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Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

On Liking Stuff (or not)

So, back when Ancillary Justice was essentially sweeping that year’s SF awards, there was some talk from certain quarters about it not really being all that, people only claimed to like it because Politics and SJWs and PC points and Affirmative Action and nobody was really reading the book and if they were they didn’t really enjoy it, they just claimed they did so they could seem cool and woke.

My feelings were so hurt that I wept bitter, miserable tears every time I drove to the bank with my royalty checks. I mean, those people must be right, it’s totally typical for non-fans who don’t actually like a book to write fanfic or draw fan art, totally boringly normal for students to choose to write papers about a book that just isn’t really very good or interesting, and for professors to use that boringly not-very-good book in their courses, and for that book to continue to sell steadily five years after it came out. I totally did not laugh out loud whenever I came across such assertions, because they were absolutely not ridiculous Sour Grape Vineyards tended by folks who, for the most part, hadn’t even read the book.

Now I am sorry–but not surprised–to see some folks making similar assertions about N.K. Jemisin’s historic (and entirely deserved) Hugo Threepeat. Most of them haven’t read the books in question.

But some of them have. Some of them have indeed read the books and not understood why so many people are so excited by them.

Now, Nora doesn’t need me to defend her, and she doesn’t need lessons from me about the best way to dry a tear-soaked award-dusting cloth, or the best brands of chocolate ice cream to fortify yourself for that arduous trip to the bank. Actually, she could probably give me some pointers.

But I have some thoughts about the idea that, because you (generic you) didn’t like a work, that must mean folks who say they did like it are Lying Liars Who Lie to Look Cool.

So, in order to believe this, one has to believe that A) one’s own taste is infallible and objective and thus universally shared and B) people who openly don’t share your taste are characterless sheep who will do anything to seem cool.

But the fact is, one doesn’t like or dislike things without context. We are all of us judging things from our own point of view, not some disembodied perfectly objective nowhere. It’s really easy to assume that our context is The Context–to not even see that there’s a context at all, it’s just How Things Are. But you are always seeing things from the perspective of your experiences, your biases, your expectations of how things work. Those may not match other people’s.

Of course, if you’re in a certain category–if you’re a guy, if you’re White, if you’re straight, if you’re cis–our society is set up to make that invisible, to encourage you in the assumption that the way you see things is objective and right, and not just a product of that very society. Nearly all of the readily available entertainment is catering to you, nearly all of it accepts and reinforces the status quo. If you’ve never questioned that, it can seem utterly baffling that people can claim to enjoy things that you see no value in. You’ll maybe think it makes sense to assume that such people are only pretending to like those things, or only like them for reasons you consider unworthy. It might not ever occur to you that some folks are just reading from a different context–sometimes slightly different, sometimes radically different, but even a small difference can be enough to make a work seem strange or bafflingly flat.

Now, I’m sure that there are people somewhere at some time who have in fact claimed to like a thing they didn’t, just for cool points. People will on occasion do all kinds of ill-advised or bananapants things. But enough of them to show up on every SF award shortlist that year? Enough to vote for a historic, record-breaking three Hugos in a row? Really?

Stop and think about what you’re saying when you say this. Stop and think about who you’re not saying it about.

You might not have the context to see what a writer is doing. When you don’t have the context, so much is invisible. You can only see patterns that match what you already know.*

Of course, you’re not a helpless victim of your context–you can change it, by reading other things and listening to various conversations. Maybe you don’t want to do that work, which, ok? But maybe a lot of other folks have indeed been doing that, and their context, the position they’re reading stories from, has shifted over the last several years. It’s a thing that can happen.

Stop and think–you’ve gotten as far as “everyone must be kind of like me” and stepped over into “therefore they can’t really like what they say they like because I don’t like those things.” Try on “therefore they must really mean it when they say they like something, because I mean it when I say it.” It’s funny, isn’t it, that so many folks step into the one and not the other. Maybe ask yourself why that is.

