Sunday, December 29, 2013

Friday, December 27, 2013

delagar: Top Ten Posts of 2013

So we're nearing the end of 2013, and I've been doing my usual retrospective -- helped out this year by FB, interestingly enough, which has this new feature where it shows you Your Year in Review!

My Year in Review, according to FB, starts out with a joke post I made on January 4, 2013:

"What's the difference between a large pizza and a writer?" 
 "A large pizza can feed a family of four."  BA-DA-Da-DUM!"

Then we progress through a day in June when I wrote an entire short story in two hours, Yom Kippur when the kid and I had an argument about fasting --

The kid -- good Jew that she is -- is arguing with me relentlessly about why she should not have to fast on Yom Kippur. "I'm an atheist! Jewish atheists shouldn't have to fast! Should they? WELL SHOULD THEY?"

I'm deeply amused, of course, because as much as keeping the high holidays is a tradition for Jews, so is arguing about religion.

-- the day I turned in my promotion portfolio, and a message from one my students about sexism, and another message from another student about graduating.

Seems legit like my year, frankly.

As an added service, though, I'm presenting the top 10 posts from the blog this year, for your delectation:

February 2013: Who Let The Girls In?

March 2013: Sexy Lamps! A Supplement to the Bechdel Test

Also March 2013: Why Do Fewer Guys Go To College?  

 (Bonus:  The Effect of Education on a Woman's Brain.)

April 2013: New Member of the Family

May 2013: Teaching Our Bodies, Ourselves

June 2013: Looks Like You Got Yourself a Feminist There

August 2013: You Are Hurting Me With THOSE WORDS

Also August 2013: Smile, Sunshine!  Good Manners and Girls

November 2013: Living While Female in Fundamentalist Country

December 2013:  Child Rape Is Just A Traditional Life Choice if It Happens To Girls

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Happy Chinese Food Day, Y'All!

Jewish tradition decrees that on Christmas day we sleep late, go to a movie, and eat Chinese take-out.

So that's what we've got planned.

I want to see Philomena; Dr. Skull wants to see the Hobbit.  We might have to flip a coin.

Luckily we both like the same Chinese food restaurant.

Hope y'all are having a great day.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Science Fiction: That Thing You Do

I'm teaching a Fiction Workshop in the writing of science fiction this spring.

Oddly enough, this is my first actual workshop in the writing of science fiction.

I've taught writing classes for a bazillion years now -- since I was a little tiny graduate student -- and creative writing classes for almost fifteen years; and in many of those classes I have taught science fiction writing on the side, as it were.

That is, I've allowed (encouraged, baited, nudged) students to write science fiction.  But this will be the first time I've attempted to teach students how to write science fiction.

As those of you who are teachers know, there is a wide difference between doing something and teaching someone how to do something.  As I'm working at my teaching notes for the class, I'm discovering how little I am able to articulate what I know about what this thing is that I do.

Science fiction: what is it?

I am making lists.  And doing research.

By January 13, let's hope I know.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Saving Mr. Banks: A Review

Dr. Skull and I went out in the freezing rain this afternoon to see Saving Mr. Banks, a movie I am certain you have heard of.

I'll say up front that I liked this movie.  Emma Thompson does a fine job, Tom Hanks is great, I love the Sherman brothers, most of it works quite well, and if the ending could have been less crowded (we barely get to see the sister who Mary Poppins is based on), well, the movie was already running long.

I even like the central theme of the film -- which it's not a spoiler to give you, since it's right there in the title: the conceit that artists create art as an act of redemption; as a way of creating justice which (because the world is a dark and broken place) is otherwise denied to us.

On the other hand.

I have always, frankly, disliked the movie Mary Poppins for what it does to Mrs. Banks.  In the books, the Banks family has a nanny because of the simple fact that British families of that era had nannies.

But in the movie, Mrs. Banks has a nanny because she's a bad mother, running off to marching for Equal Rights, the harridan.

