Wis[s]e Words

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Mon, 23 Mar 2009

I moved. You will be redirected.

Posted by Martin Wisse Permalink End of post.

Thu, 19 Mar 2009

A modest proposal: nationalise the bankers

what every well dressed banker would wear under my proposal

Though it would undoubtly be cartartic to enact the solution proposed by the Financial Times to the current economic crisis, to shoot the bankers, nationalise the banks, we should not let our emotions get the better of us. We need practical solutions, not rash action.

The economic crisis cannot be solved with a single act; it's a crisis of capitalism and only radical change can solve this crisis. But we can make a start at solving two of the most pressing short term problems facing us: the need to punish the people responsible for the crisis and the need of our governments for large amounts of money to combat the crisis with.

The solution is simple: nationalise the bankers. Every banker and retired banker above a certain level of responsibility to be determined will be divested of their capital and possessions, then put on public work schemes for at least ten years or to the mandatory retirement age, whichever is greater. A portion of the funds raised with this action should be put aside to pay the bankers affected a miminum wage and provide them with a council flat, the rest should be earmarked for combatting the recession.

Naturally the bankers participating in these public works schemes will be wearing the same sort of dayglo orange now reserved for petty criminals and other scallywags.

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Posted by Martin Wisse Permalink End of post.

Mon, 16 Mar 2009

Verb Noire

If you read this blog regularly you'll probably be aware by now of Racefail 2009, the ongoing discussion/flamewar about cultural appropriation and racism, systemic and otherwise in the science fiction/fandom community. This discussion, long overdue, has been generating a lot of heat and little light (most of the latter can be found through the excellent services of Rydra Wong's daily link list). One positive outcome of Racefail '09 has been the founding of Verb Noire, a new publishing initiative aiming at providing greater diversity in science fiction:

The mission:

To celebrate the works of talented, underrepresented authors and deliver them to a readership that demands more.

What does that mean? That if you're a talented writer with an awesome, original story about a POC girl/guy/transgendered character, there is a place for you. And that if you're a sci-fi/fantasy fan who has grown tired of the constant whitewashing of these genres, there is a place for you, too.

Now that isn't to say that we will accept ANY ol' manuscript as long as it features a POC protagonist, because we will NOT. What we're looking for is quality, soul and PASSION, something that will resonate with readers for years to come.

"Everyone has a story." These words are the driving force behind this project, because we believe that EVERYONE has at least one good story in them, and that story demands to be shared with the world.

As start-up costs can be enormous, we're relying on the generosity of strangers to help us launch. So far, you guys have been absolutely fabulous in donating your money, time and effort, and we hope you will continue to do so as we grow. Even if you can't volunteer at this time, feel free to spread the word (and the widget) around.

So help them out will you:

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Posted by Martin Wisse Permalink End of post.

Sun, 15 Mar 2009

Byzantium -- Judith Herrin

Cover of Byzantium

Judith Herrin
392 pages including index
published in 2008

In her introduction Judith Herrin explains she was inspired to write this book by a conversation she had with two workmen knocking on her office door. They had been doing repairs on the building in King's College where she worked and noticed the sign on her office: "Professor of Byzantine History" and were interested enough to ask what this meant. As she puts it, she found herself "trying to explain briefly what Byzantine history is to two serious builders in hard hats and heavy boots". From their suggestion that she should write a book explaining Byzantium to people like (or me, for that matter) who knew little if anything about the subject, this book arose. Byzantium -- The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire is an attempt to explain more than a thousand years of Byzantine history, as well as the many facets of this history.

It sounded like the perfect book to read, now that I had temporarily exhausted my library's stock of interesting looking books on Roman history. Byzantium was after all a clear succesor to Rome, I knew little about it and Herrin's book easily passed the page 37 test. She isn't a historian I was aware of before, but with Byzantium she's become one of the names I'll pay attention to when looking for new books, no matter the subject. She manages to write a good introduction to a complex subject without talking down to the reader.



Posted by Martin Wisse Permalink End of post.

Fri, 13 Mar 2009

If it's not online it doesn't exist

Via Caveat Lector we learn that physicists think that if it's not online it isn't worth reading:

In brief, the author asked a bunch of physicists and astronomers about how they prefer to access materials. No big surprise; they’d rather grab it online. What is curious is a connection drawn by some respondents between online accessibility and perceived quality. In my paraphrase: “if it’s not online, if nobody’s taken the trouble to scan it or throw it up somewhere, how important can it be?”

Whoa. Every single librarian reader I have just cringed. I admit that even I winced a little.

From personal experience, where I see this bias a lot is on Wikipedia. Subjects that have little to no online presence are much less well represented but worse, when the importance of an subject cannot be easily established online, they're much more likely to be deleted as non-noticable. So you get a sort of systemic bias towards subjects that are so obviously important that you'll also find them in the Encyclopedia Brittanica, or new enough to have a deep online presence or with enough of a following/interest in them for an active online community to spring up around it. Subjects that fail those requirements though, even if there are proper offline sources for them are much vulnerable to deletionism.



