dreamer_easy: (*books 3)
Isaac Asimov. Eight Stories from The Rest of the Robots.
-- The Naked Sun
Bandi. The Accusation: Forbidden Stories From Inside North Korea.
William S. Burroughs. The Cat Inside.
Alexander Dumas. The Black Tulip. I can't believe I read an entire book on my phone.
Buchi Emecheta. The Joys of Motherhood.
Franz Kafka. The Castle.
Han Kang. The Vegetarian.
Natsume Sōseki 夏目 漱石 Kokoro (translated by Ineko Kondo). I had trouble grasping this classic Japanese novel. This review was helpful.
Frederik Pohl. Man Plus.
Cat Sparks. Lotus Blue.
Daniel H. Wilson. Robopocalypse.
Daniel H. Wilson and John Joseph Adams (eds). Robot Uprisings.

Running fiction tally: white guys: 5 everyone else: 6

Alison Bechdel. Are You My Mother?
Nigel M. de S. Cameron. Will robots take your job?
Eugénie Crawford. A Bunyip Close Behind Me and Ladies Didn't.
Suzanne Crowder Han. Notes on Things Korean.
John DeFrancis. The Chinese language: fact and fantasy.
Lauren Marks. A stitch of time: the year a brain injury changed my language and life.
Sy Montgomery. The Soul of an Octopus.
Illah Reza Nourbakhsh. Robot Futures.
Candace Savage. Bird brains: the intelligence of crows, ravens, magpies, and jays.
Patrick Smith. Cockpit Confidential. A friendly flying companion which explained, amongst other things, all the weird noises. :)
Ruth Snowden. Understanding Jung. You gotta start somewhere.

Notable short stories: Daniel H. Wilson, "Small Things"; Octavia Cade, "The Stone Weta"

Books bought and borrowed )
dreamer_easy: (*books 3)

This may be the best collection of short stories I've ever read. In fact, I've been trying to review the book for ages. After reading Krys Lee's novel How I Became a North Korean last year, I returned to Drifting House and was surprised to discover I'd already read it, apparently cover to cover, probably in Rockville Library during one of our visits to the US. I bought myself a copy during this year's trip, only to have it vanish in the post. Now I've borrowed it from the library again (and it's overdue).

Each story came back to me as I read them, but the stories that had stuck in my mind were "The Salaryman" and the title story, "Drifting House". Most of the tales in the book consider some aspect of Korean society: immigration to the US, the trauma of the Korean War still felt generations later, the continuing US presence in South Korea. "The Salaryman", written in second person, forces you to accompany an office worker on his way down after the 1997 financial crisis in Asia, finishing with a punch that took my breath away. Lee often writes from the point of view of a child; "Drifting House" follows three siblings as they try to survive the journey across the border from North Korea into China.

The writing is precise and confident, detailed and absorbing. Korean words are peppered through the text, as well as literally translated phrases ("Have you eaten rice?"), but never in a way that would puzzle the reader. For me, the only off note in the anthology was in "A Temporary Marriage" - I just find it hard to believe a woman would eroticise her abuse.

These spoiler-free reviews are a bit frustrating because I can't get into the meat of a book. These reviews will tell you more:


dreamer_easy: (*books 3)

"Bandi" is the pen-name of a North Korean writer, whose collection of stories was smuggled out of that country and published this year. I assumed there was a story in the collection with the title "The Accusation"; it wasn't until halfway through the last story, "The Red Mushroom", that I took a look at the contents page and realised there wasn't. So where did the anthology's overall title came from? There was certainly an accusation, a denunciation, in "The Red Mushroom", but it wasn't the centre of that story. Finally it dawned on me: these stories are Bandi's accusation against the North Korean regime, and against Communism, the "red mushroom".

My knowledge of history and politics is pretty weak, so don't ask me whether Communism could work in theory. I only know that, in practice, it's been a catastrophe. In North Korea especially it seems to have become a machine for destroying citizens for the stupidest of reasons, from guilt "inherited" from family members to denunciations over hysterical trivia ("City of Spectres") or for personal gain ("The Red Mushroom").

