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Posts Tagged ‘ranty’

In which I get ranty about money and politics

Or rather, in which I link you to other people being ranty. I’ve had some of these sitting around for a dog’s age, and I’m never going to wrangle my thoughts into anything like a coherent enough mass to make an actual post out of it, so instead you get other people being articulate for me.

Must the Rich be Lured into Investing? Who are the Real “Job Creators?”Supply Side [economic theory] assumes that the rich have a zillion other uses for their cash and thus have to be lured into investing it! Now ponder that nonsense statement. Roll it around and try to imagine it making a scintilla of sense! Try actually asking a very rich person. Once you have a few mansions and their contents and cars and boats and such, actually spending it all holds little attraction. Rather, the next step is using the extra to become even richer.

How Capitalism Kills CompaniesThere’s no limit at all to the amount of growth that the public companies will demand: in 2007, for instance, after a year when Citigroup made an astonishing $21.5 billion in net income, Fortune was complaining about its “less-than-stellar earnings”, and saying — quite accurately — that if they didn’t improve, the CEO would soon be out of a job. We now know, of course, that most if not all of those earnings were illusory, a product of the housing bubble which was shortly to burst and bring the bank to the brink of insolvency. But even bubblicious illusory earnings aren’t good enough for the stock market.

Central Tendency in Skewed Distributions: A Lesson in Social JusticeThe point being, the lesson of the positive skew, is that the distance between being middle class and being poor is very, very small.

Radical Solutions to Economic InequalityThere is something almost quaint — but decidedly refreshing — about the commissioners’ blunt language. “Effective action by Congress is required…,” the report proclaimed, “to check the growth of an hereditary aristocracy, which is foreign to every conception of American Government and menacing to the welfare of the people and the existence of the Nation as a democracy.” Far from debating whether “corporations are people,” the commission took for granted that concentrations of corporate power were undemocratic, that gigantic fortunes “constitute a menace to the State,” and that it was the duty of government to restore a balance of power.

Jubilee. Jubilee. Jubilee.Reduce the principle, forgive a portion of the debt, proclaim a jubilee. It would save taxpayers money. It would keep hundreds of thousands of families in their homes.

But it can’t happen if we decide to act like jerks.

Person, Person, Corporate Asset.

And one I missed including in the race-related link dump, that you absolutely should read if you have not already: Teju Cole on The White Savior Industrial Complex.

Staring it in the eye

Every time I try to start drafting a post about Trayvon Martin, I run up against the impossible reach of the issue.

There’s enough to say about the kid to fill an entire post, about the injustice of what happened to him. But I can’t tease those things out from all the other things: Zimmerman and his history of neighborhood vigilantism; Geraldo Rivera and the bullshit about hoodies; the appalling failure to investigate this crime as it should have been, when it should have been; the Sanford Police Department and their previous failures to deal appropriately with this kind of thing; the Stand Your Ground law in Florida and elsewhere (which I had not heard of before, and which makes my blood run cold); all the way out to parenting black children in this country, or ALEC and its influence on the legislative agenda of many states. It’s some kind of monster out of Lovecraft, with tentacles reaching everywhere — and I don’t mean that metaphor in a trivializing fashion. I look at this, and feel my sanity die a little. Along with my hope for humanity.

It’s too much to take in, let alone talk about coherently.

Especially when my thoughts sweep outward to take in Shaima Alawadi, or the people whose names no one asks about. And skimming through my browser window to find where those tabs had got to, I passed a bunch I’m keeping for a later post, about capitalism and economic inequality and I’m fooling myself if I pretend these things don’t tie together down at the root.

Fred Clark at Slacktivist was talking the other day about how depressing The Wire is, not despite of but because of its brilliance: it shows you how deeply ingrained these issues are in the institutions that make up our society, and how near to impossible change is. I haven’t watched more than maybe half a dozen episodes of the show because I can’t deal with looking that sort of thing in the eye; I need to stay away in order to preserve my belief that we can improve things. But the problem isn’t in the TV show — it’s in the real world. And sometimes you can’t avoid staring it in the eye.

The Sanford Police Department will likely face some consequences. Maybe we’ll get the Stand Your Ground laws struck down in a few places. But hacking out those roots and digging the whole mess out of the soil of our country . . . I don’t know how you do that. Days like this one, I wonder if you can.

Things Not to Say

Hey, guys?

If you are upset about something, and you want to yell at somebody about it, it’s worth taking a moment to make sure you’re yelling at the right person.

For example, do not blame the author for Amazon’s decision to ship print copies of a novel two weeks before the sale date, but not to send out the e-books at the same time. Aside from the fact that retailers aren’t supposed to ship anything before the street date, the author has precisely ZERO control over what Amazon chooses to do. (And is probably even more upset than you are, because that potentially screws her over in career-affecting ways.)

