Archive | May 2016

Robots Aren’t People, Are They? – more of why I love sf/f

Cover for the first edition hardback of <em>The Bicentennial Man and Other Stories</em> by Isaac Asimov.

Cover for the first edition hardback of The Bicentennial Man and Other Stories by Isaac Asimov. (Click to embiggen)

I first heard of “The Bicentennial Man” by Isaac Asimov when I saw the anthology, The Bicentennial Man and Other Stories offered as a selection in the Science Fiction Book Club. I was 16, and still technically a member of the club, but most months I checked off the “Send nothing at this time” box on the card, because even the cheaper prices of the book club were a bit much for my budget. It a bit over a year later when I found a paperback copy of The 1977 Annual World’s Best SF edited by Donald Wolheim in the local used book store when I finally got a chance to read the story.

Asimov wrote a lot of short stories about robots. Most of the stories collected in his anthologies I, Robot and The Rest of the Robots dealt with various logical contradictions that robots would be placed in by various circumstances, and how the robots (and the humans working with them) would work out those conflicts between the Three Laws of Robotics, their other programming, and the situation at hand. Even in his longer novels where robots figured prominently, such as the two sci fi murder mysteries, The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun, the robots were always motivated by pure logic. The fact that the world is not a purely logical place, and that humans are seldom covered by rationality alone, formed the framework for the conflict in the stories.

“The Bicentennial Man” centered on a single robot, dubbed Andrew by the daughter of its first owner (a Mr. Martin, identified in the story which is told from Andrew’s point of view as simply Sir). Andrew demonstrates an unusual talent with wood carving—his works of art fetching high prices when offered for sale—and develops a desire to became human. Andrew is part of a new series of robots with what Asimov describes “more open-ended architecture” in his positronic brain, which the experts believe is where his apparent artistic talent comes from. Andrew’s stubborn insistence that he can become a human worries the scientists at the world’s largest robotics company, causing them to try to buy Andrew back.

In part because of the pleading of the owner’s daughter (whom Andrew calls Little Miss), Sir refuses to sell Andrew back to the company. Later, Sir helps Andrew gain some form of legal independence as a “free robot” with the legal name of Andrew Martin.

From there the story follows Andrew’s physical and legal journey through several generations of the original family, as Little Miss grows up, grows old, and dies, and her son and grandson found a legal firm which, among other things, fights to secure Andrew’s legal rights. Andrew designs new kinds of prosthetics, which are almost indistinguishable from natural body parts. Andrew’s body is slowly ungraded to first being a more human-looking android body, to an organic one. The proceeds from the patents on the various processes to create the prosthetics (which are used medically to improve the lives of disabled, maimed, and diseased people) providing Andrew’s income and funding the legal fight.

One of his important legal victories happens when he is 150 years old, where at a dinner in his honor (celebrating his medical inventions), he is toasted as the Sesquicentennial Robot.

Eventually, as Andrew realizes that he will never persuade a human legislature to pass a law declaring him, or any robot, a human because the key difference will always be his positronic brain. Which leads Andrew to compel a robotic surgeon to perform an operation on his brain that will cause the brain to slowly decay and die. Andrew’s reasoning is that it’s the immortality that forms the final barrier between him being accepted as a human.

The story really resonated with me. And it was interesting to see Asimov explore the nature of emotions and creativity from the point of view of artificial intelligence. But more interesting was the series of legal barriers that Andrew has to go through. Laws have to be changed to allow a robot to own property, for instance. Laws must be changed to make harming a robot a crime, at another point.

The legal progression to personhood that Asimov takes us through is based on the historical legal fights for woman’s rights and racial equality. For millenia, the legal system treated women as property. Assaulting a woman was a crime, yes, but the penalties imposed always included paying a fine to the woman’s father (if she were unmarried) or her husband, because the man in her life was deemed to have been harmed by the degradation of his property.

Similarly, Andrew discovers, once he is a free robot, that since there is no owner to whom damages would be owed, the legal system doesn’t consider anyone assaulting and damaging him a crime as assault. Vandalism, perhaps, but then, who is the owner who should be compensated for the damage?

It seems ridiculous to us now that some people, simply because of their gender or the color of their skin, had once been in a similar situation: harming them wasn’t inherently a crime, it was only a crime if it caused their “owner” to suffer a loss. And especially frightening to realize that in the matter of sexual assault laws in the U.S., for instance, that as recently as the 1970s the law was still structured this way. A woman couldn’t file rape charges against her husband or sometimes even her ex-husband, because once married her consent was no longer hers to give or withold, in that regard.

Andrew’s struggle for human rights parallels, thus, every oppressed groups struggle for equality. Something that I came to appreciate more some years later, when I finally bought my own hardcover copy of The Bicentennial Man and Other Stories and re-read this particular short story again. There is even a point, during the discussion about the assault laws, where another character makes the same argument at homophobes current make against hate crime laws: they aren’t needed, because the action is already a (minor) crime under existing laws.

Asimov’s story about a robot who wants to be a human might seem, on the surface, to be little more than a retelling of Pinocchio, but we see here one of the Grandmasters of Science Fiction—a sci fi writer who first reached prominence during the “golden age” of sci fi—turning a civil rights argument into a rattling good tale of old-fashioned science fiction. Who would have thought an old, white (okay, jewish, but still) male sci fi writer who made his first professional sale in 1939 would be a social justice warrior? Don’t tell the melancholy canines!

When I read “The Bicentennial Man” I was a very closeted high school student, terrified that people would find out I was queer because I knew that strangers, friends, and even family members would see me as an abomination if they knew. So the story of Andrew, who wanted to be seen and accepted as a person certainly struck a chord. Even if his ultimate solution, dying, seemed like a terrible way to achieve his goal.