This is touched on, very briefly, in the movie (so briefly that if you blink, you'll miss it), when Thompson, playing Travers, inquires of the scriptwriters why he has made Mrs. Banks a suffragette, and the scriptwriter says, well, it seemed odd to him that she would be neglecting her children otherwise, since she didn't have a job or anything.

Travers mutters a better explanation, about being overwhelmed by the work of mothering, and how not all women are suited to it  -- and the movie sweeps on.  Mrs. Banks is never mentioned again.

There is no attempt, in other words, to give a shit about Mrs. Banks, or about the redemption of little Minty's mother; or Walt Disney's mom (who never even gets a mention except as someone who feeds him).  The redemption of the father, locked away in the cage of labor, is central: the father who abuses the children, who torments and uses and fails his wife: his redemption is focused on.

And I don't argue with that.  It's a lovely bit of poetry.

What I argue with is what the film Mary Poppins did to Mrs. Banks.  In order to save the father, the man, are we required to erase the woman?

So that Mr. Banks can be saved, Mrs. Banks must tear down her dreams at the end of the movie, rip up her desire to be an equal citizen of the world (you'll recall at the end of the movie she tears down her suffragette sash to be a tail for John's kite), become subordinate and submissive, a servant to her husband and son?

The movie Saving Mr. Banks does, to be fair, show us the true story of what Mrs. Banks suffered.

That is, we see Minty's mother dragged along behind her husband, bearing too many children, living in misery and poverty and in subservience to him and to his dreams, in an attempt to keep the family afloat. We see the desperation to which it drives her.

What the movie doesn't give us -- for her -- is any solution.  The movie focuses only on Travers' father, on the importance of his life.  Perhaps this is even valid.  Little Minty did take his name as her own when she grew up, after all.

But this focus, on the father, this sidelining of the the mother / Mrs. Banks, does what the movie version of Mary Poppins did:  it tells us that women and their lives, women and their concerns, should be tossed aside, trashed, ignored in order to keep men and boys happy.  Ripped up to make a child's toy.

Our lives, our most sacred issues, are toys in comparison to any man's life, or even boy's life.

That's how little we matter.

UPDATE:  See also this, for something I totally missed, due to my utter lack of knowledge about Travers's biography.  The film Saving Mr. Banks erases Travers's bisexuality, her long-time partner, and (almost entirely -- there's one throw-away line) her adopted son.

I'd argue, as the linked article implies, that this erasure is done to refocus the energy of the movie on Disney -- to make it seem as though the agency and creation of the movie lay almost entirely with him; that Travers was a vessel he drew from and acted upon.  (His instrument.  His toy.)  In actual fact, as the linked article notes, Disney wasn't even in town during the events the movie covers.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

I Become a Skepchick Blogger

So this has been in the works for a bit, but today's the day.

I'ma Grounded Parent blogger for Skepchick.

Go here to read my first post:  Against Punishment.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

How Not To Do Criticism

Full Disclosure.  I'm a big fan of Sandra McDonald's work.  And so should you be.

If you haven't encountered McDonald yet, lucky you!  I'm about to introduce you to a great ride.

The first work I read by her was the story I edited for Crossed Genres, which was "Drag Queen Astronaut."  I loved it to pieces, and it made the Tiptree Honor List that year.  I immediately began seeking out all the work I could find by McDonald, something I have continued to do.

Some of my favorites by her:

Seven Sexy Cowboy Robots.

Tupac Shakur and the End of the World

Your Final Apocalypse

There are plenty more.  And most recently, she published what might be my favorite story by her yet, at Apex, Our Daughters.

Apparently this story and another in this issue (by Rachel Swirsky, another excellent writer) upset Dave Truesdale, who wrote an appalling review of both stories on December 14.  He seems to find "Our Daughters" mean-spirited and humorless, which bewilders me; and having said that, he descends into personal attacks against the author -- or rather, against an entire generation and class of authors.