Posted by Martin Wisse Permalink End of post.

Thu, 12 Mar 2009

A juxtaposition

Lenny summarises a Home Office study on violence against women:

16% of people in England and Wales think it is acceptable for a man to beat his wife or girlfriend if she nags; 13% think it is acceptable for a man to beat his wife or girlfriend if she flirts with other men; 20% think it is acceptable for a man to beat his wife or girlfriend if she dresses in sexy or revealing clothing in public; 11% think it okay to beat if the wife or girlfriend doesn't treat the man with respect; 8% think it okay to beat if she is caught cheating.

Further, 36% think a woman should be held co-responsible for being raped if she is drunk; 26% if she is wearing revealing or sexy clothing; 43% if she flirts heavily beforehand; 49% if she does not clearly say 'no'; 42% if she is using drugs; 47% if she is a prostitute; 14% if she is out walking alone at night.

Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre in a speech to the society of editors:

The judge found for Max Mosley because he had not engaged in a “sick Nazi orgy” as the News of the World contested, though some of the participants were dressed in military-style uniform. Mosley was issuing commands in German while one prostitute pretended to pick lice from his hair, a second fellated him and a third caned his backside until blood was drawn.

Now most people would consider such activities to be perverted, depraved, the very abrogation of civilised behaviour of which the law is supposed to be the safeguard. Not Justice Eady. To him such behaviour was merely “unconventional”.

Nor in his mind was there anything wrong in a man of such wealth using his money to exploit women in this way. Would he feel the same way, I wonder, if one of those women had been his wife or daughter?

As Justin notes, dacre's Daily Mail has no problems spicing up an article on degrading advertisments to women up with some of the advertisments in question, despite Dacre's moralising...

Do you think the results found in this Home Office study are surprising, considering the combination of patriarchal morality as displayed by this prominent newspaper editor in his speech and the salaciousness of the newspaper he edits?

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Posted by Martin Wisse Permalink End of post.

Tue, 10 Mar 2009

Happy birthday to me

Or at least, the blog. It just turned seven today I just realised, while slogging through the archives manually converting posts to the new Wordpress based incarnation of this blog that escaped slightly too soon into the wider world. On this day seven years ago I blogged my first post. It wasn't very interesting, hopefully that has changed over the years even if I sometimes feel that I'm forever plodding where others seem to be able to jot down great posts with no effort at all...

I still have a lot of fun blogging even if the hopes of getting famous through it have long since faded. There's been some good writing here, also some pretty horrible writing, but who cares?


Posted by Martin Wisse Permalink End of post.

Greg Egan does the right thing

So yesterday I posted about Greg Egan's somewhat dumb and insulting comparison of "geek" and "nerd" to certain incredibly offensive racial insults. What made it even worse was that he made this comparison in the context of responding to Adam Roberts' review of his latest novel, Incandenscence. Well, Egan popped up in James Nicoll's post discussing this action. He got into a discussion with Carlos and after some prodding, decided Carlos was right in thinking this comparison was offensive. Egan therefore altered the paragraph in question and it now reads:

These days there's often ranting about "nerds" and "geeks" -- terms that the world would be better off without, though I have to admit there's something gloriously awful, in a Love And Death on Long Island kind of way, when would-be sophisticates who spend half their time discussing Joyce or Sophocles switch to a vocabulary whose current usage was largely forged in the supremely inane universe of American high school cliques.

I still wouldn't agree with his argument that nerd or geek are slurs; they used to be but they've long ago been reclaimed. But this doesn't matter. What's important is that Greg Egan saw he had made a mistake and had inadvertently insulted people and then apologised and took action to recitify this. Well done!

In related matters, cluefulness has not broken out everywhere in science fiction land, as another of James' posts shows:

Apparently in their current version, the skin of Drow who convert to good becomes lighter coloured while the "blackness of the drow's skin has become a permanent sign of their depravity". The Curse of the Lamanites angle seems to have been introduced by self-confessed Canadian author Lisa Smedman in The Lady Penitent.

Oi. That really is some old skool racist imagery, isn't it? With fantasy there's always the danger, if the writer isn't careful, that old racist stereotypes are redeemed by applying them to orcs or other fantasy races, but this is so obvious that there really is no excuse. This isn't just an awkward appropriation of an "exotic" culture to populate some generic fantasyland with, but use of an old idea that has served as a particular pernicious justification for slavery: the "curse of Ham". From wikipedia:

According to pro-slavery literature, Ham’s transgressions, particularly the shaming of his father by looking upon his nakedness, provoked "Noah’s curse". Allegedly, Ham’s son Canaan and his descendants were thereafter doomed to serve their American lines for all of eternity. Indeed, when discussing the slaves of the pharaoh in Exodus, Origen specifically identifies them as descendants of Ham who were punished due to their ancestor’s skin color. In 1823, amidst controversy concerning the justice and morality of slavery, South Carolinian Frederick Dalcho argued: "and perhaps we shall find that the negroes, the descendants of Ham, lost their freedom from the abominable wickedness of their progenitor (Ham)."