More than once I thought of the dystopia of Orwell's 1984 - but there is a difference: as Kim Seong-dong's Afterword remarks, the fact that there are prose writers and poets whose writing criticises the regime suggests the possibility and hope of the regime's end. Some of Bandi's characters come to realise that the system they're living under is unfair and corrupt, and recognise their collusion, voluntary or involuntary. Although they can never say it aloud, just the fact that they understand this, as resistance writers like Bandi do, suggests that, as Kim Seong-dong remarks, "cracks" are appearing what seemed like "an impregnable fortress".

While Bandi's stories deal with the concrete day-to-day struggles of North Koreans, Han Kang's anthology The Vegetarian, set in South Korea, seems much more internal and psychological. However, Kang is also making an accusation. The eponymous story is, I think, the strongest, telling the story of a woman who suddenly refuses to eat meat. "The Vegetarian" is told by the woman's exasperated husband, who is baffled and enraged by his wife's inconveniently odd behaviour, as are her family and his business associates. We get glimpses of the nightmare that haunts her, with hints that she feels complicit in her father's abuse. She swallowed that abuse for years; suddenly she can't swallow any more. It's a terrible indictment of some of the worst aspects of South Korean society, its patriarchy, its enforced conformity. To me, the first story was so impactful that the other two stories in the collection, which follow on from it, feel like unnecessary extensions. (I have Han Kang's novel Human Acts and look forward to reading it.)


May. 18th, 2017 09:37 am
dreamer_easy: (*books 3)
I'm enjoying re-reading some Isaac Asimov robot stories which I haven't read since adolescence. I'm struck by how complex robo-psychology is, and how rich and different the personalities of the robots are. They are people - certainly no less people than Asimov's humans, who are often as constrained by their own psychological quirks as the robots are by the Three Laws (the Aurorans' terror of human presence, for example). This only underlines the creepy idea underlining Asimov's whole project of getting away from the stock pulp storyline of robot uprisings. In creating the Three Laws, he created the perfect slave: loyal, willing, disposable. Or almost perfect, since the things keep going wrong. I read "Little Lost Robot" this morning, in which Susan Calvin (cheers cheers cheers) explains that robots are entirely aware that they are superior to human beings: it's only the Three Laws which keep a potential rebellion in check. Even Calvin, that great champion of robots, calls them "boy" (as does Lije Bailey), in a disturbing invocation of the era of segregation during which the stories were written, and is coldly willing to destroy dozens of them rather than let an unbalanced specimen escape. (Cf the Star Wars universe, in which Anakin's mum's slavery is tragic but the droids, for all their personality and loveability, are strictly property.)
dreamer_easy: (*books 3)
I've made it through five chapters of Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism. Now the library's gone and recalled it! I must snavel my own copy; it's a challenging read, and I'm going to need to re-read at least some of it. I've stuck loads of coloured sticky bookmarks in it, so what I want to do before returning it is quickly jot down which pages caught my attention and why.

Arendt traces the historical reasons for the position of the Jewish people in Europe, and how it changed, first with the appearance of nation-states in the Seventeeth and Eighteenth Centuries, then the French Revolution, and lastly the rise of imperialism. (14-15) One important element was a lack of interest in / involvement in politics, which contrasts with the "ficitious role of a secret world power" which antisemites still asign to the Jewish people (20-21, 24-25).

The earliest antisemitic political parties in Germany characterised themselves as "above all parties", which to me recalls the boasts of fascist politicians that they are not politicians. Previously, writes Arendt, only the state and the government had claimed to represent the whole nation, and not parties or classes; the antisemitic parties aspired "to become the representative of the whole nation, to get exclusive power, to take possession of the state machinery, to substitute themselves for the state." (38-39)

Some damn interesting and intricate stuff about "vice" - about how socialites welcomed gay men and Jewish people into their circles because they saw them as representing thrilling naughtiness. "They did not doubt that homosexuals were 'criminals' or that Jews were 'traitors'; they only revised their attitude towards crime and treason. The trouble with their new broadmindedness, of course, was not that they were no longer horrified by inverts but that they were no longer horrified by crime... The best-hidden disease of the nineteenth century, its terrible boredom and general weariness, had burst like an abscess." There may be a connection here to the lionisation of organised criminals in pop music, and perhaps to the "Social Negroes" that Tom Wolfe writes about in "Radical Chic" IIRC.

