue.  Kind of off-hand.  As one does.

At once, this idiot this under-informed young man leapt into FB to inform her that it was her own fault.  See, it was simple economics.  See, if only she would not buy trousers without pockets, then women's clothing manufacturers would stop making trousers without pockets.  The simple fact that trousers appear without pockets proves that women want trousers without pockets.

The multitude of complaints you can find, online and elsewhere, in which women complain about the lack of pockets in their clothing?  Pssh.  You may ignore all that.  Women can't possibly actually want pockets, or they would stop buying clothing without pockets.

(What's that you say?  There are no trousers with pockets for them to otherwise buy?  Except over there in the men's department?  Which some certain portion of women do buy?  Or really expensive clothing, which only really rich women can afford?  I don't even know what point you could possibly be making here.)

What is my point?  (And I do have one!)

This same economic model is currently being aimed at our universities.

Which is to say -- our universities are more and more being redesigned into model that works only for a certain sort of student.

Not necessary a bad or wrong student.  Just one kind of student.

Vocational training.

Online classes.

STEM classes (and only certain STEM classes as well -- pure science need not apply).

Technical and "business" writing.

Business degrees.  Health science degrees.

Students who don't want this sort of education -- who want more from a university career than that -- well, when they come to the university, looking for an actual education, they will find they can only buy trousers without pockets.

What will they do, then, but buy trousers without pockets, since trousers without pockets will be the only trousers for sale?

Then what will happen?  Then the university administrators and the legislators and the assessment committees will declare to us that, obviously, trousers without pockets were what these students wanted all along.

Because, look!  They're signing up for those Trousers Without Pockets degrees!

Well, aren't they?

Friday, February 20, 2015

Attendance Policies: A Venting Post

Yesterday my kid was sick.

Okay, not very sick.  A slight fever, a sore throat, body aches.

The sort of thing my mom kept me home from school for, in case it might be flu or strep or something contagious, because why take chances, not just with your kid's health, but with the health of the herd?

It's a difficult call to make with my kid's school, though, because she only gets five absent days per year.  If she misses more than that, we run into trouble with school administration.  (The penalties that accrue range from in-school suspension up to failure to failure to be promoted to the next grade, depending on how many absences we're talking.)

Now I entirely understand the reasoning here, believe me.  We want kids in school, and we don't want parents (and kids) taking days off for random and frivolous reasons.

On the other hand, holy hell, kids do get sick. And they also need to visit dentists, doctors, and opticians.  (Yeah, medical visits also have to come out of those five days.) Leaving me with the choice of sending my (possibly) sick kid to school, or keeping her home and burning a sick day -- which we might need later -- just not cool.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Working up Reading Lists

So my reading lists for Fall 2015 are due Monday (yes, this Monday), believe it or not.

This is no issue for two of my classes, which don't really have reading lists -- the Fiction Workshop and the Comp Class.  In those classes, I rely on internet sources, mainly.

But this Fall I am also teaching Diverse Cultures: Working Class Lit, for the second time; and, for the first time, Popular Culture: Dystopian/Utopian Literature.

I'm using some of the same texts in Working Class Lit that I used the last time I taught, but I'm ditching the books that didn't work well and adding in new ones.  Here's the reading list as I've got it so far:

American Working Class Literature                         
Oxford UP

Coming of Age in Mississippi
Anne Moody

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Betty Smith

The Road to Wigan Pier 
George Orwell    

Junot Diaz

For Utopian/ Dystopian Lit, I have this so far:

Thomas More

The Just City
Jo Walton

The Female Man
Joanna Russ

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
Robert Heinlein

The Dispossessed
Ursula Le Guin

Watership Down
Richard Adams

Comments or suggestions are appreciated!

I Won't Talk About the Past, Say Bush Scion

Jeb Bush won't talk about the past.

Because the Iraq War and the economic disasters caused by his family?

Yeah, those are in the past for him.

He can shake that shit right off his heels.

Lucky, lucky Bush family.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The White Queen: A Review

Over the past week, Dr. Skull and I have been watching the BBC series, The White Queen.

I highly recommend this series, especially for those of you who are looking for a non-rapey alternative to George Railroad Martin.  All the political intrigue here, none of the rape and very little of the misogyny -- which is to say, realistic, not imposed misogyny.  Also, women are main characters in this series, and women are actual characters as well.  I cannot tell you what a delight it is to watch a series in which women are just simply treated as people, doing things.

The White Queen is -- like George RR Martin's series -- more or less the story of the War of the Roses.

More directly, in this case, and more overtly; but still also a bit AU, in that the White Queen, who is Elizabeth Woodville, wife to Edward IV*, as well as Lady Rivers, her mother, and Elizabeth of York, Elizabeth Woodville's daughter, are all (according to the story) powerful witches who affect the course of the War and, thus, the course of history.