What I see here….is a wistful nod in the rearview mirror hearkening back to those halycon early 1970s anti-male feminist rhetoric days full of anger and in-your-face generalized animus toward the male of the species.….We’ve come a long way baby, and this nostalgic reiteration of the strident feminist attitudes prevalent in the latter part of the past century is a welcome blanket of comfort to those young breast-bobbing firebrands who once burned their bras, who are now old broads gone to flab and seed (and who need their bras now more than ever)

Truesdale continues this personal attack -- rather than engaging with the work -- when he turns to Swirsky's story, claiming that because Swirsky is unable to be "pure" like Cindarella (what?) she has decided to mock and destroy that mythic icon.

Rather than acknowledging that such models of purity and innocence as Cinderella might be something toward which to aspire, or look up to as an ideal, the author has decided to destroy that which she cannot attain in real life. Envy? Jealousy? A desperate, angry attempt to knock from her pedestal a fairy tale princess realizing such is not to be in her own life? 

This is too bizarre to be insulting, but really: this is a professional review of science fiction, yes?  I haven't clicked onto a MRA site by mistake?  And this Truesdale seriously believes slut-shaming a writer is an appropriate critical response?

He goes on to argue (again) not against Swirsky, but against an entire class of writers whom he claims Swirsky represents: those who wish to overthrow the current system, which Truesdale seems to believe is a perfectly workable system, since it is possible to achieve success.  (Grace Kelly married a Prince!  That shows it is possible for a worker to escape poverty!)

The story takes direct shots at the ideal of purity, the pristine nature of a virginal Cinderella who lives with her stepmother and stepsisters, who labors hard from dawn to dusk doing scut work, but is rewarded by falling in love with a handsome, rich prince. It’s an idealized rags to riches story. Pain, suffering, abuse, and hard work pay off for Cinderella. Sure, it’s a fairy tale story and we know this happens rarely in real life (though actress Grace Kelly did fall in love with, and marry a true prince—it does happen), but the values it expresses are worthy ones.

Truesdale's reading of Cinderella differs from mine.  He does not see it as being about an abused child, oppressed by those who have power over her, who endures because she has no choice, and is rescued due to her actions toward those who are more powerless than she is (remember her kindness to the ants and the mice in most versions of the tale).

No, he sees it as a story of a girl who is "pure" and "virginal," who succeeds because she "works hard."  Her hard work, and her purity, lead to her success, says Truesdale, and this (he insists) is what infuriates the class of writers he is attacking.  That's why they attack the mythic Cinderella so relentlessly.

I don't remember anything about purity in any of the Cinderella stories, frankly, so I don't know where he's getting that, except out of his own head.  And her hard work does not in any of the versions lead to her success.  In all of them, it is either her kindness to others or plain luck or her beauty that leads to success.  (And her happening to be the sort of beauty that attracts the prince could also be luck.)

I'd also argue against his notion that these values are "worthy ones."  Do we actually want to endorse the values of enduring abuse and oppression, especially among women?  Or is Swirsky's interrogation of this tale a more interesting one?

Truesdale's inability to see any of this -- to see past women who won't be passive and enduring, I suspect -- is a real hindrance to his skill in writing valid criticism; or, for that matter, his skill in reading competently.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Contrarians, Not Conservatives

You may not remember the Sweater Wars.  

It was long ago, when our country still had some civility; when someone sitting on television and comparing feeding poor children to feeding stray animals would have  been greeted with horror, rather than chuckles.

But President Carter addressed the Nation during the first fuel crisis, saying that one thing America could do to help out was turn the thermostat down.  (It was winter.)  Lower the heat to 68. (Most people kept it at 78 in those days.) Put on a sweater, he asked.  It would save, I forget what exactly he said, but a ton of fuel oil that winter.  He also recommended other changes, mind you -- carpooling, combining trips, shutting off extra lights.  He put solar panels on the White House.

Most people in America responded positively to this speech.  Despite what you might hear, Carter's approval ratings were high.  Conservatives, though, are still mad about this speech.  You still hear echoes of how bug-nuts it drove them in their rhetoric -- "I'm turning my heat up to 90!"  "I'm turning every light in my house on!"  "Why don't YOU put a sweater on?"