This also applies to “pretentious” writing. “That writer is only trying to look smart! Readers who say they like it are only trying to look smarter that me, a genuine,honest person, who only likes down-to-earth plain solid storytelling.” Friend, your claims to be a better and more honest person because of your distaste for “pretentious” writing is pretension itself, and says far more about you than the work you criticize this way. You are exactly the sort of snob you decry, and you have just announced this to the world.

Like or don’t like. No worries. It’s not a contest, there’s no moral value attached to liking or not liking a thing. Hell, there are highly-regarded things I dislike, or don’t see the appeal of! There are things I love that lots of other folks don’t like at all. That’s life.

And sure, if you want to, talk about why you do or don’t like a thing. That’s super interesting, and thoughtful criticism is good for art.

But think twice before you sneer at what other folks like, think three times before you declare that no one could really like a thing so it must be political correctness, or pretension, or whatever. Consider the possibility that whatever it is is just not your thing. Consider the possibility that it might be all right if not everything is aimed at you. Consider that you might not actually be the center of the universe, and your opinions and tastes might not be the product of your utterly rational objective view of the world. Consider the possibility that a given work might not have been written just for you, but for a bunch of other people who’ve been waiting for it, maybe for a long time, and that might just possibly be okay.

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*Kind of like the way some folks insist my Ancillary trilogy is obviously strongly influenced by Iain Banks (who I’d read very little of, and that after AJ was already under way) and very few critics bring up the influence of C.J. Cherryh (definitely there, deliberate, and there are several explicit hat tips to her work in the text). Those folks have read Banks, but they haven’t read Cherryh. They see something that isn’t there, and don’t see what is there, because they don’t have the same reading history I do. It’s interesting to me how many folks assume I must have the same reading history as they do. It’s interesting to me how sure they are of their conclusions.

On Contacting Your Elected Representatives

There’s a lot of contradictory information going around about contacting representatives (by which I mean both Senators and Congresspersons–the term “representatives” is unhelpfully ambiguous at times because it can mean just Congresspersons, or it can mean them and Senators who also do represent us, but anyway) there is, as I said, a lot of contradictory information going around about just how to best contact representatives.

Common wisdom would have it that only calling, on the phone, is effective and that email is entirely useless. I saw someone tweet that snail mail takes weeks–weeks!–to be processed before it reaches anyone’s desk.

So, none of this is actually true.

My source is Annalee Flower Horne:

This is my summary of advice she’s given. Any errors or misstatements are my own.

First of all, phone calls are NOT the only effective way to communicate. Snail mail letters and postcards are absolutely fine. So, it turns out, are emails! HOWEVER.

You want to be direct and clear in your email or letter. Best is to choose one issue. If possible, open with something personal. “As a parent whose children attend public schools,” that’s personal, that’s where this issue hits home for me, “I am absolutely opposed to the nomination of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education. She is unqualified and will be a disaster for Missouri’s public schools.” And then a specific, actionable request. “I’m calling on you to oppose her nomination.” The personal bit could also be “I have a lot of friends who will be affected by” or even “I am very concerned/upset about…”

EDIT Jan 31: Annalee clarified to me that she advises opening with the “ask” (“I’m calling on Senator X to oppose”) and then give the personal, but she says that as long as the letter is concise, the order isn’t a big deal.

One topic per letter or email. Use your own words. The emails that actually are useless are the form emails that various orgs try to get folks to sign onto–they’re all identical, it’s obvious they’re not the person’s own thoughts, and they’re easy to dismiss. They’re mostly effective as fundraisers for the orgs that set them up. But YOUR own email, that you send, say from the official’s contact form on their website, that you wrote in your own words? They see that. They count that.

I’m seeing some assertions that with phones down, fax is next best, but I’m told that by and large faxes arrive as email attachments, so you might as well just email. In fact, this is what Annalee has to say about faxing:

ONLY CONTACT YOUR OWN REPRESENTATIVES. If you are not a constituent, you will be ignored. And Annalee suggests it’s better to send to the DC office. The local offices deal mostly with local matters, the staff isn’t really trained or equipped to deal with more, and your letters about legislative issues will be forwarded to the DC office anyway, so if you’re snail mailing you might as well send it right to DC.

I want to point out, too, that considering the Senate’s phones have been essentially melting down the last couple days, the cries of “ONLY PHONECALLS WILL DO” seem even more off-target. The phones might go down, and voicemails fill up, but the USPS keeps delivering those letters and the mailroom keeps processing them. So don’t feel like you’re doing something second-best if you’re “only” writing letters or emails.

And as always, if you’re calling, be polite to the interns answering the phones. They get paid a pittance and work long hours, and they’re not in charge of anything but taking your message.

Note, if you’re calling for impeachment (I know, I know, it’s a long shot. I know, Pence would be godawful but with him as Pres we may come out of this with an actual country and not just a smoking crater. And if nothing else Bannon would be gone) those calls/letters should only go to your Congressperson. Impeachment has to start in the House.

Postcards

So, the approaching inauguration of the President Elect–who even before taking office has distinguished himself as the absolute worst president this country has ever had, and who will, the moment he takes office, be in violation of the Constitution–is one of those “you have to laugh because he’s so ridiculous and also otherwise you’d despair for the future of the nation” things.

I’m not sure there’s anything any of us can do. But then again, the couple times so far that the Republicans have backed off something it’s been largely because of public outcry–they pulled back on their attempt to hamstring the Office of Congressional Ethics, and very recently have delayed hearings on appointees that were set to go before any ethics reviews could be completed (noticing a theme here? Cause I am).

So, will pitching a fit to our representatives do anything? Who knows? But why not do it?

So here’s what I’m thinking. What if every Monday each of us addresses a post card to our Representative (you can find their name & address here, I’m planning to use the DC office), with our own return address (because representatives only listen to their constituents, so we need to let them know we’re in their district) and hand written the word IMPEACH. Maybe a note with a reason or two why if you feel like it, but honestly I think that one word says it all. Put a stamp on it (34c to mail a postcard in the US) and drop it in the mail. Every Monday. Until further notice.

You can get sheets of postcards and run them through your printer if you have one, with the addresses, but I think the hand-written IMPEACH is the best way to do that bit of it.

Every Monday. Like clockwork.

Now, some folks will argue that if Trump ever got the boot, Pence would be worse because he would seem reasonable by comparison and then folks would support him, where Trump will have alienated everyone except the outright deplorable nazi sympathizers & do more damage to the Republican party that way. Thing is, Trump is set to do quite a lot of damage to the entire freaking country as it is, and Pence is still there, able to be his nasty, toxically bigoted self. There is no actual good outcome here, but it seems to me that losing the guy who’ll happily dismantle the country to stuff his own pockets, who’s already threatening reprisals against journalists who report things that he doesn’t like, or who ask him actual questions, and who’s bidding fair to start wars, drop nukes, and turn the country over to whoever he owes money to is maybe a step in the right direction.

At any rate, I invite you to join me in the Monday Post Card Club. Boxes of sheets of 200 post cards are available at most office supply stores for $25-30, a post card stamp is 34c, times 52 that’s about $18 a year. You probably already have a sharpie. It might not do any good, but then, you never know. At the very least we’ve let our elected officials hear from us. What do you think?

Thanksgiving

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So, tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate it.

And, uh, do you know about what’s happening in North Dakota?

Dakota Access pipeline: the who, what and why of the Standing Rock protests

What is the Dakota Access pipeline?

The Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) is a $3.7bn project that would transport crude oil from the Bakken oil field in North Dakota to a refinery to Patoka, Illinois, near Chicago.

The 1,1720-mile pipeline, roughly 30 inches in diameter, would carry 470,000 barrels per day and is a project of company Energy Transfer Partners.

Who is opposing the project and why?

The local Standing Rock Sioux tribe and thousands of Native American supporters from across North America have set up camps in Cannon Ball to try and block the oil project. Opponents of DAPL say the project threatens sacred native lands and could contaminate their water supply from the Missouri river, which is the longest river in North America.


Activists call themselves “water protectors” and argue that the pipeline poses similar threats to the now defeated Keystone XL, but lament that DAPL has failed to garner the same amount of national attention. Tribal leaders also say that the US army corps of engineers’ initial decision to allow the pipeline to run within a half-mile of the local reservation was done without consulting tribal governments and without a thorough study of impacts.

This means, the tribe says, that the project violates federal law and native treaties with the US government.

The protesters are unarmed and peaceful. The response by police? Claims that the protests are “an ongoing riot” which totally justifies the use of teargas, rubber bullets, water cannon, and concussion grenades.

Sunday night 167 people were injured, including one person who was hit directly by a concussion grenade and last I heard was in surgery to have their arm amputated as a result. You can donate to her medical fund here, if you are willing and able to do that.

The Army Corps of Engineers recently announced that it needed more time to consider whether or not to grant the final permit needed to use Army land under the river–which prompted Energy Transfer Partners to sue. But there appears to be a drop-dead date–

[Standing Rock Sioux tribal chair, Dave Archambault II] also pointed out that the corporation has previously said in court that if it were not delivering oil by 1 January 2017, its shipper contracts would expire and the project would be in jeopardy.

“So they are rushing to get the pipeline in the ground hastily to meet that deadline,” Archambault said. “The only urgency here was created by their own reckless choice to build the pipeline before it had all the permits to do so.”

Y’all. Police in North Dakota are firing rubber bullets and tear gas and concussion grenades at peaceful protesters, using fucking fire hoses on them in sub-freezing temperatures. You can see video at this link.

Peaceful protesters who are trying to protect their land. Tribal land. Trying to protect their actual supply of drinking water. This is happening now, and has been happening for weeks and weeks. (Well, on a larger scale it’s been happening for centuries, but.)

Here are things you can do:

You can sign a petition asking President Obama to stop the pipeline permanently. No idea what good it will do, but hey.

You can call various folks, including the White House. Click on the “Weekly Call to Action” tab, there’s a script all ready for you. And as always, if you can’t call, write letters.

You can donate to the cause, if that’s within your means.

You can also donate to the Standing Rock Medic & Healer Council, who are providing what medical services they can to the protesters. They need specific items, which are listed at the link, and they also take donations.

Or maybe you’re not in a position to do any of those things. There’s so much going on right now that needs attention. But do what you can.

Monday Writing Prompt

What? I’ve never done writing prompts before! But, friends, times are no longer normal.

Here’s the deal–it’s time to be politically engaged, if you can. It’s time to make phone calls, if you can, and send letters, if you can. If you can’t, if there’s something else you can do, do that. If the best you can do is hold on and survive, well, hold on and survive. Do whatever thing you can.

(It’s time to march in the streets, if you can. Not everyone can, and that’s all right. Do what you can.)

Basic information–when you write or call your representatives, they need to be your representatives. They are obliged to pay attention to you. No other representative is. Sometimes someone will solicit opinions from the wider public, and definitely speak up then, but otherwise, you have something to say to the Senate or the Congress? Contact your senators, your congressperson.

If you don’t know who those folks are, click here and put in your ZIP code. Sometimes there will be more than one congressperson in a ZIP code and you’ll have to refine the search with a specific address. But there’s basic contact information for each rep there, and links to their websites.

I’m given to understand that phone calls are top priority, and letters after that. Emails and social media contacts don’t get the same attention. So–call, if you’re able to do that. Write letters if you can’t call (lots of us are phobic about the phone, to be entirely honest I find talking on the phone unpleasant myself and cold calls like this are beyond unpleasant).

It helps to know what you’re going to say on the phone. So you might as well write a letter first, make your calls using the letter as an outline for what you’re going to say, and then pop the letters in the mail for good measure. Since you’ve already written them anyway, right?

Okay. Remember I said above that sometimes a rep will solicit opinions from the wider public? Well, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has set up a phone poll with a very simple question: do you support President Obama’s ACA, or would you like to see it repealed? The phone number has changed at least once–I would not be surprised if he got a set of replies that didn’t suit his purpose and is trying again to see if maybe the numbers will change this time. So, have your say.

Here’s the number, last I heard:

202-225-0600

Call, there’ll be up to a couple minutes of dead silence after the ringing stops. Hold on. Then you’ll be asked what options you want– if you want to express your opinion about the ACA, that’ll be option 2 on the menu. Then you sit through a bullshit spiel and are asked to press 1 if you support the ACA and 2 if you don’t care if uninsured folks die in the streets. Okay, they don’t phrase it like that, but, you know. IMPORTANT if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t like talking on the phone, I swear to you there is never a time when you have to speak to a person. Just press buttons.

NEXT.

There are so many issues to choose from, and so I figured I’d parcel them out, right? Hence the writing prompt. It turns out, though, that someone is already organizing something similar, and this week’s Call to Action is on the topic I was planning (probably for obvious reasons). So, maybe bookmark that link and check back every week/few days.

The CtA involves a phonecall to the House Oversight Committee, which I did last week (though I had to dial the number over and over for nearly an hour to get through) and it involves, depending, either talking to a human or leaving a voicemail.

Here’s the number:

202-225-5074

Here’s a script for you:

I’m —- —– , a constituent calling to let the commitee know that I support Rep. Elijah Cummings’s call for a bipartisan review of Trump’s “financial arrangements” for potential conflicts of interest before he’s sworn in as president. Please ask Chairman Chaffetz to immediately begin conducting a review to ensure that President-elect Trump does not have any actual or perceived conflicts of interests. I want the Committee to make sure Trump and his advisors comply with all legal and regulatory ethical requirements.

You can see why this was my choice for this week. Do it today if you can, offices will be closing for the holiday, this is a short week.

If you’ve still got the time and the wherewithal, express the same sentiments to your own reps. Use this script, or write your own letter, use it as a template for your call, and pop copies in the mail for each of your representatives.

Need more information about those potential conflicts of interest? Try these links:

Donald Trump Meeting Suggests He Is Keeping Up His Business Ties (New York Times)

Trump’s Empire: A Maze of Debts and Opaque Ties (New York Times) From before the election.

“But an investigation by The New York Times into the financial maze of Mr. Trump’s real estate holdings in the United States reveals that companies he owns have at least $650 million in debt — twice the amount than can be gleaned from public filings he has made as part of his bid for the White House. The Times’s inquiry also found that Mr. Trump’s fortunes depend deeply on a wide array of financial backers, including one he has cited in attacks during his campaign.”

Being in debt–even to foreign banks, as is the case here–is no big deal in and of itself. The President of the United States being in debt to the tune of $650 million? Including to banks in countries that would doubtless love to have a lever to influence the US government? That’s another kettle of fish entirely.

Donald Trump’s questionable “blind trust” setup just got more questionable (Washington Post)

Donald Trump’s decision to leave his children in control of his fortune during his presidency was already an unusual and eyebrow-raising setup. And on Friday, it became even more so.

A day after Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, announced that Trump’s three oldest children — Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric — would control what he labeled a “blind trust” for the president-elect, the Trump campaign announced Friday afternoon that all three would also serve on Trump’s presidential transition team executive committee.

Oh, yeah, that’s that one kind of blind trust where it’s totally not a blind trust and you aren’t even going to pretend it is, right? Totally legit.

Anyway. Happy Monday, and let’s let our elected representatives hear what we have to say. It’s what they’re there for to begin with, they’re public servants. They’re our employees.

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P.S. If you’re tempted to comment and/or email telling my you’re a fan of my books but you’re not here for having politics crammed down your throat, I assure you there are far more productive things to do with your time. For one thing all fiction is political to begin with but, I mean, seriously, have you actually read my work?

Similarly, if you’re planning to tell me you’ll stop following me or buying my work if I have the temerity to exercise my rights as an American citizen to take part in the political process, I will possibly delete your missive and certainly have a hearty laugh at your expense.

P.P.S. If following election stuff is stressing you out in a really awful way and you need to stop following me, here and/or on Twitter and/or Tumblr, by all means do. Exercise self care. Hang on and survive.