Saturday, November 15, 2014

The best $200 I ever spent? or Fat tire bikes are honey badgers

The Men's 26 Inch Mongoose Dozer Bike is $199.99 at Toys R Us right now. I called them up yesterday, said I wanted it, told them to assemble one, took the bus out there (an hour trip), and they had assembled the wrong one. And because it's the holiday season, they couldn't spare anyone to make up another right away. So I took the bus back.

But I wasn't particularly upset, because I like reading on buses.

This morning I took the bus out again. And they'd assembled the wrong one again. But they were extremely apologetic and put someone right to assembling it, and about twenty minutes later, I began my bicycle ride home.

A nine mile trip. On a 57.4 pound bike. With one gear. In twenty degree Fahrenheit weather, which is what Minnesotans and Canadians call a nice winter day if the sun is shining.

But it was snowing.

And I loved it.

The Mongoose Dozer is shockingly cheap for a fat tire bike. That's because it's a lot heavier than deluxe bikes. There's a version with seven speeds and disc brakes that's around $250 (free shipping at Target), and we'll probably get that for Emma, but I kind of like "one bike, one gear".

Here's the thing: Fat bikes are honey badgers. I rode on the sidewalk wherever there weren't people walking, which was most of the way because of the 20 degrees and snowing. I rode over ice chunks as big as bricks and only had to walk my bike through one stretch where the plows had been throwing snow onto the sidewalk and no one had cleared it since last winter. I had to stand on my pedals to go up hills (something, Emma tells me, rich bikers say only "mashers" do—yes, the class war is everywhere), but I like doing that. Once, the back tire spun on ice. On a regular bike that would be terrifying. On a fat tire bike, I just wondered if it was going to be terrifying, and it wasn't: Honey (Emma named it after I told her fat bikes are honey badgers) and I just kept rolling on.

A heavy single-speed bike is slow. If I was getting one to commute, I'd definitely get the Dolomite. For doing things around the neighborhood, a single-speed will be fine.

These things should be given to poor people. Riding one isn't just faster than walking. It feels safer, because you don't have to worry about slipping. (Yes, you have to worry about braking, just like in a car, but it's like driving a car: notice what's ahead of you, and you'll know whether you need to slow down for an icy stretch and adjust your speed accordingly.)

I felt something like guilt twice, once when I saw a mother with two kids wrestling a cheap baby stroller through a stretch of sidewalk that hadn't been cleared in much too long, and again a little later, when I saw another cheap stroller abandoned on a street corner where someone had probably decided it was easier to just carry a kid or walk slowly beside one. For practical reasons, sidewalks should be kept clear by the local government.

I felt something like class war pride when I passed another fat tire biker whose bicycling clothes probably cost more than my bike. This one's a little tricker to explain, but I think it works like this: if I spend a fifth to a tenth as much for something that's half as good but still good enough, my use of the money is more than twice as effective.

Which isn't to knock Surlys. If I could afford one, I'd very happily get one. But for my budget and needs, Honey's my love.

Emma took pics when I came home:

Maybe I'll paint her black in the spring, but the bright orange is nice on a gray day.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A little more about St. Peter's and Malcolm X's "Respect everyone"