Who is excluding who, now?

images (3)When I was a child, none of the words I knew to describe being a non-heterosexual were good words. Pussy, sissy, fag, queer, dyke, homo—they were all insults. Homosexual was both clinical and pejorative, at least the way everyone I ever heard use it said it. It was clinical, all right, and it was clear the people saying it thought it described a terrible sickness. The least insulting was gay. Which isn’t to say that it wasn’t hurled as an insult, it’s just we were also told it was what those people preferred to be called. Though even the people who admitted that much were pretty angry about it. I actually had more than one teacher in school talk about how terrible it was that those perverts had stolen a word that used to mean not just happy, but a particularly carefree and whimsical kind of happy, and then used it to describe their sad, loveless, deviant lives.

And a lot of those words got used on me.

Throughout grade school I didn’t think that the sexual part applied to me. I knew that I said the wrong things and acted the wrong way, so that’s why everyone (except the nicer teachers and nicer church leaders) called me a sissy and a crybaby and so on. I wasn’t tough enough or whatever, but there was nothing sexual going on.

By the time I was in middle school and puberty had come roaring into my life I realized that all of those people had been on to something. And it terrified me. The worst thing I could imagine happening to me was for someone to get proof that the words fag, queer, homo, and gay described me in more than merely a metaphorical way.

So in my mid-twenties, the fact that I was finally able to say aloud to a friend, “I think I might be gay” was a giant leap. Overcoming the aversion that I felt to all of those words, equally, had been a titanic struggle lasting more than a decade. Over the next few years I was able to say I was “gay” a bit more confidently. I didn’t cringe inside if someone called me “gay,” at least if it wasn’t in an angry tone of voice.

I was actually starting to feel all right with the label by my thirties.

Which was when I started getting yelled at about it, again—but not by straight bigots. No, the people who were angry about my use of the word were lesbians. “How dare you call me that word!” and even more viciously, “How dare you assume that you can use that word as an umbrella term to include all non-heterosexual people!”

I was literally yelled at a few times, before I developed the habit of saying “lesbian and gay.” And almost right away people started growling at me not to leave out the bisexuals or the trans people!

I’m not exaggerating when I say that some of my fellow non-heterosexual got angry and yelled. It was clearly very important to them.

So I just about died laughing a few days ago when I saw some trans activists in my twitter stream angrily assert that it was people like me—cisgender, white, gay, and male—who were the ones that had excluded lesbian, trans, and bi people from the “clearly superior umbrella term, gay.”

No.

We didn’t exclude them. They were the ones who angrily and emphatically told us that we couldn’t use “gay” to describe them. During the late 80s and 90s, just as I was starting to get mostly all right describing myself as gay, I was being told that doing so was exclusionary. I was the bad guy for wanting to have a simple term than encompassed all of us.

It was during that time that Queer Nation came into being. Queer Nation was one of many groups formed to make a more aggressive push against homophobia and specifically homophobic violence at the time when both the violence and the media’s negative portrayal of homosexual people was escalating. The AIDS crisis wasn’t just killing us in vast numbers, it was fueling even more hatred than we’d experienced before (which is saying something!) Just one of Queer Nation’s goals was to take back the word “queer”; to make it a label we embraced with pride instead of an insult.

I was, at the time, ambivalent about that. So were a lot of the gay, lesbian, and bi people I knew. At the time, I was only slightly acquainted with a couple of trans people (or so I thought, but that’s a story for another post), so I wasn’t sure how they felt about it. I certainly understood why some folks were leery of the notion…

Then I decided I needed to participate in a National Coming Out Day march. And I only discovered after I had arrived at the assembly point (and made arrangements to meet friends on the Hill near the end point) that it was sponsored by Queer Nation. It was later, while being teased by some of those friends, that I moved out of the ambivalent stage to being vehemently in favor or taking back the word queer.

I’m queer. I’m a cisgendered white man who sleeps with other men. I’m also a queer nerd who loves Star Trek and Star Wars (and I bet I can still beat anyone who cares to challenge me on a trivia contest based on the original Star Wars: A New Hope) and Lord of the Rings (alas, I am no longer fluent in Quenya and Sindarin, Tolkien’s fictional elvish languages). I’m a queer geek who majored in Mathematics at University and have worked for decades in the telecommunication software industry. I’m a queer Taoist who is a both a recovering Baptist and recovering atheist. I’m a queer man very happily married to a bi man. I’m a queer writer who is still dismayed at how many of my earlier published works didn’t pass the Bechtdel test (but hope I’ve gotten better). I’m a queer godparent and uncle who squees over baby pictures and keeps cheering on the mostly straight romances on my favorite shows. I’m a queer man who watches football as faithfully as my favorite sci fi and mystery series.

I’m a queer, fat, old, white-bearded guy who welcomes any gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, asexual, non-binary, poly, straight ally, pansexual, aromantic, and any other kind of human who thinks all of us deserve equal dignity and rights regardless of gender, orientation, and so on, to join me under this umbrella term. And if you prefer another label, that’s fine, but please don’t try to claim that I have ever excluded you. Okay?

Anti-trans bigot demonstrates that bullies are cowards… (duh!)

Click to embiggen. (I have found this image on dozens of articles and blog posts about trans issues, but never with an art credit. If you know who made this, please let me know so I can at least credit them!)

Click to embiggen. (I have found this image on dozens of articles and blog posts about trans issues, but never with an art credit. If you know who made this, please let me know so I can at least credit them!)

