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?

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Under The Weather

I am home sick, with cats sleeping on my feet, with what might be the flu and what might just be a nasty cold.

I could go to the doctor and find out which.  That would mean going to the doctor.  Which would mean a co-pay.  That would mean $40.00.

Since it's probably not flu, I'll stay here and drink a lot of tea and eat a ton of generic over the counter drugs.  (Which I had to show my ID to buy.)  Odds are even if it is the flu, I won't get complications and die, given I'm pretty hearty and well-nourished.

It's the free market at work, y'all.

Monday, February 02, 2015

You Have to Pay What Now?

This is how our insane healthcare system looks to people who lives in countries that have an actual healthcare system.

Even if you scrabble together enough money to get insurance, the policies can be incomprehensible with some of the cheaper policies, namely those with smaller monthly premiums, having limited cover with enormous “deductibles” – a sum of money (in some cases thousands of dollars) that must be paid before insurance cover kicks in and which comes on top of monthly charges.According to Linda Sharp, a board member at Doctors for Global Health, a not-for-profit organisation that exposes health inequities, this is just one glaring example of how even with Obamacare reforms accessing treatment can be beyond the reach of many people. 

Read more here: U.S. Style Healthcare.

You...What? (Or I Just Can't Even With The Right Sometimes)

So first, you need to go read this story by Rachel Swirsky, which -- deservedly -- won* was nominated for the Hugo last year.

It's called "If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love."

It's very short, you can read it in about five minutes.  (Spoilers, I voted for it.)

Okay, once you've read it, you can scroll down through the comments on that page, if you like -- most people are saying how much they like it.  One or two Right-Wing people are commenting negatively on it, because (as you might not know if you didn't keep up with the insider-baseball of last year's Hugo Awards) last year we had the minor unpleasantness of Vox Day and his Flying Monkeys, who put together a list of fairly awful SF stories and novels and got a few of them onto the ballot.

Anyway, after their "sad puppies," as they called them, lost, these Sad Monkeys went around pissing on the winners in every way they could.

It's the final comment, though, that intrigues me, because of the way in which it leads us into the labyrinth of madness they're building up around themselves.

Here's the comment, from "Doubting Rich,"

Wow, such bigotry in a story. Such ignorant fear of the unknown, of the working people you have never deigned to speak to, so never understood outside the arrogant prejudices of the “educated” left. Sarah Hoyt (a far better writer) was quite right about this nasty, childish little tale.
By the way, I am a graduate of an older, better-known university than any of those commenting here attended, ironically in Earth Sciences which includes palaeobiology, but one who has worked with and made friends of more working men and women than academics or writers. None has ever so much as commented negatively upon my education except in positive terms, nor on anyone else’s skin colour or background. The only bigotry I ever see is from the educated people, especially the socialists.

I read it, and I was amused and confused.  Being thoroughly familiar with Swirsky's story, I could not think what this "Doubting Rich" was even trying to say.  What "working people" was he talking about?  What did skin color have to do with anything?

The mention of Hoyt gave me a clue, though.  I followed a pingback in the links below to a fairly incoherent review done by Sarah Hoyt, in which Hoyt seems to assume that those doing the hate-crime in Swirsky's story are (1) working class  and (2) foreign language speakers.  Where she gets that idea, I cannot say.  It's clearly not from the story itself.

Also, you will be pleased to know, Hoyt could have written a much better story herself when she was twelve years old.

No doubt she also, like "Doubting Rich," also went to a much better university than any leftist.

*edited b/c I am an ijit!  Thanks for the correction, Nikki!  It's John Chu who won the Hugo, of course, for his wonderful "Water That Falls on You From Nowhere"; Swirsky was nominated, though!