Wednesday, September 30, 2015

An Orwell quote about nationalists that could be said of identitarians

"The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them." -George Orwell, "Notes on Nationalism"

Monday, September 28, 2015

A little about Iroquois women, wealth, and power.

When making my previous post, I realized it's hard for 21st century Americans to think of a society with any division based on sex as egalitarian, so here's a bit from Female of the Species by M. Kay Martin and Barbara Voorhies for people who think women weren't equals in Iroquois society:
Brown (1970) argues convincingly that the key to elevated status for Iroquois women lay in their relationship to production and the distribution of wealth. As in a great number of horticultural societies, women were the exclusive cultivators. However a frequent accompaniment of matriliny—the manipulation of access rights to seeds and to arable land by matrilineal descent groups themselves—gave Iroquois women exclusive control over the production and storage of food. They were not only the primary producers, but collectively owned the means of production as well.

The significance of this control for the manipulation of power in Iroquois society was tremendous. Since food was wealth, and since the matrons of matrilineal descent groups supervised its distribution, women had available to them a mechnanism for giving or withholding rewards. Women of the longhouse held in common a store of food, which they systematically allocated to their men and children. Since they had labored collectively to cultivate these food crops—and on land belonging to them by virtue of their common kinship—women were not obliged to feed men on demand, but more did so as an act of good faith. The elder women would simply ask any male member of the longhouse whose behavior they viewed as objectionable to leave. Such eviction notices were apparently taken quite seriously, and provided an efficient instrument for terminating unsuccessful marriages and for eliminating persons incompatible with the larger longhouse membership.

But the power of women among the Iroquois extended far beyond the domestic unit. As in most matrilineal societies, the senior women or matrons of lieages and clans played an important role in political and social policy decisions. The Iroquois confederacy or League was headed by a council of chiefs. These representatives to the governing body were male, but gained and held office only with female approval.
Google Books continues that passage here.

Recommended: "Engels and the Origin of Women's Oppression" by Sharon Smith

Monday, September 21, 2015

My father, Bob Shetterly, died last night

No need to offer condolences. Dad lived life on his own terms and came very close to dying under them. While I have some regrets, I'm generally content.

He had wanted to die on his farm and had a bottle of pills on hand that he intended to take if he ever thought he could no longer live unassisted, but a neighbor found him after a heart attack. He spent his last weeks at the clinic in Tofield, where Mom died. He always hated hospitals and nursing homes, but if he couldn't die at home, that was probably the next best place. He died last night between being checked on by the nurses.

My niece was surprised that he went so quickly after being admitted. Emma's mom went quickly too when she knew she could not go home again. They were both strong-willed people, and if I filled out the death certificates for them, under "cause", I would write, "cantankerousness."

My dad and I always had a difficult relationship. I respected him enormously, and loved him too, but I don't think I'll cry about his death. I'm a little sorry a great psychiatrist never got a chance to study him, because I suspect he was either the best sort of sociopath or unusually autistic. He always tried to do right by others, and so far as I know, he never lied. He could be extremely charming, but he had no interest in conforming to anyone's expectations, and he always lived very simply, wearing old clothes and eating cheap food. He had an extreme sense of duty and a great discomfort around emotion—he didn't like to be hugged and I don't remember him telling anyone that he loved them. He had no use for pretensions of any sort. He was an atheist for as long as I knew—my first regret now is that I never asked him when he became one—and I am sure he died one. I could tell you things I hated him for, but in the larger scheme of things, they weren't important. He was a flawed man like any man, but he was ultimately a good man, and maybe a great man. If you want a slightly—and only slightly—romanticized version of him, read Dogland.

Here are my main blog posts about him:

In the 1960s, he ran a tourist trap in Florida: about Dog Land, the place, and Dogland, the novel

And he was involved in the civil rights struggle: Bob Shetterly, the only liberal in Levy County

He and my mom and my sister moved to northern Ontario, where he crashed two planes, but only one was written up in the National EnquirerCrashing a plane.

He is probably the oldest solo circumnavigator.

In 2004, he wrote a letter to my very conservative brother about American politics.

My life would've been easier with an easier man for a father, but all things considered, I was incredibly lucky that he was my dad.

ETA: My niece just informed me, "Edmonton accepted his body for science. They should be picking him up today or tomorrow." No memorial ceremonies are planned, but I'll probably toast him this evening, and the next time I'm near a large body of water, I'll toss in a rock or sail a paper boat in his memory.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Karl Marx on Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley

“The real difference between Byron and Shelley is this: those who understand them and love them rejoice that Byron died at thirty-six, because if he had lived he would have become a reactionary bourgeois; they grieve that Shelley died at twenty-nine, because he was essentially a revolutionist, and he would always have been one of the advanced guard of Socialism.” —Karl Marx

Quoted in Shelley and Socialism by Eleanor Marx 1888.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Is "warrior" the worst metaphor for a believer in peace or justice?