So, professional bigot Travis Weber (spokesperson for the Family Research Council) was on Chris Matthews’ show on MSNBC last week to speak in favor of the North Carolina law that makes it a crime for trans people to use a public bathroom that doesn’t match the gender on their birth certificates. The other guest was Jennifer Boylan, an English professor and writer who happens to be trans.

No matter how hard Matthews tried, he couldn’t get Weber to say which bathroom Boylan should use. He’s there to defend this law that insists Boylan shouldn’t use the women’s room, but Weber can’t bring himself to say it while she’s sitting right there. It’s almost funny.

I was going to say a lot more about this, but another blogger already hits all the points I want to make:

…[he] can’t bring himself to answer the question. Not with Boylan sitting there—not with Boylan empowered to respond to him directly, personally, publicly, and immediately. Watch as Weber’s bigoted “convictions” and “sincerely held religious beliefs” wilt in the presence of one of the people he’s trying to stir up bigotry against.

And:

Those ridiculous lies [they told about same-sex marriage] won ’em some battles — they carried the day before the Washington State Supreme Court — but they didn’t win ’em the war. Because their lies couldn’t survive us. They couldn’t survive us getting out there and speaking for ourselves, they couldn’t survive the scrutiny of decent and reasonable people, they couldn’t survive our lawyers, and they couldn’t survive satire and ridicule…. The [anti-trans] haters are winning some battles right now, and that sucks, and their hateful rhetoric makes an already dangerous world for trans people even more dangerous. But their “wins” are putting trans people in the spotlight. Trans people are speaking for themselves, disproving the lies, and joining in or leading the joyful mocking of the haters — just as the fight against same-sex marriage put same-sex couples (some half or wholly trans) in the spotlight. We spoke for ourselves, we mocked the haters, we gathered supporters, and we won the war.

I’m not arguing for complacency—we won the fight for marriage equality because we got out there and fucking fought it. We’re gonna have to fight this fight too. And we are fighting it and we are going to win. We are winning.

I didn’t identify the blogger before the quote because a lot of trans people of my acquaintance believe (incorrectly) that Dan Savage is anti-trans.

Regardless of what you think of Dan, this time he is definitely right on this one. The anti-trans bigots are using exactly the same arguments they have used against queer people before to justify denying us marriage rights, to justify sodomy laws, and so on. They claim we are monsters and predators and a threat to children. They raise false alarms and generate panic over things that have never actually happened. And yes, they are winning some battles. North Caroline is one place they have won.

But at the same time, they are losing the war. This bills are bringing more trans people forward. And as the panicked cis-hets see and meet real trans people, see the stories of real trans kids and their families, they are realizing the rhetoric is all lies. A CNN/ORC poll published today found that 57% of Americans disapprove of the North Carolina anti-trans bill. But even more important, only 48% of Republicans support such bills. Now, only 48% disapprove, and somehow 4% aren’t sure, but think about that: less than half of all Republicans approve this latest Republican hot-button issue. Wow.

Oh, and the same poll found that only 49% of North Carolina residents support the law.

It reminds me of one of the most telling stories that happened during the marriage equality fight. Before the Supreme Court ruling, one of the states was debating a marriage equality bill. And the relevant committees of both the upper and lower house of the state legislature scheduled public hearings that same day. So many people showed up wanting to speak and both hearings, that the committee chairs decided it would best to combine the hearings. So they moved both committees to a bigger room.

One Republican legislator who had been staunchly opposed to the bill switched his vote after that hearing. He said because they were in a different auditorium, he wasn’t in his usual spot up near the center of the front, but was off to the side, where it was easy to become distracted by the crowd and not pay attention to the citizens speaking. He said watching the gay and lesbian couples who were waiting their turn to speak interacting with each other and their children was a revelation to him. His whole life, he said, he had thought of gay people not as people, but as sexual acts. He didn’t believe they were actually in love. Watching them, he finally realized that queer people are just people. And that the couples were in love just the same as he and his wife. That they weren’t asking for special privileges. They just wanted the same legal protections for their families that straight people take for granted.

Just from watching them interact with their partners and children in the audience seats of an auditorium. That’s all it took.

We must fight. Make no mistake. And those of us who happen to be cis have to fight just as hard for the rights, dignity, and visibility of our trans brothers and sisters as we fought those previous battles. We have to remember that no one is free until everyone is.

But if we fight, we can win. We will win.

http://mediamatters.org/embed/210426

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here to watch the clip from Matthews’ show.)

Weekend Update 5/14/2016: Molester going to prison

“Dennis Hastert committed crimes against children and must be made responsible.”

“Dennis Hastert committed crimes against children and must be made responsible.”

Following up on a story that came to a conclusion the same week I was dealing with a death in the family: Former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Republican Dennis Hastert, was caught paying millions in hush money to try to keep the public from learning that he had molested at least five teen-agers while he was a high school wrestling coach. Because of a statute of limitations on child sexual assault, he couldn’t be charged with those crimes, only with the crime of trying to circumvent certain tax and financial laws, and for lying to the FBI about what he was doing. He has since been sentenced to 15 months in prison: Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert ‘Deeply Ashamed’ as He Faces Accuser at Sentencing.

I’ve written before about his hypocritical conduct in Congress: being anti-gay, trying to shield another child molesting congressman from prosecution, promising the parents of a murdered gay teen he would fight to get a federal hate crimes bill passed and then doing everything he could to kill it (and succeeding), and so on. He’s since been showing up at his court appearances trying to look frailer and more pathetic—first with a cane, then a walker, now being wheeled to the court in a wheelchair. Maybe he is sick, but it is also a common ploy to try to play for sympathy. In any case, the judge certainly wasn’t swayed. Among his remarks during the sentencing, the judge noted, “Nothing is more disturbing than having ‘serial child molester’ and ‘Speaker of the House’ in the same sentence.”

