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March 27, 2003

Oh, brother, where art thou: Sgt. James Riley was taken prisoner on Sunday, March 23. According to CNN, he
taught himself the guitar and is a science fiction buff who is making a chain mail shirt for himself.
God. He’s one of our tribe.

(Thanks to Maureen O’Brien for noticing this.) [12:29 AM]

Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Oh, brother, where art thou::

Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2003, 12:31 AM:

Aaaaaaaaargh. I want to send him some books.

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2003, 12:49 AM:

Teresa, I had the SAME DAMN THOUGHT. Can the Red Cross deliver packages for individuals?

I hope he and the other prisoners are going to be OK. All jingoism aside, the Ba'athists are true ruthless bastards. Doubly so, now that their backs are against the wall.

politically incorrect ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2003, 01:44 AM:

Gee, I wonder if any of these dudes were 'one of us'?

David Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2003, 03:21 AM:

Once again, we have proof that people on all sides of an issue can be jackasses.

Suffering isn't something you put on a scale to see who "wins".

Mris ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2003, 09:47 AM:

I grew up in Omaha, where Strategic Air Command affects everybody -- everybody knows someone who's in the service now, or was and retired, or was and is now a contractor. This was doubly true if you read spec fic or played role-playing or strategy games or did SCA. There were servicebeings *constantly* in all of the gaming stores, and when there were still two SF bookstores in town, they were in and out of those all the time, too, possibly more often than civilians were.

The way my friend's cousins explained it was that when they were stationed in places like way-out-there Alaska, they had to do *something*, so even kids who went into boot camp scornful of "our" books and games would sometimes "convert" out of desperation, and then find they liked it. A *lot* of these people are "our" people -- SF care packages are a great idea.

Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2003, 09:47 AM:

The plight of Sgt. James Riley doesn't really offer "perspective" in the normal sense of the word. Those in Baghdad who have been blown up are clearly in worse straits. Riley isn't more important because he's one of my tribe. However, in the days since the war's started, I've been distancing myself, and Riley brings it back to the personal level.

There's the political, and there's the personal. They are interleaved, but they are not the same. The boundaries are fuzzy. (The boundary is different for different people, and it should be.) Being abruptly reminded of just how personal this is is not hypocrisy, it's a shift of perspective. I've never doubted that the Iraqis were human, had complex lives; I know that they too have both personal and political involvement. The blog "Where is Raed?" is a human voice from Baghdad, and invaluable for keeping the political from overwhelming the personal.

It's worth noting that Riley is part of my tribe because it reminds me of how interwoven the world is, how closely we are all tied to each other. Being a member of a community does not mean that one has less compassion for members of other communities. Being a member of a community is not necessarily an exclusive experience. Most of us are members of many different communities. Riley, though, is a member of the community that I understand best, and so it hits closer to the center of my personal concerns. However, if you think my political concerns and interests aren't important, guess again. We are both political and personal, and while the lines may be fuzzy, the two perspectives do inform each other.

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2003, 10:32 AM:

Joe Haldeman was the only survivor of his platoon in Viet Nam. When he got home, he wrote an autobiographical Viet Nam novel. No editor would buy it. So he wrote "The Forever War" and that put him on "our tribe's" radar screen. Then he wrote "1968" about an SF fan who was the only survivor of his platoon, and driven into shell-shock madness by that, hallucinating various SF scenarios. Of course I hope that Sgt. James Riley not only survives, but someday writes "The Forever Dune War" or whatever...

Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2003, 01:05 PM:

"Politically Correct" is that known species of internet jerk who goes around trying to morally collect on the suffering of others. Typically, he's using a pseudonym and an anonymous nonce-address to do it. Ignore him.

Stefan, I don't think Red Cross arrangements have been sorted out yet.

Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2003, 01:30 PM:

They are _all_ part of our tribe. On both sides. They love coffee, they are fond of cats, they laugh at jokes, they love action movies, they lost themselves in a book, they wrote poetry, they once had the best strawberry with cream of their lives while dining out with their grandfather and his memory will always for them smell of strawberries, they wondered what sex was like, they fell in love, they got horribly drunk with their friends and were embarrassed the day afterwards, they had a dog sigh while it rested its head on their tigh, they love the warm feeling you have just before you fall asleep, they worry about their loved ones. They fear death. They hope for life. Some of them will live and die unloved and unlamented, but most of them won't. A web, a network, ties us to them.
They are all part of our tribe.
I wish it weren't so.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2003, 01:55 PM:


I was with you right up until your last line. I'm glad we're all part of the same tribe. And even the pain is part of being human, which, overall, we rejoice in.

