116 posts categorized "current Affairs"

February 24, 2013

Yeah. Short Stories, Not.

Laura Miller isn't buying the "short story boom" story.

Totally.

Just look at TV and film. So much of our at-home video watching is now cable TV drama series with season-long story arcs. And the most successful films are franchises which carry relationships and storylines over from one film to another (The Matrix, LOTR, the Hobbit, Avengers -- and pretty much all the superhero films.) Busy, attention-strapped audiences don't want shorter stories, they want longer ones.

In fact, right now when my attention span is at its lowest point since grade school (because of ongoing CFS), I crave novel series, not just single-shot novels, and have NO attention at all for short stories.

And I think it's because *any* new fictional world we give ourselves to requires an initial investment of energy and attention to orient ourselves in that world and with those characters. Once we've done that, it's basically easier to stay in that world, with those characters, over multiple stories and arcs, than to pull out, reorient, and invest in something new. Short stories are exhausting to me right now, and I won't have them.

By the way, I think there's a synergy between audiences wanting longer relationships with filmic worlds and characters than is available in a single film, and the transference of comic book stories to film franchises. Namely that comics mastered the art of telling stories containable in limited episodes, but that fit into longer arcs, and that's what the TV world had to do following Buffy, and what the film world now has to do, now that audiences have clearly spoken on this issue.

January 10, 2013

Urban Fantasy Structures and Definitions

So I'm starting to see if I can put together an urban fantasy novel (and/or series) entirely by pre-plotting it. If it doesn't work, I won't write it. But I want to try writing this way, since I've never tried it. (I always start with a concept, a basic plot, even possibly an ending ... and nothing else. Then I start writing and see where it goes, leading to spending three years on a short story and ten years -- and counting -- on a novel. Trying something new now.)

So right now I'm investigating the urban fantasy novel formula. And I'm reading stuff I wanna respond to. Let's start with Carrie Vaughn's series of short posts on this (in which she never lays out the actual formula.) She does enumerate annoying clichés, though, and also says this:

I can’t help but look at the popularity of urban fantasy and ask, What is this symptomatic of? What anxiety in our culture is being expressed so eloquently in these works that they’re striking such a powerful chord in the readership, leading to phenomenal popularity?

The answer is pretty simple: these books are symptomatic of an anxiety about women and power. We have made so many gains over the last few decades. Women really can do anything, pursue nearly any career, become influential and powerful in any area. And yet. Women are still ostracized for appearing powerful. Women are still told that their role is to be deferential, nurturing, humble, self-deprecating, and they’re still criticized and marginalized when they don’t fit conventional images of femininity. Women still have to fight for acceptance in so many areas. You think this dichotomy, these mixed messages, aren’t real? Look at the coverage of Hillary Clinton’s (aka The Bitch) and Sarah Palin’s (aka Caribou Barbie) runs for office and get back to me.

So many of my pet peeves are symptomatic of this conflict: these aggressive yet conflicted women characters who are simultaneously strong yet exhibit low self esteems, who kick ass with violence but submit to the sexy alpha male. Another symptom: so many of these books only have one strong woman character, and many other female characters are stereotypical and inconsequential. Maybe lots of urban fantasy isn’t really about strong women, but about one special, chosen woman. (Thank you, Suzy McKee Charnas, for articulating this so well at Bubonicon.) There’s still anxiety about toppling the status quo. It’s possible in these worlds to have a strong woman, but not strong women.

I have to say that it's interesting to see her looking at the anxieties these fictions work on from the outside (i.e. NOT from the pov of the writers and readers.) But I think you also have to look at them from the pov of the people whose wishes are being fulfilled, i.e. the writers and readers, who are all or mostly urban professional women of childbearing (read: dating/marrying/relationships-with-men-having) age. And it's clear that these books are dealing with the confusion and anxieties of these women themselves, who want a number of conflicting things. Among these conflicting things are:

  • Personal power: the power to be and do what you want in life and in the world.
  • Negotiating power in your relationships; equality with your partner.
  • Kickassedness: the ability to protect yourself against exploitation, violence, oppression; but also the ability to appear very cool, to protect yourself in cool-looking and -seeming ways, not in gross or questionable ways. (e.g.: directly kicking someone's ass rather than being manipulative.)
  • Desirability: to men, that is. Most of these novels give very little thought to being a desirable friend/coworker/associate, much less lover, to women. Yes, sexual desirability. But only to men. This is heteronormativity, yes, but it's also about the kind of desirability that is the most problematic for urban career women. The wish being fulfilled here is to be desirable without negative consequences. (ETA: reading over this now and realizing how this sounds. I meant: sexual desirability to people with whom you have a massive, society-wide, gender-based power differential. And wanting to be desirable to them without incurring the negative consequences of being less powerful than they are. That's all.)
  • Competence: in life, but mostly in career. This never crosses over into desirability, i.e. being a desirable worker to employers and coworkers. That desirability is taken for granted, interestingly. Our heroines never have to stress about applying for a job, or even for a promotion. However, the wish fulfillment is to (grudgingly AND willingly) be acknowledged as competent/great by bosses and coworkers, who are mostly or entirely male.
  • A traditionally masculine man, who wants a contemporary, powerful woman: HA! The biggest crock, but also one of the biggest wishes being fulfilled. This one is the most regressive, but possibly the most understandable. It's wish fulfillment for women who were raised to desire the traditionally beautiful and masculine alpha male -- women for whom alternative masculinities have never been effectively promoted -- but were also raised post-second-wave-feminist, i.e. raised to take advantage of and expect to be treated as equals. This item is the one that shows up the biggest failure of second (and third) wave feminism: its failure to not just conceive of, but also actively promote, alternative masculine roles that work with the alternative roles for women we've essentially pushed through.
  • Outsider status: although all these conflicts and anxieties and desires are common and mainstream, there's still the desire to stand outside of the mainstream, to be special and also be to be a bit oppressed. This is partly adolescent, partly American (wherein our entire identity hinges on overcoming challenges and being individual), and partly guilty-white-girl. The last one is why so many urban fantasy heroines are mixed race (never just poc, though.) In this post-civil-rights-movement era, outsider status is most quickly vouchsafed by being a person of color. But, of course, no white woman REALLY dreams of being black, so it's always American Indian or Asian (although the half-Asians are usually the sidekicks.)
There are more, I'm sure, but these are the ones jumping out at me. No conclusions right now. More soon.

June 28, 2011

On Being Harassed in the Street

Up front I'm telling you that this is about Hollaback's "I've Got Your Back" campaign, to create an online and offline movement to end street harassment. I've donated and I hope you'll consider doing the same.

Boy, it's been a long time since I posted. Actually, the last time I posted was right around the time that I moved back to San Francisco. And I'm so glad to be back.

But I don't tell people that one of the reasons I'm so glad to be back in the city is that the amount of harassment I encounter has gone waaaaaay down. The main reason I don't mention it is that the reactions of many people break my heart. Too many people, upon being told in general that I get a lot of harassment, act uncomfortable -- with me! -- and don't offer me any sympathy, much less engage in any discussion. I'm talking about abstract conversations here, where there's no immediate danger, and all I'm doing is communicating.

It's so much worse, then, when the harassment happens in front of your friends or social circle and they do nothing or act uncomfortable with you, as if you were the one who had done something wrong. I know that those situations can be sometimes scary or emotionally heightened. But think about the general emotional orientation of someone who doesn't, when the scary moment is over, automatically offer help and sympathy to a friend who has just been verbally assaulted.

I mean, c'mon, people! How hard is it to say to your friend who was just harassed, "I'm sorry you had to deal with that," or ask her "are you alright?"

It's those simple offerings that can make the difference between you being part of the problem, and you being part of the solution. Either you kick a friend who's just been kicked, or you blow on her bruise and offer her salve. Why is that such a hard choice?

The immediate sympathy and help is key, but what's an even greater act of friendship is listening, discussing, and helping your friend to process the harassment, to understand it, contextualize it, and help render it less powerful. Treating your friend as a thinking, feeling adult who is capable of understanding what has happened to her, and capable of insight, is a really important part of being an empowered woman in a society that often treats us as meat.

And the greatest act of friendship -- and righteousness -- of all is intervening on the spot, and standing up to the harasser for and with your friend.

This last one -- standing up for your friends -- should be automatic. If it isn't, maybe it's time to think long and hard about how you were raised, and what choices you learned to make to survive. Yeah, I was a bullied kid and I threw other outcasts under the bus if it would save me ... when I was in grade school. But now I'm an adult, and every failure of mine to protect and support my friends when they are attacked is my failure, not theirs. And yes, as an adult I've failed many times, or been weak or stupid in my support. But I'm glad to say that there have also been times when I was mindful enough to succeed in supporting and backing up my friends. And I strive to be that person every day.

I'm thankful for those fierce friends of mine who have done all of these things: Jaime, Patty, Cyndie, Robynn, and others whom I'm forgetting right now. (There have been so many incidents over the years, and when I was younger I deliberately forgot about it when friends failed to support me, so I managed to also forget when they did support me.)

And I'm also remembering people who shall remain nameless -- some of them people I greatly respected -- who stood by and did nothing. And, though I forgive quickly, I'll never forget. As MLK said:

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

You're not alone -- in being harassed, in feeling helpless, in not knowing what to do. But tackling street harassment as it happens in front of you is your responsibility, as it is the responsibility of every citizen of a free state.

Please donate to the Hollaback "I've Got Your Back" campaign, and start (or continue) to get everyone's back on this.

March 23, 2011

Why You Still Need to be a Feminist

Here they are, in black and white (or red and blue, actually): the breakdown of male/female representation in the most elite publications in the country in 2010 from Vida. Here's the speculative fiction version from Strange Horizons, along with links to discussion of the above.

Spoiler alert: men review more books and get more books reviewed than women -- and by a factor of two to three, depending on the publication.

But then, there's a good reason why; more men are being published:

We looked at fall 2010 catalogs from 13 publishing houses, big and small. ... Only one of the houses we investigated—the boutique Penguin imprint Riverhead—came close to parity, with 55 percent of its books by men and 45 percent by women. Random House came in second, with 37 percent by women. It was downhill from there, with three publishers scoring around 30 percent—Norton, Little Brown, and Harper—and the rest 25 percent and below, including the elite literary houses Knopf (23 percent) and FSG (21 percent). Harvard University Press, the sole academic press we considered, came in at just 15 percent.

I speculated that independents ... would turn out to be more equitable than the big commercial houses. Boy, was I wrong. ... Graywolf, with 25 percent female authors, was our highest-scoring independent. The cutting-edge Brooklyn publisher Melville House came in at 20 percent. The doggedly leftist house Verso was second-to-last at 11 percent. Our lowest scorer? ... Dalkey Archive Press ... it would be nice if more than 10 percent of [their books] were by women. (In the 2011 edition of Dalkey’s much-lauded Best European Fiction series, edited by Aleksandar Hemon, 30 percent of the stories are by women.)

... these numbers we found show that the magazines are reviewing female authors in something close to the proportion of books by women published each year.

So now you know.

Of course, this plays out across all elite and desirable fields:

According to a fact sheet published last year by the AFL-CIO’s Department for Professional Employees, in 2008, women constituted 32.4 percent of all lawyers and 32.2 percent of physicians and surgeons. (We’re 68.8 percent of psychologists, 92 percent of nurses, and 50.4 percent of technical writers, the only type of writer included in the report.)

We've evened out in law school and med school ... but then we outnumber men in MFA creative writing programs, and look at the publication and review numbers. So there are actually several moments of concern.

And, of course, Jessa Crispin at Bookslut uncovers further isshoes:

After talking with editor after editor, a pattern started to emerge. "We don't get enough submissions by women." At each publication I talked to, women were submitting an average of 35% of manuscripts, poems, articles, and pitches.

Which, of course, leads us to (part of the reason) why:

There's something about the culture at some of these places listed at Vida that make me think I would never in a million years be accepted there, and after taking a sampling of some female writer friends, I'm not the only one. Take the Atlantic, for example. Their rates of publishing women were not as devastatingly horrible as, say, The New York Review of Books. (What the fuck, NYRB?) But the women they are perhaps best known for publishing are Caitlin Flanagan, who writes about how abortion is bad, sex is bad, staying at home with the kids is awesome, doing her husband's laundry gives her purpose. Also Sandra Tsing Loh, who writes about her infidelity, the breakup of her marriage, being a bad mother. There is absolutely nothing about The Atlantic that screams out to me: We are totally respectful of women and their various viewpoints, and we'd be interested in publishing the work of a single, globetrotting, pro-choice feminist who does not under any circumstance want to write about her relationships, her femininity, or her sex life.

Hm. That's starting to sound strangely familiar.

So here we are again, folks. And, as usual, my response to all of this is to want people to do something about it. Only this time, instead of giving advice to others, I'm doing something myself.

If women aren't submitting at all in the proportions in which they are actually writing (and I've made that contention myself before) then let's get women submitting their work. I'm working on a way and will have more to say about that later. But here's a beginning.

August 09, 2010

Reading Update: Masons, Comanches, and Iran

Secret Ritual and Manhood in Victorian America Mark C. Carnes

Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History S. C. Gwynne

Death to the Dictator! A Young Man Casts a Vote in Iran's 2009 Election and Pays a Devastating Price Afsaneh Mogadam

Secret Ritual is research for da nobble. I've gotten stuck (for several years) on a key chapter about 2/3s in, where one of my main characters, Leonard, is living in a Martian mining colony (in 1899; it's an alternate history: the gold rush on Mars.) It's an all-male society (something I'll never have any experience with) and something needs to happen to send Leonard running away from the mine.