In addition to spending 15 months in prison, with two years of supervision afterward and being forced to register as a sex offender, Hastert is being fined: Former Speaker Dennis Hastert Pays $250K Fine Linked to Sex Abuse.

While he was pleading for a more lenient sentence, Hastert contacted a lot of his former colleagues to write letters to the judge asking for leniency. I think it’s pretty horrible (but not that surprising) how many of his former Republican cohorts wrote such letters. On the other hand, he may have made things worse on himself with one of those requests. One of the people he asked was a former Illinois State Legislator… who happened to be the brother of one of the boys Hastert had molested. Not surprising, the legislator declined to write to ask for leniency, but the incident caused the brother who had been molested to go public about it. Including making a statement to the court about the abuse.

Fifteen months isn’t much punishment for the things that Hastert as done, but it’s a good start.

Friday Links (queer subtext is so yesterday edition)

(click to embiggen)

(click to embiggen)

It’s Friday! And I’m on vacation! We’re running off to EverfreeNW where we will hang out with pony fans. I’m also running back to Seattle with friends midway through the weekend to see a teenager of our acquaintance perform in a production of the Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Meanwhile, here are links to some of the interesting things I read on the web this week, sorted into various topic areas.

Link of the Week

This man was told his gay brother went missing by his Christian parents, decades later he found him. You might find yourself crying…

And other news:

Raccoon causes 38,000 Seattle customers to lose power. Our house was one of the places that lost power in the wee small hours. Also my husband’s workplace, where he said he spent more than half the next day getting systems back up and running. The report claims that one of the raccoons survived.

The day we discovered our parents were Russian spies.

I accidentally hired an Orthodox rabbi for my father’s funeral — and he was great.

Report: “Seattle’s School Libraries: a Stark Example of Rich and Poor”.

Who is the ‘Ivory Queen’?

This Week in Tech

No, Apple Music is not deleting tracks off your hard drive — unless you tell it to.

Podcast: Apple Music doesn’t just delete files willy-nilly, but it’s way too easy to delete them by mistake.

This week in Health

Dissociation is scary. Dissociation is safety.

News for queers and our allies:

Florida’s oldest high school just crowned its first same-sex couple as prom king and queen.

A 4-year-old boy with a doll inspired hundreds of parents to share their sons’ fabulous taste in toys.

Queer Subtext in The Little Mermaid, From Hans Christian Andersen’s Original to Disney’s Adaptation.

The line in Loretta Lynch’s defense of transgender rights that made everyone cry.

Science!

Correcting errors is now anti-religious bigotry?

Scientists reconstruct baffling 250-million-year-old aquatic reptile with a strange hammerhead mouth.

John Oliver Explains Why There Are So Many B.S. Scientific Studies.

This Might Be the Weirdest Thing That’s Ever Happened to Earth’s Atmosphere.

Gene therapy stops rare childhood brain disease.

First report of all the world’s plants finds 1 in 5 species facing extinction.

New plant species discovered in 2015 – in pictures.

Zombie crabs: Barnacle infects king crab populations.

It’s not about to blow, but magma is moving under Mount St. Helens.

Suffocating the Ocean: Oxygen-depleted oceans have preceded many mass extinctions in Earth’s past.

Science Fiction, Fantasy and Speculation!

DARKWING DUCK #1 REVIEW.

Reading Harry Potter books makes children MENTALLY ILL says headmaster who warns letting them become ‘addicted’ to fantasy novels is as bad as feeding them ‘heaps of sugar’. Of course, since he defines a vivid imagination as mental illness, you realize what a nutjob he is…

This week in Writing

Fanfiction and the “Damned Mob of Scribbling Women”.

This Week in History

Meet the costume-wearing Irish priest who saved thousands of Romans from the Nazis.

Culture war news:

Arkansas Judge Resigns After Thousands of Photos Found on His Computer Reveal He Paddled Nude Male Defendants in Exchance for Leniency.

I’ve been trying to avoid linking to Huffington Post because I think a multi-billion dollar company should pay its writers, but sometimes I can’t find the same post anywhere else: The Truth About Homophobia In The Black Community.

Alabama Chief Justice Faces Removal From Bench Over Same-Sex Marriage Stance.

Someone called Steve Austin a SJW… Then this happened. We need more social justice ass-kickers like Steve, obviously!

Methodist Ministers Come Out to Protest Church’s Stance on Queer Issues.

Poll: 6-in-10 oppose bills like the North Carolina transgender bathroom law.

Eurovision reverses flag policy after banning ‘political’ waving of rainbow flag.

Chris Wallace crushes NC gov.: ‘Let it go… there’s no case of transgender people molesting girls’.

North Carolina’s transgender bathroom bill is on flimsy legal ground. Scrap it now.

As U.S. Attitudes Change, Some Evangelicals Dig In; Others Adapt.

North Carolina’s ‘bathroom bill’ battle embarrasses residents on both sides.

This Week in the Clown Car

Think Pieces About MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE And How I Could Possibly Be Wrong About Trump.

This week in Other Politics:

The media myth of the working-class Reagan Democrats.

TRANSGENDER RIGHTS AND THE END OF THE NEW SOUTH.

Alabama drag queen is suspended chief justice’s worst nightmare.

This Week in Feminism

Break the period taboo: my name is Lindy West and I bleed.

Things I wrote:

Weekend Update 05/07/2016: Religious callings, good and bad.

Reading in public.

A World Full of Sisters – more of why I love sf/f.

Videos!

2010 Election: Part Two | Full Frontal with Samantha Bee | TBS:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Nathan Sykes – Give It Up ft. G-Eazy:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Secret Weapons – Something New:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Pet Shop Boys – ‘Twenty-something’ (Official Video):

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

A World Full of Sisters – more of why I love sf/f

Cover of the paperback edition of the 1977 Annual World's Best Science Fiction, edited by Donald Wolheim

Cover of the paperback edition of the 1977 Annual World’s Best Science Fiction, edited by Donald Wolheim (click to embiggen)

When I was a junior in high school there was one comic book shop in the town I lived in. It was also a used book store, so I visited there a lot. I didn’t have much money, and I was still reading several comics regularly which took up most of my discretionary spending, so I spent a lot more time there browsing—trying to find the cheapest books—than actually buying.

One day at the store I happened upon a paperback copy of The 1977 Annual World’s Best SF edited by Donald Wolheim. I owned several of his earlier annual anthologies, having gotten several of them as part of my introductory new member shipment from the Science Fiction Book Club a few years previously. The paperback was in pretty good shape, having only been published about six months previous, so it was probably marked at half cover price, which meant it wasn’t in my usual price range, but I had enjoyed the earlier collections, and there was more than one author in the table of contents whose work I really loved, so I bought it.

One of the stories in this particular collection was a novella, “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” by James Tiptree, Jr. I didn’t know, at the time, that Tiptree was a pseudonym of Alice Sheldon (I think the year I read this was the year that her true identity was revealed, after ten years of being published under the name).

I believe I had read a few of Tiptree’s earlier short stories in the various SF magazines that I followed semi-regularly. I recognized the name, at least, but didn’t have a strong recollection of what kind of stories Tiptree had written before or whether I liked them. So I wasn’t prepared for just how good this story was.

The tale concerns the three-man crew of a NASA mission sent on a polar circuit of the sun. The ship is hit by an unexpectedly strong solar flare and is severely damaged. The crew survives and eventually gets their radio repaired, but are unable to reach Earth. At first it’s because Earth isn’t where they expect it to be in relationship to their position. They eventually figure out that they are further off course than they thought, and start transmitting their distress signal in the correct direction. No answer comes.

Eventually, as they scan more frequencies, they start picking up signals, many of them conversations in English with Australian accents. This is confusing, particularly since many of the signals are coming from various parts of the solar system, indicating a rather large number of space ships. Plus Australia, as far as they knew, didn’t have much of a space program. Also, almost all of the voices on the radio sound like women.

They establish contact with one ship which detected them and has diverted from its course to rescue them. During the radio exchanges before the rescue ship reaches them, they learn that it has been hundreds of years since their mission went up. The world is anxious to meet them, they are told, because they had long been assumed to be dead.

They also learn that there has been some sort of catastrophe on Earth in the intervening years which greatly reduced the population. When the rescue ship finally arrives, the men are surprised that there is only one man in the crew of the ship. Lots of other things surprise them, too. Two of the crewmembers seem to be twins, and both named Judy, but one seems to be several years older than the other. There are several other anomalies and slips of the tongue during the weeks that the ship is returning them to Earth that make the astronauts more suspicious.

Eventually they learn that the catastrophe was even worse than they imagined: it was a plague which only 11,000 women survived; not one single man survived it. The remaining people have been reproducing for several generations by cloning. Children are raised in a communal setting. Some are chosen to receive hormone treatments to give them the musculature and size of men. The story seems to imply that the only reason this is done is for the physical benefits of the muscles and such, and it is unclear if these children choose to became essentially transmen, or if it is imposed by some sort of societal system.

The three astronauts react in very different ways to the discovery. One becomes convinced that god threw them through a wormhole so that they can “rescue” this society and bring men back in charge. Another assumes that since there’s a whole planet of women who have never had sex with a “real man” that he will become sort of a sex god to them all. The last simply hopes that they will be allowed to rejoin society and help repopulate the species (since there are some health problems due to the of lack of genetic diversity).

It turns out, of course, that none of that is to be. The actions of the three men have been being recorded and sent back home. The men were slipped drugs which supposedly made them act out their true natures. The leaders of the world agree that men are simply too dangerous to introduce back into the species. There’s a particularly moving conversation between the captain of the rescue ship and the one man who has remained rational where she points out that most of the heroic behavior the man has tried to cite as proof that men can be good was simply men protecting their own women and children from other men.

The men’s genes are going to be used. Before the three are euthanized, sperm is collected, to diversify the gene pool, but only female babies will be taken to term. Since the entire story is told from the point of view of the one man, the reader never finds out what happens after he and his companions are put to sleep.

I wasn’t the only one who thought the story was good. It won both the Nebula and Hugo award for best novella the year it was published. The story did not kick off much in the way of controversy at the time, in part because people believed Tiptree was simply a feminist-minded man. A man could write a science fiction story decrying generations of misogyny and patriarchal violence and be thought of as open-minded, and a forward thinker. A woman, on the other hand, would (and still often is) branded as a radical man-hater.

I simply thought it was an intriguing story. I was still struggling to accept my own sexual orientation at the time, and I was intimately familiar with how the cruelty of boys toward boys who weren’t manly enough was overlooked, approved, and often encouraged by a sexist society. So the notion that culture might be a better place without all that hypermasculinity was appealing, even if I felt sorry for the reasonable male viewpoint character who was going to be exterminated along with his more brutish companions.

I want to emphasize that Tiptree made the male character sympathetic. She laid out the case for both sides convincingly, and seemed to be inviting the reader to consider (and maybe fight for) solutions to the problems of toxic chauvinism other than simply wiping the men out.

It was another mind-blowing story. Another time that sci fi helped me (as a very closeted queer teen living in a small town among Christian fundamentalists) imagine a better life, particularly the notion of romantic relationships other than opposite-sex pairings. After that story, whenever I saw Tiptree’s name on an anthology or magazine cover, I knew I wanted to read it.