And if you are upset about something, take a careful look at how you’re expressing your feelings.

For example, is it productive to call the author “stupid,” “greedy,” “ungrateful,” or “a narcissist”? Probably not.

And it is definitely not productive — nor even okay — to call her a “bitch,” a “whore,” or a “cunt.”

Seriously. The person on the other end of that e-mail you’re about to send? Is a person. One who, in this case, has no actual control over the thing you are upset about; she didn’t cause it, and she can’t fix it, and she’s upset about it, too. But even if those things weren’t true . . . what the hell, people. How fragile is your world if the UTTER APOCALYPTIC DISASTER of NOT BEING ABLE TO GET YOUR E-BOOK NOW NOW NOW justifies heaping misogynistic abuse on the person who produces the thing you love?

Please. Be smart enough to aim your criticism in an appropriate direction, not at a fellow victim. But more than anything . . . act like a human, not a hyena.

Every Part of Your Life Is Real

You know how sometimes you find yourself losing patience for something, entirely without warning? Yeah. I’ve lost patience with the phrase “real life.”

It’s an extension of the gripe I had when I was in graduate school, about people referring to academia as “the ivory tower” — as if a job there was somehow not a (hmm, this sounds familiar) a real job. Trust me, universities have just as much in the way of politics and bureaucracy and such things as any other workplace. People in them do work, get paid money . . . just like people do in a corporation or store.

Lately I’ve seen writers talking about how “real life” has distracted them from writing. I’m not just talking about hobbyists (though my point would stand even if I were); I’m talking about professionals, for whom writing is, if not their sole job, at least one they file taxes for. Why is that part of their lives somehow less valid than the rest of it? I hear people saying the same thing when they talk about things in contrast with their hobbies. What exactly is real life, anyway?

I don’t think there’s a single answer. People use the phrase in a lot of different ways, for a lot of different reasons. Work is real life and hobbies aren’t, because work isn’t fun, and we all know (thank you, Puritans) that fun things are of the devil. If work is fun, it becomes not-real. Trouble is real. The things you can’t get away from are real. But all the rest of it . . . that doesn’t count. You have to deprecate it, apologize for devoting energy and attention to it, because it’s a diversion and therefore fake.

I say, screw that. Every part of your life is real. Even the optional parts, and the ones you enjoy. I’m not saying there isn’t any such thing as prioritization; obviously some things demand or deserve more investment from you. But that doesn’t make them more real — just more important. Let’s say what we actually mean, and not something else, that makes people feel like the things they care about are for some reason invalid.

My job and my hobbies, almost everything I do, involves imaginary people and events. But that doesn’t make my life not real.

Mississippi Personhood Amendment

Originally posted by at Mississippi Personhood Amendment

Originally posted by at Mississippi Personhood Amendment

Originally posted by at Mississippi Personhood Amendment

Originally posted by at Mississippi Personhood Amendment

Okay, so I don't usually do this, but this is an issue near and dear to me and this is getting very little no attention in the mainstream media.

Mississippi is voting on November 8th on whether to pass Amendment 26, the "Personhood Amendment". This amendment would grant fertilized eggs and fetuses personhood status.

Putting aside the contentious issue of abortion, this would effectively outlaw birth control and criminalize women who have miscarriages. This is not a good thing.

Jackson Women's Health Organization is the only place women can get abortions in the entire state, and they are trying to launch a grassroots movement against this amendment. This doesn't just apply to Mississippi, though, as Personhood USA, the group that introduced this amendment, is trying to introduce identical amendments in all 50 states.

What's more, in Mississippi, this amendment is expected to pass. It even has Mississippi Democrats, including the Attorney General, Jim Hood, backing it.

The reason I'm posting this here is because I made a meager donation to the Jackson Women's Health Organization this morning, and I received a personal email back hours later – on a Sunday – thanking me and noting that I'm one of the first "outside" people to contribute.

So if you sometimes pass on political action because you figure that enough other people will do something to make a difference, make an exception on this one. My RSS reader is near silent on this amendment. I only found out about it through a feminist blog. The mainstream media is not reporting on it.

If there is ever a time to donate or send a letter in protest, this would be it.

What to do?

– Read up on it. Wake Up, Mississippi is the home of the grassroots effort to fight this amendment. Daily Kos also has a thorough story on it.

– If you can afford it, you can donate at the site's link.

– You can contact the Democratic National Committee to see why more of our representatives aren't speaking out against this.

– Like this Facebook page to help spread awareness.