These words from the Dark Aphrodite: "If you love, you will mourn. This is not a risk; it is a certainty - because all relationships end in either separation or death."

Grieving is part of being human. Without grief there would be no compassion, as a Navajo (I think) legend says about Death. I don't enjoy feeling that little bite I feel when I hear about someone dying (what if that were one of my friends? Or my brother? How must his mother feel? etc.), but I wouldn't wish it away, not for anything, because without it I would be lessened.

Probably I'm responding to something you didn't mean. If so, ignore this. It just pushed my button.

Chuck Divine ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2003, 02:04 PM:

I actually know some young men and women going off to war in Iraq. I met them through a demented running group known as the Hash House Harriers.

We don't talk about politics much at all. Or the war. We do a lot of clowning around, chasing after members of the opposite sex (we're a mixed group -- men and women) (yes, both sexes do the chasing).

It's a real bitch seeing them go off to war. You wonder what horrors they'll see. And hope that they come back in one piece.

I suppose I should reread The Forever War and Catch-22.

Dave Bel ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2003, 02:31 PM:

I would be pleasantly astonished if Red Cross parcels, or any other of the PoW support mechanisms of past wars ever got established.

We may hope that the astonishment will be as much because of the shortness of the war as because of the past record of Sgt. Riley's captors.

Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2003, 03:03 PM:

Prisioners of War? Iraq will merely declare them "Unlawful Combatants."

What comes around, goes around.

Zed ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2003, 03:32 PM:

Reading Riley's profile, knowing there's an sf fan who is, in the best-case-scenario spending every day worrying about whether he'll be tortured or killed, really, really got to me, much moreso than just the knowledge that there were American POWs had.

So we've almost certainly read some of the same books -- I'd be shocked if he hadn't read Heinlein. Who knows how much else of our reading is in common. Whether we share similar values. Whether I'd like him personally if I met him, whether he's someone I'd choose to spend time with (or vice versa.) Certainly I meet people at cons with whom that's not the case.

But none of that matters. Like PNH said, he's one of the tribe, and he's in terrible danger.

Part of me is tempted to feel guilty about responding so much more to this than I had just to other humans being in danger. But ultimately I think that'd be a mistake. Tribalism is part of being human, and to deny it is counter-productive. Obviously it has a dark side, the dehumanizing of those not of the tribe, and that should and must be fought against.

Best of luck, Sgt. Riley.

Arthur D. Hlavaty ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2003, 03:44 PM:

Jonathan: Actually, Joe Haldeman's war novel, _War Year_, was published before _The Forever War_. It didn't sell. After _The Forever War_, Pocket reprinted _War Year_ in paperback (1980 or so). It may have been the first time I ever saw a mimetic novel with a cover that tried to make it look like sf.

Will Shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2003, 08:17 PM:

My first thought was, "How do I send him some books?" Okay, I'm late. But if anyone finds out, please spread the word. Let's bomb Iraq with science fiction books.

As for tribes, at least three of mine are over there. There's blood: my niece is a Marine Corporal who may still be in Camp Coyote but is probably somewhere near Basra. There's readers like James Riley--and a surprising or not so surprising number of soldiers are readers; grocery stores near military bases seem to have larger book sections than other grocery stores. And there's simple human identity: a family of five were burned to death in their car in Baghdad's Place of the People. I was the oldest kid in a family of five; right now it seems like the five of us were in our car every day when I was young. Doesn't matter whose bomb that was; if there hadn't been a war, there wouldn't have been a bomb.

Here's hope for all soldiers and civilians everywhere.

Will Shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2003, 08:39 PM:

Teresa, "Politically Incorrect" may not express him or herself very well--bitterness is easy right now--but the link is, I think, worth following. The American news seems to be following the military in treating civilians as just another column in the statistics of war. It's good to be reminded that George Bush's desires, whatever they may be, affect people like us. If the Iraqis were better at propaganda, they would have a web page with photos of every known casualty and a few biographical facts, and maybe a comment from a friend or family member.

There's a picture, I think on the Daily Kos site, of a missing soldier, presumed dead, a slender blond girl who looks astonishingly like my niece.

Apologies if I sound like I'm lecturing, or even if I think you don't know most of this. Maybe I'm saying this more for "Politically Incorrect," who could do more good with less anger. Or maybe I'm just saying it for myself. As I've been known to say, it can be a good thing to preach to the choir. The choir needs to be reminded now and then why it's there, too.

James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2003, 10:26 PM:

There are web logs that openly approve the war. I don't think that this is one of them.