Saw this recently:

I commented,
Fuck no! Warriors make war: they kill, destroy, and conquer. We could use a better metaphor.
The poster replied,
warrior for peace and love.
I replied,
That's like saying "Be a torturer for tolerance" or "Be an assassin for antiviolence."
If the discussion continues, I'll make this point and then, I hope, drop out:
If metaphors matter, that one is awful. Now, I grant they often don't—few people use "classy" and intend to dis the working class. But if you want a strong noun for supporting peace and love, "worker" works just fine. Or if you want one that can be associated with violence, go with "defender" or "protector" or "champion" instead.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

On Toby, the best cat in the universe, and Barnabas, the worst

Thursday, September 10

No, this is not about The Worst Cat (which you should click if you don't know the site). This is about Toby, who was the best cat in the universe, and a little bit about Barnabas, who is still the worst cat because Toby set the bar so high.

I have been crying a lot in the last 24 hours, and I am a man who almost never cries. This is the reason why:

(© Susan Levy-Haskell)

I suspect Toby was always the best cat in the universe, even when he was a kitten whose owners called him Spider because he climbed everything. He wasn't a Spider when they gave him to us because he was a young adult cat then who had been declawed, but I'm sure he was already the best cat in the universe. Even without claws, he ruled a couple of large dogs and leaped onto tall surfaces to mock them when they chased him. We spent the night in his owners' guest room, and he came in to sleep with us, and soon after that, they had to move to a smaller place and asked if we would like to have him.

Of course we would like to have him.

We drove 500 miles to pick him up. On the way back, we were very aware of his only major flaw, extreme car sickness. But when we got back to Bisbee, we discovered that his car sickness left almost as soon as the car stopped, because he immediately surveyed his new domain and found it satisfactory.

I'm not sure why we named him Toby. We hadn't been people who gave human names to cats, but he just seemed like a Toby. He had all his virtues then. He liked people and always came to greet strangers. He had dignity: he liked to be petted and to sit with or on people, but he had a Minnesotan reserve too—he rarely demanded affection, and he usually didn't like to be held for very long, though he would happily sit in your lap. I don't remember him swatting or biting anyone, except for vets, who deserved it on principle. He was almost always near Emma or me. He had sleeping places that were nearby—the chair by my desk, the window seat by Emma's—so he could open an eye to check on us and go quickly back to sleep. When one of us was in the kitchen and the other in the living room, he would lie near the doorway so he could investigate if one of us did something interesting.

I think I miss him so much because he was always near.

He rarely spoke, and when he did, he tended to speak politely. He knew that to get respect you should give respect, and that people who respect themselves treat everyone with respect. He also knew that dignity is not an absolute goal, and sometimes you just have to chase something. He was in all ways such a gentleman that the only other name I could imagine for him now would be Mr. Steed.

He loved to sleep under the covers. I've gotten in the habit of napping, and he usually came to curl against me. Today's nap was very hard without him.

He liked to hold hands by hooking his paw with your finger.

Interruption: A friend just rang the door and fled, leaving a tupperware container of Asian comfort food on the step, and I may've cried harder than I have yet, because Toby was the kind of cat whose passing deserves all the things a human passing deserves. When we knew he was going, we joked about giving him a Viking funeral, and it wasn't entirely a joke. A wake isn't quite appropriate—yesterday, when Emma wanted to toast him, I thought she would want whiskey, but she chose a glass of milk. We buried him in the backyard in his cat bed, wrapped in a blanket with his favorite catnip mouse between his paws.

Sunday, September 13

Now, a perfect cat can't be perfect, so here are Toby's annoying traits:

1. He loved to dash outside any chance he could get. He never went far—he loved to run down the back stairs and lie in the sun on the warm cement, or go onto the nearest bit of lawn to sniff and chew the grass. I usually said something like, "Oh darn, the cat got out" and sat on the steps for a minute or two before bringing him back in.

2. He loved to shred paper with his teeth. This could be annoying in a writer's household. But it wasn't that annoying. I would give almost anything to be annoyed by him tearing up paper again.

A version of this occurred most mornings for over a decade:

I'm glad Emma never had to choose to give up Toby, coffee, or me. A good spouse knows where he can't compete. My favorite morning duty was making her coffee and feeding the cats so she and Toby could have their time together.

The hole in our lives is enormous.

We are back to being a one-cat household. Barnabas, the worst cat in the univere, has begun to work at becoming the best; here he's in the chair by my desk where Toby usually sat.