Even if you don't remember the Sweater Wars, I know you remember the Great Light-Bulb Wars.

Despite what Conservatives fondly believe, it was the Bush Administration who introduced the federal standards for more efficient light bulbs, and with good reason, since the incandescent sort are mad inefficient, wasting 90% of their energy in heat that we then have to (in summer) cool away again.

The new bulbs are more expensive to buy on the front end, as those of us who have bought them know; but they're cheaper in the long run, since they last much longer and use much less energy.

If every American home replaced just one standard incandescent light bulb with a long-lasting CFL, the resultant energy savings would eliminate greenhouse gases equal to the emissions of 800,000 cars, according to the U.S. Energy Star program. 

Conservatives hate them because...

Well, why do Conservatives hate them?  The reasons they give are all transparently ridiculous -- the bulbs don't light the room as well!  They're toxic!  FREEDOM!!!1!!

In fact, they take about 30 seconds to warm up, and then they do light the room perfectly well; they aren't toxic if handled responsibly; and freedom?  Seriously?  You have a Civil Right to a specific sort of light bulb?  Who knew.  But you don't have a Civil Right to heroin, though?  Or to drive down the Interstate at 210 miles per hour with a bottle of Jack Daniels in one hand and an M-16 in the other?  Can you clear this up for me?

Then there are the Great Recycling Wars.  If you aren't in a city that has curb-side recycling, you may not be aware of these. But Conservatives also hate recycling.  The reasons they give, in their essays and blog posts, for hating it range from (1) no one has proved it works to (2) if it worked you would be paying us to do it to (3) it's my right as a free citizen not to do it and you can't make me to (4) isn't it great that this is such a wealthy country that we don't have to recycle if we don't want to to?  But the venom with which Conservatives address recycling suggests rational objections are not at the root of their argument.

Now we are in the midst of the Great Bicycle Wars.

A number of cities (sadly, mine is not one of them) have been making an effort to reduce the use of cars and other motorized vehicles within their city limits.  This is, obviously, a great idea.  It will reduce congestion, it will cut down on pollution, it will reduce the need for parking, it will reduce noise pollution.  They are doing it through the relatively low-cost means of creating more bike paths and (in some cases) by providing low-cost bike rentals or even (in some cities) free bike use.

Who would possibly object?

Right, you guessed it.  Conservatives. 

They have a number of ludicrous reasons for objecting -- people who ride bikes don't pay road tax (except of course we do); people who ride bikes don't obey traffic laws (yes, because people who drive cars do -- oh wait); people who ride bikes "threaten our personal freedom."  (What?)

But the real objection is the same reason they objected to turning down their heat in 1977; the same reason they don't want to buy energy-efficient light bulbs; the same reason they don't recycle or buy a more energy efficient car when that is obviously the more sensible thing to do.

They're not Conservative.  They're Contrarian.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

What's This? A Link List?

I have learned how to add links!

And it only took me ten years!

The Other Half of the Sky: News

I've just heard that three out of the sixteen stories in The Other Half of the Sky have been selected to be in this year's The Year's Best SF.  (That link goes to last years, but.)

We've also gotten a lot of press -- we got mentioned a few days ago by SF Signal as a small-press book that deserves attention.

So if you're looking for a book (with a beautiful cover!) to give someone, here's your chance!

Update:  See also this., over at Starship Reckless.

Top of the Lake: A Review

I just marathoned my way through Top of the Lake, Jane Campion's mini-series which premiered at Sundance and is available on Netflix streaming.

Spoilers: It's amazing.

Filmed in New Zealand, it stars Elizabeth Moss, who you might know from Mad Men, and Holly Hunter, among many others.  Both are excellent, as is the young girl, Jacqueline Joe, who plays Tui, the 12 year old whose pregnancy sets the plot in motion.