Reading in public

Guys who read books on public transport are such a turn on.

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I want to be very clear that I love ebooks and audiobooks. Being able to carry around a whole shelf full of books in my pocket is one of my favorite parts of living in the future. Not having to decide (quite so often) which old books to relegate to a back shelf, or get rid of altogether just because we’ve brought a bunch of new books home is a good thing, too. We both still buy hardcopy books, and there are currently a few piles of them in the bedroom that haven’t found a home on the shelves somewhere in the house, but it’s a slower process since both of us buy a lot of books digitally, now.

One thing I miss, now that smart phones are ubiquitous, is seeing what other people are reading on the bus. Seattle is a city of bibliophiles and other literary people, and for most of the 30+ years I’ve been riding public transports in Seattle, I could always count on seeing interesting books on my commute. Sometimes I might see someone reading a book I love, and I’d find myself grinning—hoping they were having as much fun with the book as I did. Other times I would see a title I had never heard of, and find it intriguing enough to look up more information on the book when I had a chance. Other times I would see someone reading a book that I despised, and I would wonder what sort of person would read that.

There are still people reading hard copy books on the bus, of course, just nowhere near as many as there used to be. Now instead of seeing a dozen books or so on my morning commute, there are a dozen or so people staring at their phones or iPads or Kindles.

Which still warms the cockles of my heart, because I love reading, no matter what form it takes.

And I’m certainly not going to give up reading (and some mornings writing) on my iPhone. Among the downsides of reading a hardcopy book on the bus is the time spent digging it out of my backpack, and then later needing to stop reading far enough before my stop to put the book away and get my pack zipped up and situated. There was also the need to decide whether to pull out my book or my notebook and a writing implement. And the frustration after I chose when I discovered I didn’t seem to be in the right headspace to concentrate on that book, or to write.

With the phone, I can slip it out, fire up a book, and start reading. If I want to make a note, or get another idea I want to write down, it’s just a couple of swipes and taps with my thumb to switch to a writing app, write it down, then get back to the book.

Of course, there is a bit of the paradox of choice that the phone amplifies. Occasionally I just can’t decide which of the many choices that are on the phone to read. Which of the several books (because I’m always in the middle of more than one) to pick up, or should I open one of my news apps and catch up on the world?

Having all those choices doesn’t usually paralyze me, but I do often dither for at least a few minutes. So maybe I’m only kidding myself when I say I get a bit more reading time in now that I’m not fumbling with getting the book out and putting it away again.

But I don’t think so. For one thing, with the phone, I can become obliviously lost in the book right up to my stop, then jump up, slip the phone into my pocket as I’m moving to the exit, and get off the bus.

Weekend Update 05/07/2016: Religious callings, good and bad

In 1968, Fr. Daniel Berrigan traveled to Hanoi with historian Howard Zinn to bring back three American prisoners of war. Then he and eight other Catholic priests concocted a batch of napalm and used it to burn 378 draft files in the parking lot of the Cantonsville, Maryland draft board as a protest of the war.

In 1968, Fr. Daniel Berrigan traveled to Hanoi with historian Howard Zinn to bring back three American prisoners of war. Then he and eight other Catholic priests concocted a batch of napalm and used it to burn 378 draft files in the parking lot of the Cantonsville, Maryland draft board as a protest of the war. (Click to embiggen)

There were a number of items that I had queued up for Friday Links that I didn’t include yesterday because I was trying to post a few less outrage-inducing things. I didn’t intend to also leave Fr. Daniel Berrigan’s death out of the links. His obituary link happened to get lost in a cluster of political stories:

Faithful to the end, Fr Daniel Berrigan never lost Jesuit zeal in opposing US warmongering and oppression

Berrigan was a Catholic priest who was also a peace activist who wound up on the FBI’s most wanted list and spent some time in prison because of his anti-war activities during the Vietnam War. He continued his anti-war efforts throughout his lifetime, but he also won some notoriety for ministering non-judgmentally to AIDS victims in Greenwich Village in the 80s, when most of the Catholic hierarchy was busy condemning gay men.

If only more the of the church’s leaders were like Berrigan. The world is a slightly darker place without him.


Now I need to segue from talking about a peace activist who clearly loved his neighbor, to talking about a hate monger who clearly doesn’t.

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore Suspended, Faces Removal from Bench for Defying U.S. Marriage Laws

I think it’s important to know just how long and how determinedly Moore has been defying the law he has sworn to uphold: Way back in 1993 Judge Moore drew criticism for displaying a wooden Ten Commandments plaque in his courtroom, and insisting that each session begin with a prayer. This eventually led the ACLU to file a lawsuit in 1995. This led to a series of rulings and counter-suits, sometimes with appeals being thrown out on technicalities. At each stage Moore vowed to never stop the prayers and never remove the plaque. The state supreme court allowed the appeal that reached them to languish without ruling, effectively allowing Moore to have his way and preventing any appeal. Ethics complaints were filed against Moore, but eventually came to nothing.

Trading on his high profile in the media because of the case, in 2001 Moore campaigned for Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court runnng on the idea that the law must come from god in order to be legitimate, and this being Alabama, he won. And immediately began construction of a massive granite Ten Commandments monument to install in the rotunda of the state courthouse. The Southern Poverty Law Center, ACLU, and other organizations filed suit.

Before that case was resolved, Moore incited protests and controversy by writing in a 2002 ruling about a child custody suit that it was better for a child to be put in the care of a heterosexual father despite that father having a history of child abuse, than to allow the mother (who had come out as lesbian) to have the child. Again, ethics complaints were filed which came to nothing. The other justices had simply relied on Alabama’s anti-sodomy laws in the ruling. When the U.S. Supreme Court threw out all anti-sodomy laws in 2003, the child custody ruling became moot.

The court rulings on the massive monument went against Moore, but he refused to obey the orders. Ethics complaints were files against Moore, and this time he was found in violation and removed from office. Moore sued the ethics commission, but lost.

For a while Moore made overtures to try to seek the Republican nomination for President, but instead wound up running for election as Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court yet again. And yet again, he was elected. Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that made marriage equality the law of the land, Moore has fought it: issuing an order declaring that the ruling only applied to the specific states who were sued in the lawsuits the Supreme Court had consolidated for their ruling. Trying to get the rest of his State Supreme Court to issue a similar ruling. And sending messages directly to probate judges telling them that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling is not legal.

And so various people, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, have filed ethics complaints against Moore, and Moore has been temporarily suspended while the commission investigates the case. Moore is, like every other anti-gay so-called Christian out there, claiming to be the victim in all of this. He insists that the charges aren’t real ethics complaints, but are politically motivated. He has accused the Judicial Inquiry Commission of falling under the sway of “a professed transvestite, and other gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals, as well as organizations which support [the homosexual] agenda.”

Right. And Moore doesn’t have an agenda at all, despite saying: “God gives rights and the government’s role is to secure those rights. When governments [sic] dismisses god out of the equation and pretends to get rights, we suffer accordingly.”

The charges against him, by the way, aren’t merely that he is defying the U.S. Supreme Court order and issuing improper orders to try to enforce his defiance. The complaint also cites his endorsement and other support (using the resources of his judicial office to promote and fundraise for) a non-profit corporation founded by his wife for the explicit purpose of promoting and enforcing acknowledgement of god in law and government.

We can all hope he gets removed from office soon. I suspect it is far too optimistic to hope that if so, he stops causing trouble for queer folks and anyone else who doesn’t share his religion.

Friday Links (bathroom patrol edition)

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I am happy that it is Friday. I mean, really, really happy that it’s Friday. I almost didn’t do this post this week. I have been tired and stressed out all week. And I felt things had turned so negative the last half of last month, that I scrapped most of my blogging plans for this week, and found more uplifting things to post about. Instead of skipping this week’s links altogether, I decided to leave a couple of the usual topic areas out. Let’s see if you can guess which!

Meanwhile, here are links to some of the interesting things I read on the web this week, sorted into various topic areas.

Link of the Week

One Top Taxpayer Moved, and New Jersey Shuddered.

Happy News!

The stinging comedy of Samantha Bee’s “Full Frontal”.

This week in privacy

State Employees Upset About Freedom Foundation’s Requests For Their Birth Dates.

This Week in Diversity

GLAAD study shows LGBT representation in Hollywood is getting worse, not better.

See Which Major Studios Had No LGBT Characters in 2015 Movies.

On April 21, the writers room for the television show Saving Hope created and signed a pledge to the LGBTQ community in response to the ongoing criticism of writers’ propensity to kill off LGBTQ characters on television.

The Chances Of LGBT Characters In Future Marvel Movies, According To The Russo Brothers.

News for queers and our allies:

Colton Haynes gets honest about life after Arrow: The actor opens up about his career, his health, and why he didn’t come out of the closet sooner.

Danny DeVito’s Perfect Goodbye: On His Gay Love Story and North Carolina’s HB2.

Gay teens go to prom and melt the internet’s ice cold heart.

Top 10 landmarks in gay and lesbian literature.

Study: There really are a lot of gay people on Twitter and Instagram.

The Gender Ternary: Understanding Transmisogyny.

Science!

‘No differences’ between children of same-sex and opposite-sex parents.

Army Corps Decides Kennewick Man Should Be Turned Over To Tribes.

A Galaxy Hidden in Plain Sight.

After ‘The Biggest Loser,’ Their Bodies Fought to Regain Weight.

Scientists show how we start stereotyping the moment we see a face.

Scientists map brain’s ‘thesaurus’ to help decode inner thoughts.

This newly-found ‘Manx comet’ is missing its tail. Why?.

Dinosaurs May Have Slept Like We Do, Researchers Say.

NATIVE AMERICAN TRIBE GETS FEDERAL FUNDS TO FLEE RISING SEAS.

It’s Raining All Over The Universe.

Science Fiction, Fantasy and Speculation!

Feminism, astronauts, and riding sidesaddle: Talking to Dreamsnake’s Vonda McIntyre.

io9 Was Founded on the Idea That Science Fiction Belongs to Everyone.

Queers Take Over Fantastic Stories of the Imagination. Kickstarter for a cool publication.

A BRIEF ANALYSIS OF THE LOCUS RECOMMENDED READING LIST, 2011-2015.

The Makers of Game of Thrones Shouldn’t Apologize for Lying. They Should Lie Better.

All Good Things… SF Signal Announces It is Shutting Down.

Fandom issue of the week

Analysis of Slate Voting for the 2016 Hugos.

A Response to John C. Wright.

Oh No, the Puppies Are Back for the 2016 Hugo Awards—and As Angry As Ever.

Chuck Tingle counter-trolls the Gamergaters who nominated his erotica for a Hugo Award.

Hugo awards shortlist dominated by rightwing campaign.

This Week in Fighting Back in the Culture War:

The Return of Youth Pastor Watch.

3 Ways Marijuana Legalization Can Curb the Black Market.

California School Will Now Let This Lesbian Couple Be Prom Royalty – The principal reversed his previous decision (after ACLU threatens lawsuit) and everyone is thrilled.