St Peter and Malcolm X each said "Respect everyone" as part of broader statements. The King James Version of 1 Peter 2:17 is very clear, so long as you remember that "men" is italicized to indicate it was added by the translators: "Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king." In case there are Christians who think there's wiggle room in St. Peter's "Respect everyone", here's an analysis at The Apostle Peter on Civil Obedience: An Exegesis of 1 Peter 2:13-17 |
The fourfold injunction follows immediately after qeou` douloiv (v. 16). Peter wants his readers, as servants of God, to honor all men. That is, they are to say and do things concomitant with the respect all men are to be shown.143 The verb timavw is used 21 times in the NT and is commonly associated in the Synoptics with the proper attitude a child is to demonstrate to their parents (e.g. Matt 15:4; cf. also Eph 6:2). It is also applied to God in John's gospel (John 5:23; 8:49) as well as the honoring of Paul (Acts 28:10) and widows (1 Tim 5:3). It is also used to refer to money (Matt 27:9). Though Peter does not explicate the idea here, this honor and respect for all men is most likely grounded in the fact that they are creations of God (cf.ktivsei in verse 13).144 And, the fact that pavnta" stands first in the clause emphasizes all men without exception. Peter's readers are not to go about choosing whom they will respect and honor. Such an attitude is forbidden by this verse. They are to honor all men.
Malcolm X's full statement is "Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery." It's from a speech known as Message to the Grass Roots which he gave on November 10, 1963, while he was still part of the misleadingly named Nation of Islam. He later said,
I totally reject Elijah Muhammad's racist philosophy, which he has labeled 'Islam' only to fool and misuse gullible people as he fooled and misused me. But I blame only myself, and no one else for the fool that I was, and the harm that my evangelical foolishness on his behalf has done to others."
I did many things as a [Black] Muslim that I'm sorry for now. I was a zombie then—like all [Black] Muslims—I was hypnotized, pointed in a certain direction and told to march. Well, I guess a man's entitled to make a fool of himself if he's ready to pay the cost. It cost me 12 years.

That was a bad scene, brother. The sickness and madness of those days—I'm glad to be free of them.
I've never found any evidence that Brother Malcolm changed his mind about being peaceful and courteous and obeying the law and respecting everyone, just as there's no evidence he ever changed his mind about the importance of self-defense. Shortly before he was killed, in a talk titled The oppressed masses of the world cry out for action against the common oppressor, he said:
And when you see the Blacks react, since the people who do this aren’t there, they react against their property. The property is the only thing that’s there. And they destroy it. And you get the impression over here that because they are destroying the property where they live, that they are destroying their own property. No. They can’t get to the man, so they get at what he owns. [Laughter] 
This doesn’t say it’s intelligent. But whoever heard of a sociological explosion that was done intelligently and politely? And this is what you’re trying to make the Black man do. You’re trying to drive him into a ghetto and make him the victim of every kind of unjust condition imaginable. Then when he explodes, you want him to explode politely! [Laughter]
He's talking about the explosion of oppressed people in response to an outrage like the police killing a member of their community, and he's noting that it's not an "intelligent" response, that it's a symptom, not a solution. The first step in bringing about a solution is in his original statement: respect everyone.

Possibly relevant: Googling about this, I came on Respect (part 1 of 3) - The Religion of Islam, which talks about something Malcolm almost certainly knew: You don't just treat people with respect when they're present. You treat them with respect always. I completely agree; I finally instituted a code of conduct for this blog when someone at another insisted on reviling his opponents.

If you wonder why I usually speak of Brother Malcolm, that's respect, too. From his interview with Bernice Bass:
MALCOLM X: I never accept the term "honorable. 
BASS: That's a beautiful title. 
MALCOLM X: Well, I'll tell you. Most people I've seen really end up misusing it, and I'd rather just be your Brother Malcolm.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

A call for kindness inspired by Requireshate and Racefail 09

Inspired by the comments at A Report on Damage Done by One Individual Under Several Names, I'm writing something that's very hard for me. I'm starting with a few general points for people who aren't familiar with my blogging. Then it gets personal.

Don't mock anyone who claims to have been hurt by the antics of Requireshate and her supporters. If you've never been mobbed, you can't know that the psychological effects are so horrible that some victims kill themselves. I wrote a little about that at Mobbing drives people a little—or a lot—mad.

But when you have sympathy for RH's targets, try to have sympathy for the people who aided her in the belief they were doing the right thing. Five years after the Salem Witch Trials, the jurors signed a letter stating, “…we also pray that we may be considered candidly and aright by the living sufferers as being then under the power of a strong and general delusion, utterly unacquainted with and not experienced in matters of that nature.”

And, if you can, try to have some sympathy for RH, too. She clearly suffers from some mental disorder, and she adopted a belief system that brought out all the worst in her. She was more extreme than her fellows, but her fellows applauded her. Like Barry Goldwater, they believed extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. Anyone who has read about the Jacobins should know that's wrong, but people who think their goals are virtuous often excuse the worst tactics. Folk wisdom rejects that: The ends don't justify the means. At some level, most of us know the means and the ends are the same.