We're in a small, insular community set in a mountain valley around a frigid (I'm guessing glacial?) lake.  Everyone knows everyone.  Detective Robin Griffin has returned from Australia after a ten year absence to be with her mother while she's dying; but she's a specialist in dealing with crimes against children, and gets called in to deal with Tui.

Tui won't (or can't) say who raped her.  And then Tui vanishes. Tui's father, Matt Mitcham, and brothers are scary, scary guys living in a compound, where something shady is going on.

Meanwhile, out at Paradise, GJ played by Holly Hunter... no, I will not give you spoilers about GJ.  You must meet GJ yourself.  GJ is the best part of the series.

I'll just say this. GJ has taken Paradise away from Matt Mitcham, and no one takes anything from Matt Mitchum, and now GJ has a Utopian space there, a sanctuary, an oracle, for any one who wants to come (which is mostly women).  As the series progresses, GJ and Paradise both become more and more wonderful, in every sense of the word.  In the last episode, GJ nearly destroyed me.

The plot is great -- it is a ripping yarn -- but it is the characters, and the details, that make this work.

Particularly, it is two aspects of characters and details.

(1) The landscape.  In this show, the amazing landscape of New Zealand becomes a character in the show.  The immense mountains are always there; the lake factors constantly in the plot; the weather is always factoring into everyone's decisions.  Windows are open and wind blows through houses.  Even when people are inside, they are always turning toward the outside world, looking toward the lake, opening doors and windows, moving away from the interior life.

(2) The attention given to women and women's lives.  We have plenty of male characters here; but women are the center of the plot.  For the most part, through most of the series, what women think, what women do, propel the action.  (The obvious exception is Matt Mitcham.)  This is not to say that men aren't acting in the series; they must be.  It is just that we don't see their actions, because our focus is on women.  This takes women from the margin, where we usually see them, and moves them to the center.  It's refreshing.

Other details of the series are delightful, too. The female nudity, for instance, is almost all of women over 40, and not at all porny.  (There is one semi-porny scene with Elizabeth Moss, but it includes a fully naked guy too.)  Instead, the women are shot casually, their bodies shown as women's bodies, not as sexual objects.

The scenes where the men are hitting on women in bars are shown exactly as annoying and insulting as they actually are, and the men are shown as creepy as they actually are.  (Not alphas, but assholes.) That's nice.

And despite my philosophical commitment to non-violence as a solution, I really, really like the final episode.  No spoilers, so I won't say why.  But yes.

Highly recommended.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Cold & Flu, Snow & Movie Review: The Wealthy Really Are Different, Y'All

So along with this Snowpocalypse ( six inches of snow over an inch of ice, knocking out the power in nearly 80% of Fort Smith, though not here at our place), I have come down with a very achy and unpleasant flu.

But at least I have heat!  And electricity.  Which allowed me to watch this documentary, recommended (sort of) by TYWKIWDBI:  The Queen of Versailles.

Let me recommend it (sort of) to you.  It's the tale of David Siegel, who you may remember from the 2012 election, when he made the news for a threatening email sent out to his employees, saying that if they didn't vote for Romney, he might have to fire heaps of them when Obama got re-elected.

He's also the guy who sexually harassed his son's fiancee.

In the film, you will see him routinely objectifying and demeaning women -- he straight out says that his wife is not his equal, but just another child. You will also see how Siegel routinely uses other people, including his own son, as objects and tools to obtain his goals.

It is not only women, that is, he turns into tools and objects; but it clearly is women he sees as toys and tools he can do with as he pleases.  All through the movie he treats his wife (and his children) like some expensive and amusing trinket, like one of the Faberge eggs his wife has purchased by the dozen for their ridiculous house: something to play with when he's in the mood and cast aside when he's grumpy.

And this is how he treats all the women in his life.  His son from his first marriage tells about how his mother was treated -- how they lived in poverty even though David Siegel already had millions at that point; and there is just a heart-breaking scene with the children's nanny.