Note: Leo's gay, and my original thought was that there would be some violence around that, but it was too simplistic, and when I wrote the scene, it just didn't feel right. I don't understand what sexual dynamics would be in a 19th century, all-male, gold rush mining colony, and I suspect it'll be impossible to find any primary sources that address the topic directly. But I can't imagine that guys stuck out there with no women for miles, for months on end, wouldn't be getting down with each other ... at least some of them. So how would they work out the dynamics of such a situation?

One thing that I was thinking of focusing on was a cult the miners have developed. I thought Leo could be initiated into the cult, and have some sort of symbolic reckoning with his manhood that way, rather than addressing the sexuality issue directly. So when I saw the title of Carnes' book, I thought that would be the one for me.

And it was! The book is about fraternal organizations (Masons, Odd Fellows, etc.) and their rise during the latter half of the 19th century. Carnes sez that the main attraction of fraternal orgs in the 19th century, after they had gotten rid of the drinking and carousing that characterized them in the 18th, was the initiatory ritual. The ritual took them back to before Christianity (Christianity after the Second Great Awakening had become increasingly liberal and feminized) and (re)imposed a set of masculine values, and an emotional experience intended to appeal to men whose roles in society were changing rapidly.

So I got some good ideas about how to structure the initiation ritual (which was completely stumping me.) Now I'm reading Jolly Fellows, about male milieus in the same era, which should help me with dynamics some more. And I have a few more books to check out, too. Just a word: Secret Ritual is, for the most part, highly readable. There are some boggy requisite academic sections that twiddle with theory, but Carnes makes his way through his argument with expedition.

Empire of the Summer Moon actually helped me with da nobble too. In this alternate timeline, the U.S. has withdrawn from the Louisiana Purchase territories, and Mexico has sponsored a sort of federated Indian buffer state between its U.S. holdings in Alta California and Texas, and the new/old shape of the U.S. behind the Mississippi. (New Mexico and Texas are part of the Indian Federation, but Texas has an American contingent that won't leave, and New Mexico has a Mexican contingent that won't leave, and ... well, it gets complicated from here, and it's not a main part of the nobble.)

I was thinking earlier that the Federation would be led by Plains nations, but particularly by the Sioux (since they hold such pride of place within the American imagination,) but after reading Empire I'm thinking we can get more complex with it and have the Comanches doing their thing as well. The book makes the argument that the Comanches -- during the early to mid 19th century the best light cavalry in the world -- managed to turn back the tide of white settlement in the southern part of the plains for a couple of decades.

The book is particularly fascinated by Quanah Parker, the mixed-race child of Comanche chief Peta Nokona and Cynthia Parker, a white woman captured and adopted by Comanches as a child. Parker was wildly successful as a war chief during the last period of the Comanche "empire" on the plains, and then managed to reinvent himself  as a wildly successful assimilated reservation Indian when he saw the writing on the wall. He was an effective leader in getting his people to adapt their existing culture, but was unable to get a people raised free on the plains to adapt to sedentary farming life. Imagine, though, if the Comanches had gotten a new lease on their plains life -- at the cost of allying themselves with other plains tribes. I think maybe Quanah Parker could have managed it.

The book is an incredibly fun and interesting read, well-written as a cracking good tale, and without pulling any punches about either Indian atrocities, or Western mendacity and betrayal.

Death to the Dictator is a very engaging, and very fast, read. It's the true story (I think, can't seem to find information) of a young man who gets involved in the election campaign and subsequent protests in Tehran during the 2009 Iranian election (in which the opposition leader, expected to win, lost amid huge protests claiming fraud.) More than that, though, it's a view, from the ground, of what that historic episode was about. Not a lot of history is sketched out here, but enough to ground even the most ignorant reader (namely, me) in the context of last year's happenings. More than that, even, it's a portrait of the young adult generation of urban Iran: their attitudes, fears, concerns, blind-spots, and courage. I highly recommend this book. (Warning: he is arrested and subjected to torture and rape, so some of this might be triggering.)

March 29, 2010

No, You Can't

March 24, 2010

HCR

Slide12

"Wow, and that only took 18 years!"

January 19, 2010

Clinton/Bush Summit

Wow. I have no words.

(Except that White House embed code is five thousand times longer than YouTube's)

November 10, 2009

Reports of Child Sex Abuse by Women Rising

This post on Broadsheet alerted me to a new study in the UK that shows reporting of child sex abuse has risen sharply, and with it the reports of women -- mostly mothers -- being the abusers.

Sex abuse claims directed at men still far outnumber those aimed at women. A 2007 United States Department of Justice report noted that females are responsible for less than 10% of sex crimes and less than 1% of all forcible rape arrests.  They also have a different modus operandi than male offenders -- including a higher likelihood of committing their crimes in caregiving situations and in concert with a male partner. But the uniqueness of female perpetrators can make it harder for victims, particularly boys, to come forward. The DOJ report noted “sexist beliefs that depict males as controlling all sexual encounters and females as passive and submissive recipients… Misperceptions exist about the ‘ability’ of women to sexually victimize males.” And the jokey cliche of a boy seduced an older woman muddles the seriousness of the crime.

This makes me prick up my ears because of that story I wrote a few years back (currently titled "Vacation") in which all the men disappear from the world and some women end up becoming sexually predatory with young boys. The story was inspired by the Mary Kay Letourneau case, in which a 30-something, white (blonde) schoolteacher and mother of four had an affair with her 13-year-old, Laotian student, and went to prison for seven years after she got pregnant with their second child, against a court order not to see him again. I wrote the story after reading that Letourneau had been released from prison and had immediately married her former student, who was at that point 22 years old.

The story isn't based on the Letourneau case, but is rather an attempt to explore in a more general way the kind of predatoriness that would cause a perfect Barbie-mom to go after a young boy who was in her care for much of the day (Letourneau was actually a grade school teacher, and the boy had been in her class when he was 11 and 12.) In this story I turned the tables, and actually had a rape?/not rape? scene in an alleyway. But the articles above seem to indicate that woman/boy sex abuse doesn't fit the stranger-danger stereotype any better than man/child abuse usually does (most of that happens within family or friendship circles.)

This gives me a lot to think about, like how my story works best where the public attitude is that women don't generally sexually abuse children. But this article has started to change my view of that. My tables-turning isn't quite so powerful in a world where a lot of women DO molest children. So I'm very disturbed by this on two levels. I might have to write another story, a different one, to get at whatever it is comes out of this.

By the way, I'm bound and determined to finish proofing the chapbook tonight, now that that grant is done. I hope the book, with "Vacation" in it, will be out in December.

October 21, 2009

My Views On The New NEA

Hey all,

I was asked to participate on a six-week blog panel discussing current issues surrounding the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the federal government's national arts agency, now that it has installed a new director and will be facing new challenges (in this economy), and new opportunities (under the new president.)

The panel is hosted on Barry Hessenius' Barry's Arts Blog at the WESTAF site. Each week of the project brought in a new panel, composed of different sectors of the art world: 

  1. Former NEA
  2.  National arts leaders
  3. Funders - public & private 
  4. Arts Education leaders, Academia, Emerging Leaders, and Consultant
  5. Private Sector / Stakeholder
  6. Working Artists

We're now at week six and I'm on the panel of working artists responding to questions about how the government can best support and promote the arts in the coming years.

Please do check it out and comment at will!

October 08, 2009

Governator Severely Rebuffed @ Dems' Party

Wow. Schwarzenegger showed up uninvited (or perhaps, invited by some, but not by others) at a Democratic fundraiser in San Francisco and got his ass booed and insulted. Apparently, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (why can't I pronounce that name?) told him to "kiss my gay ass." Sounds like Ammiano.

What's really interesting is the competing commentary from different Dem politicians in this article. Ammiano shits all over Arnie with no eye toward what's politic. Cali Senator Mark Leno keeps his mouth shut while Arnie's in the room, then lets him have it in a -- polite -- speech afterwards. And good ol' Willie Brown tears into his fellow Dems for childishly attacking Arnie when they have a bill going up to be signed.

It's like a spectrum, along the axis of slimeball expediency vs. unleashed outrage. So which of these folks do you suppose is more powerful? Who will end his career highest on the ladder?

September 15, 2009

Domestic Violence Is A Preexisting Condition

I often act outraged when I'm really just angry. But this is outrageous. Call your representative today and tell them to do something about it. Public Option Now!

September 08, 2009

Can't Afford To Wait For The Public Option

I took part in this Moveon.org action about a week ago, in which they had folks take pictures of themselves with these signs saying who in their lives "can't afford to wait" for the public option. Then they made a video of it. If you watch all the way through, near the end you can see the truly unflattering picture of me I took. I'm bummed because I went with the unflattering picture because it was the only one out of about 25 I took that included the whole sign I wrote. Then they went and cut off the bottom of my sign anyway. But I guess it made its point.

Please call Congress today. Really, none of us can afford to wait.

August 14, 2009

Four Years in the Life of John Hughes, Fascist

(I wasn't gonna write anything about John Hughes, but then my friend Joel Tan called for submissions on Facebook for a little Facebook anthology of John Hughes/80s memorials. I will post a link when it's ready.)

At first it seemed like John Hughes was just bad timing for me.

I was fourteen when "Sixteen Candles" came out and sixteen was too far away. I was also, at the time, going to an all girls' school, and had never known what it was like to have a devastating crush on somebody in school. And let's not even talk about Long Duk Dong. I blocked him out and had to be reminded of his existence, frequently. I also suspected that the character I most resembled was Anthony Michael Hall's. Ugh.

When "The Breakfast Club" came out, I was in a brief fresh-faced phase, not popular, but at the height of my high school popularity, only an average student, the first cut from the team, and unable to identify with any of the stereotypes therein represented. A year later, I'd turn into The Basket Case, but by then the movie had ceased to matter, and the dandruff thing just grossed me out anyway. I never got dandruff until after college; it was a distant, adult thing.

When "Pretty in Pink" came out, as I said above, I had moved to a more Hughes-like public school and morphed into the Basket Case, and was watching Stephen Frears/Hanif Kureishi movies and reading Paul Celan. The previous year the movie would have spoken to me. The previous year I was buying skippy little sixties dresses with my best friend and strategizing how to sneak into clubs we never tried to sneak into. Now I was dropping out of school and trying to ignore how the furniture moved every time I looked away from it. Now the movie appeared to be exactly what it was: a cheap knockoff of an outsider life.

I laughed at "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" along with everyone else: it was funny. I never could articulate then -- nor can I explain even now -- the dread feeling in the pit of my stomach that movie gave me. I still feel it. It had a cold, existential edge to it, and the characters, aside from looking like adults, were so unpleasantly alien to me as to kill any enjoyment aside from that of purely cynical entertainment.

When "Some Kind of Wonderful" came out, I was -- miraculously -- in college, with a blonde bob, and my dream of being a drummer blossoming (it was to peak two years later when I actually bought a used drum kit for $60.) But ... I was in college. I couldn't even bring myself to express the wish of seeing the movie in front of my friends. I waited until I got home for winter vacation and went to see it at a second run theater by myself, a throwback to my Basket Case year. I did not allow myself to love it, even though the misfit finally got the misfit and this was perhaps the only John Hughes movie I could ever have loved; I was too grown up.

But, it turns out, it wasn't timing at all. I never fit the schedule; I never fit the mold. I was not pretty and graceful and cool like Molly Ringwald or Mary Stuart Masterson, and strangely, I never quite wanted to be. I was not exactly the white kid down the block, either; and the goofy and neglectful parents of this universe were nothing like my involved, overeducated, transnational pair. The characters I wished myself into were Maria from "West Side Story" and Alex from "Flashdance": parentless, urban, racially ambiguous girls who risked being shot for love, being fired for art. Self-sufficient girls who made up their own minds and were leagues away from the shallow problems of suburban high school popularity contests.

John Hughes movies were themselves the round hole I never fit into. They ruled my teenaged years like bullies, like Reagan, like the eighties. John Hughes fading out of the consciousness of my age group was a fact akin to the mainstreaming of alternative rock and Bill Clinton: the decline of a set of ideas that had poisoned the end of my childhood; the cultural accession of values more closely in alignment with my own; a huge weight off my chest.

I've been moved by the outpouring of emotion at the death of John Hughes, as I was by the fallout from Michael Jackson's death. But I was moved by the emotions of others, not by the deaths themselves. MJ meant nothing to me, but he was harmless. There was nothing in his message (such as it was) that hurt me. I can't say the same of John Hughes, whose shallow examinations of class distinctions in suburban high schools were a throwback to the geography of the fifties and sixties -- when different classes were still being schooled together.

Hughes never understood real power dynamics as they played out in American public schools. His blithe assurance that a drunken party could achieve social parity between two groups with vastly disparate levels of power was the teenaged version of the blithe assurances that if you laughed along with them, bullies would stop torturing you, or if we stopped talking about color, we'd see that racism was over, or if we squirted more ketchup on our tater tots, we'd get the nutritional equivalent of vegetables.

I was so glad to be shut of John Hughes, that I never thought about him from that day to this, except to murmur unconsciously insincere agreement when somebody nostalgized about one of his deathly movies. But now that he's dead, and I have to look squarely at his legacy, that's over for me. Time to let out the dead, grey feeling in my gut that his movies always birthed. Time to wash away the worst of the previous bad era.

Now, how do we wash away the Bush years?

July 17, 2009

Confirmation Hearing

Hulu is running this clip from an earlier Senate confirmation hearing. It is waaaay too cool, on so many levels. Same players, different tune.

July 03, 2009

How Al Franken Won Minnesota

In those days, Marilyn earned her last name. She was a dove of a woman, sitting outside your window uttering plump, satisfied sounds while a scrap of paper whirled uncatchable around your making-waffles kitchen floor.

In those days we couldn't imagine Tom and Al apart. They each had a tattoo: Al on his left buttock of Tom's name in lowercase with "A-L" in blockletters in the spaces between; Tom on his right buttock of exactly the reverse. They eddied in love on the window sill, puddled in love on the kitchen floor, humped big piles of laundry love on the living room carpet.

They were blank walls to one another tAoLm and Marilyn. She couldn't hear him past the glare, and he could see nothing sexy in her. The muffs of her side-hairs dampened sound, bent rainbows around her head. All beautiful men were gay; all beautiful women wore four-inch heels and pony tails. The afternoon was solid; the night was silver, the mornings gold.

That day of taping she lost two sequins at once in the dressing room; looking for them on the floor she saw them configured together with the gash of a stargazer lily stamen like this:

:|

and she knew something was going to happen. In the hallways, as the young clipboard women called "time!" and "time!" and "five minutes please, everybody five minutes!" a breath of ice touched her clavicle and a man walked by her, free and free. Three sequin-shapes wriggled down the left leg of his tight pants and fell out onto the floor. She stood over them, reading an "o," an "m," and a "t."

June 16, 2009

Breakin' Up Iz Hard 2 Do, Part II

So what I wanted to do -- about a month ago now, in the weeks leading up to WisCon, when I was considering "breaking up" with the antiracist blogosphere as a result of RaceFail and MammothFail -- was write a series of posts about how antiracist action online actually works, and why I have problems with it.

But a number of things intervened.

*****First, right before WisCon, Al Robles, an elder in my Bay Area Asian American activist community, died suddenly. His family organized a memorial event and I was asked to help, so I took over volunteer coordination for the six-hour event. The event took place at the venue where we had staged the Asian American arts festival I ran for its first few years; being there as a coordinator reminded me of that work and of the atmosphere of common purpose and mutual help that can arise out of creating a "real world" racial community. It also reminded me that I had a real world community in the first place, that I had been neglecting, partly in favor of my online stuff.

Also, being at Manong Al's memorial really made me think a lot about Al. The sort of elder whose memorial event draws thousands of people, requires ten tables to hold all the food, and has trouble restricting the stories, poems, and testimonials to six hours, is a very particular person. Al was a leader, not in that he put himself and his agenda first, nor in that he had great managerial skills he used to organize people. Al was a leader by example. He was everywhere he needed to be to get the work done. He was physically there; he put his hand on your arm when he saw you. He knew everyone in the community because he talked to them, partied with them, and remembered them whenever he saw them next. He never lost his interest in individuals, never lost his excitement about the new (and old) things people were doing, never failed to connect the creative life (he was a poet) with the activist life, and the activist life with the good life.

The consideration that makes my eyes well up, both in love for Al and in shame for my own failures, is the memory of Al as someone who always gave respect, gave face, to everyone, from the most snot-nosed, fist-pumping teenager, to the oldest, out-of-commission elder.  He made you want to earn the respect that he gave you unconditionally. He loved whatever it was that you did. Thousands of people turned out to say goodbye to him because people like that are so rare.

It makes me really think about who is going to take over for Al. Less than two years ago we lost another elder, Manong Bill Sorro, who had a similar role in the community as Al Robles, had a similar way with people, although the two were very different. As I said, these people are rare. Manong Al and Manong Bill were my touchstones in the community and now that they're both gone, I'm all out of touchstones. They were it for their generation. Who will be it for my generation?

I'm not that kind of person, but I can try to be more of that kind of person. I don't have to be the Manong Al or Manong Bill of my generation, but I think we can split up those duties a little more evenly, especially if we believe in community and continuation. But to do that, I have to get off the fucking internet and get my butt down to where the community is.

***** Second, I went to WisCon. Given the atmosphere surrounding RaceFail and then MammothFail, I was expecting WisCon to be emotionally fraught, stress-filled, and conflict-ridden. Instead, what I found was that there were more POC there than ever before, and that the POC there were organizing, coming together, and also connecting outside the POC community with a confidence and interest and even joy that I hadn't seen at WisCon before.

I realized that the online fights that had stressed me out so much, make my stomach tie up in knots and feel like all was sick with the world, had energized a lot of other folks. I was forcibly reminded of how I felt eleven years ago, when I first joined battle -- in a very limited and constrained way -- with folks online on the multiracial list-serv and the Asian American writers list-serv I joined. It was energizing; it did make me want to do stuff. And, because I was in San Francisco, I just went right out and did stuff: joined orgs, started programs, etc. It was a wonderful cycle of discussion and action: I discussed ideas online, and then took those ideas out into the real world and acted on them.

Of course, the energizing aspect of the arguments and sometimes fights had a limited efficacy. They were only energizing as long as they were still new to me, and still had something to teach me about that particular way of viewing the issues. Once I had been through the cycle of argument once or twice (and had experienced intelligent, articulate opponents who just plain didn't listen to you) the argument stopped energizing me and started to stress me out. Eventually, I had to quit the two list-servs, and I didn't miss them much when I had. That was mainly because the people I "knew" on the list-servs were just usernames. I was also spending time with folks in meatspace and many of those folks are still my friends; I'm not still friends with a single person I interacted intensely with online at that time, even the people I met in person and tried to work with there. But what I got out of those discussions didn't go away. The results -- the ideas and ability to articulate arguments -- stayed with me.

***** Third, I went back to Berlin, where I spent much of my twenties, and saw a lot of my friends, ten and fifteen years later. I saw that my friends had taken one of three tracks: folks who hadn't quite gotten started on a career and were still struggling to figure out where to go and what to do; folks who had started a career, then started a family and were now negotiating the limitation on their career that a young family imposes; and folks who were well into a creative career, some simply moving forward and others wondering if they wanted to stay on this track or make an adjustment.

I'm with the last group. I've spent the last decade plowing ahead full steam in ethnic-specific arts and culture, and I've accomplished much that I'm proud of. But I've definitely reached a point where I'm trying to make an adjustment in my direction, and that's a difficult thing to do. While in Berlin, I got a rare perspective on where I am in life, by seeing my peers dealing with being in that same place. And I think I can take this adjustment more quietly -- be less manic and bewildered about it -- and focus in. I think that's the key: letting some options go, and focusing in on what's most important to me.

*

I came back to online antiracism a few years ago with my interest in speculative fiction, and with working with POC SF communities that I had connected with through Clarion West and WisCon. And the community here is wonderful, and vibrant, and full of energy and purpose. I've learned a lot from reading blogs, and getting into discussions ... and even from some of the less pleasant fights I've gotten into. Some things I've learned couldn't have been gotten at another way.

But there are also problems with it ... and it was my intention to tease out those problems in a series of posts, as I said above. But after Al's memorial, and after WisCon, and after my visit back to the site of my young adulthood, I think I'm realizing that I don't need to do that right now. What I'm feeling is particular to me and my situation. Maybe down the road I'll have some perspectives that will be useful to someone else, but I don't think I do right now.

I've been upset and angry at an argument that I've heard too many times before that doesn't have the power to inspire me anymore, but that doesn't mean that this discussion isn't inspiring anyone else to new and great things. I think I'm probably best off shutting up and getting out of the way.

*

One thing I do want to clarify: when I said in an earlier post that the best thing that came out of RaceFail was the smart posts published early in the incident, a few outraged people pointed to Verb Noire (which has just announced its first publication, which makes me want to pee with excitement) as a direct result of RaceFail. I was surprised by that perception. Having been involved in so many start-ups (APAture, Hyphen, the San Francisco Hapa Issues Forum chapter, the now-defunct Digital Horizon afterschool program) and seen so many from a peripheral viewpoint, it's second nature to me to assume that any start-up or initiative has its roots in longstanding dreams and long planning processes ... that then come together around a particular opportunity.

Yes, I believe that RaceFail brought on a convergence of a number of things that led to Verb Noire being launched right then, but I don't believe that without RaceFail there would have been no Verb Noire. (Please tell me if I'm completely wrong here; I have no telepathic connection to the publishers, and no idea what specifically got them going.) Furthermore, I'd be worried if I really thought that RaceFail was the only or main impulse to starting Verb Noire. Last straw, yes; main thrust, no. It's a terrific project, coming at the right time, but it's larger than just RaceFail. The language and direction of the project already seems larger -- seems to fill up a space that has to do with more than just a failure of the general SF community to understand cultural difference and appropriation.

Basically, until it was pointed out to me, I didn't connect Verb Noire directly with RaceFail. RaceFail to me is just an incident: an incident that got drawn out way too long and produced some good writing, some bad writing, and a lot of bad feeling ... but still just an incident. Verb Noire is ... an organization, a long-term program, an institution of new perspective in the making. The two are bound up together, certainly: all good organizations, programs, institutions have their roots in unacceptable circumstances, or ongoing failures, and series of incidents that demonstrate these circumstances and failures.

But the two are distinct. One is discussion; the other, activism. For me, there does come a time when the discussion that inspires activism starts to get in the way of activism, and I have to opt out of direct discussion for a while.

*

I don't know what this means for me on a practical level. I have an online presence that takes some work to maintain and that brings me a lot of pleasure, aside from other things. But it also, I have to admit, sucks too much time away from my writing and my working in my community. I might have to cut back on being present online for a while, but I'm not sure how or how much. I'm not making any quick decisions.

I have no conclusions yet, no declarations to make. I think I'm going to be reading less from blogs, and participating less in any sort of online discussions in this area for a while. But at this point, I'm just thinking out loud.

June 06, 2009

News from Asian America

Just a quick note to those interested in the broad trends of Asian America: Read this.

May 16, 2009

Outrage, Pullback, Punishment: The Structure of One Common Antiracist Post

ETA: Please note! This is my personal blog and, although I draw on my experience with the organizations I work for, I write on this blog as a private citizen, and not as a representative of any organization! In these posts it's especially important to remember that I'm not speaking for the Carl Brandon Society, but only for myself.

So, to kick off my out-loud consideration of if and how to "break up" with the antiracist blogosphere ...

I'm going to start with organizing some observations about how racism is talked about on the POC antiracist blogs I've been reading for the past six years and laying out the basic structure of one type of typical antiracist post.

First, most POC A/R blogs rarely take the bull by the horns, that is to say, they rarely take the initiative in introducing topics of discussion and setting the terms for the discussion. Instead, most POC A/R blogs are reactive, that is, they keep watch on what is happening in the world and especially in the media, and respond to incidents or discussions initiated by people out in the world, or by the media.

The way this works is what I call "Outrage, Pullback, Punishment" (and yes, it is a plus that it compresses to "OPP"). How it works is as follows:

Outrage: something racist happens in the world. A blogger or group of bloggers pick up on it. They note it in their blogs and express outrage at it. The item gets passed on from blog to blog.

Pullback: of the bloggers who post on this topic, less than half will express anything other than outrage. But a subset of these bloggers will spend a little time pulling back from the outrage to contextualize this incident of racism and explain why it's a problem. They will go into the history of these types of incidents, they'll go into academic theories of X, they'll give talking points on why this sort of thing is bad for people of color, bad for justice, and bad for the world in general.

Punishment: of the bloggers who pull back and contextualize, an even smaller subset will propose or initiate action. This action is dual: it proposes advocacy of a particular view, action (usually apology and some sort of remediation), and threatens punishment if this action isn't taken up immediately. I call this step "punishment" because punishment is advocated at two places: often the remedial action is punishment of the original offender (as in asking a radio station to fire a racist DJ), and the action threatened if this remedy isn't taken up is usually a punishment as well (official complaint up the chain of command, formal boycott, or bad publicity, and the hanging of the "racist" label on the totality of the offenders.) The action is then picked up by the other bloggers and passed around.

Lest anyone think I'm trying to hurl accusations from a glass house, I'll give an example from my own oeuvre. (I'm actually critiquing all of POC antiracist blogging, including my own, which is part of the whole and speaks the same language.) The recent example is the Avatar casting controversy:

You'll notice here that the structure not only makes the information easy to understand and assimilate, but it also makes the basic conveyance of the information easy to adapt to each blog. Each new blogger who picks the story up simply gives a spin to the same blog post and passes it on.

This structure of communication has been effective in the past for specific purposes. The best example would be the Jena 6 controversy in 2007 where a group of black teenagers were unfairly prosecuted for an assault on a white teenager that was provoked by a series of racist incidents. Originally ignored by the mainstream media, outrage in the POC blogosphere contributed heavily to the story being picked up nationally. Additionally, the "punishment" phase of this story advocated action that was less punitive and more justice-oriented, and resulted in large demonstrations in Jena and all over the country, that have succeeded in bringing about a more just resolution for many of the defendants than would have happened otherwise. Here's a post from the Angry Black Woman which demonstrates OPP and links to other posts you can check out as well.

An earlier example was the Abercrombie and Fitch controversy (2002/2004), which involved first a series of t-shirts with racist images of Asians on them, then a lawsuit (later settled) that alleged that A&F gave visible jobs to white employees and restricted POC to the stock rooms. The online campaign against the t-shirts -- organized with a speed that surprised even participants -- led to real-world protest outside the stores, which in turn caused the company to withdraw the shirt and issue an apology. The t-shirt protest was actually organized via email, list-servs, and discussion boards, more than via blogs. But if you look at the discussion boards link, you'll see one of the origins of OPP structure. The continuing online scrutiny of A&F's racial attitude helped keep pressure on them that contributed to the favorable settlement of the lawsuit.

As has been rightly said since the Jena 6 protests, online social networking has created a world in which effective protest can be organized quickly and nationally to address even local injustices. OPP is a great launching point for these kinds of effective protests: OPP informs and arouses a sense of outrage very quickly, and creates a sort of information tree or hierarchy which people can follow back to a source of organization if they wish to get involved. People are no longer dependent on being reached by recruiters, they can recruit themselves to act. And POC communities, if they know how to leverage the hinges of the Tipping Point, can control to a great extent the spread of their mobilization effort.

This structure of communication also makes it easy for the mainstream media to pick up on POC responses to national incidents. Reporters don't have to dig through a lot of discussion and process its implications to know what POC bloggers are thinking. They just aggregate the most popular bloggers and do a keyword search for the controversy du jour, and bingo, insta-quote. So in this way, POC can come closer to the mainstream media.

All this is great. But.

The negative result of this is that POC A/R blogs tend to accept, without thought or discussion, that the white-dominated media and mainstream culture gets to initiate action and discussion, and the POC A/R online media's role is merely to respond to this discourse, and not to control it or be a partner in shaping it.

This is fine when an injustice happens -- as in Jena -- and must be addressed quickly. These sorts of things happen all the time, so having a structure in place to deal with these things -- to remedy actual injustices as they happen -- is important. But it does not move the discourse on race forward. It unconsciously takes for granted that POC have no initiative in the world. In the call and response of the mainstream media discourse, POC have only a response, not a call. And as we all know, whoever calls, rules.

I say _________, you say "racist"

Mr. Patel!
Racist!
Airbender!
Racist!

If you look back on any effective movement of the 20th century (suffrage, civil rights, Vietnam) their communication structure all had these things in common:

  1. A clear, articulated overall goal towards which all participants were willing to work for years.
  2. A set, but evolving discourse and vocabulary, which the movement controlled.
  3. Media: alternative media organs (papers and magazines) dedicated to promoting this message and discourse; and, over time, allies in the mainstream media dedicated to promoting this message and discourse.
  4. The necessity of responding deliberately and thoughtfully, owing to the lack of instantaneous communications technology. Because everything written was printed and had to be edited and proofread, everything broadcast had to be accepted by media corporations and could be heavily controlled, the message and discourse were very polished, thoughtful, respectful, and carefully tailored to appeal to listeners who may have held a differing opinion.

If you think about it, OPP simply cannot exist in a movement in which the above conditions obtain. Chaos and Freedom are the twin faces of the same internet beast. The viral responsiveness and speed of protests like Jena 6 and A&F owes to the Freedom face. The lack of a goal, a message, a discourse, and deliberate or thoughtful response owes to the Chaos face. Although there's more than one argument to be made here, I would contend that the POC Antiracist blogosphere is not a movement, it is merely a community.

As such, it can facilitate the creation of temporary movements (like the Jena 6 protest movement), but it cannot change, or even affect, the national discourse on race. All it can do is respond to it.

In my next post, I'm going to talk about initiatives that do shape, or attempt to shape, national discourse on race, and how these work together with online OPP.

May 15, 2009

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: How To Handle Antiracist POC Communities

ETA: Please note! This is my personal blog and, although I draw on my experience with the organizations I work for, I write on this blog as a private citizen, and not as a representative of any organization! In these posts it's especially important to remember that I'm not speaking for the Carl Brandon Society, but only for myself.

WisCon starts in a week, and, as a result of RaceFail and the more recent resurgence of controversy around race, I've been thinking a lot about the issue of how antiracist action is handled on the internet. I'm going to spend the next week on a series of posts about my thoughts on this topic. I need to clear my head and -- not knowing what to expect from WisCon this year -- prepare my thoughts for whatever comes.

(One quick caveat here: I despaired years ago of getting through to ignorant, privileged whites on the internet through argument, and haven't engaged in that sort of argument for a long time: because it kills me, and because it doesn't seem to do much good. The only thing that works, in my experience, is providing copious resources that someone, who wants to seek and understand, can find and use in his/her own way, so that they can choose to prepare themselves to join a discourse, rather than argue their way into knowledge.

So if I seem to be only criticizing the antiracist POC side here, it's because I am. No amount of tantrums, unprofessionalism, and bad behavior from the privileged side surprises me anymore, and I find it pointless to even criticize it. At the latest, after last year's Rachel-Moss-WisConFail, and the conscious delight privileged white males (and females) took in baiting feminists, people of color, differently abled, and transgendered people, I have refused to engage with such perspectives, which I consider a continuum. I only now engage with "our" responses to such perspectives, or more accurately, with a broader-based strategy to combat ignorance and prejudice in our media and in our society. Doubtless RaceFail blame falls much more heavily on the side of baiters and privileged idiots. But they can't bait those who won't be baited. They can't enrage those who won't be enraged.)

Back in February, around the time I thought that RaceFail was going to die down, I started writing a series of posts on this topic. But RaceFail didn't die down then, nor for another couple of months. The residue of a contentious and conflict-soaked election campaign, and of a devastating economic collapse, the impact of which we'll be unraveling for years, was like jetfuel to the usual flame. Whereas internet blowups usually only last a couple of weeks -- a flash flood -- the almost palpable panic and fear and weariness cracked open the levees we'd been ignoring for so long, and our little corner of the blogosphere was overwhelmed. What started as an initially salutary repeat of a discussion that had never quite been put to rest, soon turned into a community eating itself.

Not coincidentally, February was the time the Carl Brandon Society's Heritage Month book advocacy campaign kicked off. We'd chosen one recommended reading list in January -- immediately before RaceFail had started -- and were trying to put together a second list in February as the tone of the discussion got ugly. The difference was dramatic. In January our members were joyfully and actively participating, just like last year. By mid-February, our list-serv had fallen silent: everyone was too busy at work or in their lives to participate. For the first time since I joined the Carl Brandon Society Steering Committee, our members actually ignored direct requests for participation. And I have to say: I don't blame them one little bit.

Heartsick and anxiety-ridden over the tone the public discourse began to take on, I bowed out of the discussion and abandoned the posts I had started. I did save them, though, and, although I'm even more heart-sick and anxiety-ridden now, I have to talk this out, if only with myself. Essentially, I have to decide, in the next couple of weeks, if I'm going to "break up" with the antiracist blogosphere.

This is not the first time I've had to make such a decision. In the year 2000, I had to "break up" with the discussion list-servs I was on in 1998/99, that helped me learn and understand so much about my own identity and community, and that helped me formulate my own thinking about race and organizing and why these are important. Without those list-servs and those discussions, I could not have become an effective community organizer, teacher, and advocate. I would not have been able to articulate to myself or anyone else why building a community voice is essential to racial justice.

But the discussions on those list-servs stayed in one place and cycled around that place over and over again, like a ferris wheel. Staying in that discourse after I had completed a few cycles was not merely annoying, it actually militated against progressive action. It made me anxious and sick to my stomach, it made me angry, and -- whereas initially it had brought me closer to my fellow community members -- it began to drive a wedge between us, emphasizing small differences in opinion, and sucking energy and air away from broader-based action.

I thought I would miss it too much. I said I'd "take a break" for three months and then see if I could go back and take part in a more rational manner. What happened instead was that, within a few weeks, I had nearly forgotten about the list-servs, and had discovered a pocket of free hours that I could now dedicate to more real-world action.

But those were purely discussion list-servs; not only were they not intended for action, but calls for action and event announcements weren't allowed on those lists. Breaking up with the antracist POC blogosphere is a much more complex proposition, because it exists not just for discussion, but also for discourse, not just for expression of outrage, but also for action and organizing. And there are people in this community who are so geographically far away, I can't access them any other way.

So this consideration is not just a "in or out" proposition. Being on the CBS Steering Committee requires me to use online organizing and keep up with what's going on in the communities. Writing for Hyphen blog requires me to participate in POC bloggery. I'm not quitting these organizations, so the question is: how to tailor my participation in online POC antiracist action so as to curtail the negative influence of discussion loops, while keeping me in the loop?

This is what I'll be considering over the next few posts. I probably won't respond to comments until I'm through, since this is a longer thought process than usual, and I don't want to break it off or argue until I've gotten through it. Be advised that anything that smacks to me of attack (in comments) may well be deleted. (That's another tactic I'm going to be considering.)

May 12, 2009

White House Geekery

Obama_computer

I am so in love with deadbrowalking's Wild Unicorn Herd Check-in. For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, read this first. As a response to one of Lois McMaster Bujold's more clueless statements -- that PoC didn't exist before the internet, essentially -- deadbrowalking called for PoC nerds, especially outside the US who were second or third generation nerds, to check in. The response has been astounding.

My eyes tear up every time I go there and see that the list has added another page. If you're a nerd of color, please go and check in!

In other news, I picked this up from the unicorn herd: Barack Obama is a nerd of color. (Okay, well, we knew the last part already.) But what does his using a Mac have to do with it? I thought real nerds used pimped out PCs.


May 11, 2009

Can We NOT Do Racefail Again, Please?

I'm sticking my head out of its hole here (please note: my head is NOT wearing its CBS hat) to make a plea ... and realizing that I'll probably either get ignored, or get my head bitten off. This plea goes out to my fellow active and activist PoC and white antiracist SF/F fans. Anyone who doesn't fit this description, please refrain from commenting below (I will probably delete you.)

Apparently, Patricia Wrede has written an alternate history YA in which American Indians/Native Americans simply never existed, replaced by magical mammoths. If you don't immediately see what's wrong with this, read this list of links. (I also surfed through from this post and found a buncha stuff that wasn't on the links post above.) The posts linked often link to further reading, so go knock yourself out surfing.

Okay. I, for one, think this list of posts offers a perfect summation of what the problem with Wrede's premise is. What I'm asking for now is for PoC and white antiracists to take a REALLY DEEP BREATH ... and to fail to have a massive, collective, monthslong comment thread freakout like the one that happened this January/February/March/April (a.k.a. RaceFail '09.)

I know you guys are tired of it. We all are. I know the ignorant and vicious attempts to block and derail discussion are making you crazy. But responding to them in comments didn't do much good a few months ago ... and I think it'll do even less good now that the clueless are still smarting from the pileups at various whitepeople blogs which caused everyone to freak out and f-lock and delete their blogs and out each other's real identities and and and ...

What good did any of that do? What good will it do to go there again? The best thing that came out of RaceFail was a list of good, thoughtful posts about cultural appropriation that we can point out to people who want to be educated. Unfortunately, as much as people during RaceFail were linking to these great posts, they were ALSO engaging in increasingly angry comment threads with flamers and trolls who weren't interested in learning anything, and wouldn't have learned anything even if they were BECAUSE THEY WERE ON THE DEFENSIVE, AS EVERYONE IS IN A COMMENTS THREAD BATTLE.

So my suggestion -- my plea -- is to avoid engaging in comment threads as much as possible. You can't argue someone out of their ignorance. You can only lead them to water and WALK AWAY, hoping they'll drink after you've gone. There are some links pileups starting already. Let's contribute to them, and then make some private pledges to simply link to the links posts in comments and NOT COMMENT FURTHER.

WisCon is a week and a half away. I DO NOT want to walk into WisCon wondering who has put themselves in the wrong now. I DO NOT want to have to navigate sudden, new schisms having to do with random ignorant comments-thread comments. We DO NOT have to use this opportunity to excavate every ignorant corner of our fellow SF/F fans' racial consciousness. Let's put the info out there and let them do what they want to with it.

(A suggestion: those of you planning your own blogpost about this, please consider closing comments, so that anyone who wants to respond cannot do so anonymously, but MUST respond by posting something on their own blog. This will cut down on a lot of opportunities for people to enrage you from the safety of anonymity. I'm leaving comments on this post open because I'm hoping we can discuss ways and means of NOT engaging in a RaceFail 1.5.)

*****

In other news, (putting my CBS hat on): the Carl Brandon Society is sponsoring a "Cultural Appropriation 101" class at Wiscon (Friday afternoon during The Gathering -- it will only take up part of the Gathering time, so you can still attend.) The class will be taught by Nisi Shawl, Victor Raymond (both CBS Steering Committee members) and Cabell Gathman.

This will be a SAFE SPACE for anyone who suspects they may be missing some of the basics to come to and learn and discuss, and ask the questions you're afraid to ask for fear of being jumped on. We strongly recommend that anyone who feels a little shaky in the basics, or who doesn't agree with what a lot of PoC are saying about cultural appropriation, come and attend this class BEFORE going into any panels on race or cultural appropriation. Forearmed is forewarned.

April 26, 2009

Oh Hillary, My Hillary


Hear motherfuckin' hear.

And you wonder why I love her.

April 20, 2009

Weekly Roundup: April 12-18

Not much to say this week.

I don't think Susan Boyle is very good. But if she were, how could you tell? Everyone was cheering so loudly the whole time. I think people just need someone to win right now.

Yeah, that's it.

Oh yeah, and Obama better get his ass in gear about the heathcare thing. Dammit.

Busy trying to get my shit together for the Kaya Press author tours.

And that's really all.

April 14, 2009

Was Today Such A Poor News Day?

Oh my god, who cares?

April 05, 2009

Weekly Roundup: March 29 - April 4


My folks were in town for a while but left this week. And I've been having trouble getting to sleep, which is making me tired and bad-memoried.

I had to scramble to finish my Asian American women profiles for Hyphen blog this week, before Women's History Month was over. It was a good project, but a lot of work. I asked the readers for suggestions, and most of the suggestions were for artists and writers, which tells you what kind of readers we have, but wasn't terribly helpful. So I had to curate the profiles for age, ethnicity, and field of endeavor. That also meant I had to do some research to actually find a range of women to profile. But I'm glad of the result. You can see all the posts here.

By the way, I'm going to be asking Asian Americans to send in 200-word family histories for me to post on Hyphen Blog for May, which is API Heritage Month. Spread the word!

Also, currently working for Kaya Press and putting together book tours for Australian novelist Brian Castro and Japanese documentary filmmaker Kazuo Hara. We've been watching Hara's films lately, and I have to say, although I would never have sat through one otherwise, I'm glad I was forced to: this guy's a genius. For writers out there, you HAVE to see A Dedicated Life (which you can get on Netflix). It's a documentary about a Japanese novelist, famous for one particular book, who used to be a member of the Japanese communist party and was excommunicated for kicking off his novel writing career by writing a book criticizing it. But that's not what the film is about. The film, an amazing 2.5 hours long, is about narrative and how people build their lives. That's all I can tell you, because it's the kind of film that does what only film can do ... so you can describe it. Watch the film and if your jaw isn't on the ground after the first half hour, and STILL on the ground two hours later, I'll buy you dinner.

I didn't really like his Goodbye CP, which I think was his first film, and which is basically about forcing the audience to watch endless footage of people with cerebral palsy moving through public space and being ignored by others. But definitely see The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On, which is about a super-crazy protester in the 80's who tries to kill his former WWII commander for reasons best understood by watching the film.

Katherine Mieszkowski, probably my favorite writer at Salon, has an article about a couple in Berkeley who acquire most of their stuff by scavenging. It's really interesting and has some tips for down 'n' out East Bay Areans. The irony here is that this couple has written a book about scavenging, which you have to buy new, because presumably most people who buy it aren't going to toss it out.

My friend Jaime said last weekend, after the funeral of the four Oakland policemen, that he thinks a city can reach a point where its reputation is just broken, and there's no coming back. I've been watching The Wire on netflix these past few weeks, and Oakland feels like that right now: broken beyond repair. The anger that Oscar Grant's killing unleashed was one side of the violence coin -- and the police DO have a lot to answer for, over the years and right now. But these killings are the other side, an indication that when violence gets this out of control, no one is safe. The one thing everyone can agree on is that Mayor Dellums is an asshole. The feeling in Oakland right now is sadness just on the edge of despair; there's no real anger, just shock. And the violence continues.

I saw the William Kentridge show at SFMOMA last weekend and highly, highly, HIGHLY recommend it. Don't wanna talk about it right now, though. Also saw the Nick Cave show at YBCA. Candylicious!

And I've started revisions on Draft 3 of da nobble. And started writing dates with other writers. If this works out, I might have a way of sticking to it. I have to get this sleep issue resolved, though, because I don't have much brain power this week.

Saw Amber Benson, who played Tara on Buffy, on BART last weekend. At first I thought she was someone I knew down the way, so familiar did she seem. I stared a little, but tried not to bother. She was with a group of geek girls, which is cool.

Been watching the first season of 21 Jump Street on Y*O*U*T*U*B*E. Yeah, it's cheesy (the music is truly horrible), but the storytelling is actually pretty decent. I remember LOVING this show back in the day: it started the year I went off to college. I was still seventeen when I first went: still a teenager in a lot of ways. So I watched it off and on until Johnny Depp left. The gender and racial dynamics are so clear in this show, it makes me understand the 80's much better. Holly Robinson's character is the only woman on the force (there are no female extras in uniform). She's depicted as being just as capable as the men ... but she never has to fight anyone. Whenever there's a shooting or an accident that she's involved in, all the men get this look of concern on their faces and touch her shoulder and ask if she's alright. God, I remember that.

As far as the racial dynamic goes, the only black characters on the show so far are bad guys, except for Robinson and the captain. There's even one episode where a rich white kid gets hooked on smack and is forced by his black dealer, also a teenager, to rob stores to pay for his dope. The black dealer gets put away and the white junkie gets off scot free with no explanation. Everyone feels sorry for him. And yet, there's some sophistication in the way the individual characters interact racially. In the pilot, Johnny Depp's character is surprised that Holly Robinson's character owns an MG. She laughs at him and asks him if she should have a pimpmobile instead. No pretty-boy cop-show hero nowadays would ever be allowed to make racist assumptions like that.

Pireeni gave me Proust Was A Neuroscientist for my birthday (very belatedly) and I've started reading it.

Will do a sleep study next week.

That is all.

March 25, 2009

Netanyahu, Peacemaker?

Since when?

"We want a policy of security -- we know that we will achieve peace only if Israel is strong, only if it can fight terror, only if it can defend itself. This is our policy, the policy of Likud."

Oh, right. I.e., Netanyahu, peace enforcer.

February 05, 2009

Relief to Gaza

Obama is sending $20 mil to Palestinian Gaza refugees. I am. I am drinking his Kool Aid.

ETA: Oh, that's following this, by the way. Now all he has to do is stop saying Israel is a victim of Hamas.

January 29, 2009

Ann Coulter Sci Fi

This is pretty sci-fi, don't you think?

January 24, 2009

Obama's Arts Policy

From his Agenda on the White House website:

Arts:
Our nation's creativity has filled the world's libraries, museums, recital halls, movie houses, and marketplaces with works of genius. The arts embody the American spirit of self-definition. As the author of two best-selling books — Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope — President Obama uniquely appreciates the role and value of creative expression.

That's it. That's the whole thing.

Pretty fuckin' weak, Barry. You're gonna have to do better if you want to get into FDR's ether. Three punk-ass sentences do not get those mural painted, those Okies photographed, and those plays staged, okay? It's time your smug ass recognized the giants whose shoulders DREAMS FROM MY FATHER stood on, and how fucking many of them worked for the WPA.

Time to cough up.

January 19, 2009

Obama Thoughts: Hope and Despair

Stimulating and challenging discussion with Shailja yesterday over the course of a writing date. She expressed distrust towards the Sense of Hope TM that has risen around Obama's campaign and election (and now inauguration.) She's concerned that it's another mass-opiate.

I was thinking rather that it was a swing back to the other emotional extreme, after 8 years of the American public (and that is both right and left) being completely helpless to influence or affect the administration or national policy, and the concomitant despair that has been collecting over that. The despair, interestingly enough, although felt increasingly by the farther left all along, has only manifested in the mainstream in the last eighteen months or so -- not coincidentally, around the same time that long-ass campaign started. So I think the public can't maintain a sense of hope OR despair for very long: we avoid despair for as long as we can, and I think hope is fickle, if not fragile.

What I'm saying is that despair can't motivate us for long, and hope can't motivate -- or opiate -- us for long.

It also makes me think about the alchemy of the election. Our sense of despair arose right around the same time as our sense of hope. I think neither could manifest in the collective consciousness without the other. As a people, we staved off despair about Bush until two not merely viable, but transformational alternatives appeared. Then we all, as a mass, dropped any hope of Bush transforming his administration into something of any value and turned to Hillary and Obama.

And let's not gainsay Hillary's importance in this alchemical equation. The Hope TM came from a conjunction of symbolic sources (and when I say "first ____ candidate," I mean "first viable _____ candidate"):

  1. First Woman candidate = potential final barrier to gender inequality being removed. Curiously, at no time since the women's movement has there been a moment, or an issue, that has been elevated to Symbolic of the Continuing Oppression of Women TM in the public consciousness. Not Anita Hill, not the many abortion fights, not the Duke Rape Scandal, not Lorena Bobbitt. Each of these and many others simply elevated its specific issue to public consciousness, but feminism failed in -- or was blocked from -- connecting each issue to the general issue of gender inequality. I think this is part of the reason that misogyny could be so blatant in this campaign. People think of sexism as smoke and mirrors -- whiny, crocs-wearing women -- and don't connect it to unequal pay, workplace sexual harrassment, rape, domestic violence, and reproductive control.

    And yet we carry with us as a nation a vast, painful uneasiness with each other (after all, half of us are men and the other half women), a vague sense that something is not right that we wish was right. And the appearance of Hillary, while arousing a terrible, sexist rage and hatred in men -- particularly men of my generation, heartbreakingly enough -- also aroused a strong, if vague, hope in them that her presence in the election, and her potential election, would lay this terrible uneasiness to rest.

    And let's be clear: it was only Hillary who could have done this. Immediately below I point out that only someone like Obama could have done his part, and I say that not to discount Obama's individual personality, but to point out that Obama had to simultaneously build his individual image and build his image as symbolic of national and racial healing. I don't think -- I really, really, really don't believe -- that a woman could have done the same thing in the same amount of time. I believe that there is a much greater resistance in the public consciousness to accepting a woman in a leadership image than there is to accepting a man in a leadership image. And that includes men of color, because we've been seeing strong, amazing men of color in leadership roles since Frederick Douglass ... and even during the Civil Rights Movement men-as-leaders of the race wasn't a hard concept to take in. The resistance to women is greater, so women have to take more time to develop their image. Compare Obama to Sarah Palin, who had even less time to build an image than he did. She was very popular on the right, but popular as a mascot, an attraction, a curiousity ... NOT as a leader. It'll be interesting to see how long it takes her to become leaderly in the public consciousness. I'll take bets as to whether she manages it by 2012 or if it'll take until 2016.

    In any case, I've argued before that for liberal or moderate women to achieve leadership in government, they have to be part of a political dynasty (and also that conservative women have to claw their way up through the ranks, be more tough than the mens, and have husbands who aren't in politics, all of which obtains in the Hillary/Sarah Palin case.) Hillary isn't just the only moderate/liberal in American politics who fulfills that requirement (although that's enough); she's also the only one who has a powerful and distinct public image both as an individual, and as a leader. It is this last -- her image as a leader -- that has caused such rage and hatred among sexist men: they don't think she should be viewed as a leader, Because She Hasn't Earned It TM. And this is part and parcel of what made Hillary so effective as a woman candidate: deep down, the men who oppose her don't believe that any woman could deserve such a position, so if Hillary won it, it might be enough to shut up those feminists.

  2. First Candidate of Color = potential final barrier to race inequality being removed. I really don't think I need to comment much on this except to remind everyone that the general confusion about what Obama actually IS, racially, worked entirely in his favor. He was able to stave off the descent of the usual stereotypes onto his image for long enough to build a distinct, and unique, image for himself. That is entirely to his credit and the credit of his campaign team, but he should be credited for taking advantage of the blessed circumstances he was born to, and not for inventing a world in which a strange, multiracial, transnational man of partial African descent is the only possible person who can simultaneously tap the hope for racial union and short-circuit the fear of the Angry Black Man TM.

    And he was the only possible person. A Gen-X, American-born descendent of American slaves could not have done it. A woman of Obama's background could not have done it. Someone of a non-African lineage could not have done it. It had to be someone like Obama, and we, as a nation, did not -- prior to this election -- have the imagination to realize that it wasn't The Next Jesse Jackson TM, who was going to get it done but someone as peculiar and Inexplicable and twenty-first century as Obama.

  3. First Gen-X-ish candidate (just as Gen-Xers are taking over leadership positions in all sectors) = potential final enfranchisement of our generation, otherwise known as accession of our Generation TM to boss-status. We've been ruled by Baby Boomers in the media since Reagan, and in the government since Clinton. The worst president in living memory (and that includes Herbert Hoover) is a Baby Boomer. It's Time for A Change.

  4. First Woman + First Gen-X-ish Candidate of Color + Horrible Failure of a Conservative White Male = we're ready to lay off all our white, male guilt on George W. Bush and cleanse our own souls. We can only be talking about a post-race, post-feminist era now because all these terms and ideas have finally reached -- if not penetrated or convinced -- the mainstream public consciousness. No white, and no male, can walk comfortably around in the world without worrying if they're racist or sexist -- or at least worrying if others will see them that way.

    Combine this with the utter and complete failure of every single Bush policy to achieve what he said it would, or to even achieve anything of value unexpectedly, not to mention the steady deterioration of the national sense of self-esteem as we watched ourselves turn into rabid, nationalistic torturers and imprisoners (seriously, we can justify becoming brutal until the cows come home -- and believe it, too -- but at the end of the day, we're still brutal) and what we have is a perfect storm. Nobody wants to be the horrible, entitled white, or male, or white male, and Dubya pretty much set himself up to be hated. So let's pile our load of guilt on his goatish back and slaughter the bastard (now, if only we could take that symbolic slaughter past the election and into a courtroom ...)

If any of these elements had been missing, Obama might not have succeeded (it took a scary white women to frighten the decisive number of recalcitrant white males into supporting Obama.) More importantly, if any of these elements had been missing, our plate of hope would have been missing a major food group. Not a balanced meal. The Obama campaign made us feel completely healthy for the first time in 8 years of junk food. If a vegetable or a fruit had been missing, or protein, or whatever, it would not have been the whole hog: Hope.

So yes, it's definitely a monolithic Feeling TM that is easy to exploit commercially (although I think it's appropriate and salutary that Obama's first effect in office will be a minor boost to our economy through Obamabilia), but I'm not too worried about it opiating people indefinitely. Losing that Perfect Hope Storm TM will pique the public (I hope), and the first time Obama feels like compromising (or maybe the second or tenth) the More Than A Feeling TM will go away and people will sink back into Apathy As Usual or be moved to protest.

Obviously, I hope it's the latter, but I don't believe that people as a group entity can sustain political action -- or even political concern -- for very long. It's more important that we have an administration that is affected by the protest and action of the few, than that we mobilize everyone forever ... and to possibly little effect.

November 05, 2008

Yay1000!

Over the next four years, there's gonna be a lotta Obama crit coming from this blog, so let me just take the opportunity right now to say: WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Holy shit!

Last night was amazing! I spent the evening with some friends at their house and finally, we couldn't stay in anymore. We drove downtown. People were driving up and down Broadway in Oakland, honking and dancing. I stuck my hand out the window and a blockful of people ran up and high-fived me. Jaime said it was like we won the world cup but it was much, much heavier than that. People were elated, but also dazed and serious.

I hope this feeling lasts long enough for us to change the way we've been doing business. I'm so glad to have my country back.

Oh, also: Jaime made a chocolate cake with white frosting and an American flag on top in berries. Perfect.

November 02, 2008

As Sarah Failin' Would Say: Readin' Update

So I just finished Obama's Dreams From My Father.

Not sure how to get into this discussion. Obama is, surprisingly, a very good prose writer: assured, smooth, with a good sense of prose rhythm and shape. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised: there are a lot of lawyers who end up writing fiction, so there must be something in the education that trains one's prose style. But the outlines of his career that he lays out in the book tend to indicate little interest in the life of the imagination, or in aesthetics.

But maybe it's what I talked about once, with language issues and writing. I don't know if I ever blogged about this, but when I first lived in Berlin, I was part of an American writers group: five of us, two women and three men, two poets and three fiction writers, all in our twenties, most of us creative writing or English majors, all--except me--white. We didn't do too much workshopping (thank oG), we mostly just sat around talking about books and reading. We'd have poetry face-offs, where one person would bring in a favorite poet and read the favorite poems, and then another would respond with poems on similar topics or using similar tactics. Good--if geeky--times.

So one day I told the group that I had--apparently, I was too young to remember--had a bit of a problem with language acquisition as a toddler. I had started out in Cantonese (I was born in Hong Kong). When I was one and a half, we moved to the States and at about two years, we started speaking mostly English at home. Between two and three, I spoke a personal brand of Chinglish--not one I learned from a community, that is--which mixed vocabulary, grammar, and tones from both languages. Apparently, only my older sister fully understood me. By the age of three, I had separated the two languages and was speaking both correctly, and by four I had pretty much stopped learning Cantonese.

So I told the group  maybe my fascination with language and my desire to master it through writing arose from my early troubles with language acquisition, and suggested that maybe a lot of writers had early troubles with language as well. They all immediately pooh-poohed the idea. Then, over the course of the next hour, it turned out that: the other woman in the group had actually spent her early childhood somewhere in Africa with her linguist father, and apparently (she doesn't remember) spoke the local language fluently; one of the men in the group had had a bad stutter as a child and had to go to speech therapy for years; and another of the men in the group--and this is the best story--had been unable to learn to read or write until he was fourteen years old. He came from a well-off family of all college-educated professionals, and his disability simply stumped everyone until he was fourteen and they sent him to a new program that taught him how to juggle. Something about developmental steps that connect eye-hand coordination and mental processes. In any case, he caught up with thirteen years of school within three, and was able to go off to college "on time".

So, out of five writers, four had had some sort of issue or circumstance in their lives that had made language acquisition either "thorny" (in the words of the one writer of the group with no thorniness) or something of particular import and weight. Something to think about.

All that just to suggest that Barack Obama, who lived in Indonesia from six to ten and spoke Indonesian fluently, might have something similar going on here. With the language issue, the writing issue. With the wanting to be the most powerful man in the world issue? Not sure what's up with that.

Although it's well-written in the prose-style sense, it's poorly written in the emotional sense. Obama sticks too closely to the expected emotional/dramatic arc of search and redemption. Along the way, he writes remarkably little--and that very ineffectively--about his own feelings or responses. When he does write about his feelings, it's in a detached way, and he eliminates feelings from the narrative frequently. In what is supposed to be the book's emotional climax (I had not thought, until that moment, that there was going to be one) I didn't even know that he was experiencing any emotion until he described the tears running down his face. Very strange.

All this might have something to do with the fact that, throughout this book, which is an autobiography, not a memoir, there's an 800 pound gorilla in the room: Barack Obama Sr. had three wives and a girlfriend, usually simultaneously, two of them white Americans, and couldn't--didn't--take care of them or the six-odd children he fathered with them. The situation is made clear in the book, but no one addresses it directly. The book is full of resentments toward fathers, full of passive aggressive moments of almost-accusation made toward Obama the father or the grandfather. But no one, not even the narrator, ever sits down and says: we have a problem with fathers and fatherhood here; let's state some facts baldly before we attempt to interpret them.

Maybe Obama felt he would be betraying the complexity of his father's story if he laid out the facts that way ... although I have to say, he had no problems betraying the complexity of his grandmother's feelings about race in his much-praised race speech earlier this year. This is one of my ongoing problems with Obama: the half-assedness of his gender awareness compared with his race awareness. Maybe he felt he would be underlining a stereotype of black men if he characterized his father as being an irresponsible Johnny Appleseed with six or more kids from four women whom he left to the rest of his family to support ... but then that would be the truth. Maybe it would be a betrayal of complexity to point out that his father left his first--African--wife, twice, for white women. Maybe it's too much to ask Obama to speculate on the meaning of this. But I don't think it's too much, given that he wrote the damn book--subtitled "A Story of Race and Inheritance"--in the first place. And while he was ducking this issue, writing a book about a father who hadn't cared enough about him to include him in his life, his mother was dying of cancer.

Yes, I'm supporting Obama. And I read the book with a great deal of excitement, because I felt convinced that maybe I had misread what I perceived earlier as Obama's lack of enthusiasm when it came to women's issues and gender equality. I was reading the book to increase my knowledge of, and excitement about, Obama's candidacy. But there it all was, in his book. Let me clarify: you don't have to be an outright sexist to just not give a shit about women's rights. You can love and respect the women in your life and like women in general, and still feel that gender equity really isn't your problem. And this is the feeling I get from Obama.

I just got an email this summer from a man who was one of my best friends in college. He had contacted me again about a year and a half ago and we've been emailing back and forth. In response to a complaint from me about the lack of confidence I see in men I'm dating online, he wrote, "All the men our age grew up being beaten down by the Feminist Revolution." I have been unable to write back to him since receiving that email, because I simply don't know how to express my outrage and betrayal at such a simple-minded and viciously wrong statement, that faults the liberation and uplift of HALF OF HUMANITY for the loss of a few privileges of a few members of the other half.

It is this same betrayal I'm feeling from Obama and his campaign and too many of the men of my age cohort who support him. I thought this was over, but it's not over and it's not gonna be over. He cares about the big issues, but not about a little tiny issue like the difficult climb to equality for half the world. Fuck him.

October 08, 2008

Making My Mind Up Over Obama

Ooo! New Blog App Display! Me like!

Having a crappy, post-drinking, pre-menstrual day. Beautiful day, by the way. The light in my house has been gorgeous today.

Anyway, I was thinking about why I haven't been blogging about politics for a while and the real reason is that my mind is made up. I blogged for a long time about Clinton/Obama not because deep down I didn't support Clinton, but because I hadn't made my mind up about Obama ... as anyone who read my posts could tell. I mean, I didn't know how enthusiastically I could support him if he won, and then after he won, I wasn't sure how I felt about him.

This is not because he isn't close to my position politically, or close to me demographically. Obama is the (viable) presidential candidate in the entire history of the United States who is closest to me in politics and demographics. And that includes Hillary Clinton. It's been less difficult to figure out my support for typical white, male, establishment candidates because there's never been any possibility for me to identify with them personally. They are just symbols, or figureheads for the half of the political spectrum I happen to land in.

But I've always expected more from Obama because there's so much I have in common with him. He's biracial; he moved to an area where he could really live within his minority community, and he chose for a time to identify totally with that minority community. During that time he became a community organizer. He's come out of that time strong in his understanding of progressive racial politics, yet ready to be post-race, to put his stronger understand of race in America to work to the advantage of the almost universally more ignorant populace he's serving. And he's just 8 years older than I am--he's essentially of my generation; we have similar cultural referents.

So I'm much more sensititve to his mistakes, much more betrayed by his failures to take the "right" position on issues important to me ... and especially betrayed by his failure to speak out strongly against sexism in the election and sexism in general. All of this has meant that I've been hesitant to fully embrace him as "my" candidate ... because that embrace would be so much more meaningful, and would go so much more deeply than my aligning with all the candidates I've previously voted and campaigned for.

So it's interesting that it's Sarah Palin who has gotten me over the hump. She kicked me in the head with the previously overused "anyone but her" motivation. I realized two things: the first is that I don't have to decide to fully identify with Obama to support him. We're a two-party system and I only have two choices. It's never caused me trouble before. And the second is that I had a problem with the first because Obama is the first candidate we've had in EVER so long whom people are looking at as not just a lesser of two evils, but actually as a bearer of hope and change, a possible bringer of What We Want rather than an obstruction to What We Don't Want.

That's powerful. This election is amazing. We are living in interesting times.

Oh yeah, and I'm supporting Obama for President of the United States. Duh.

September 28, 2008

I Am So Sad About Paul Newman

Newmanwoodward

I did not know that he meant anything to me, but I guess he did. That kind of beauty, combined with intelligence and goodwill, can be a profound thing.

September 22, 2008

Vote on Sarah Palin Poll!

I just got an email saying that PBS has a poll on Sarah Palin's qualifications that the Repugs have organized a yes vote for.

So be sure to vote yourself!

September 18, 2008

Reading Update

I can't believe I haven't reviewed this yet!

I just read E. Lockhart's The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, I think at Gwenda's recommendation. Despite my absolute moratorium on "The BLANKITY BLANK OF NAME-ITY NAME NAME" titles, I have to say ... Wow. This is a book about a wealthy-ish (not super wealthy) girl at a top board school discovering sexism and acting out. And it's amazing.

When I first started the book, although I enjoyed it, I was disgusted by the Gossip-Girl-esque fascination with the unattainably rich and the assumption that what concerns the rich will somehow be universal to us all. This girl doesn't really have any problems, and her bratty distress at being treated like a child (at all of 15 years of age) by adults and older kids is a really extended boo-fuckin'-hoo moment. Plus, she suddenly grows good looks and becomes arm candy for her crush, the most popular boy in school. So what's the problem?

But then, as I read on, the real sexism that even privileged women are subjected to started leaking in to the scenario. Unlike what this book would be in the hands of a lesser writer, Lockhart doesn't turn Frankie into a sudden, total, feminist heroine. Frankie doesn't quite get what's happening to her when her new boyfriend starts ignoring and excluding her in favor of his guy friends. She doesn't really understand why it upsets her, especially when she looks around her and sees all kinds of examples of relationships where it either isn't happening, or where the girl lets it happen. What's never mentioned here is that this is exactly what happened in her (divorced) parents' marriage and her mother set her the best example of how to handle it: leave.

So Frankie starts acting out in a typically (for women of this class) passive agressive way. That is to say, she takes over, by email, the all-male secret society her boyfriend nominally runs, pretending to be another boy, the other secret-society "king" (who gets so much credit, he doesn't dare out her), and ordering the rest of them to commit culture-jamming pranks the quality of which the society hasn't committed since its inception. In the process, she starts to recognize qualities in herself that she simultaneously likes and dislikes. She is clearly an alpha (like the boy she's impersonating, whose actual nickname is "Alpha"), with all the concomitant desire for attention and control, and also the ability to think for herself and to synthesize others' opinions. She also has creativity, a sense of humor, physical courage, and a profound, motivating, egotistical irritability.

It's entirely to Lockhart's credit that she never comes down on the side of "good? or evil?" with regard to Frankie's alphaness. It's neither and both. It's a force of human life; a social force, and ultimately, that's what Lockhart is examining in this book: power. I know, it sounds crazy that a  boarding school book about a prankster girl could be the best novel in this election cycle about sources of socio-political power and effective dissent. But that's exactly what this is.

Lockhart doesn't fail to make those connections increasingly througout this book. She shows us Frankie thinking through the implications of all these ridiculous high school hijinks. She notices that more than one former member of this secret society has become President. Frankie's father, also a former member, is shown in his circle of high-powered professionals, who are not only at the top of their professions, but also at the top of mainstream society. The silliness of these boys' games is there, but their importance to society as a whole can't be gainsaid. This is truth that exists in the real world: a three-month-long high school rivalry or friendship will have more effect on world politics than decades of community activism. We all know this, but we like to let ourselves forget. And by the end, Frankie can say to herself that, as much as she is excluded, she still needs to be near to the sources of power so that she can express her alpha personality in the ways she wants to later in life.

Reading this book has helped me to understand Hillary Clinton better than a thousand magazine articles and pundits' pootles. Of course, Frankie is idealized and likeable as a teenager, but I can easily see her turning into another Hillary: compromised, hard-edged, cynical, and still a little idealistic. This book is clear-eyed, but essentially optimistic, with the understanding that, beyond high school, our society has many mansions.

The book is, in more than one way, the anti-Chocolate War, looking at a privileged, attractive girl's secret fight against a prankster secret society, as opposed to the dark and pessimistic look at an underprivileged, unattractive boy's public fight against a bullying secret society. The two books should be read together, really. In school. And then A Little Commonwealth, The Education of Henry Adams, and The Second Sex should be read.

September 16, 2008

Nicknames

What my political opponents really need is a nickname, sorta like Perez Hilton and his relationship mashups. So McCain and Palin are now McSame and Failin'.

Or should it be McSame and Trailin'? As in the polls? What do you think?

And how do I get these out there?

So I just went to their website to see about grabbing an image for a little parodic action, and I noticed how hard it is to get INTO their website/s. There's a McCain adword, and a McCain/Palin adword at the top of Google results, and both take you directly to a donation site. You actually have to go down the first results page, PAST the google news results link, to get to McCain's infosite. And it STILL gives you a donation page first. Wow. What does that tell you?

Well, it tells me that McCain's constituents aren't interested in his purported "platform," that his campaign is much clearer on its need to fundraise, and maybe that McCain voters don't read.

Obama, on the other hand, doesn't have the top of the page adwords (as if his campaign site wouldn't be the top result anyway.) He has only one campaign site and the link takes you directly to a page where you can sign up (by giving your email and donating $15). Who are THEY targeting and what's THEIR strategy, I wonder. There's a very clear button at the bottom that lets you skip the sign up and go into the info-heavy website.

So they're serving the young, the unmoneyed, the wired, the social networkers, and the ones who will go to Obama's website for information, and who will go FIRST to Obama's website for information on Obama.

Fascinating, and scary.

Okay, McSame and Failin'. Pass it on.

September 12, 2008

My First Blog Take On Palin

So recent history is proving my thesis. Let me quote myself:

It seems that these are the two avenues to political power for women: align yourself with the political party that would most oppose having a woman leader, and become more hardcore than your compatriots (look at how Meir and Thatcher inspired frequent jokes among their conservative colleagues about their masculinity); or marry into, or be born into, a political dynasty and work your husband's/father's legacy hard.

... It's clear: women politicians are ... iron ladies who sacrificed their marriages and family life for politics, or privileged wives and daughters. Liberal or moderate women don't ascend to real power without the power of a political family behind them; they must be linked by flesh and blood.

"Iron lady" is already taken, so everybody's calling her "pitbull" and "moosehunter," but the implication is clear: it's not Palin's "femininity" that people are interested in, it's her masculinity.

And like Meir or Thatcher, Palin's husband, while masculine, is not a politician, so her success in politics doesn't compete with or detract from his career success.

God, the world is sooooo typical.

September 08, 2008

Reading Update with SPOILERS!

Wow, I really get behind.

So I read the Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud and loves it. It's the only successful commentary on the Iraq war that I've seen so far in fiction (not that I've read that many attempts.) It should feel heavy handed, but doesn't, because the secondary world created here is so weighty and balanced and alive. It shares one thing with Harry Potter and that is the depth of the world-building. But it also shares this with the Temeraire series and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

My one real quibble (SPOILER!) is with the very end when John Mandrake sacrifices himself for the others. It sort of needs to happen, but it feels way too much like the proper punishment for the radically flawed character ... his only way to redeem himself. I don't like that and it brought the book down for me. I can't quite see how else it could have ended, but this was just a good ending--just a neat wrap-up ending--not a great ending. The quality of the book was such that a great ending could have raised the book (or, I should say, the series) to greatness. But just a good ending make the book/s just good. Not really a problem, though.

Then I read Lauren McLaughlin's debut Cycler and loves it. Dewd. I'm not allowed to review friends on this blog but I'm so relieved. What if your friend wrote a book and it sucked? What if your friend wrote a book and it didn't suck but all you had for it was faint praise? Dodged that bullet. Why are you still here? Go read the sucker already. I might even review it on my udder blog but you didn't hear that from me. Oh, and here's Liz Henry's review.

August 24, 2008

Oh Hell No

It's sad when Giuliani is the one to hit the nail on the head:

"Senator Obama has made a choice more out of weakness than strength," Giuliani said today on ABC's "This Week."

Could Obama have shat on me any more thoroughly than this? Biden for fuck's sake? All my talk about supporting a third candidate has been just talk until now. But I'm going to be taking it seriously from now on.

August 18, 2008

Awesome

In a unanimous decision, the [Cali Supreme] court rejected a San Diego County fertility clinic's attempt to use its physicians' religious beliefs as a justification for their refusal to provide artificial insemination for a lesbian couple.

You go on with your bad, robe-wearing selves. You build that paper trail, people. They've killed so many fundie birds with this stone, it's just awesome.

I'm mighty pleased with the Cali Supreme this year. Mighty pleased.

August 15, 2008

Michelle Obama "Happens" To Be Black

It's not her fault. We swear. It just happened:

She’s a type we’ve rarely seen in the public eye, a well-educated woman who is a dedicated mother, successful in her career, and happens to be black. This has created confusion for some people, who seem desperate to find a negative quality in her: She’s too big, too masculine, too much like a drag queen. While Obama may be able to play with urban tropes, like dusting off his jacket à la Jay-Z or speaking in a black patois when the time calls for it, Michelle has been increasingly forced to curtail her personality during the campaign, lest she attract rumors of uttering a verboten, anachronistic word like “whitey” or find herself labeled a “baby mama.” As much as any political campaign is an extended meditation on authenticity, the question of just how black the Obamas are has become particularly loaded. Michelle must project herself as black to one community, but she also must act white to another, whatever either adjective means nowadays. (Link.)

Where's the confusion, really? Isn't being black the "negative quality," even if it's no one's fault and just happens?

No, I'm not gonna let up on this seemingly small issue. This is the third time this week that I've read that Michelle just happens to be black. I could be wrong, but I don't think any journalists are writing that Barack "just happens" to be black. Maybe it's because there's a vague, unsubstantiated quality of intention around creating a child of a multiple racial mix when it comes to interracial couples, i.e. it didn't just happen, someone made it happen. But I guess all-black couples just happen to bump into each other hard enough for a penis to slip into a vagina, spurt some baby batter, and create another happenstancical black person. It just happens all the time.

There's two things going on here. The first is that, as I've suggested above, being black is negative quality enough. Saying someone "just happens" to be black is the same thing as saying that they didn't do it on purpose, and therefore can't be blamed for it.

The second is the implication that there are people who have babies on purpose and people who don't, or to put it differently: people who plan families, and people who don't. Intention is higher quality in the baby game, which is why "family planning" is the term used to describe simply educating people about sex. Nobody ever "just happens" to be white. White babies have an intentionality behind them, the quality of being wanted, of having a purpose. Black babies? Not so much with the intentionality, being wanted, or having a purpose. They just happen.

Do I really need to come up with a neat closing? Did I get my point across? Good. I'm just going to go off and hope I don't have to talk about this again, even though I suspect I will.

Hillary the Man and Barack the Woman?

Damn, how did I miss this one back in March? And a man wrote it!

This overnight love for my brotha makes me very nervous, when in the next breath the same people utter the most hateful language to describe someone who looks like their mother, sister or wife.   Hillary remains the "Bitch", demonic, evil, divisive.  "She acts just like Bill.".

That is when it hit me.  "She acts like Bill!" That was code for what I knew but could not voice my suspicion. Survival for Black people in America demands that we do a daily decoding of White folks language and commentary about us and themselves. Of course they hate Hillary! They hate Hillary because she acts like a white man. She is assertive, she is confrontational, she is smart, she is aggressive, she knows how to fight, she has an alfa male personality. White men and "uncle" white women are punishing Hillary because she has stepped out of the prescribed role designated for women. She has dared to have the personality of a Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump, Rudolph Guliani.

American white women never forgave her for distancing herself from those house wives, sitting around listening to Tammy Wynette sing that self-effacing lyric,"Stand by your man". Hillary early in building her relationship with the American public made it clear she would not be the sweet little blond in the White House baking cookies.

In contrast America has fallen in love with Obama.  He warms the hearts of White Americans because his public personae is that of a "White woman."  He is the nurturer, he makes people feel good, he is polite, he is non-aggressive, he inspires us to want to be helpers, he wants to fix things. His speeches are generally neutral and he is always willing to adjust his tone to accommodate White sensibilities. He has a smaller waistline, he wears the appropriate uniform, unlike Hillary with those pants.

Okay, this seriously is my last post on this topic.

August 08, 2008

Paris Hilton Is Still Full Of It

See more funny videos at Funny or Die

I don't know why everybody thinks this is so great. Probably because they're meant to think it's great.

Let's keep in mind that Paris did not write this herself. I have no proof of this, but come on. She probably didn't think it up, either. She's a brand, people. She has clothes, "music," and other stuff to sell, not to mention a chain of hotels whose image has undoubtedly benefited by her fame. Making herself seem cool and/or desirable is her job, and she has an army of people to help her do it.

She's been out of the headlines for a while now, which threatens her brand. So McCain, intentionally or not, did her a favor by giving her a--and I use this word advisedly--platform. She's a professional egomaniac. What did you expect?

So it depresses me that even the feminist blogosphere fell into line so quickly on this one. I don't think it's so much about Paris reading cue cards with four-syllable words on them, as it is about her successfully calling out John McCain. We're so ridiculously partisan at this point that we'll jump on any idiot's bandwagon who manages to get egg on McCain's face.

Come on, people, it's not that hard to get egg on McCain's face. He's the incompetent who put his wife up for a topless beauty contest.

You also gotta love how everyone is saying that she sounds intelligent. But her "energy policy" is a crock of shit. The problem with offshore drilling is that it won't hit our markets for years, and that it will never reach a volume that will fill even a fraction of our needs. Plus, it can't be done in an environmentally sound way, no matter how much Paris's daddy's business friends say it can.

I point this out because what she's doing here is taking no political position at all. She's promoting her brand which is, at bottom, a brand that thrives on people wondering just how stupid Paris is. She has to sound "intelligent" for the duration of the two-seconds' thought most people tend to give to public policy, but farther she does not need to go. So her handlers selected a position that will offend no one and please everyone, because it sounds neat and reasonable, for two seconds.

Characterizing this as "Paris fighting back" (as many bloggers have done) is absurd. What does she have to fight back against except loss of media attention? Her image as the most shallow and worthless human being on the planet is one she created for herself. And given the fact that this image is the essence of her brand, I suspect she created this image knowingly and willingly.

Crossposted at EnterBrainment.

July 16, 2008

Obama Cartoon

I've been trying to stay away from political commentary for a while because it's been making me very unhappy, but it's hard to get away from. And I've been very discomfited by the lefty hysteria around the Obama terrorist cartoon on the cover of the New Yorker, but the long, hard fight of the last year or so has made me wary of speaking up. Do I really want to pick this battle?

Fortunately, Gary Kamiya picked it first.

To judge from the reaction of much of the left, you'd think that New Yorker editor David Remnick had morphed into some kind of hideous hybrid of Roger Ailes and Roland Barthes and was waging an insidious Semiotic War against Obama.

I don't know what lugubrious planet these people are on, but I definitely don't want any of them writing material for Jon Stewart.

Some thoughts:

  • This is how it goes: in anti-racist work, we're very, very, sadly, very used to the use of ill-considered "satire" as a safe way for idiots to play with stereotypes that they feel are otherwise prohibited. It's a complex gambit: you don't know what lies beyond the stereotype, and you have a fuzzy understanding of what politically correct language and notions are for. All you know is that the stereotype is not allowed. So with a vague idea that pushing the stereotype to an extreme is allowable under "satire," and that the people whom the stereotype addresses are somehow oppressed, you take it upon yourself to have a good, politically incorrect, time, trusting that--somehow--it'll all come out in the wash.

This is thoughtless, and very likely an expression of a subconscious racism you need to express--but can't really cop to--publicly.

Additionally, you know that extreme stereotypes are at least mildly shocking, so you'll get attention and probably a laugh and some popularity, by voicing them, even if the form you voice them in is ham-fisted and unfunny. Naturally, this is probably your strongest impetus: not the desire to address racist stereotypes, but rather the desire to get attention and be considered funny and popular.

Your excuse, that "this is not a racist joke, it's a joke about racism" is impossible to answer to everyone's satisfaction. And the world is full of people who feel as you do and will jump to decry the "censorship" if anyone takes issue with your joke.

Anti-racists are then left in the position of arguing either that not everything is acceptable, which is hard to argue about comedy, especially against people screaming about freedom of speech, or that the joke isn't funny, which is, of course, a matter of taste and perspective.

Critics of anti-racist activists will then, inevitably, talk about humorlessness and taking oneself too seriously, and sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, etc. We've all heard it a million times before.

There's a spectrum of perception, intention, and impetus in all of this. The swift-boaters, the pundidiots, and the sharp satirists all have political agendas, all have subconscious prejudices, and all have a desire for attention. How, and how much, each of these play a part in their public expressions is a matter of degree. There's no hard line between the racist excuse, "it's a satire," and the legitimate explanation, "it's a satire."

Likewise, there's no hard line between anti-racists armed with clear-sightedness pointing out the racism submerged beneath a "joke," and anti-racists drunk on conflict losing their perspective and--yes--their sense of humor. High on my first taste of group power, I've attacked things that didn't need attacking before. I know what it feels like and it does happen. Being expressly anti-racist, being an activist, does not magically protect you from your own complex of perception, intention, and impetus ... or your own bantam aggression.

  • What I'm seeing here is a group of people--anti-racist activists and writers--who have been largely ignored and marginalized before, suddenly put front and center in the media for months and months because they're the only ones with the language to address what's going on with race nationally.

Antiracist activists online--who are mostly people of color raised during the culture wars of the eighties--have learned to make their case one two-days'-wonder at a time, crying out briefly against stereotyped media depictions of people of color as they happen, and trusting that an accumulation of such incidents--and the strong reaction against them--will eventually turn some people's minds in the right direction. It's not one, major challenge, but the repeated calling out of small challenges that makes up the main tactic of online racial dialogue. And it's not been a bad strategy, given the circumstances under which it was developed.

But what it means is that now we're seeing a bunch of people used to building up a mosaic slowly, one tiny tile at a time, suddenly thrust onto a scaffolding and told to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, upside-down, before the plaster dries.

It's worse than that, even. During the Bush administration, the national dialogue on race, such as it is, has been off the agenda since 9/11. It's been nearly impossible to talk about race in a context where even centrists spend too much time arguing that anti-Islam isn't racist. And after seven years in a desert of attention, broken only by a Duke rape scandal, or a Jena Six, or Don fucking Imus, suddenly race activists have to come up with a universally understandable explanation of Obama's place in the universe, or render themselves permanently irrelevant.

So it's people used to fighting their way over to the mosaic each time they want to lay a single tile, suddenly heaved onto the scaffolding and handed a brush and paint they may never have learned how to use. Don't fuck up, now.

  • Since the Clinton/Obama fight really heated up, I've been confused and demoralized by how badly the discussion has been handled by anti-racist bloggers and pundits whom I've admired and looked to for years. Suddenly, alliance isn't enough. Because alliance is easy to sustain, lifelong, when the candidates you support are merely of your political spectrum, and not of your tribe. But when, for the first time in history, you see a candidate of your tribe up against a candidate of someone else's tribe, it's easy to forget the difficult exigencies of alliance in the face of your first experience of truly powerful tribalism. And this applies both to the "black" tribe and to the "women" or "feminist" tribe.

This is what the initial discussion over whether Obama was black enough was about: is he or isn't he of our tribe? And the answer was a resounding yes. The very people who could be counted on to slow the public down and (try to) make them reasonable about the complex identity of a Tiger Woods or a Halle Berry, suddenly had a personal stake in glossing over the complexity of Obama's identity. That's when we first started losing the clear-sighted, steadying voice of the antiracist phalanx.

This kind of politicized tribalism is something we've seen forever in third world countries, without understanding it. Because, let's face it, when wealthy whites have a lock on government, there's no opportunity for the millions of tribes in the United States to operate racially-based politics on a national level. Alliance between the one, powerful ethnic group, and all other ethnic groups, is necessary. And race-based political maneuvering has been grounded in the necessity of finding your political spectrum-mates, and not your tribal siblings.

Race activists have been accused for years of "Balkanizing" the United States, without justice or truth. Ironically this is the first we've seen of any true tribalism in politics. It's not going to take over. A two-party system of the type we have won't allow it, and besides, what we're seeing here is simply a role-reversal: white liberals, who are so used to politicians being of their tribe that they aren't even aware of it, are now having to make alliance themselves. Please note that Obama is clearly not subscribing to tribal membership. And it's easy enough for white men in a race against Clinton to subconsciously feel a masculine identification with Obama.

Tribalism is not going to take over, but the important question is: are the citizens with voice, who are nominally of Obama's "tribe," going to be able to pull their heads out of their ... sand ... in enough time to welcome Clinton supporters, centrists, swing-staters, and the racially doubtful? Or are they going to continue to add their demoralizing and often vicious clamor to Obama's incomprehensible about-faces on surveillance, reproductive rights, and Iraq ... until Obama's public image sinks and the election is lost? In short: can they learn how to make alliances from the other side?

  • What's also been happening is that liberal citizen journalists and major journalists, who have always been symbiotic and nominal allies before, now find themselves knocking heads. And this is very specifically because of where and when national attention falls.

You may not like the New Yorker, you may resent its elitism, but this is a magazine that publishes 10,000 word investigative pieces, the only major national publication that's had its head on straight about Iraq the whole time. This is the one and only magazine that is famous for its tradition of dry, often silly, but trenchant political and social cartooning. This magazine's beat is broader United States: national news, politics, society. The media perception of the Democratic presidential candidate falls squarely within the New Yorker's purview, and the New Yorker has always felt free to deal with such major topics through the use of satirical cartoons. The New Yorker is not doing anything new, shocking or different.

The difference is that race bloggers and commentators are turning their usual MO (see above) against the New Yorker's usual MO. This is not because the New Yorker is wrong, but because, for the first time in history, media perceptions of the Democratic presidential candidate and media perceptions about race are the same topic. Race pundits, used to only seeing stereotypes produced by political enemies, are suddenly seeing stereotypes reproduced satirically by allies because the allies are finally being forced to deal with them.

Some of these allies are proving unprepared for the task, certainly. But the race pundits are also falling short of this new challenge.

In closing: this discussion cannot continue as it has been going or we're going to lose this election. And by "we" I don't mean Obama supporters. I mean everybody, even McCain supporters who, even after 7.5 years of Bush rule don't realize that they're being screwed.

Obama's candidacy has laid out the novel position that a "black" president would unite the races and the parties. But they've failed so far to model this behavior, or to provide a working strategy for actual unity even within their own party.

But it's not the government's role to lead in the actual tasks of living morally and ethically. That's our job. Obama is extraordinary because he has not just said to us what we know we want to hear, but also said to us what we didn't know we wanted to hear. He's set a new national goal of genuine unity. But it's really up to us to figure out how that's going to work and to make it happen. And Obama's supporters so far have been more than usually divisive, contemptuous, humorless, and vicious towards those who would normally be their allies, myself included.

It's time to put down the tiles and start painting the ceiling folks. Here, I'll help.

July 07, 2008

Still Waiting

Unity sounds refreshing in a political culture battered and wearied by vicious partisanship. But bipartisanship means that sometimes the other side -- those people you've come to regard as the devil incarnate over the past 30 years -- will get what they want and you won't. Anyone who assumes that self-interest is what really motivates political groups isn't going to expect them to be moved by high-flown appeals to conscience and guilt; there will be wheeling, there will be dealing, and there will be half-measures. If he is elected, and if Obama asks his most idealistic champions to countenance some sacrifices, they will hardly be able to say that they weren't warned. Their disillusionment is most likely to come soon. Whether in the long run we'll regard him as a president who got things done or one who sold out will take a lot longer to decide.

That's all well and good--yes, yes, Obama's our whore--but to get people to the table so that they can compromise, you have to bid them come to the table.

Where's my invite?

July 03, 2008

A Truly Feminist Obama Campaign

Make a Point at Current.com

While I like the point that Rebecca Traister makes in this video---that a feminist campaign wouldn't look that different, only women would be addressed directly as adults---I don't think she goes far enough.

This isn't just any potentially feminist campaign. This is a potentially feminist campaign that needs to win over heartbroken and angry Hillary Clinton supporters who have not only, as is usual, not been dealt with as adults themselves, but have also gotten to watch their candidate of choice being dealt with like a recalcitrant child, or a monstrous creature, rather than an adult human being.

I want to address one particular issue which is essential to the Obama campaign: that of the emotional involvement Clinton's supporters felt and feel for her. The emotion with which Clinton's campaign was greeted by her female supporters should be instructive, and not--as it has been--an item of mockery and contempt. Instructive because when was the last time you saw women voters get that emotionally invested in a campaign, rather than just rationally involved? Women are not, as has been hinted over and over again this year, emotional voters. We have never seen such a public spectacle of respected women leaders getting upset (and often saying stupid things about race) around an election. Women public figures have always behaved with rationality around elections heretofore ... elections of white men.

And the fact that everyone feels so comfortable dismissing the emotion of Clinton supporters (because women always come back to the party fold even when their candidate loses) is a testament to how reliable, valuable, and non-emotional women voters are. So the rage seen in the aftermath of the Clinton campaign must be respected because this is the time when women Clinton supporters' emotions have genuinely been tapped, and the party really could lose supporters if they don't reach out.

And how is the Obama campaign to respect that emotion? Let me point out that the Obama campaign is hands down the most deliberately emotionally engaging campaign I've ever seen. The "Yes We Can" speech? Was there anything rational or wonky in that speech at all? And the sight of will.i.am and his Hollywood buddies getting literally ecstatic while singing along to Obama's words is far and away the most mockable, vulnerable, emotional political spectacle I've ever seen. And that includes Howard Dean's campaign-ending screech and Eminem's "Mosh."

From start to finish, Obama's campaign has been an appeal to emotions: hope, power to the powerless, triumph, unity, healing, peace, justice, renewal, passing of the torch. And he's proven to be a knockout at managing this process of appealing to emotions ... to people's better emotions, instead of the fear, anger, and selfishness that Republican campaigns always appeal to. In fact, this is why he beat Hillary. Because Hillary's advantage, which was also largely emotional (nostalgia for the nineties, attachment to the Clintons, desire for a woman president, etc.) was squandered in her campaign's attempt to sell her as serious, rational, and wonky.

So why isn't the Obama campaign drowning Clinton supporters in emotion the way they've been drowning men, young people, and people of color in hope, etc? Why doesn't Obama get his ass out there and give a rousing "Yes She Can" speech? Why do the particularities of over half the population as a group get short, or no, shrift with Obama? The longer his passion goes on being silent on women's issues, the more sexist, uncaring, and disrespectful of Clinton supporters he looks. And there will be a point at which he can't come back from this.

To be more specific: The "issues" page on Obama's website  doesn't have a "women" section. You have to go into the issues menu to find the page on women. And the page that deals with women's issues is the driest, wonkiest page on his whole website. It's thorough, sure, but completely uninspiring. We've been hearing progressive candidates mentioning all this stuff within our hearing, for our benefit, for decades now, and seen no movement on these issues. Spouting the standard issues is the prerequisite. What we really need is for the candidate who most benefited from the misogyny directed at Hillary to show passion about women's issues specifically, and to engage our passions.

And this is pretty fuckin' weak stuff. What, you couldn't spare more than two sentences, one of them run-on, to woo 18 million voters?

I'm still insulted, and the longer this crap goes on, the more insulted by Obama's campaign I'll be. If you can't be bothered to treat with me and 18 million others when it matters this much, why should I trust that you'll represent my interests when the campaign is over? I'm waiting.

I'm still fucking waiting.

My Entertainment Blog!

Hey all,

I know posting has been spotty 'round here lately. Partly because my outrage machine got broke when Obama won the nom. Now I'm keeping my mouth shut while I try to work up more than nominal (get it? nominal?) enthusiasm for his cause.

But it's also because I've been working hard to establish my new entertainment blog. It's called "EnterBrainment" and is my usual thinks-too-much maunderings, except this time, unrepentantly, about the trashiest trash trash.

I'm being paid, you see, to be a featured A & E blogger on a new blogging site called PNN, the personal news network. The innovation of this site is that you can lay out your blog to look like a newspaper, with different pages and sections. The result is halfway between a website and a newspaper, with columns and captioned photos, and headlines, and the works. You kind of have to see it to get it. The way the blogging software works is different from more "traditional" blogging software, and should appeal to people whose minds work in a more modular fashion. The software also rewards multitasking, unlike traditional blogging software, which pretty much restricts your blog posting to one track. Again, you have to see it to get what I mean.

What this all means for my blogging is that I'm getting an excuse to turn my formidable bitchiness on the lightest of pop subjects. It's pretty cool. It is, however, also taking time away from my other blogging.

So please go over and check out EnterBrainment (yes, I know, but I'm old enough to enjoy puns now) and slip me a link if you want. I'm still trying to decide if I'm going to have a blog roll or just a page of feeds. Feel free to make your entertainment blog known to me.

Yay!

June 26, 2008

Having a Bad Week

Just finished watching the John Adams miniseries, which is terrific.

A lot is going on this week. Aside from all that, I'm realizing how wearing it is to participate emotionally in this election.

The Carl Brandon Society did a panel at Wiscon about identity intersectionality in an election year. It was called "Some of Us Are Brave" and focused on African American women.

That's how I've been thinking of intersectionality, too, and not really applying it to myself. At the same time, though, I've seen Asian Americans as a group called out for supporting Clinton, called racist. I've seen white feminists as a group called racist for supporting Clinton. I've seen my male friends, Asian Am and otherwise, supporting Obama and giving Clinton's Iraq War vote--and nothing else--as a reason. At the "Some of Us Are Brave" panel I've had a middle-aged male Asian American Obama supporter try to school me on how to manage Asian American activism--something I've been doing for ten years. And this week I got called out by an older feminist for disagreeing on a minor matter, and again schooled on issues I've been discussing and acting on for twenty years.

And another thing: I've gotten no second of public space to enjoy the ascendence of our first biracial presidential nominee because absolutely everyone, from white Republican to black Democrat and back again, is deeply invested in reading Obama as just black (except when it suits their agendas not to), despite the extremely nuanced reading of his own identity that he's offered the whole world for years now. I don't get to feel a kinship with him based on that.

I am extremely dissatisfied with every party, every Democratic campaign, and the behavior of every group of supporters in this election. There is no group, no campaign, and no candidate who has not been treated unfairly in public, and who has not also treated someone else unfairly. And because of the multiplicity of my own identity, group belonging, and loyalty, I have been able to come down nowhere.

My loyalty to Clinton has been treated as racist and suspect, because of hatred of Clinton herself, because of the stupidity of Clinton's supporters, and because of my own identities: my Asianness, my whiteness, my non-blackness, my gender, and my age. If Clinton had lost fair and square, i.e. not because she's a woman, I would be now recovering my joy at Obama's candidacy. But I feel no joy whatsoever, because I feel that every part of my public, political self has been attacked from one angle or another.

And it goes on even now. It's as if there's no joy anywhere at Obama's win, because we've already built up too much bitterness. The racial and gender watchdog machines are on red alert, the racial and gender offense-taking machines are white hot from cranking out product, but where are the liberal joy machines?

This is not all that's going on and stinking up my week. But it's a big chunk. I think I'm going to try ... try ... and take a break from politics for a week or two. Maybe that'll lighten things up a bit.

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