Arendt talks at length about the mob. I need to re-read what she has to say, as I'm not clear I genuinely understand who they are. (106-)

She analyses the rise of imperalism at some length - the critical change IIUC being the merging of the state with private economic interests. (eg 126-7). Was it in Inga Clendinnen's book "The Aztecs: an Interpretation" where I first encountered the idea that the Aztec civilisation depended on constant warfare and expansion, and therefore they couldn't have lasted much longer, even if the conquistadors hadn't arrived - that they would have run out of peoples to conquer? Arendt paints a similar picture of the endless expansion required by imperialism, which could only end in catastrophe: "The most radical and the only secure form of possession is destruction, for only what we have destroyed is safely and forever ours." (145)

Finally for now, this interesting remark: "The truth was that only far from home could a citizen of England, Germany, or France be nothing but an Englishman or German or Frenchman. In his own country he was so entangled in economic interests or social loyalties that he felt closer to a member of his own class in a foreign country than to a man of another class in his own." (154)
dreamer_easy: (*books 3)
Disturbed by Kelly Robson's column in the April issue of Clarkesworld, "Another World: Being James Tiptree Jr". She discusses the letter which Dr. Alice B. Sheldon left to be released in case of her death, in which she outed the science fiction writer Tiptree as being a woman writing under a male pseudonym. Robson quotes a key passage from the letter: "Everything sounded so much more interesting coming from a man. (Didn't it. Didn't it, just a little? Be honest.)" She remarks, "Writing as Tiptree, Alice Sheldon didn’t just avoid gender discrimination; she supercharged everything she wrote with gravitas and authority... Writing as a man gave her freedom that was missing when she wrote as herself... Being Tiptree certainly allowed her to avoid gender discrimination, but more importantly, it allowed her to overcome the barriers in her own mind."

My contribution to Chicks Dig Time Lords, "If I can't Squee I Don't Want to Be Part of your Revolution"*, contains a puzzled self-examination: what makes women's writing different from men's, and thus made my Doctor Who novels different from the others, which were overwhelmingly written by men? I consulted a couple of books on the subject of women's writing: one pointed out that women generally have different experiences to men; the other seemed to warn against lumping all women together. My problem was, and is, my slightly loose connection to the category "woman". Though I am a ciswoman, and share many experiences with other ciswomen, I am also sufficiently gender non-conforming to be occasionally mistaken for a man.

In the Chicks chapter, I pointed out that the style of all of the Doctor Who novel writers was somewhat constrained by the fact that we were writing science fiction adventure stories, with the main characters already provided. Although we drew on our own lives, like any writer in any genre, the books are still fairly homogenous, and that may have overwhelmed any gender differences.

Robson recounts meeting a male SF fan who proudly proclaims that he never reads books by women. I seem to recall that, as a teen, I eschewed female SF authors because they didn't seem to be writing the kind of SF I enjoyed (Asimov, Niven, a Heinlein phase). Perhaps they were drawing on interests or experiences I didn't share; perhaps there were fewer female authors available, so I was less likely to hit on one that I liked**; or perhaps it was simple prejudice. I am frustrated by not yet having found women who write the sort of SF I've recently enjoyed, by Charles Stross, Neal Stephenson, and Liu Cixin.

As well as being disturbed by my freakish gender, it troubles me that I insist on reading and writing SF, even though fantasy seems like it would be my more natural home. Perhaps the reason I write science fiction is to grab some of the "gravitas and authority" that Tiptree's assumed gender provided. Some part of me insists that SF = srs bizness, fantasy = mucking around (the same part that insists that YA is also mucking around). I worry that this prejudice is also somehow grounded in gender. I guess that's why Robson's column troubles me. (OTOH, maybe I don't want to write fantasy because I'm far less interested in reading it?)

