Thursday, April 23, 2015

Right here in River City. Trouble with a capital "T" And that rhymes with "P" and that stands for pool!

This post is in response to a comment on my last post in re the (un)housebroken puppies.

The question was what are my thoughts on voting this year, and nominating for next year's lineup.

To start, I don't think I'm alone in that I'm really ticked on several fronts.

  •  First, that these ideologues have decided to piss in my community pool. (Swim in it fine, don't piss in it.);
  •  Second, The base premise of both the sad and rabid slates are that some secret cabal has been keeping "their real SF" off the nominations lists.  Anybody trying, in secret, to successfully get enough fans somehow control the nominations, especially over an extended number of years, simply would not happen.  It would be simply impossible to keep *secret.* Period.  And actually getting enough fans to "stay on message?"  Really?  An analogy I used on Facebook about this is still apt -- you would have a much higher probability of successfully herding 10,000 feral cats in an open field.
  •  Third, from what I have read from the nomination packet and what I've been able to find in the library, the quality of most of the slate nominees is pedestrian at best, and bad in charity (George R.R. Martin described one (without naming names) as being used as the illustration for a dictionary entry of "mediocre")
  •  Fourth, this has really upset me because works that likely were of better quality were pushed from the nomination slate and, given the sheer amount of SF/F published each year, will never even be exposed for consideration by readers for who the nomination list would have been their impetus, not because those fans aren't reading a lot, but because there is so much to read.
  •  Fifth, for me, the Hugo nominations list is something I use as a fined-down "to-be read" list, where I will consider just where I will spend my beer monies (see :"Fourth," above)
  •  Sixth, this gaming of the nominations process, and the intended result of of pushing a foregone conclusion to the final voting, while perfectly within the rules (unless there is incontrovertible proof that some individual was paying for and directing all the nomination votes, or was casting multiple nominations using electronic/IRL assumed identities), Is Something That Is Not Done In Polite Fannish Society.

For voting, this year I don't have a dog in the race - we have bought one supporting membership and She Who Must Be Obeyed will be casting the vote for the preferred winner.  But she, it appears, will be using the same criteria I would use -- read the entries, consider their merits, rank them as to quality, and decide if any of them are really of the caliber to be awarded a rocket.  If none of them are, vote "none of the above."   My preference would be, if I feel the puppy-nominated entry is not of Hugo award caliber, to not rank behind "No Award" but simply to leave it off the ballot entry.

Changes I would like to see in the nomination process?  I really don't know.  You can try to make the rules so complex that it would be much harder to force a successful slate.  But the issue with arcane rules is there will always be some rules parser who can determine where the unintended loophole lies.   The reason we haven't seen this as a successful tactic before is that the process has depended upon the good will of fandom and the presumption of voluntary compliance, much as the IRS depends upon voluntary compliance in reporting.

 Yes, there are people who are willfully trying to break the law in regard to taxation, but for the most part, the absolute majority of the US taxpayers are willing to pay the tax they owe.  We may (no we *will*) grumble, grasp at each and every legal deduction or tax credit and finagle as hard as we can to reduce our tax load.  But, overall, we are willing to pay our taxes, because we know what the stakes are and (except for a certain few who will partake of the benefits of a communal, collectivist and cooperative society but call the payment for those services "government theft"), know that society needs the funding.

The only changes I've seen that make sense to me is to expand the number of works a member can nominate, but keep the resulting ballot as small as it currently is, so that there is a greater pool of preferential ballots to parse down.  To ensure transparency, as soon as the ballot is finalized and sent to the printer release to the public all the aggregate totals showing what works received how many nominations, perhaps also showing some calendar way-marks to illustrate how the  tallies changed over the nomination processing period.

Needless to say (but I will anyway), this whole thing is leaving a real bad taste in my craw.

I feel that the Puppies, both Sad and Rabid, are playing from stances that are demonstrably and transparently false.

They are claiming that Good Olde Tyme SF Isn't Getting The Respect It Deserves in the Hugo awards process.  Their "evidence" for this is that the works getting nominated are not Telling A Ripping Good Yarn with spaceships exploding other spaceships and the Steely-Blue-Eyed White-Skinned, Blond-Haired Astronaut Skilled With Both Laser and Rapier, and able to both fix the framistat with only a paper clip but able to build a whosi-whatis from three wires, a single diode and an (already discharged) 9-volt battery they found in the nearby archeological dig.

They say that the SF "mainstream" publishers won't publish work by authors who profess conservative politics in their mundane lives.  To do that they have to ignore writers like David Weber, or Elizabeth Moon. 