Aside from the magic bits, though, the story sticks fairly close to the history.  The acting is good, and the production values are lovely.  It can be hard for those of you (like me) who have a hard time telling one English-white-person's face from another English-white-person's face to keep the players straight.

"Now which one is this again?" I kept having to ask Dr. Skull.

"That's the Queen's brother."

"I thought he was dead?"

"No, her other brother.  The older brother."

But aside from that!

Well worth a watch, just for the writing and acting and lovely political intrigue.

Availability: For those of you with Amazon streaming, it's available there -- free, with Amazon Prime.  Netflix has it, but only on disc.

*This is the Edward IV who is one of the three York brothers -- Edward, George, and Richard -- King Edward IV; poor George who ends up being executed so ignominiously; and Richard III who is slandered so badly by Shakespeare and everyone else.  They are all characters in this series, which, among other things, will also show you just how badly Shakespeare is misrepresenting what happened during these Wars.  Which -- you know -- we knew.  Political propaganda being what it is.  But still.

Friday, February 13, 2015

What Would Jesus Do? Be Hateful, I Guess

Here's Rod Dreher, being a hateful little jerk.

Heaven Is For Real, he titles this post, and goes on to mock trans people, his favorite target these days, when he isn't mocking feminism.

This is a man who spend half his blog claiming piously that Christianity -- not just that, but his specific sort of Christianity -- is the moral anchor that will save these United States.  How he can lived with the shame of his actions, of the spite and hatred in his soul, I cannot imagine.

Christ, what an asshole.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Friday, February 06, 2015

An Argument

This post, by Marie Brennan, on the relative absence of women as characters in Patrick Rothfuss's The Name of The Wind, is well worth reading: The Absence of Women.

(H/t The Radish, where you will find many similar and equally excellent links.)

Brennan is by no means attacking Rothfuss or his novel.  Rothfuss is by all accounts a pretty good guy (I've never met him); I like the book well enough, and so did she.

But the problem she describes in her post is one we encounter, often, in SF/F novels; it's also one many of us are guilty of.  I know this because it's a problem I struggle with.

We've all been raised in a heteronormative culture, after all, those of us raised in the Western world.  We've all been raised in a deeply racist, deeply kyriarchial culture.  We've been fed a steady diet of media that shows us that one true story: only men matter.  The one true hero matters.  That one true hero is always male, always straight, always a white guy, always handsome.

And overwhelmingly, our hero is engaged in his one true hero quest: that's the story we get told, over and over, until we come to think it is the only story there is.

So when it comes to write our own stories, we have heads filled with this story, these tropes.  Small wonder that these are the tropes, or that is the story, we find ourselves telling.

But we aren't, after all, just programmed creatures.  We can tell new stories.  We can ask ourselves if that trope or that story makes sense.  And this is what Brennan points out, in her post; and this is what I have begun to do, over the past ten years, in my fiction.  (Mainly thanks to my writing friends and family and to writing group members who have patiently called me out, over and over: Thanks, y'all!)

Ask yourself this, when you are writing your story, when you are working through the draft: Why is this character male?  Why is he straight?  Why is he white?  Is there a reason?

Because if you don't ask this, most of your characters (unless you're very different from most of us) are going to be straight white males.

And then you're going to say, as many writers who do not examine their work say, "But I don't put people in my work based on sex!  I just write characters!  I'm not creating to a political quota!  I'm writing stories!"

Only, of course, you are creating a political quota.  It's just the one that got programmed into you when you weren't paying attention.  It's the one that says only straight white kyriarchial men matter, and then everyone else matters only as a supporting character.  Women are only barmaids and prizes.  Gay people are only sassy best friends, to die in the second act.  Black astronauts are there to be red-shirted. Disabled people don't even exist.

And you are also creating a lie.

Of course, all fiction is a lie; but fiction should be a lie that teaches us a truth.  If your fiction is a lie that supports the notion that 80% of the world is straight white men, and that all the really important stories are about them, then you're writing about a world that doesn't exist, and isn't real.

Write about the world that is real* --  Write a world with women in it.  Brown women.  Brown men.  Gay and bisexual and trans people.  Disabled people.  People who aren't from Ohio, for fuck's sake.  Make some of these your main characters.  Tell their stories.

You can also write about white straight men. Honest.  (Despite wild claims to the contrary, no one wants to kill all the cisgendered white guys.) Just write the world in which the white guy is one of the people in the world, not the only guy (a la Mad Max!) in the landscape, standing there with all the fevered lights of your narrative focused on him.

That's all we're saying.

*SF/F about the real world -- what!  But yes.  All fiction, even SF/F, is ultimately about this world.  I know, crazy talk, right?