Barnabas is not very good at being a house cat. He came to live in the barn in Arizona, so for the longest time, his name was simply Barncat, but then Emma decided to coax him indoors, a process she or I may write about sometime, and calling him Housecat didn't seem to make sense. Oddly, even though his manners are atrocious, we have never asked him if he was born in a barn, perhaps because we suspect he had human owners briefly, then spent ages being semi-feral in the desert, where he would talk loudly to himself and make self-respecting coyotes flee in disgust. Though he is still the worst cat in the universe, when I saw him sleeping curled against Emma the morning after Toby died, I thought he might only be the second or third worst cat in the universe now, and he may even work his way up to best cat status when we least expect it.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Writing tip: The Darla Mistake when naming immortal characters

I love using Joss Whedon shows as examples because what's good is very good, so what's wrong stands out.

I forgive TV shows that get historical costumes wrong because they're working fast on limited budgets. But getting historical names wrong is embarrassing, especially when a screenwriter can ask a researcher how old a name is. Case in point: Darla. When the character was introduced in the pilot, she was a vampire cheerleader without a backstory. She seemed to have been a high school student who was turned into a vampire sometime in the last three decades or so.

A good guess would be that she was born in the '60s and vampirized in the late '70s, based on Name Age Calculator: Darla: "The median living girl named Darla was born around 1963 and ranges from 45 to 58 years old." Behind the Name tells us Darla is a short form of Darlene, which is "From the English word darling combined with the popular name suffix lene. This name has been in use since the beginning of the 20th century." Wikipedia has lists of people with the same first name; all of the Darlas at Darla - Wikipedia were born in the 20th century.

But when the character became more useful to the show, the writers decided she was born in the 16th century. They did some handwaving to say it was an old Gaelic name, but that appears to be their attempt to cover up a goof.

The internet makes retconning names easier than it was when Buffy was being being made. Girl Names Starting with Dar and Girl Names that Contain "dar" have some interesting possiblities for what Darla could've been called in her pre-20th century appearances.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

James Tiptree Jr. vs. Yi-Fen Chou: on writers whose personas are more "privileged" than they are

Read Sherman Alexie, 'The Best American Poetry 2015,' and Race, especially for Alexie's reasoning for publishing a poem that had been submitted by Michael Derrick Hudson, a white man writing as Yi-Fen Chou. Alexie's a smart man and a fine writer who is caught between the needs of his identitarian beliefs and his desire to publish the best work, regardless of the writer's identity.

Then think about James Tiptree Jr., the persona of Alice Sheldon and consider this: Tiptree and Chou are more privileged than Sheldon or  Hudson. I trust I don't have to point out that the heart of the argument of male privilege is that men have greater economic opportunities than women (and yes, that's changing, but women's overall income has not caught up to men's). I suspect I do have to point out the existence of Asian-American privilege. From Asian Americans are quickly catching whites in the wealth race:
Asians have had higher median incomes than their white counterparts, according to a new study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. The typical Asian family has brought home more money for most of the past two decades. 
...Some 65% of Asians age 35 to 39 have a college degree, compared to 42% of whites, 26% of blacks and 16% of Hispanics. Nearly a third of Asians that age have a graduate degree, more than twice that of whites. The share of blacks and Hispanics with advanced degrees are 9% and 5% respectively.
Asian-Americans object to race-based criteria for university admission because they know they have an advantage if you look through the racial reductionist lens of privilege theory. From Affirmative action amendment has some Asian-Americans furious | 89.3 KPCC:
...opponents — the most vocal being Chinese-American groups — are lobbying Assembly members to stop the measure from ever getting on the ballot. They predict their children would lose deserved college spots to “underrepresented” minorities such as Latinos and African-Americans if race-based admissions were to return. 
“College-admission standards should reflect our efforts, not by race,” said Kenny Hsu of the Southern California Council of Chinese Schools, which represents weekend language schools attended by more than 20,000 students.
So what does it mean when Michael Derrick Hudson cannot publish a poem as a white man, then has it accepted as one of the Best American Poems of 2015 when he writes as Yi-Fen Chou?

It means privilege is not as simple as privilege theorists think.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Using Sady Doyle to illustrate the Motte and Bailey Doctrine

The most useful tool for understanding online debate that I've encountered in the last year or so is the Motte and bailey doctine (pdf). Scott Alexander explains:
The motte-and-bailey doctrine is when you make a bold, controversial statement. Then when somebody challenges you, you claim you were just making an obvious, uncontroversial statement, so you are clearly right and they are silly for challenging you. Then when the argument is over you go back to making the bold, controversial statement.
The name comes from a traditional plan for European castles, which had a tower ("motte") and a courtyard ("bailey"):

If the defenders are strong, they fight from the bailey. But if they're losing, they retreat to the motte and only return to the bailey when they believe it's safe to go there.

The practice can be observed in Sady Doyle's PC Comedy and Paul Revere. First she creates a link between a rape in 1989 and the Beastie Boys' song, "Paul Revere"—by doing that, she makes a bold attack in the bailey.

But knowing there's no solid evidence linking entertainment and violence, she  retreats to the motte and says:
The rape joke in “Paul Revere” did not cause Christopher Archer to become a rapist. No rational person could argue such a thing. Millions of people heard the same song without raping anyone. And the “cause” of the rape in Glen Ridge — to the extent that we can offer up any cause, beyond the boys’ decision to do it — is more complicated than any one factor.
Then, having made a safe statement from the motte that few people would disagree with, she returns to the bailey to reinforce her link between entertainment and violence:
Chris Archer sure did like “Paul Revere,” though. It didn’t tell him what to do. It didn’t make him do it. It just made him laugh. It entertained him. It did what all good art does: It inspired him. It ran through his head, and intermingled with what was already inside of him, until he got an idea.
She then moves between motte and bailey a few times until, feeling safe in the bailey, she claims,
Because rape culture was not something that they’d thought through or considered their position within, at that point in their lives.
She expects her readers to accept the idea that the US is a "rape culture" because she has acknowledged that a song did not make Archer a rapist. Then she immediately retreats to the safety of the motte to talk about empathy as though empathy requires accepting the idea that "rape culture" theory is valid and entertainment causes violence. She talks about how the people who violate the precepts of contemporary feminist theory are actual human beings who wouldn't want horrible things to happen because of their art—but she's clearly uncomfortable up in the motte, because she just can't be nice about Patton Oswalt who refuses to be converted to her ideology.

But she knows she needs to do most of her fighting from the motte. So she says reasonably,
I don’t believe that offensive comedy should be prevented from existing, or forcibly suppressed.
And then she returns to the bailey:
it seems like the “PC” critics are the people who actually value comedy the most in this discussion. They’re the people who believe comedy has power and influence. They’re the ones who really believe comedians can change lives, or change the world. It’s because they believe all this, in fact, that they’re so worried about what comedians do. People who understand the power of something are anxious about how that power is used. Adults scream if they see a toddler holding a loaded gun, because they know what guns can do.
After saying she believed offensive comedy should not be "forcibly suppressed", she compared offensive comedy to a toddler holding a loaded gun, saying those who believe as she does "know what guns can do." She never tries to establish what her argument requires: is "offensive comedy" a loaded gun? She simply declares it from the bailey, and trusts that no one will wonder if she has confused real guns with squirt guns.

Knowing that she's in dangerous territory with her loaded gun analogy, she returns to the motte where she can't be attacked, saying,
We don’t create the Christopher Archers of this world. We don’t control them, either.
And then she concludes her essay on the steps between the motte and the bailey, trusting her audience will draw the conclusion made from the bailey because we have been reassured by claims made from the motte:
The only thing “PC” critics are asking you to do in the end, is that. It’s to realize that your voice runs through minds. Maybe a few dozen; maybe millions of them. They’re asking you to think about what else might be in there — what we know, from history, is too often found in there. To know that some people are flammable, and to be careful where the spark lands. Because, in the end, I don’t believe you when you say you don’t care. You are human. You are too good to want the innocent creatures burned.
Yes, we are human, and we are too good to want innocent creatures burned. But for all her running between the motte and the bailey, Ms. Doyle only circles the crucial question: Does entertainment cause violence?

Relevant: debunking rape culture theory, a linkfest

ETA: To clarify, I am not suggesting that Ms. Doyle or anyone who engages in motte and bailey tactics is trying to deceive anyone. I believe their belief systems prevent them from realizing what they're doing. Having no facts to support their beliefs is irrelevant. All they can do is link their beliefs to truisms in the hope their listeners will be convinced just as they were.

ETA 2: To be clear, I hate rape jokes and don't tell them. I hate a lot of things that I tolerate. When I was young, people used to say that if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. There's truth in that, but not complete truth. If you're concerned with the problem, focus on the solution.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The future that was: Miss Earth 1952

Via Miss Earth contest, 1952 Thanks to Mark..

1954 comic asks "Are you a Red Dupe?"

At the height of the Red Scare, comic books were facing censorship. EC Comics tried to point out that censorship was un-American with a house ad in The Haunt of Fear drawn by the great Jack Davis and written by Albert B. Feldstein.

But the comic book industry caved in to the Comics Code soon after that, and EC quit publishing comics.

ETA: I quite admire "Some of these people are no-goods, some are do-gooders, some are well-meaning, and some are just plain mean."