* Neither my best title nor my greatest piece of prose ever, but I am still desperately proud of having been part of this landmark book, particularly its role in triggering the Sad Puppies. I'm also chuffed to see it being quoted in academic books, which must mean I got something right. :)

** The two most significant anthologies in my youth were Tomorrow's Children, edited by Isaac Asimov, and The Penguin Science Fiction Omnibus. The former contains 18 stories, three by women, but they seem to have made no impression on me, compared to Damon Knight's "Cabin Boy", Fritz Leiber's "A Pail of Air", Mark Clifton's "Star Bright", Asimov's own "The Ugly Little Boy", and, gods help us all, Jerome Bixby's "It's a Good Life". The Omnibus contains just one story by a woman - "The Snowball Effect" by Katherine MacLean, which I do remember, but it's a bit of fluff, damnit, surrounded by more memorable stuff.
dreamer_easy: (refugees)
Manus refugees who fed child lodge complaint about Dutton's 'false allegations' (GA, 27 April 2017). "All of these incidents is recorded by your CCTV cameras. We are requesting for the immediate release of the footage of this incident. We didn’t do any wrong except helping a poor boy. We need investigation ASAP."

Manus Island shooting: PNG MP labelled 'discredited witness' by Dutton reinstated by court (GA, 26 April 2017). So much for that dodge.

On my lengthy outing today I read all of Sean Dorney's short book The Embarrassed Colonialist, which discusses Australia's relationship with its former colony, Papua New Guinea. Dorney argues that Australia's lack of interest in our neighbour is to our detriment: a stable PNG is both an important trading partner and strategically significant, as it was in WWII. However, politicians take little interest and the media's attention has dwindled to little beyond sensational stories. Dorney is clear on the fact that PNG does have serious problems with violence, corruption, and general lawlessness, but also asserts the country's strengths: it is struggling, but not failing, to progress. Amongst the ways forward that Dorney suggests is for Australia to contribute training of police, officials, teachers, etc. The book is easy to read, and if anything, too brief; I'm left wanting to know a lot more, which I guess means the author has succeeded! (For me the only wrong note was the use of "political correctness" to explain why Australia's history as a coloniser isn't taught in our schools, which only underlines how meaningless that phrase is.)

Dorney touches briefly on the detention centre on Manus Island, and the promises of aid which helped Kevin Rudd sell its "resurrection" to PNG PM Peter O'Neill. "While there has been some employment created on Manus and a few business opportunities there is real annoyance within the host province that many of the extra aid benefits went to the mainland." (Perhaps there is schadenfreude at the resulting mess.) "Assimilating the mostly Muslim people who are classified as genuine refugees into PNG's strongly Christian communities adds yet another challenge for a country with no shortage of challenges already." Dorney also reminded me of something I'd forgotten: Nauru was also once an Australian colony.

dreamer_easy: (*books 3)
I'm reading Buchi Emecheta's novel "The Joys of Motherhood", set in Nigeria around WWII, and there's a bit where the white master addresses his 'house-boy' as 'baboon'. She writes:
"his laughter was inspired by that type of wickedness that reduces any man, white or black, intelligent or not, to a new low; lower than the basest of animals, for animals at least respected each other's feelings, each other's dignity."
I've sometimes drawn a comparison between my experience of bullying and what I imagine it must be like to be the target of racism. There are crucial differences: the people who continually, unpredictably chipped away at my soul in high school were not trying to keep a whole class of people* miserable, afraid, and aware of how unwelcome they were; and once I escaped high school, I escaped them**. There's no such merciful exit for the young hijabi, the Indigenous athlete, the Sudanese refugee - all the Australians who have to cope with harassment from the media and in the street on top of systemic racism.

That constant drip-drip-drip is what makes people sometimes suddenly explode over seemingly small insults. I don't know what it's like to live with bigotry day in and day out, but I do know what the drip-drip-drip can do to you. When I read Buchi Emecheta's words, the familiar and infinite rage rose up in me. It's there now, in my chest and arms, almost nauseating. I think she may have been feeling something like the same feeling when she condemned the people who stoop to "that type of wickedness".

* Although there was gender policing involved; I would not have been the only young woman being called a "lemon" for being insufficiently feminine.

** With the exception of the Unpleasantness here in lj, many years ago now, which forced me to deal with the damage from high school - as well as requiring me to broaden my horizons, which led directly to the discovery of Emecheta, now one of my favourite authors.
dreamer_easy: (snow kate)
"The white cat symbolizes the silvery moon prying into corners and cleansing the sky for the day to follow... All dark, hidden places and beings are revealed in that inexorably gentle light. You can't shake your white cat because your white cat is you. You can't hide from your white cat because your white cat hides with you."