Culture war news:

Priest On Fox News: It’s Hard To Trust Atheists Because They Don’t Fear Eternal Damnation. I almost wanted to make a new category, “Idiotic things Dominionists say” for this one. The sad thing is, that they don’t understand that if the only reason you don’t do stuff is fear of punishment, that means you’re the one without any morals.

Montana newspaper exposes hilarious ‘facts’ on display at creationist museum.

Why Have I Never Heard a Sermon on Domestic Violence?

Latinos and Democrats hide in safe houses as right-wing sheriff uses mob rule to take over Texas town.

New Jehovah’s Witness Cartoon Targets Young Children With Vile Anti-Gay Message.

Christian Group Admits To Sending Men Into Women’s Bathrooms To Scare You Into Hating Trans People.

This Video of Police Ejecting a Lesbian Without ID from a Women’s Bathroom Is Going Viral.

The imaginary predator in America’s transgender bathroom war.

Blogger fired after police chief sent cops to retaliate for exposing his gay-bashing daughter.

Watch a South Carolina School Board Meeting Erupt Into “Jesus Loves Me” After an Attendee Speaks Up for Transgender Rights.

Transgender Woman Killed in Wichita.

Cops Arrest High Schooler on 69 Counts of Indecent Exposure for Dumb Prank.

Conference Will Arrange Child Marriages For Christian Homeschoolers. “In short, according to the teachings, the girl is not expected to consent to the marriage, and really has no right to object.” Um, excuse me? In what way is this not human trafficking?

Church Tracks Down Former Member, Threatens “Action” If She Doesn’t Divorce Her Wife.

Feds Publish Records On Schools Allowed To Discriminate Against LGBT Students.

Judge Rules Gay Sex Stings Carried Out by Long Beach Police Are Discriminatory.

Things I wrote:

What’s wrong with some encouragement every now and then?

Not all illness is visible.

A rose, some memories, and a goofy grin.

Adventure awaits: more of why I love sf/f.

Videos!

Inside a 6ft Air Balloon – 4K – The Slow Mo Guys:

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Tyler Glenn – Trash:

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JOHN KASICH “GOP DROPOUT” – A Randy Rainbow Song Parody:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Adventure awaits: more of why I love sf/f

A silver rocket from the classic Flash Gordon serials.

A silver rocket from the classic Flash Gordon serials.

It’s that time of year, again, where I’m waiting for the Hugo Packet to arrive so I can start reading things that have been nominated for the award. And while several categories have again been piddled by the Rabid Puppies, I am still looking forward to the experience. Particularly since I learned an important lesson last time: the point of the awards is to recognize excellence. I’m not obligated to read stories to the end—as I always have as a small-press editor, where part of my mission is to help the writer improve the story if necessary. These stories have been nominated because, allegedly, they are great stories. So, this year I’ll give each story three pages to hook me. If by that point I’m not feeling interested enough to keep reading—regardless of whether the story was on anyone’s slate—then it goes under No Award on my ballot.

If I am enjoying it, I’ll keep reading. The only stories that will go above No Award will be the ones that kept me hooked until the end. Then I’ll rank those and move on to the next category.

It may be a very busy few months, since only one of the novels that were nominated is one I’ve already read. It’s easy enough to read five each of short stories, novellas, and novelletes in the time frame, and graphic novels usually go relatively quickly, but the novels take a bit more time!

With this new rule, I suspect that I’m going to enjoy the process this year a bit more than last year. Because the reason I care about any of the awards is because I love science fiction and fantasy. I don’t just love it, I frikkin’ love it. I have written before about how I can’t remember a time when sf/f was part of my life, because even when I was a small baby my mom read aloud to me from whatever book she was reading at the time, and she is one of the world’s geekiest Agatha Christie and Robert Heinlein fans.

Thanks to her, my childhood was full of a lot of science fiction. For a few years we faithfully watched episodes of Flash Gordon on channel two every morning, for instance. And our regular trips to the library (and used book store, when we lived in towns big enough to have one) usually resulted in several fantasy or science fiction books coming home with us.

It was one of those used bookstore runs when Mom found a copy of Dune in paperback. That book always sticks out in my memory because it was the first time that Mom was reluctant to tell me details about the book while she was reading it. It was also the first book that Mom told me I would have to wait until I was older. I know she really liked it, because it never once went into the pile of books she was thinking of trading in when we were preparing to visit a used book store. The fact that it was forbidden but also apparently really good instilled more than a bit of longing.

But it was rare for her to restrict my access to books. She never seemed to worry that I might not understand most books. If I asked to read one of her books, she’d let me, and she was always willing to discuss the story. There were times when I would try one of her books and I’d call it boring, though sometimes it was probably more because I actually was a bit too young to be tackling that particular book.

I loved browsing in the science fiction sections of the library or bookstores. Looking at the cover art, which was sometimes a bit weird and confusing, but always otherworldly. Each one seemed to beckon, promising strange and wondrous adventures if I would brave those pages.

Science fiction was always about possibilities, to me. I never felt that some sci fi wasn’t for me. I always felt welcome. Science fiction, particularly the way Mom enthused about it, was about making the world a better place. About going to new worlds, or creating new inventions, or learning what it would be like to live with aliens—or elves, or dragons. Do I wish more of the sf/f available in the 60s and early 70s had been more inclusive? Yes. Just as I wish more of present day sf/f was inclusive of people of color, queer people, et cetera. We’re getting better, but still have a ways to go before the representation matches the real world.

Whenever I pick up a new science fiction book, especially if it’s one that’s been recommended by a friend, I get a flash of that feeling of wonder and anticipation; the sense of strange adventures beckoning. For a moment, I’m that little boy in the bookstore, clutching a story, and about to plunge into something wondrous!

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