The documentary does a good job of showing the complexity of the situation, by which I mean it doesn't paint David Siegel as a cartoon villain; but it does let you see how the pursuit of wealth has damaged and isolated him; how it's let him and his family come to believe incredible things about how the world works; how it's harming his children; and how controlling that much wealth does, in fact, move people into a different category.

There's this one scene where David Siegel is talking about his debt. He is literally millions of dollars in debt at this point. He's got assets, mind you -- a jet, that half-finished house, the Versailles the movie is named for, all his wife's $75,000 dollar purses -- but he can't sell any of them, so.  And he's talking about how he's buying up his own debt, through third person puppets, more or less.

So he owes twenty million dollars.  And he pretends he's this third person.  And the bank is going to sell the debt, since they can't collect from it.  And Bank of America and whoever sells the debt, for pennies on the dollar, as they do, for three million dollars, to David Siegel himself, though they don't *know* it's him.  He's deeply amused by this, as who wouldn't be?  It's quite a move, and all he had to do was get someone to lend him three million dollars.

It's how he stays afloat at the end of the movie, too -- how he keeps his business going, how he's *still* a rich fucker, influencing politics, buying Congressmen.  Someone is always lending him millions, because he's one of the 1%.

"I worked hard* for everything I have," he says at the start of the movie.  "I earned all of this."

I'm sure he believes it, too.

*His business, by the way, is selling time-shares in condos -- convincing people who really can't quite afford it to buy one weekend a year in Las Vegas or Florida or wherever, with low down payments at high rates of interest.  Rubes, he calls them.  You remember when everyone was claiming it was Fannie Mae selling houses to the blah people that causes the crash?  Yeah.  There's another lovely scene where Siegel's employees are hounding these rubes for their back payments after the economy has tanked.

Friday, December 06, 2013

More Child Rape

And once again, no shock -- the Patriarchy doesn't see a problem with it.

A Drake University fraternity thought a themed party called "Pigtails and Pedophilia" was just good clean fun.

And when they got called on the total inappropriateness of this squick, they retreated into the solemn claim that pedophilia was "reality," and that "we have to deal with the reality we live in."

Right.  By mocking the rape of the child victims.


My favorite graph:

The author of TFM wrote that he was not personally offended by the theme of the party. He argues that there is no point in calling attention to something that offends us because that kind of behavior is going to happen regardless.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013


So, we're forecast to get about a half inch of snow and ice here in the Fort over the next few days.

This means the entire city must close down, including my university.  (YAY!)

If you live somewhere North of the Mason-Dixon line, feel free to laugh hysterically at this point.  But yeah, that's how we roll down here.

Meanwhile, it's exam week, so closing down is kind of a big deal.  All my students have commenced to email me, well mad with panic. "Are our final papers still due tomorrow?"  "What should I do about my portfolio?  Am I still supposed to bring it to your office?  Or is it due next Thursday now?"

I have sent seventeen (I am not even kidding) reassuring emails over the past half hour.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Child Rape Is Just a Traditional Life Choice When It Happens to Girls

NPR reported recently on child marriage; specifically on its causes and its effects.

These include that in poor countries, fathers often marry off their daughters at very young ages -- as young as eight in some places, and very often by as young as twelve or thirteen -- simply because feeding daughters is not a priority.

In patriarchal cultures, where young girls are often the last ones fed at mealtime, ICRW's Petroni says some parents may feel a daughter's circumstances will improve if she's someone's wife.

The statistics are these: one in three girls is married by age 18; one in nine by age 13.

These children are being married to older men.  Sometimes to much older men.

In such a marriage, a child -- a much younger child -- had no way to refuse sex, or to demand birth control.  Death in childbirth is common.  Death by sexual trauma is also common.

You would think children being raped to death, or killed in childbirth, would be something anyone would be outraged over.  Anyone.

But go and read the comments at this article.

Or maybe don't, if you care to preserve your faith in humanity.

Apparently child rape is okay if it's being done to girl children in the name of patriarchy.

Update: And read this, sent to me by one of my students: child marriage in America.  Once again, child rape is fine if it's a girl and it's in the service of God and the patriarchy.