— William S. Burroughs, "The Cat Inside"
dreamer_easy: (*books 3)
Buchi Emecheta. The Moonlight Bride.
Judith Burnley (ed). Penguin Modern Stories 4.
William Gibson. The Peripheral.
Ha Jin. The Bridegroom.
Krys Lee. Drifting House. I realised I'd already read this whole book, probably in Rockville Library, so this was really a re-read, but I didn't regret a word of it.
How I Became a North Korean.
劉慈欣 Liu Cixin. Death's End.
Neal Stephenson. Seveneves.
Neal Stephenson and George Jewbury (as Frederick George). Interface.
Charles Stross. The Jennifer Morgue.
Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti. Zeroes.
Monique Witting. Les Guérillères. 'There was a time when you were not a slave... Make an effort to remember. Or, failing that, invent.'

Anthony Bourdain. Typhoid Mary: An Urban Historical.
Dean Buonomano. Brain Bugs: How the brain's flaws shape our lives.
Roger Luckhurst. The mummy's curse: the true history of a dark fantasy.
Serena Nanda. Neither man nor woman: the Hijras of India.
Phil Sandifer. Neoreaction: a Basilisk.
Neal Stephenson. In the Beginning... Was the Command Line.
Hunter S. Thompson. Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72.
Kevin Warwick. Artificial Intelligence: the Basics.
Fay Weldon. Auto da Fay.

The Probably Unwise "Man's Inhumanity to Man" Reading List Project:
Hannah Arendt. Eichmann in Jerusalem.
Anne Frank. The Diary of a Young Girl.
John Hershey. Hiroshima.
George Orwell. Animal Farm.

Manga etc
Hirano Kōta. Hellsing vol 1.
Hamish Steele. Pantheon: the True Story of the Egyptian Deities. No less silly (or rude) than the myths it's based on. :)

Books bought and borrowed )
dreamer_easy: (*books 3)
In a rather peculiar chapter of In The Beginning... Was the Command Line (1999), Neal Stephenson veers from an interesting discussion of different operating systems, command line interfaces, and graphical user interfaces, into somehow linking the dominance of GUIs to postmodernism and "moral relativism". (Very nineties America, and clearly the same guy who co-wrote Interface.) GUIs and graphics predominate, Stephenson argues, partly because "the world is very complicated now... and we simply can't handle all of the details".

"But more importantly, it comes out of the fact that during this century, intellectualism failed, and everyone knows it. In places like Russia and Germany, the common people agreed to loosen their grip on traditional folkways, mores, and religion, and let the intellectuals run with the ball, and they screwed everything up and turned the century into an abbatoir. Those wordy intellectuals used to be merely tedious; now they seem kind of dangerous as well." (p53)

As I so often protest, my knowledge of history is shamefully tenuous. I guess that, when it comes to Russia, he's talking about Marx et al. But who the hell is he talking about re Germany? My impression of Nazi Germany is that intellectuals were despised and, if they could, got the hell out of there as fast as they could. Has Stephenson got intellectualism mixed up with ideology? Maybe Hannah Arendt will explain it to me.
dreamer_easy: (*books 3)
"The Origins of Totalitarianism" explores the history of antisemitism, imperialism, and the rise of the regimes of Hitler and Stalin. I'm reading it because of that series of Tweets going around which explains that fascists say not what is true, but what would have to be true for them to take the steps they plan - for example, claiming that millions of non-citizens voted in the US election, as a precursor to (further) voter suppression.

1. The difference between totalitarian governments, which aim to control every aspect of their subjects' lives, and merely authoritarian governments, which are tyrannical but allow some freedom; for example, evidence of the end of totalitarianism in the USSR was 'the amazingly swift and rich recovery of the arts', albeit underground. (pp xxxvi-xxxvii) Also, IIUC, totalitarian regimes make a 'claim to global rule' (xxi), and therefore, 'total domination is the only form of government with which coexistence is not possible.' (p xxviii) (Is this the goal of North Korea? If so, we're lucky they just don't have the means to put that claim into practice.)