Martin Luther King said, "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." I learned that the hard way in Racefail 09, when many good people were accused of being racists. I was silent for days, but then I saw two people in particular being attacked—my wife, whose first novel should be remembered in any history of interracial romance in our genre, and Patrick Nielsen Hayden, who ten years before had published "Racism and Science Fiction" by Samuel R. Delany. So I spoke up.

If you have sympathy for RH's targets, try to have sympathy for all the people on Racefail's blacklists and "shitlists," except me. Some of them, maybe most of them, maybe all of them, are still suffering. They saw themselves becoming pariahs, and saw that the work they had valued all their lives was meaningless, and feared they might never be able to do that work again.

I'm not saying I'm exempt from the suffering caused by mobbing—if anything, I'm an extreme example of the damage it does—but I've lived with this all my life, thanks to the Ku Klux Klan driving my family from our home for our involvement in the civil rights struggle. When Racefail came, most of its targets were good people who had never been hurt by mobs before. Their wounds were fresh and raw. For me, old scars were simply torn open again, so the flight instinct was weaker and the fight instinct stronger.

To mobs, those who fight back deserve what they get, so I bear it. But the rest of the people on those lists? The people who were so smugly judged at this RaceFail Amnesty Post? They deserve every bit of sympathy being given to the people who have been savaged by RH and her allies. Some of them, maybe most of them, maybe all of them, would be grateful for a kind word.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Movie rec: Whip It

I dunno how we missed this when it was released, but we watched it tonight and thought it fine. It's a sports movie for people who don't like sports (hey, roller derby!) and a coming of age movie for, well, people who like coming of age stories, I guess. IMDB gives it 6.9, but Rotten Tomatoes' tomatometer, which tends to be more in line with my taste, gives it 84%. Ellen Page gave a fine performance, and Drew Barrymore's direction served a script with a number of funny lines.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The finances and organization of Shadow Unit and Liavek

Tl;dr: In seven years, Shadow Unit has made a little over $50,000 for its creators and a little over a million words for its readers. A copy of the Liavek writer's contract is at the end of this in case it might help writers who want to make their own shared world.

The top three things polite Americans don't talk about with strangers are probably religion, politics, and money. Online, the first two are discussed all the time, which means the third is the greater taboo. So if this makes you uncomfortable, my apologies.

I'm sharing this for people who have been wondering about creating their own shared world. Sharing what we've learned is something most writers are happy to do. When Emma and I were part of creating the Liavek shared world anthologies in the '80s, Robert Asprin and Lynn Abbey of Thieves' World sat down with us and talked about what they thought they had done right and wrong. Few of us see our fellow writers as competition. We want them to succeed because they're doing the thing we love. So if sharing this helps anyone else, I'll be very pleased.

Every shared world is set up differently, primarily depending on the editors' needs and instincts. With Liavek, Emma and I had contracts with Ace Books, so we nominally own the world, but we made contracts with the writers that say anyone who writes for us becomes a co-owner. If a major entertainment company takes an interest in Liavek, everyone involved with it will profit equally. Ace gave us advances on the books—$6000 for each of the first two, $7500 for each of the last three—and we paid writers from the advances. My understanding is that a 50/50 split between writers and editors is common with anthologies, but that seemed high to us, so we made it 35/65 in favor of the writers. I don't think any of the anthologies earned out on their advances, so those five anthologies made $34,500 for their writers and editors, of which 10% went to our agent.

Emma discusses the artistic creation of Shadow Unit in "Sanding the Oyster: the Origins of Shadow Unit". For its financial creation, we built on the Liavek model: all the contributors own it jointly. Emma and Elizabeth Bear are effectively the editors, but they don't take an extra cut for doing that. I note this because in a commercial enterprise, good editors deserve every penny they can get, but in a fun enterprise, the editors may work for free in order to give more to the writers.

After much discussion, we set Shadow Unit up as co-op and handled money like this:

• 10% of the profit is divided equally among the co-op members, regardless of how much they contributed.

• 10% of the profit goes into a holding fund for future expenses.

• 80% of the profit goes to the writers based on the percentage of their contribution to the project.