Much worse than some of the offenses that have driven racefail 2009...

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Posted by Martin Wisse Permalink End of post.

Mon, 9 Mar 2009

Alex calls for the end of "call for"

In the midst of a splendid takedown of David Hare's onemanshow on Berlin, Alex Harrowell articulates his disdain of the phrase "to call for":

There is a broader issue here; the phrase “to call for” repels me more and more. Its function is to get you out of responsibility for your opinions. I didn’t want war - I merely called for solidarity with the US in fighting terrorism. It also acts as a way of escaping the healthy discipline of detail. It is telling that it is fashionable with the neoconservatives, the Decents, and the hard left all at once - all the retailers of the goods dream-hungry youth demand, according to Leszek Kolakowski.

I call for action on Darfur! But I say nothing of the mountainous problems of projecting force into the roadless and railless interior of western Sudan, nothing of whose infantry are to actually go and get killed there, nothing of who exactly they are meant to kill or threaten effectively to kill, or for what aims. I just called for. Let’s decommission this phrase, like a worn-out nuclear power station - switch it off gracefully, sever the lines and fill the damn thing with concrete, and watch it carefully for a hundred years to see nothing leaks out.

One minor quibble is that by and large the socalled "hard left" (which in any case usually sems to mean whomever is to the left of the speaker) isn't the main offender in this. Socialists, anarchists, communists all have a healthy, historically validated distrust of relying on the state to further their projects. Social democrats and liberals on the other hand have a history of enthusiasitc support for state intervention. If Iraq and Afghanistan are too obvious, take a look at who the main cheerleaders for intervention in Yugoslavia were.

UPDATE: Interesting discussion of Alex's post over at Aaronovitch Watch in which ejh takes exception to Alex's thesis:

The problem comes not when people without power express principle, provided they don't do so ungenerously: it's when people do have power and piss about. This is why it's problematic (though not necesarily entirely wrong) to suggest that Macmillan should have called for an uprising against the bulding of a Berlin Wall, because it would quite likely have been writing a cheque he couldn't cash*. Geroge Bush Sr wrote a cheque in Iraq 1991 that he probably could have cashed, but then didn't: that was worse still. But to be honest, in just saying "Stop Apartheid Now" ("Now"? What does that mean, "now?") more than half my life ago, I wasn't writing any cheques or taking any risks.

Except the risk of becoming Andrew Anthony. Well, yeah, I've met a few. But there's an opposite but equal risk, that many have also fallen victim to, that people who want to concentrate on practicals to the exclusion of ideals turn into New Labour. That's what that particular movement in politics was and is all about. Lots of the Anti-Apartheid people ended up like that - and I don't think I'd err in detecting a large crossover between the people who were most keen to follow the ANC line in toto in the Eighties, and those who were the keenest Blairites ten and twenty years later. I think there are as many ill consequences in going one way as in another.



Posted by Martin Wisse Permalink End of post.

Oh No Greg Egan No!

As you may have encountered if you're follwoing online science fiction fandom, for months now there has been an increasingly poisonous but important discussion about race, cultural appropriation and science fction going on in various sf blogs, mostly on Livejournal. Science fiction/fandom prides itself on being open and inclusive, but in reality has huge blindspots when it comes to matters of race, culture and gender. Which in itself is not a new conclusion of course, but which Racefail 2009 --as this increasingly acrimonious discussion has been dubbed by cynics -- makes clear is still a sore spot for the genre. Even well intentioned writers have been shown to be --how to say-- less than tactful in their handling of these matters.

Greg Egan's throwaway remark that the use of words like "geek" or "nerd" is as bad as certain racial slurs could therefore not come at a worse time:

These days there's often some ranting about “nerds” and “geeks” — words that belong in the same rubbish pile as “niggers” and “gooks” — though I have to admit there's something gloriously awful, in a Love And Death on Long Island kind of way, when would-be sophisticates who spend half their time discussing Joyce or Sophocles switch to a vocabulary whose current usage was largely forged in the supremely inane universe of American high school cliques. It's also quite handy to have a word or two around whose use swiftly identifies a proud scientific illiterate just as effectively as the words that mark a proud racist. Of course, there are a handful of scientifically literate people who have decided to self-identify with the same vocabulary, but when it comes to using n-words the example of Fifty Cent is a great deal less appealing to me than that of Barack Obama.

But you have to admit that there is no better proof than this that yes, science fiction is clueless about race. Nerds and geeks may be bullied in high school sometimes, but it's all a far cry from being forced to use separate water coolers and such, now is it, or being stopped "randomly"for wearing pocket protectors... Especially considering the context in which Egan makes these remarks, his attempted putdown of a negative Adam Roberts review of Egan's latest novel, this show an astounding level of entitlement and cluelessness.

If you want to read more about Racefail 2009, Torque Control has a good overview post up. I myself have been reading, but not writing about the discussion as I have little to add and there are enough half assed opinions being slung around in it already...

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Posted by Martin Wisse Permalink End of post.

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James is active in the RESPECT coalition, but don't hold it against him

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