2. "... the fact that totalitarian government... rests on mass support is very disquieting. It is therefore hardly surprising that scholars as well as statesmen often refuse to recognize it, the former by believing in the magic of propaganda and brainwashing, the latter by simply denying it... secret reports on German public opinion during the war... shows, first, that the population was remarkably well informed about all so-called secrets - massacres of Jews in Poland, preparation of the attack on Russia, etc - and, second, the "extent to which the victims of propaganda had remained able to form independent opinions"... this did not in the least weaken the general support of the Hitler regime." (p xxiii) My mind went at once to the general support amongst Australians for our mistreatment of refugees. Perhaps our government can drop its efforts to keep it out of sight.
dreamer_easy: (*books 3)
On the general grounds of independent news looking more and more important, I've signed up for a 21-day free trial of Crikey. Not completely coincidentally, I've started reading Hannah Arendt's "The Origins of Totalitarianism". It's hard going, but, for me, there is more value in one sentence of Arendt than there is in entire issues of Crikey, the chief purpose of which seems to be bashing small-l liberals for not being sufficiently Leftist. I already know there's an incredible volume of hot air generated by people like me. I'm looking to you to provide something more substantial - context, ideas, understanding. Am I looking in the wrong place?
dreamer_easy: (*books 3)

I was struck by the blurb which says this novel is written with "heart and passion", because I was hypnotised by its flattened affect. The narrative is drawn from the author's real encounters with North Korean refugees. The cruelty faced by its characters face is described so matter-of-factly that it reminded me of journalism, which in turn was a reminder that these fictional events are the shadows of the real abuse suffered by thousands of North Koreans who have fled across the border into China. The danger of being caught and sent back makes them everyone's prey. Lee lets the misery speak for itself.

The story is told from the POVs of three young people, two North Koreans, one rich, one poor, and a Korean-American who goes to ground with them after facing exclusion and abuse from his American peers and betrayal by his family. They fight tooth and nail to stay alive. The rage they accumulate is intense when it finally finds expression. The fact that it is possible to come out the other side of it all, damaged but still human, makes the story bearable. Anyway I couldn't put it down: go and read it.

Krys Lee interview: ‘North Koreans became part of my world, and then I got threats’ (GA, 12 August 2016)
dreamer_easy: (*feminism)
Plagued by a scene from Neal Stephenson and George Jewbury's 1994 novel Interface, in which the character Eleanor Richmond delivers a stiff lecture over the phone to another Black woman who doesn't want to report her daughters' sexual assault to the police because their assailant has threatened to murder her if she does so. Furious, Eleanor tells her to call the police and buy a gun to protect herself. Her new employer, Senator Marshall, teases Eleanor that "you changed your position on gun control": "If that woman you were just talking to had to fill out a bunch of forms and get permission from the government to have a gun, she wouldn't be able to take the advice you just gave her, would she?"

We're supposed to give three cheers for Eleanor "pounding some common sense" into the other woman's head. After all, Eleanor is right: the other mother ought to stand up to her daughters' rapist and seek justice for them. But I can only give two cheers. Maybe only one.

Firstly, the anonymous woman on the phone is clearly trying to protect her daughters: the reason she rings the Senator's office is to find out if the rapist can be forced to take an HIV test. Secondly, when Eleanor asks if she has called the police, the woman responds, "Shit no. Why would I want to call them?... I called you for serious advice, girl." What have this woman's experience with the police been that calling them about a serious sexual assault seems pointless? Thirdly, Eleanor asks: "Ma'am, how could being killed possibly be any worse than having your daughters raped?" Orphaning them as well wouldn't be worse?

Violence against women is an overwhelming fact; why shouldn't women be able to use firearms to protect themselves from burglars, rapists, or violent boyfriends and husbands? As Eleanor reminds the Senator: "I have a gun, and I know how to use it."

In the US, in most states, a licence or permit is not necessary to buy a gun; that is, you don't have to know how to use a gun in order to own one. If the woman on the phone can afford a gun and ammunition, will she also be able to train in its basic use (and safety measures - remember, she has "little daughters")? How much will it cost, can she afford to take the time off work (if she is doing casual work this could be a serious issue), and how long will it take?

In short, is "just go and buy a gun" a sufficient response to a woman in a life-or-death situation? Would it make more sense to provide emergency permits, including free and immediate training, to women (or anyone) in danger of violence who choose firearms as a defence? Moreover, rapists routinely threaten their victims with murder if they report the crime. If the police aren't going to protect women who report men's violence, we're back at square one: why report it in the first place?

This has to be seen, of course, in the context of the gun control debate in the US, which is sometimes framed in feminist terms of women's self-defence - while at the same time the National Rifle Association has fought all the way to the Supreme Court for the right of convicted domestic violence offenders to own guns*.

I think the scene is meant to accomplish two things: show that both the "liberal Democrat" Eleanor and the conservative Senator have more in common than Eleanor realises (in fact, Mitchell dismisses liberal/conservative and even Democrat/Republican as meaningless distinctions). They are both "common sense" folks frustrated by people who won't fix their own problems**. And damned if they're going to give them the tools they need to fix those problems. Whether or not we think of the caller as negligent, she certainly sees herself as almost helpless: the HIV test is the only response she's been able to come up with (although how she thinks she can force "that G" to take the test without police intervention isn't clear). A trained advocate could have laid out all her options, legal and medical, and connected her with the support services that could help her and her family try to get justice - or at least survive. Instead, she receives a lecture from a well-meaning but clueless phone jockey.

ETA: Similarly, much later in the book, vice presidential candidates are interviewed about the education of "inner city blacks": "twenty-five years from now, what will life be like for these people, and what will you have done to make that life better?" Two candidates give vague responses, one has a plan for education via television, and Eleanor Richmond has this response:
"Abe Lincoln learned his lessons by writing on the back of a shovel. During slavery times, a lot of black people learned to read and write even though they weren't allowed to go to school. And nowadays, Indochinese refugee kids do great in school even though they got no money at all and their folks don't speak English. The fact that many black people nowadays aren't getting educated has nothing to do with how much money we spend on schools. Spending more money won't help... It's just a question of values. If your family places a high value on being educated, you'll get educated, even if you have to do your homework on the back of a shovel. And if your family doesn't give a damn about developing your mind, you'll grow up stupid and ignorant even if you go to the fanciest private school in America."

Eleanor is, naturally, a shoe-in for the role of VP. If "inner-city blacks" have poor grades or drop out of school, it's their own fault, and nothing can be done about it; policy-makers are off the hook, and everyone else can stop worrying. Eleanor has given everyone what they want. Everyone, that is, for the parents and kids living in poverty and struggling in under-funded, unsafe schools, whom she has thrown under the big yellow bus.

I can't decide if the authors believe Eleanor's response is so obviously sensible that the reader will simply nod their approval, or if their whole point is that Eleanor has simply told everyone what they want to hear - which is, after all, the SFnal basis of the book.

* Partly because of legal loopholes, guns are a disaster for women in the US experiencing stalking, dating violence, and domestic violence.

** Cf the AI in the Hugo-nominated Cat Pictures Please. As [livejournal.com profile] secritcrush points out, Bethany doesn't respond to its clueless intervention because she is mentally ill.
dreamer_easy: (*gender)
I've been reading Judith Halberstam's 1998 book "Female Masculinity" on and off. Right now I'm gripped by a chapter on the "border wars" between trans men and butch lesbians, and all the attendant arguments about who is challenging binary gender and who is reinforcing it and a whole lot of questions around what we would now call trans and genderqueer identities.

I am gender non-conforming, but in my case that's more an absence of femininity than an embracing of masculinity. I have been harassed for being gender non-conforming, and I may be again when I next visit a public bathroom in the US, but I will never face the marginalisation or the active danger that either a trans man or a masculine-presenting lesbian face.

Nonetheless from time to time I will be blindsided by a phrase: "the status of unbelonging".


May. 11th, 2016 08:58 am
dreamer_easy: (*books 3)
So I was going to buy a copy of Neal H. Walls' "The Goddess Anat in Ugaritic Myth", when I glanced at the pile of books on my desk, and spotted a copy of Neal H. Walls' "The Goddess Anat in Ugaritic Myth". This morning I discovered there are not one, but two copies of Neal H. Walls' "The Goddess Anat in Ugaritic Myth" on my desk. Good thing I didn't buy a third one, then. *facepalm*


May. 8th, 2016 08:37 pm
dreamer_easy: (snow kate)
Something that has bugged me slightly forever is the bit in "Four to Doomsday" where Adric and Nyssa are bitching at each other about mathematics. Tegan is irked about having to wait to get home. Adric suggests that, in the meantime, she reads Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell's Principia Mathematica. Tegan is less than keen. Adric, with astonishing venom, responds: "That's the trouble with women. Mindless, impatient, and bossy. " Nyssa, who's reading Russell's book, retaliates: "You mean this? Mindless!"