When we started, stories were free online and our only income was from donations. Shadow Unit was a side project for everyone involved in it, so we made decisions based on what would be easiest rather than what might be most profitable, and none of us wanted to deal with ads. I mention this purely as a data point—I understand ads are very profitable for some sites.

While we were running exclusively on donations, the donations varied from a couple of dollars to $500. When we began collecting stories in ebooks, donations went down, but income went up. We made the first volume free, which seems to have helped promote the series, though free ebooks have a price for creators: Give something away, and you'll get bad reviews from some people who never would've tried it otherwise. Still, people tend to be pretty good at finding what they like: At Amazon, Shadow Unit #1 currently has 4.1 stars.

We priced the ebooks at $2.99 to make them impulse buys. Whether we would've done as well at $3.99 or $4.99, I don't know. The nice thing about a cheap ebook is it doesn't have to be long, and if you're collecting stories that are appearing free on the web, you want to be able to release them frequently. The word counts on the first volumes were between 80,000 and 60,000. In order to put them out faster, we went with smaller word counts, 40,000 to 60,000 generally, and no reader has complained.

A writer who is planning a web series sent us these questions:

1) How did you ensure that everyone was working from the same game plan?

We're planning on putting together a series bible like they do on TV, and I assume you put together a similar sort of touchstone document. If so

a) What material was in the document

Both Liavek and Shadow Unit had bibles describing the world and the characters. Because Liavek was an invented world, we included maps.

b) Was there anything that wasn't in the document that you wish was in there now?

No, maybe because we're thorough, maybe because we're lucky. We knew the bible had to answer everyone's questions, but we also knew the bible was only a starting document. With Liavek, we learned one thing: establish something as an exception, and most of the writers will want to deal with the exception. So don't put anything in the bible that you don't want writers to try to bend or break.

c) Was the document written by one person, or was it a collaborative effort?

Our bibles have been collaborative because we want the writers to feel like they own the project. For Liavek, different writers took parts of the bible—I no longer remember who created which country or which religion. For Shadow Unit, Emma and I came up with the rough drafts of most of the core cast, but other writers added some of my favorites.

2) Was there anything else you used to make sure everyone was on the same page as to plot line, characters, etc.?

The internet! For Liavek, we sent out newsletters, but for Shadow Unit, we emailed and LiveJournaled and built a wiki. Fortunately for us, fans took over the wiki once the series got going.

3) How often did you guys get in touch to discuss what was going on?

With Liavek, some writers simply got the bible and a few newsletters and sent us a story. With Shadow Unit, we had a private LJ that was very, very busy in the first months.

4) What did the editorial process for individual stories look like?

With Liavek, Emma and I worked fairly conventionally. With Shadow Unit, we put the stories up on Google Docs, and all the members of the group are able to leave comments. The writer then gives the final draft to the volunteer proofreaders and it goes off to the web ghoul to be published.

I'm not sharing a Shadow Unit writer's contract because I don't have a copy handy, but it's basically what I described earlier. Here's the Liavek writer's contract that we used for each volume:

Letter of Agreement between Will Shetterly, Emma Bull, and X (hereafter referred to as The Author) who lives at ?.
1.  In return for a share of Berkley Publishing Corporation's advance amounting to $ and a prorated share of 65% of all subsequent monies coming due to Will Shetterly and Emma Bull from trade, book club, reprint, foreign language, or any other editions of the Liavek anthology in which The Author's story appears, The Author hereby grants (and warrants having the right to grant) non-exclusive World Anthology Rights to a story entitled Z for inclusion in an anthology of stories centering around the imaginary city of Liavek.
2.  The Author further grants that all cities, countries, races, beasts, historical personages and other such fictional creations created for the Liavek anthology, but specifically excluding any characters of The Author's creation as may be designated in a cover letter accompanying a Liavek story, shall become the shared property of the Liavek Co-op for any and all literary or marketing purposes.  (The Liavek Co-op is defined as all writers who contribute to Liavek anthologies or novels and who indicate their willingness to be a part of that Co-op by checking the appropriate part of Section 9 of this agreement, or who send a future letter of intent to the Liavek editors).  Should The Author become a member of the Liavek Co-op, all use of any of The Author's creations by other Liavek authors will be subject to The Author's written permission.
3.  The Author further grants permission for transcription of Z into Braille, and for its inclusion in tape, talking or large-print books, in the event that the Liavek anthology is selected by a non-profit organization for the disabled.
4.  Emma Bull and Will Shetterly shall pay the advance promptly upon receipt of the full contracted advance from Berkley Publishing Corporation, and shall disburse any of the anthology's subsequent earnings semi-annually.
5.  Emma Bull and Will Shetterly shall have Berkley Publishing Corporation print in the book a proper copyright notice, pursuant to the instructions of The Author.
______(a) ______________________
______(b) Copyright in The Author's name.
6.  The Author shall receive from Berkley Publishing Corporation one free copy of the U.S. edition of the anthology.
7.  All rights not specifically granted in this agreement are reserved to the author.
8.  Until Emma Bull or Will Shetterly are notified in writing to the contrary, all payments under this agreement shall be made to:
______(a) The Author
______(b) _________________________
          _________________________, whose receipt shall be a full discharge of the monies recieved.
9.  In the event of future Liavek anthologies or novels, 5% of the profits from those books will be reserved to be divided equally among the members of the Liavek Co-op.  Further, all rights to the world of Liavek and all characters and concepts used therein not specifically withheld by the creator of a character shall belong to the Liavek Co-op, and all monies from assigning those rights will be divided equally among the members of the Liavek Co-op.
_______The Author is to be considered a member of the Liavek Co-op.  All rights to any characters created and designated by The Author remain The Author's, and any use, in this anthology or in future ones, by other writers will be subject to The Author's approval.  Membership in the Co-op does not impose any obligation to contribute to any future Liavek anthologies, though future Liavek writers may pester The Author for permission to use The Author's Liavek characters.
_______The Author reserves the right to join the Liavek Co-op at a future date.  All rights to any characters created and designated by The Author remain The Author's.  Any use of The Author's characters by other writers in the first Liavek anthology will be subject to The Author's approval.
____________________     ___________________________________
(date)                   (The Author)
                         Author's Social Security #_________
____________________     ___________________________________
(date)                   Emma L. Bull
____________________     ___________________________________
(date)                   Will Shetterly

Saturday, November 1, 2014

About class, catcalling, and that viral video

One of my old posts, class and catcalling, got some love from the internet this week because of this video:

Anti-racists have been saying that video is racist because it's about a white woman walking through neighborhoods with lots of brown men. They don't see that it's about a middle-class woman walking through neighborhoods with lots of working class men. And more significantly, they don't see that it's about a middle-class woman pointedly ignoring working class men.

The video's a template for everyone's projections. An old-school snob could title it "Working-class men don't know their place." An old-school racist could title it, "White women must be protected from dark-skinned races."

What strikes me is it's about a woman on the street who is oblivious to the dynamics of the street. She doesn't want to engage with strangers, especially those of a lower economic class. She doesn't want to acknowledge a greeting or a compliment, so something as simple as "good morning" becomes a "micro aggression".

To the people who agree with the videomakers, the men's reactions to being ignored is evidence of their sexism. But humans don't like being ignored. Feminists who complain about women being erased should see that by refusing to acknowledge the existence of working-class men, the actor is erasing them from her reality.

Which is why it's hard to tell what's going on with the guy who decides to walk beside her. Clearly, he knows something odd is going on. Maybe he's spotted the camera. Whatever he's thinking, he's doing something that he could as easily do with a man who was ignoring him. Speaking as a guy who knows a little more about the street than most middle class people do, I assure you, his decision to walk beside her was not necessarily sexual.

There's not a perfect parallel in this, but I recommend it to put the previous video in perspective:

I relate to it because I was a handsome young guy in New York once. Not as handsome as that guy, but I got hit on by men and women. I've never had great social skills, but I knew one of the basic rules of the street: don't ignore people. It's rude. Smile, say "thank you" if they've complimented you, say "sorry" if they've asked you for something you don't want to give, and keep walking.

There's a very reasonable take on catcalling by Ana Kasparian and Gina Grad in this: