Sunday, November 30, 2014

On Another Topic

My orchid has stopped blooming. I will keep it where it is and continue to water it. Maybe it will bloom again in a year or so. The hoya is producing new flower buds, four clusters so far. I am thinking of buying another orchid, and maybe I will join the local orchid society. They are lovely plants. Though it must be sad for them, to put so much work into attracting insects in an environment with almost no insects.

Moving On

I don't usually remember dreams. When I do remember one, I try to analyze it. Last night I dreamed that we moved into a new apartment. I think it was in a suburban complex, a place I would never move to. But it was a nice apartment with a patio and a balcony, only one bathroom, but two bedrooms. Soon after moving in, I came home and found a young man in the living room, on the phone. I asked him what he was doing here. He said he had broken in to use the phone. He then showed me how to get through my locked door. It was the old credit card trick, which does not work with a deadbolt, which I had.

He explained that he had been in the Twin Cities for a con and was having some problem getting home, so he'd needed a phone. I asked him if he had money to get home. He said yes, and I escorted him out.

I then tried to use my phone, but it gave problems.

I went down to the complex desk and said I needed a new lock and my phone wasn't working. The guy at the desk promised to do something about the lock and said my problem with a phone was due to a new program, which noticed when the person phoning used inappropriate language and then shut down. I said, "Oh, that was the guy who broke in to use my phone."

While talking to the front desk guy, I realized that (1) I hadn't checked to see if anything was missing in the new apartment and (2) we hadn't cleaned the old apartment before leaving, and I still had the keys, which we were supposed to turn in.

So what is this about? Moving on and the difficulty of moving on. Vulnerability. Communication problems. I think it's a dream about dealing with the current group of social justice activists. Someone has broken into my home and screwed up my ability to communicate.

In any case, I think it's time for me to move on -- not to an apartment complex in the suburbs, but to other topics. I am pretty sure that I can't talk to the social justice people or work with them or fight them. Best to leave them alone. And I need to return the keys to the past.


I Googled "social justice" last night and got to sites like Sojourner's and the Maryknolls. Then I Googled "social justice warrior" and got page after page after page. A definition in the Urban Dictionary, articles in BoingBoing and The Nation, a video game, many blogs and websites that I did not want to read, but they looked to be not nice. So there is huge Internet can of worms that I didn't know about.

The Urban Dictionary definition, which is clearly hostile:
A pejorative term for an individual who repeatedly and vehemently engages in arguments on social justice on the Internet, often in a shallow or not well-thought-out way, for the purpose of raising their own personal reputation. A social justice warrior, or SJW, does not necessarily strongly believe all that they say, or even care about the groups they are fighting on behalf of. They typically repeat points from whoever is the most popular blogger or commenter of the moment, hoping that they will "get SJ points" and become popular in return. They are very sure to adopt stances that are "correct" in their social circle.

The SJW's favorite activity of all is to dogpile. Their favorite websites to frequent are Livejournal and Tumblr. They do not have relevant favorite real-world places, because SJWs are primarily civil rights activists only online.
Thinking about this, it is not fair. The people I know who might be called social justice warriors are completely sincere, and I would not call them shallow. So what is wrong? I am still working this out. But there's a group dynamic that makes me uneasy, and they do pile onto people they think are wrong.

I then Googled "identity politics" and got to Wikipedia and this as a criticism of identity politics:
(The historian Eric) Hobsbawm, in particular, has criticized nationalisms, and the principle of national self-determination adopted internationally after World War I, since national governments are often merely an expression of a ruling class or power, and their proliferation was a source of the wars of the 20th century. Hence Hobsbawm argues that identity politics, such as queer nationalism, Islamism, Cornish nationalism or Ulster Loyalism are just other versions of bourgeois nationalism.
A similar comment shows up in an essay I just read on the philosopher and social scientist Istvan Meszaros:
The diversity of "identities" is used to divide labor within itself and thus becomes a vital tool for the preservation of the alienated system.
More cogent maybe is this comment by Foxessa on one of my earlier posts:
My personal opinion is that the confusion and cross-purpose discussion arise on all points by a confusion of identity politics, social justice and civil rights.

They may, and often do, hold hands at points, but they are not one and same.

Identity politics has huge potential for toxicity, see Israel and Palestine, for a single example, particularly if one includes religion as part of identity which both the Israelis and Palestinians do. That identity politik prevents any vision of social justice or civil rights developing.

This being the USA, who can only see and think in binary mode: yes, no; right, wrong; good, bad; us, them...

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

In any case, Happy Thanksgiving! I am roasting a chicken with root vegetables (onions, potatoes, carrots, turnips, parsnips). The cranberry orange sauce is made. The dressing about to be made. (It's not in the bird.) Dessert is Kemp's moose tracks ice cream. Then a movie.

May we all have peace and justice and happy gatherings in the coming year.

Identity Politics Yet Again

Patrick read the emails I got from Wiscon programming and was furious. He said they were ageist and showed deep disrespect to an elder (me). P. takes his Native heritage fairly seriously and respecting elders is a major issue in Native Communities.

In any case, I don't think I can communicate with Wiscon again, which may be a problem, since I have several books coming out next year, and Wiscon -- in the past -- would have been the place to publicize them.

Timmi Duchamp of Aqueduct Press is enthusiastic about the Social Justice movement in the SFF community. She believes it is the most exciting thing to happen for years. I can only trust she is right. But I don't think I can work with the current SJ people.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

More on Identity Politics

These posts on identity politics are lifted from a discussion on facebook. I was so clueless that I picked the day of the Ferguson verdict, when many people were feeling anger and grief, to question identity politics. I hadn't been paying enough attention to the verdict, since it seemed like a foregone conclusion. The cop would not be indicted. Anyway, this is more of my end of discussion:
This is a fuzzy topic, and I made it worse by bringing up language. I should have picked a better day for it. But I think the question that comes up over and over is, what is to be done? We have a broken down political system, a broken down economic system and environmental collapse looms ahead of us. What Ferguson tells us is, African Americans are expected to put up with the same shit they have put up since before the country's founding. So, what do we do? How do we move to action? Maybe the people of Ferguson have shown us a way to begin.
I suggested a panel on identity politics for Wiscon and wrote on facebook:
I think a panel like this could easily be a nightmare, one in a long series of nightmare panels I have done. I have done panels that turned out so badly that entire strangers commiserated with me in the convention hallways.

The panels from hell have always been panels on feminism, race or class. The results, while it was horrifying to watch as an audience exploded, indicated that the topic needed to be talked about. Think of it as poking a stick into a hole where a very large spider lives. Yes, it's awful when the great, hairy, horrible thing scurries out, but maybe it needed to see the light of day. (I speak as one who is not phobic about spiders, but I like the image.)
More from facebook:
I got a response from Wiscon programming, a fairly long note on how I was wrong and racist. I thanked the person in question for their input. The general idea I got was, over Wiscon's dead bodies would the panels I suggested happen.

I saved the message on my desktop, so Patrick could read it later. Patrick is a straight white man, except for being half Ojibwa -- or as such mixed race people are called in Canada, Metis. In spite of his many failings as a straight white man, he is my go-to person for political good sense.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Identity Politics

I am wondering about identity politics at the moment, thinking about suggesting a panel for Wiscon. I have very mixed feelings. I can see good things coming out of identity politics, but I also wonder if -- overall -- they represent a retreat from the movements of the 1960s.

At the moment I have feelings and dim intuitions, not a clear analysis. But I have been thinking of the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement, a movement of black rank and file auto workers in the 1960s. At one point, they went to Johnny Watson, who was the editor of the Wayne State student newspaper and said, "We need a better analysis. Tell us about Marx." Watson called up Marty Glaberman, a former auto worker who was a follower of C.L.R. James and said, "I need to know about Marx right now." Point being, the 60s movements came from the bottom up, and they were not academic. Even the student anti-war movement did not use academic language. "Hell no, we won't go."

There was a transitional period in the late 60s and early 70s, when something like identity politics appeared: Black Power, the American Indian Movement, Second Wave Feminism. Again, none of this was based in academia. My memory is, all of it was from the ground up.

I need Barbara Jensen here, since she has written about class differences in how language is used. I come from a middle- class, academic background, though I never fit into academia. (Neither did my father, the college professor.) When I started working office jobs in Detroit, I could not communicate with my fellow workers, though we were all native speakers of English. Finally, I was able to understand them. At the same time, my ability to understand middle-class, academic people decreased.

A popular movement requires clear language.

There have been popular movements recently. I think Occupy counts as one, though the earlier stages were planned by anarchists. It spread very quickly, without planning. The Ferguson demonstrations are another example. In both cases, the government responded with force. You can tell how much of a threat you are to the status quo by how many armored cops and tank-like vehicles show up.

To give an example of clarity -- Occupy talking about the 1% and 99%, which has gone into general usage. I'd say the lifted hands in Ferguson is another example of a clear and effective symbol.

I'm not sure 'academic' is the right word for what bothers me. I had trouble with academia myself, but that was some kind of odd quirk. Many of my best friends, the people I like best, are college profs. I understand the need for a technical language, though I think there's a strong argument for writing in the most accessible way possible. I'm not sure I can articulate what I think is wrong with identity politics or with the language that I find bothersome. When I examine my responses, I can see how they can be wrong. (To give an example, broad-based political movements can ignore the issues of specific groups. The left always ignored women's issues, until the Second Wave of Feminism came along. So this is an argument for identity politics. And race is key to understanding the US.) But I am still left with a nagging sense of discomfort, and a lot of it has to do with language.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Ordering Hidden Folk

This is where to order my new book. 20% off for preorders. A heck of a deal.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


On the weather front, winter came suddenly in early November: a snow storm and low temps. The last leaves came off the trees. Today is gray and pretty cold. Right now it's 13 above F, with a wind chill of 2 above. This is the kind of weather you have to dress for. It's not a bitter cold. That happens below zero. But I have pulled my Ugg boots out of storage, also my Norwegian sweater. The red melton wool parka has not been deployed yet.

New Book

This is collection of stories based on Icelandic literature and folklore, which is due out this month.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

November Birdwatching

A crisp, sunny day with a clear blue sky. The leaves are almost all gone from the trees. Maybe I can convince Patrick to drive down to Alma, Wisconsin this weekend to see if the migrating swans are there. There are a lot of oaks on the river bluffs, and they hold their leaves.

I checked the Alma swan watch website. Turns out they get far fewer swans than they used to in Alma. 5-20 now, instead of thousands. Still, it might be worth a look. Or a drive to Crex Meadows in Wisconsin. 21,000 sandhill cranes there as of November 4. Their running count also lists a few trumpeter swans and two bald eagles for November.

The swans in Alma are the smaller tundra swans. Trumpeters are impressive.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Interview with George R.R. Martin

From an interview in the Wall Street Journal:
Your new book shows us countries in your fantasy world influenced by Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. In general, though, fantasy literature isn’t very diverse. Pretty much all the main characters in the TV version of “Game of Thrones” are white. Why is fantasy so monocultural?

It’s so monocultural because it’s mostly been written by white men. I’m a 66-year-old white man…. I do see evidence that that’s changing. If you look at the world science-fiction award, the Hugo, which is given every year, and the John W. Campbell award, which is an award that’s given every year at the world S.F. convention, more and more of them [award-winners] have been writers of different ethnic backgrounds, more women, women of color, women from other countries, of Indian descent, black writers like N.K. Jemisin and Nnedi Okorafor, Asian writers like Ken Liu …. If these books sell, publishers will publish more of them…. If they don’t succeed, though, and the books by the old white guys continue to succeed, then you’ll get more books by old white guys.
I mentioned the multicultural fantasy I wrote in the 1980s in a previous post. It's the one I've been proofing. One can write about people who are not identical to oneself. However, it's more stressful, especially if the people still exist. One is operating on someone else's turf.

The ultimate answer is to have more writers who are people of color, a term I really dislike. It sounds so clunky. More nonwhite writers. More writers from different cultures and different parts of the world.