In Defense of Clint Eastwood

People are talking trash about Clint and frankly, its kind of tasteless and bullshit. He's an old man. He looks a little frail. He may be a bit senile. And frankly, when you live to be his age, you get to be a little bit ornery and addled. It's your god given right as an American. Making fun of him is just kind of crass.

It doesn't really need pointing out that Clint Eastwood is a living American treasure. He may well be the last of an era of Hollywood stars the likes of which the film industry doesn't seem to be creating anymore. And as he has matured as a director, he has made some genuinely great contributions to cinema. This shouldn't need to be said, but briefly, this is the man who starred in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, directed and starred in High Plains Drifter, Unforgiven, Pale Rider. He directed Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. He's Dirty Harry and the man with no name. He directed Mystic River, Flags of our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima. And he made Changeling, a film that I dare anyone to watch and not re-assess their feelings about the death penalty no matter what their view might be going in. There are very few people in the world of film that have a record as solid as that.

But that is all beside the point, because what I really think needs to be said is that despite the rambling ad libbed nature of Eastwood's speech at the Republican convention, there were numerous elements within the general thread that were both refreshing and sincere and a welcome break from the general insipid mendacity of Eastwood's fellow Republicans. In particular he made three points over the course of his speech that He was absolutely right about.

Grand Old Party: No Faggots, No Cunts, No Niggers

Perhaps you've heard this story already about the Republican senate candidate in Pennsylvania comparing the rights of a rapist to those of the father of a fetus created via consensual sex out of wedlock.

It comes on the heels of this story about how Paul Ryan, the GOP nominee apparent for the Vice Presidency, thinks that rape is "just another method of conception."

That in turn follows on the ongoing baby mama drama started by Todd Akin, the Republican running for Claire McCAskill's Senate seat in Missouri. That story has now officially hit the "right wing backlash" leg of the news cycle, with supporters of Akin now coming out of the woodwork to include former Republican governor and Fox News personality Mike Huckabee and former Republican Senator and presidential also-ran Rick Santorum.

Remember now, this is the party that claims that they are really just all about smaller government and growing the economy.

Do I really need to explain this shit about how Julian Assange is a piece of shit who made all this crap up? Seriously?

I must make several disclaimers and caveats about the big old dollop of Whipped Truth Cream I'm fixin' to top off your sundae with.

Disclaimer the first, the wikileaks website is a good thing, providing information to the public that is wrongly kept secret is a good thing. A free press is a necessary precondition for an open society. Wikileaks has already played an important part in helping to assure that and I sincerely hope that it will continue to do so.

Disclaimer the second, I don't know precisely what facts form the foundation of the accusations against Julian Assange in Sweden. Neither do you. Stop pretending like you do because you don't. That shit hasn't been released and all we know about it is rumor, innuendo, and third party speculation.

Period; full stop; end of discussion. Those two points are issues on which I will brook no arguments. If you think that saying anything about either the value of Wikileaks or the nature of the charges against Julian Assange in Sweden has ANYTHING AT ALL to do with what follows, you are wrong. You have misunderstood. Stop. Shut up. Read it again. Repeat until you've successfully suppressed your inner moron.

Now that that's out of the way, let me make the point that should have been dead clear to absolutely everyone years ago when this whole thing started: The Extradition of Julian Assange to Sweden has absolutely nothing to do with prosecuting Julian Assange for espionage in the United States.

Surplus Value in a Nutshell

Take all the money you need to survive and add it up. Call this amount X. X is the lower limit of your financial ability to sustain just yourself. It's what you need for food shelter and the basic necessities of life. X is actually quite a low number. The only people who make anything close to X in the United States are migrant workers, and even they make more than X which is the reason why they come to the US seeking work, because back home in Mexico, Guatemala and various other depressed countries, X is significantly lower than it is in the United States and even a little money to send home makes a huge difference in the lives of those living in the abject poverty of the developing world. But I digress. We need to focus on X.

So now suppose that you are entering the labor market. The labor market, without other regulation, is largely like any other market. The prices are controlled by supply and demand. If your ability to produce in whatever job you are seeking is roughly on par with the average entry level worker in the labor market, then the supply for the sort of labor you offer is very high. In fact, it will almost always exceed demand. What this means is that for the Average Worker AW with no special skills that increase his ability to produce above and beyond that of any other average entry level worker, the labor market exerts constant downward pressure on wages due to competition and limited demand.

The situation is slightly different for a Skilled Worker SW. SW is in a better situation because SW has skills that make his output greater than that of AW. What this means is that if SW and AW work for the same amount of time, SW will produce a greater absolute output than will AW. Accordingly, SW will be able to demand higher wages in the labor market. However, there is a limit on SW's ability to exploit this ability to produce more which is the competition from other skilled workers. This also exerts downward pressure on skilled workers.

Whither the MTV Generation?

Permit me a moment of self indulgent self reflection please:

It occurred to me the other day that the characters on How I Met Your Mother, Community, and The Big Bang Theory are roughly either the age I and most of my oldest friends are, or they're roughly the age of the leading edge Gen Y/Millenials who, now that they're mostly out of college, are now old enough and jaded enough to hang out with us in bars. And there's a recurring theme in all of these shows that seems to me more and more striking the more I think about it. That theme is of a group of ostensible adults who despite spending a fair amount of time in and around the trappings of adulthood, more or less are still living the crazed frenetic existences of our much younger days. This despite the fact that, as the HIMYM episode Murtaugh brilliantly pointed out, the characters in these shows are clearly "too old for this shit."

Sometimes an Organization Breaks Your Heart [Updated]

Update: the entire ReaderCon board has resigned.

Update 2: the Con Committee has released an official statement reversing the board's decision and committing to future action. Guess I was wrong about the ConCom having no real power.

ReaderCon is the only science fiction convention I make a point to attend every year, despite it being a five hour (or more) journey by bus, train and bus again. Longtime readers of this site will remember when I discovered it and loved it. For the past two years I've even hosted a reading event there with the great Brian Francis Slattery.

But the problem with loving anything is the risk that it will break your heart. At the last con, writer Genevieve Valentine was repeatedly sexually harassed by fan notable Rene Walling. Valentine reported this to the Board of Directors expecting that Walling would be banned for life, since ReaderCon policies state that there is zero tolerance for harassment and harassers will be banned for life. However, Walling was merely banned for 2 years. Lots of people are speculating that this is because he is friends with members of the board and a high profile figure in fandom (former WorldCon board member, former Arisia fan guest of honor, blah blah blah). You can follow the various reactions from the round-up here and here, but the basic point is that if you don't enforce your own policy then that policy has no meaning, and further, especially since Walling has a history of harassment, giving him a slap on the wrist makes ReaderCon feel like a less than safe and welcoming place. Con Committee member Matt Cheney has resigned in protest, and at least one other key member of the Con Committee has objected. (The Con Committee is a group that helps the Board with organizing and putting together the event, but has no formal power.) Writer Veronica Shanoes has put together a petition demanding Walling's permanent banishment and the resignation of the Board of Directors, or else the signatories will no longer attend. Over 300 400 people have put their names down, including notable figures like Catherynne Valente, Jeff VanderMeer, Ekaterina Sedia, Ted Chiang, NK Jemisin, Kelly Link, former ReaderCon Guest of Honor Ellen Datlow, editor Liz Gorinsky, editor John Joseph Adams, SFWA publicist Jaym Gates, radio host Jim Fruend and many more. I've put my own name down.

Frankly at this point, if the Board does not cede to the demands in the petition, ReaderCon will almost certainly cease to exist.

A few people have accused the undersigned of overreacting, mostly anonymous cowards in the comments section.

This is not overreacting.

We men may sometimes find it difficult to imagine what it's like for women at an event like this. As a man, I've never gone to a con (or any event) wondering if someone's going to follow me around and make inappropriate comments or touch me in unpleasant ways. I ride the subway every day and never wonder if I'm going to get groped. In my life I've gone to parties and gotten passing-out drunk and never had to worry about getting raped. These aren't things I have to deal with, or think about. My personal security is almost never on the line. But women have to think about these kinds of things all the time.

If the predominantly male Board of ReaderCon says that people who behave this way are allowed in, it sends a message to women: your personal security is at risk here. Your personal security is not that important to us. And it implicates the convention-going public in that sentiment: it implicates us all, and it says to the world, this is what science fiction and fantasy conventions are like.

Which sort of goes back to the objection that JF Quackenbush lobbed at sf conventions, that they're places for people to go to behave badly. Specifically, he called them "a building full of adults who have failed to figure out how to live like grown ups." I don't think that's true, and my experience at ReaderCon has been the opposite of that, but sometimes the haters are proven right. And sometimes an organization breaks your heart.

Pretty Much Sums Up the Problem of "Literary" Fiction

In the New Inquiry (which is a wonderful online periodical), Rob Horning has an article that pretty much sums up the problem of "literary" fiction:

I don’t like the word literary. It seems to imply some particular formal characteristics, but that implication only allows the term to serve as an alibi for the status aspirations of the people who use it, who want to control its meaning. It’s a sort of social tautology that way. The literary is what literary people say it is, which is what makes them literary people.

What’s at stake in claiming something is literary is different from claiming that some book is good. What counts as literary is a moving target, but it’s not always moving in one direction. We are not making collective critical progress toward a better, more comprehensive understanding of what the literary sometimes pretends to be: an expression of the perfectibility of prose, of the ability to capture the truth in words and well-formed sentences. Instead, literariness is ruled by the laws of fashion; it changes merely to replenish its potency for those empowered to declare what is and isn’t literary. Fixating on what is literary actually denies for books the possibility of transcending fashion. To evoke a book’s literariness is to evoke its transience, not its staying power. It says, this book’s only relevant and lasting meaning rests in its capacity to signify the literary.

In other words, the term "literary fiction" is about status and not quality.

Read the whole thing, it's worth it if only for poking fun at John Updike's descriptions of sex.

ReaderCon Wold Newton Reading Video

At ReaderCon one weekend ago, I hosted my second Wold Newton ReaderCon special, with readings by a number of fine writers, namely:
Jeff VanderMeer
Veronica Schanoes
Jaym Gates
Daniel Jose Older
Jo Walton
and
Matt Kressel

Music was provided by Brian Francis Slattery and his amazing band!

Unfortunately, I forgot to turn on the camera until the first reading had begun so you miss the first little bit of Jeff VanderMeer explaining what he's reading, and my ridiculous silliness while dressed up as the Doctor. But here's the rest of the video of the whole event:

Generation Fuck Off, Part 2: Going Back to Colorado

So, I've been here before. And I really don't have time to process all of it yet again because I need to study. The bar exam is next tuesday, see, and I really REALLY need to make sure I pass.

What I will say about this, for now, is that all of your theories about why this happened are wrong. It's not because of gun control, or too much gun control. It's not because we miss people in our society and our mental health system is badly overtaxed. This did not happen because of anything to do with Jesus, with Islam, or with any other religion. Whether the shooter turns out to be a big fan of Rush Limbaugh and a tea party supporter, a neo-nazi member of some splinter group of mormons, a black block anarchist using terror as a weapon to try to spark the revolution, or some deluded Occupy hippy who smoked so much dope he thought this was a good idea, none of that matters.

There is plenty of blame to go around for this tragedy. Much of it is deserved. But blame is not the same thing as fault.

No one is at fault for this catastrophe.

What we can know about this are three simple facts:

1.) Most of us are incapable of an act like this. Whatever it is that goes on in the mind of a spree killer, it is a broken machine in a broken person. People who are well do not do things like this.

2.) Pointing fingers and trying to make political hay out of a tragedy like this doesn't really accomplish anything other than disrespecting the victims. Maybe a Brady will emerge from this, and that will be a righteous and good thing. But today is not the time for that.

3.) Most of us will be lucky enough to never personally face such terror. For that we should be grateful. We should tell the people we love that we love them. We should do what we can to ease the pain of those who have lost so much so senselessly.

Interview: Richard M. Stallman, Inventer of Open Source, Free Software Crusader

"Did you see the crazy person handing out anti-ebook flyers?" someone said to me while I was at ReaderCon. Indeed, the man with the giant hair and beard handing out flyers looked a bit like a vagrant. I went up to see what it was about, saw his face and did a double take. I checked his name-badge just to be sure.

"You're Richard Stallman," I said in disbelief.

"Yes," he said, and handed me a flyer. "If you care about books you should read this."

A copy of the anti-ebook flyer can be found here.

For those of you who don't know, Richard M. Stallman founded the Free Software Foundation in 1984 with the mission of creating software that could be freely distributed and wasn't tied down by nasty licensing restrictions (software that had been 'freed'). Eventually, this transformed into the "Open Source" movement, that term popularized by Eric S. Raymond as way to ease corporate adoption of free software. Stallman also wrote key components of what would become the Linux operating system (or "GNU/Linux" as he refers to it, a reference to his own GNU operating system project which Linux draws from), as well as the Emacs text editor which I use in my programming job every day, the Gcc C compiler which is now a cornerstone of Unix-based software development, and many other important applications.

So what was one of the greatest software engineers of our time, a recipient of the MacArthur "genius" grant, doing handing out flyers at a science fiction convention? I asked him.

Stallman insisted, however, that I not put the video of our interview on YouTube, because you have to use non-free software in order to view it. So, I uploaded the interview in the free Ogg Theora format. Does this make things less convenient for everyone? Yes. But Stallman is more concerned with freedom than convenience, as he makes clear in the interview. For him the use of free over non-free software is a moral proposition.

So here is the video, embedded using HTML5. Enjoy.

I apologize for the background noise. I made the mistake of conducting the video in a hallway, which seemed like a good idea at the time. I'll try to noise reduce the video later and see if I can improve it.