Amazon is not the good guy

I’ve piled up four links in short order that detail some of the problems with Amazon, and why, despite an increasing insistence in their PR that they’re your ally, they’re on the side of the consumer, they’re your friend against those meanie-face businesses like publishers . . . they are not the good guy. At best, they are a guy, who will sometimes help you and sometimes screw you over. (The problem is, a lot of the “help” is of the sort that evaporates as soon as they’re in a position to screw you over.)

So, the links:

Cat Valente first, on the notion of book subscriptions, and how Amazon keeps muscling their way toward monopoly.

Next Borderlands Books (San Francisco indie bookstore), on their sketchy business behavior. (Scroll down to “From the Office” to find the relevant part.)

And then, Anand Giridharadas in the NYT, on the fraying of decency, and what Amazon does to achieve such low prices and fast shipping.

Finally, just as a chaser, the privacy issues with the new Kindle Fire.

I won’t deny that Amazon is useful. I still order things from them occasionally. But I’ve taken my book business elsewhere whenever possible — Powell’s, IndieBound, and local stores — and I am not looking forward to the Brave New World in which everything is published through Amazon, for reading on an Amazon device, so that Amazon knows everything I do, with Amazon deciding how much I pay for that material or get paid when people buy what I wrote, because they’ve ground all their competitors out of existence.

It’s like a hybrid of 1984 and Snow Crash. Stephenson was almost right about corporations ruling the future; his error was in using the plural.

Yes to Gay YA

Rachel Manija Brown (rachelmanija) and Sherwood Smith (sartorias) have an important essay up at Publishers Weekly, Say Yes to Gay YA, where they recount how an agent offered them representation for a YA novel on the condition that they either straighten a gay point-of-view character, or remove him from the book entirely.

You can read the details there, as well as suggestions for how to put an end to this kind of thing. You can do the same on Rachel’s journal, if you prefer LJ, but the PW post includes a mechanism for posting anonymously, if you’d prefer that. They’re particularly interested in hearing from any authors who have experienced similar pushback from agents or editors, so as to explore just how widespread the problem is. The reader-side viewpoint is also valuable, to help prove there is an audience for these books.

If you’re on Twitter, the hashtag is #YesGayYA.

China Mieville is not your Facebook friend

When we say “identity theft,” we usually mean something having to do with credit cards and the like. But at least when that happens, you can notify the various powers that be, and they’ll do something about it.

Not so with Facebook. China Miéville has notified them several times of at least one person (possibly more) impersonating him on Facebook, and so far has gotten jack in the way of reply. Are his life savings being wiped out by this? No, of course not. But if you think this couldn’t hurt him, think again. As a writer, he’s a public figure, albeit a minor one; his ability to work depends partly upon his reputation. If the impersonator wanted to, they could tarnish that reputation, by sending messages or joining groups or otherwise doing things that would reflect badly on him. Even if they don’t, they are in a fashion acting in his name, without his permission. Which is not something anybody should be allowed to do.

But Facebook doesn’t care. As Deanna reports, their old system was that you had to be a Facebook user in the first place to complain about somebody impersonating you on the service; at least they’ve made the small step of changing that. But in general, their policy is still abysmal. No system of verification; no grievance process worth the name. Your ex could create a profile, pretend to be you, “like” a bunch of groups that make you look like a terrible person, and then when you apply for a job your prospective employer finds that profile and decides they don’t want to hire somebody who’s a fan of “Immigrants Go Home.” And there won’t be a damn thing you can do about it.

How obvious does Facebook have to make it that they don’t give a shit about anybody — their users included — before people will stop using the service?

I canceled my account a while ago, when they went one round too many of “we’re going to share info you thought was private! And you have to jump through hoops to stop us!” I tried not to proselytize too much back then, because I don’t want to piss off people who are content to keep their Facebook accounts, but Jesus H. The flash games just aren’t worth it, especially when the company is mining data about you and selling it to advertisers. As for getting in touch with old friends . . . there are other ways to be findable online. Seeing random updates about how somebody I haven’t seen since graduation didn’t get enough sleep last night is, again, not worth it to me. There are other ways to get in touch if you want to have a real conversation, and the more I see of Facebook’s evil, the harder time I have understanding why anybody else should play along.

I cannot say much about bullying.

My friends-list is full of posts about bullying, or more precisely the experience of being bullied, because I am friends with a lot of geeks and nerds and other such target types. They’re heart-wrenching to read, but not because they call up echoes of my own past. You see, I was never bullied. And to all the adults who tell the victims “It’s your fault, you must have done something to provoke them,” I have this to say:

The sole reason I didn’t get bullied is that I was lucky.

It’s the only explanation I can find. I was freakishly skinny — seriously, I look at pictures of myself and wonder how I didn’t snap in half — I wore thick glasses all the way through elementary school, I was an unabashed smart kid and book nerd. I was in the band. I had a weird name. There was an abudance of reasons to pick on me . . . but to the best of my recollection, nobody really did.