They say that writers with strong Christian mundane lives are ignored. 'Course that would mean that writers like Connie Willis (who has been singing in the choir at her Episcopal church for ages) and Gene Wolfe (a devout Roman Catholic) are not being published.

And yet, and this seems to be loudest battle cry, Straight White Men Can't Get No Recognition!  Well.  Ahh.  Jeeze, just gimme a f***ing break.

And it's all the fault of some Sekret Cabal Of Social Justice Warriors (SJW)?  See my note about herding cats, above.  There is no cabal of SMOFs preventing these works to be nominated or to win rockets.  And it's not really contrarian to point out that, if the SJW Cabal was real, the puppies slate never would have gone anywhere.

'Course the anti-Puppies don't have all Sweetness And Light on their side either: with calls to permanently bar the publishing house that was most represented by the Puppies' slate; or abolish voting rights for Supporting Members of the Worldcon; or somehow disqualify any ballots that are used to form a "slate" (when does a "recommended reading list" turn into a "slate?"); or permanently ban the organizer of the Rabid Puppies slate.  One prominent online reviewer has said that he will stop doing reviews of Baen projects, and stop buying anything from Baen because the publisher won't proactively and publicly disassociate herself from the puppies.  And he's urging everyone else to boycott the publisher as well, in effect creating a blacklist for those writers who are only published by Baen.

When I was trying to figure out what I needed for a title, or theme picture, for this post, I was struck by just how well the song "(Ya Got) Trouble" fits the Puppies campaign, starting with the opening dialog between Professor Hill and his newly rediscovered crony Marcellus Washburn:

Hill:           "Now Marsh, I need some ideas, If I'm going to get your town out of the serious trouble it's in"
Washburn: "River City aint' in any trouble"
Hill:           "Then I'm going to have to create some.  Must create a desperate need in your town for a boy's band"

I propose a new party game for convention goers -- lets rewrite the lyrics for the "Trouble in River City" song to reflect Puppy-Gate"

We should also be able to come up with applicable lyrics for the "Pick a little, Talk a little" song 

"Dirty books!


Oh, hell, lets just do the whole show.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Little More on the (Not) Housebroken Puppies

There has been a lot of electrons let loose over the "Sad Puppies" / "Rabid Puppies" bloc voting for this year's (2015) Hugo awards for the works published in 2014.

I just found a new wrinkle that is both enlightening and saddening.

Author Connie Willis has just put up a post titled "Why I Won't Be A Presenter At The Hugo Awards This Year."  It certainly is a must-read.

She was asked to be the presenter for the John W. Campbell award, but has declined.  She has declined because she wants nothing to do with adding any semblance of legitimacy to the slate of stories and persons nominated by bloc voting.    This is not  from a fit of pique, but a reasoned and thoughtful response to an expressed threat to the Hugo awards selection itself, far into the future.  Theodore Beale, also known as "Vox Day," and, by a more descriptive set of initials, "VD," has declared that if "No Award" (the Hugo equivalent of "none of the above") is the choice for any of the fiction categories that he will ensure (presumably by more bloc voting) that the Hugo's will be toast.

If No Award takes a fiction category, you will likely never see another award given in that category again. The sword cuts both ways, Lois. We are prepared for all eventualities.

    To me, Willis' stance seems perfectly reasonable.

VD's proclamation reminds me of the Serbian barge captains who declared that if they were not allowed to run the UN forces blockade they would dump their entire cargoes of oil and chemicals into vulnerable waterways and then say that they were forced to do so by the UN forces.  In other words, they were terrorists.

Comments are welcome, but will be moderated.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Illustrations For Inspiration

Officially, no matter that some claim we are a "christian nation," the United States is a secular nation.  However, given the demographics of  the USA a majority of those elected to office, both local, state and national, profess to being some variety of Christian.

Given that, I'd like to propose that there are four prints that need to be on the office walls of every legislator who processes to Christianity.

These are all from the artist Fritz Eichenberg, who was a Quaker from his forties until his death at the age of 89, contributed hundreds of illustrations and articles to the Catholic Worker publications.

These four woodcuts remind us that Christ valued, and called for us to value, all people, no matter their creed or nationality or economic station, that to be Christians we need to remember his exhortations on treating all people, and that there are none so far gone as to be exempt from redemption. (The title for "The Lord's Supper" is a reminder that this feast is still ongoing)

"The Prodigal Son" dates from 1978, "The Lord's Supper" from 1951, "Christ of the Breadlines" was produced in 1950 and "Christ of the Homeless" in 1980.

"Christ of the Breadlines"

"Christ of the Homeless"

"The Lord's Supper"

"The Prodigal Son"

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Magdeburg, Now A Real Place

In the year 2000 Baen Books published an "alternate history" novel, first of a long-running series, by Eric Flint, titled "1632."  It involves the life of small U.S. town that has been transported through time back to 15th century Germany.

Much of the series' action takes place in the "downtime" city of Magdeburg, located in present-day North-Central Germany.  The writing about the city is evocative, but it was still just a fantasy setting, without any real, concrete connection for me.

Until today.

Indulging in the serendipity that is the World Wide Web, I came across a website, and a series of photographs, about an incident, near Magdeburg, in the waning days of WW II, when a scouting section of  two light tanks from the U.S. 743rd Tank Battalion came across a train, on a siding, that was filled with 2,500 people from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.  People who were being shuttled across Germany, slated for elimination.

Those running the train, both civilians and guard troops, had abandoned the train, and its cargo, for in truth, these were, in those eyes, not people, but cargo to be delivered for destruction.  I truly cannot imagine what those 2,500 people felt, or what thoughts they had, when they saw those American tanks, and recognized the uniforms of the American soldiers. 

For most of us, "history" is observed from a safe remove, and we never have the connection to make any of the incidents, or even the places seem real to us.  This website, and the accounts from two of the tank crewmen, have made the city of Magdeburg real.

Please, please, read those brief accounts, and look at those photographs.

"A Train Near Magdeburg."

We must never forget.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The American Promise 1965/2014

In 1965, almost 50 years ago, President Lyndon Bains Johnson stood before a joint session of the Congress of the United States of America, announced that he would be sending a bill for consideration, a bill that would be known as the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Just a week earlier, on March 7, 1965, a group of 600 civil rights marchers in Selma, Alabama, were attacked by state and local police.   Two nights later, on March 9, segregationists attacked three white ministers who supported the march, killing one, James J. Reeb.

In announcing this bill, President Johnson made what may be his most eloquent and moving speech, where he recalls, as a young man, teaching at a school where his eyes were opened to what poverty really looks like.  The full written speech can be found here.  A full video of the address before Congress is above.

In March of 1965 I was all of 12 years old, and had no idea of the momentous nature of the events, no idea of the import of the oppression and degradation being visited on my fellow citizens.  Now, looking back at those times I see what my youth and location in a Northern city sheltered me from. I never knew what youth of my ages in Mississippi, California, Alabama or Texas experienced.

Looking at that speech now, for me, the most moving part of the address is below, where Johnson details his experience in that school:
"...Because all Americans just must have the right to vote. And we are going to give them that right.

All Americans must have the privileges of citizenship regardless of race. And they are going to have those privileges of citizenship regardless of race.

But I would like to caution you and remind you that to exercise these privileges takes much more than just legal right.
It requires a trained mind and a healthy body. It requires a decent home, and the chance to find a job, and the opportunity to escape from the clutches of poverty.

Of course, people cannot contribute to the Nation if they are never taught to read or write, if their bodies are stunted from hunger, if their sickness goes untended, if their life is spent in hopeless poverty just drawing a welfare check.
So we want to open the gates to opportunity. But we are also going to give all our people, black and white, the help that they need to walk through those gates.
My first job after college was as a teacher in Cotulla, Texas, in a small Mexican-American school. Few of them could speak English, and I couldn't speak much Spanish. My students were poor and they often came to class without breakfast, hungry.
They knew even in their youth the pain of prejudice.
They never seemed to know why people disliked them. But they knew it was so, because I saw it in their eyes.
I often walked home late in the afternoon, after the classes were finished, wishing there was more that I could do. But all I knew was to teach them the little that I knew, hoping that it might help them against the hardships that lay ahead.
Somehow you never forget what poverty and hatred can do when you see its scars on the hopeful face of a young child.
I never thought then, in 1928, that I would be standing here in 1965.
It never even occurred to me in my fondest dreams that I might have the chance to help the sons and daughters of those students and to help people like them all over this country.
But now I do have that chance—and I'll let you in on a secret—I mean to use it. And I hope that you will use it with me.
This is the richest and most powerful country which ever occupied the globe.
The might of past empires is little compared to ours.
But I do not want to be the President who built empires, or sought grandeur, or extended dominion.
I want to be the President who educated young children to the wonders of their world.
I want to be the President who helped to feed the hungry and to prepare them to be taxpayers instead of tax-eaters.
I want to be the President who helped the poor to find their own way and who protected the right of every citizen to vote in every election.
I want to be the President who helped to end hatred among his fellow men and who promoted love among the people of all races and all regions and all parties.
I want to be the President who helped to end war among the brothers of this earth..."

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law on August 6, 1965.