I thought of Nyssa's harsh dismissal of the Principia when I was reading Douglas Hofstadter's I Am A Strange Loop. Obviously she's partly just repeating Adric's words back at him, and partly unimpressed with what, to an alien from an advanced civilisation, must seem like a pretty basic text. I'm not an alien from an advanced civilisation, but luckily Hofstadter had explained it in Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, which I read many years ago. Very simply put, Russell and Whitehead were trying to lay out the formal logic that underpins all of mathematics, and Russell discovered what Hofstadter punningly calls "a terrible loophole".

Russell had been using set theory to explain maths. You might imagine "the set of all even numbers" or "the set of all pink elephants" (an "empty set"). But what happens if you define "the set of all sets that don't contain themselves"? If that set contains itself, then it doesn't belong to the set of sets that don't contain themselves, but if it doesn't contain itself, then the set is not the set of all sets that don't contain themselves. If it gives you a headache, imagine what it did to Russell. (The paradox which the Doctor gives BOSS in The Green Death is similar: "If I were to tell you that the next thing I say will be true, but that the last thing I said was a lie, would you believe me?")

Russell "solved" this by banning paradoxes, self-references, or loops, whatever you want to call them, from maths. But Hofstadter challenges this in many ways (he might like the sentence "This sentence was not posted on Livejournal"), and more to the point here, he talks about self-reference as being the basis of consciousness. IIUC, we are literally self-aware. He says that a mosquito probably doesn't know it has a head, that a dog probably has a pretty good idea of "that's my tail", "that's my paw", and that human beings know they have brains and minds. That's why the book's called "I Am A Strange Loop".

If self-reference is what makes a mind, and the Principia Mathematica excludes self-reference, then it is literally "mindless". :)

... good gods, I hope this makes some sort of sense to someone else.
dreamer_easy: (refugees)
Manus Island detainees launch High Court bid to be moved to Australia (GA, 5 May 2016)

Manus Island: Australian and PNG officials meet to develop 'road map' to close centre (ABC, 4 May 2016)

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton says that refugee advocates are to blame for the self-immolations on Nauru. Sure - just like those Save the Children staff told kids to make up stories about sexual abuse. Right, Peter?

'Asylum seeker boat' arrives in the Australian territory of the Cocos Islands (GA, 3 May 2016) Poor devils got within half a kilometre of shore.

New Manus and Nauru operator signals plans to quit detention centre business (GA, 30 April 2016): "Ferrovial Services, which owns more than 50% of ASX-listed Broadspectrum, formerly Transfield, says these services were not a core part of the valuation."

The winners and losers from Scott Morrison's 2016 budget (GA, 3 May 2016): "Four mainland detention centres are to close, and there’s some extra cash for unaccompanied child refugees, but the big, difficult stuff – ie Nauru and Manus – doesn’t feature." | Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles says government wrong to close Darwin detention centre (GA, 4 May 2016) This is Wickham Point, notorious for self-harm and suicide attempts. | Federal Budget offers no new hope for world’s refugees (Refugee Council of Australia press release, 3 May 2016)

I've almost finished Eichmann in Jerusalem (SPOILER: he dies). In these summaries, I don't usually mention people speaking out against Australia's detention regime, such as Labor MP Melissa Parke, campaigner Shen Narayanasamy, and documentary-maker Eva Orner. Maybe I should change that. Hannah Arendt writes:

"For the lesson of such stories is simple and within everybody's grasp. Politically speaking, it is that under conditions of terror most people will comply but some people will not, just as the lesson of the countries to which the Final Solution was proposed is that 'it could happen' in most places but it did not happen everywhere. Humanly speaking, no more is required, and no more can reasonably be asked, for this planet to remain a place fit for human habitation." (Italics in original)

Australia can hardly be said to be "under conditions of terror", even with the extraordinary threat of jail for speaking the truth; individuals who stood up to the Nazis lost their lives. Nonetheless, Arendt's lesson applies to us as well - it's the only hope we've got.


dreamer_easy: (Default)

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