See, I went to school in the kind of affluent area where parents generally drove their kids to school (as mine did), so I never experienced the rolling hyena cage that is the school bus. During my early years, the only time I rode one of those was when a group of us were bussed to the once-a-week gifted program, held in another school — a program that was large enough, and included enough like-minded kids, that I had plenty of friends. We had honors and AP classes as I got to junior high and high school, so that I never even saw a whole subset of the student body, the subset that might have thought being smart was something to mock you for. The band in my high school was roughly 150 students out of 1500 — ten percent, and a large enough block that we could (and did) just socialize with each other, filling up entire lunch tables, going to practice after school, storing our things in the extra lockers we got by the band hall. Hell, our head drum major was voted homecoming king one year, because the drill team thought he was the cutest thing ever, and that plus the band was enough to lift him above the various football players who were his competitors. Our solidarity protected us.

Not a single piece of that was my own doing. I didn’t conform, didn’t scare the bullies off, didn’t do any of the things adults might advise to prevent the crimes of others. I was lucky.

But even luck may not save you. One of my classmates — a guy I’d known since elementary school, who’d gone through the same system I had, who was in the band — committed suicide during high school. I don’t know if he was bullied, but I know the football team talked some appallingly ugly shit about him afterward. He left behind a community, though; the entire band was devastated, and a posse very nearly went after the football players who were saying those things. That’s a lot more than most bullied kids have. But he didn’t have it because he did anything, other than being himself; he had it because the circumstances made it possible.

The kids who get picked on do not have power over their situations. Telling them it’s their responsibility to make change happen isn’t just unfair, it’s adding to the problem. It’s like grabbing the kid’s hand and smacking him with it while saying, “stop hitting yourself.” We need to not blame the victims. We need authority to step in, the same way we ask authority to step in when adults get stalked or assaulted or harassed. And for the love of god, we need to remember that our instincts are animal ones, and that altruism and compassion and so on don’t happen because a fairy waves a wand, they’re things that need to be fostered — that children need to be taught how not to act like beasts. We need to improve our math scores and everything else, too, at least here in the U.S., but I think I’d happily trade that for a school system that raises kids to be human beings, rather than hyenas.

I don’t know how to do that. But I know it needs to happen, because not everybody is lucky, and even luck can’t save everyone.

first of (probably) many

I have so many things piled up in my head, waiting for the time and energy to say them; I decided to start with this one.

There is still discussion going around concerning the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque.” (Which is neither, of course — but “downtown Islamic community center” doesn’t sound as scary, no matter how much the word “community” has been beaten up by those who will say anything to score points against their enemies.) There is still debate about its appropriateness. There is still outrage.

Folks, I am one of those outraged.

I am outraged that this is an issue. That people from thousands of miles away, who maybe have never set foot in New York and never will, have decided it’s their job to tell New Yorkers (of the Muslim persuasion or not) what they can and cannot build in their own city; that so many of them are willfully spreading lies on the subject so as to drum up more fear and hatred. I am outraged that our national response to this situation has skewed so far toward xenophobia, bigotry, and intolerance. I am outraged by this, and the later portions of this, and the attitude so ably skewered by this.

Not only do I want this community center, I want one built on Ground Zero. For real. It would have put me over the moon if I woke up one morning and found the internet blazing with the news that the 9/11 memorial was going to be a tasteful stone carved with the names of those who died, surrounded by an interfaith center dedicated to the peaceful co-existence of Christianity and Islam. Toss in Judaism, too, while you’re at it. With maybe a few wings for Hinduism and Buddhism and Wicca and all the rest. To get to the stone, you have to walk through galleries that explain the basic tenets of each religion, acknowledging the different interpretations that have been put on those tenets in different places and times. (And to get through the last door, you have to pass a quiz? No, no, we’re trying to be welcoming, here.) I want our memorial to that day to be a giant thumb in the eye of everybody on both sides who believes Christianity and Islam are and must be at war, everybody who wants a return of the Crusades. Show our true enemies that their best efforts will not achieve their goals; our commitment to the ideals of the United States is too strong to be broken by lies and fear.

Except it isn’t true. I’m not sure it ever has been; this country stumbles rather than strides toward a more perfect union, bettering itself by accident and the occasional spasm of purposeful change. And sometimes, like now, the spasms yank us in the opposite direction. It’s happened to one minority group after another: blacks, Latinos, Japanese, Chinese, Irish back in their day. All I can do is try to make sure I’m not out-shouted by the bigots, that I speak for tolerance whenever I can, to give the lie to the notion that “Americans” feel this way or that. No matter what the news may say, not all of us think the community center is a bad idea. My only problem with it is that I want more, and I’m afraid we won’t even get a little.