Sadly, shamefully, parts of the protections for voting that Johnson called for in this 1965 speech are under attack, a half-century later, under the guise of "protecting the vote" by use of "voter-id" laws. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

Transcentental Etude

Liszt - passage from Transcendental Etude # 1

In an SF novel by Joe Haldeman (Worlds), there is a scene where the protagonist is describing other participants in a musical performance she is participating in.  In particular she is noticing two of the other musicians, one who is technically proficient and skilled, if a little distant, while the other, also proficient, appears to be continually in amazement of the sounds coming from the instrument, as if unwilling to credit other than their own skill at the music produced, that the instrument itself is somehow possessed by will and responsible for the wonderful sounds created.

These character observations really have no further relevance to the story, and I can only imagine that this awareness of transcendency was something he had seen, and felt compelled to get the experience down on paper. By its nature, transcendental experiences are those that surpass and rise above our mundane expectations and experiences, hopefully transforming us in the wake of their passage.

I bring this up because of an insight I recently had during a contemplative retreat. This retreat was aimed at helping the participants make more of a connection between their interior spiritual life and the Christian liturgy (in the instant example, it was aimed at the Episcopal liturgy).

One of the facets of that connection is to make the conscious effort to listen to, and reflect on, what is contained in that liturgy.  Indeed when you reflect upon the liturgy, and “deconstruct” it, without actually being that rigorously analytical, we can open up our perceptions to allow the transcendency of the mystical to be recognized, and view what one subjectively experiences as “listening with love,” “delight,” “amazement” or simple wonder, as that musician Haldeman described in his novel's scene. For most of us, this feeling of experiential wonder is fleeting and unpredictable, except that, when we consciously seek for that feeling of wonder it is certain to elude us.

One of these transcendentally transformative experiences for Christians can be the simple act of contemplation and acceptance of the Eucharist. Being human, our inner life is usually full, not of thoughts of the sublime, but of the ordinary, are our shoes at the proper state of shiny? Look at the state of that altar cloth! The ability to be as empty of preconception, and as open to acceptance of Christ's presence is rare indeed, and the more we strive for that state the more it will elude us, such that when it does come, it is a surprise that can overwhelm and frighten. Thought of finding the sublime in our daily, mundane, life is supremely attractive to us.

That experience is so much more beauteous, so much more of a wonder beyond hope or expectations, when achieved, and so much, much more terrible when lost, we have only a fleeting glimpse of memory as treasure, either to hoard to ourselves or to share.

The achievement of that promise may be something that is as simple as accepting the existence of the reality of the mysticism and mystery in our faith, or it may be forever beyond our grasp.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Does Extreme Income Inequality engender "Envy?"

Income inequality, real v perceived
Recently an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times caught my eye.

It was titled "The Downside of Inciting Envy," and was penned by one Arthur C Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute.  His thesis is that this current recession and economic straits are engendering "envy" of those who are living at the top of the heap.

He takes a quote from a 2002 interview with the Irish singer Bono, to the effect that, in Ireland, the mythical "man on the street" would view someone in a mansion, and would fantasize about "getting" that person, while in the U.S. the attitude would be to aspire to that wealth, with the expectation of being able to achieve it.  On this quote, and some really spurious reasoning, Brooks spins a tale of how our perceptions of an inequality and disparity of opportunity have somehow been exploited to generate a feeling of envy to the poor, misunderstood wealthy, and that the envy is bad for our health.

Sir, it is not "bitterness" or "envy," but simple outrage.

The outrage stems from being forced to participate in a society that:
- insists in the belief that being monetarially impoverished is some moral failing;
- one where people will, if pressed, say that "yes, if someone can't pay for their own medical care, we as a society should let them sicken and die;"
- one where multi-billion dollar companies pay no taxes, and thus nothing towards maintaining the society, and accuse workers laid off when jobs are shifted overseas as "freeloaders" if they collect unemployment compensation;
- one where, since the demise of traditional pension plans, retirement funds are tied up in a gambling den called "the stock market" that the individual worker must navigate as a minnow in a sea of sharks;
- where, at state unemployment orientations, the emphasis is not on resume prep to sell skills or education, but in "networking," thus demonstrating that "it's not what you know but who you know"
- knowledge that your children and grandchildren will never be able to afford a top-tier college

- knowledge that the chance for opportunity and upwards mobility has been put out of reach for almost everybody in the poorer sectors of our economy and is rapidly becoming out of reach for the middle class
- knowledge that today Americans in  their 30s and 40s and 50 are worse off than their parents, and the prospect for their children will be even worse

Again I say, sir, that is what is driving the outrage, not envy.