I'm reasonably certain that in the not-far-distant past, we saw General Sherman's quote: "I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengance, more desolation. War is hell."

Will Shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2003, 11:24 PM:

Jim, that's one of my favorite quotes about war. Right now, it's the last of a list of quotes about peace and war on a web site I started for the local community: the Bisbee Peace Page. Right now, I don't think the page has anything you can't find elsewhere (except for the time and place of a local silent vigil), but I'm hoping to turn it into a decent little resource in the next week or two.

Someday, I want to use "its glory is all moonshine" for something. But if someone beats me to it--or has--more power to 'em.

Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2003, 01:26 AM:


It's not just the "member of the tribe" thing. It's looking yourself in the mirror, seeing something of yourself in that person's reflection.

It's also kind of disturbing for me since while I've had plenty of members of my family in the military, I'm the only one who was ever heavily in to science fiction or fantasy, with the exception of my uncle Billy, who died in Vietnam when I was three. It's always made me angry that wore stole away the one member of my family who I could have related with most.

Back during the Gulf War and Kosovo, I made up a couple care packages with books, but instead of writing "Any Soldier" on them, I wrote "Any Soldier Who Likes Science Fiction and Fantasy." I got a couple letters and an email back.

I'm also getting somewhat creeped out by this by the thought that while I've always been used to veterans older than me, then veterans about my same age with Gulf I and Kosovo, this is the first time I'm going to be seeing veterans significantly younger than me.

Obviously hoping for everyone to come back safely, but especially for Sgt. Riley. He is one of our tribe.

Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2003, 01:29 AM:

Make that "war stole."

I do not know where the "wore stole" came from.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2003, 10:58 AM:

Kevin - maybe because you think about the sound of what you write, especially when there's strong emotional content. This is a good way to write things that sound better than run-of-the-mill, but not such a good way to spell...

I have that problem too, as you might have guessed (or even observed). And I'm a pretty good speller when I'm not worked up.

Jame Scholl ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2003, 11:12 AM:

As these weeks of war grind on, I have to fight the urge to shy away from anything that gets under my skin.

The obviously cynically put-together "human interest" war stories on the news channels don't stand much of a chance. They'd arrange to show baskets of burning puppies if it'd get everyone watching for half an hour and let them sell more ads. As an SF fan and member of my generation, my propaganda defenses are pretty high.

This one got to me. Later, I'll shunt the war to the mental back burner it's been occupying and get on with living out my day. But for a while, I'll be thinking about Sgt. Riley and wishing there were something useful I could do for him.

Jaine_3 ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2003, 11:43 AM:

Books for Soldiers provides guidelines and addresses for sending books to people in the service. It's still getting started, and it looks as though there are more people filling requests than there are people making them. That said, I doubt it's possible for the folks on duty to have too much to read; that particular problem usually solves itself.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2003, 12:06 PM:

Will Shetterly writes:

"Apologies if I sound like I'm lecturing, or even if I think you don't know most of this."

Yes, Will, that's exactly how you sound.

What I expressed was what Lydia Nickerson said: "how interwoven the world is, how closely we are all tied to each other." If I had come across a media report of an Iraqi who was similarly connected to some subculture I'm part of, I would have linked to it, too. Oh, wait. I have. He's Salam Pax, the (now well-known) weblogger in Baghdad.

For this, I get moralizing from an anonymous drive-by, and I get an old friend explaining how right the drive-by was, because "the American news seems to be following the military in treating civilians as just another column in the statistics of war" and "it's good to be reminded that George Bush's desires, whatever they may be, affect people like us." Gosh, I never thought of that, or said anything like it. Oh, wait. I did.

You know something, Will? You don't get to be high-handed and sanctimonious to your friends, and then make it all better by saying "Oh, sorry" at the end. That package is not on offer.

I am deeply alienated by the evident fact that a simple expression of human sympathy has turned into an exercise in competitive gainsaying over who can express the most sympathy for the greatest diversity of people. Global empathy grows from individual sympathy; it is not nourished by guilt-tripping. The only difference between you and the individual who posted as "politically correct" is that the latter was pungent and unapologetic in his or her rudeness, whereas you are trying to sugar-coat the message by simultaneously apologizing. In both cases the underlying logic is the same. And it's wrong.

"...but the link is, I think, worth following."

I read it last night, when it first went up. I read the Independent's war coverage pretty assiduously, along with as much of the rest of the foreign press as I can stuff into a 24-hour day. Not for the first time, I have to wonder exactly what some readers think my views are, and why, after months of opposing this war, they think I need to be lectured with observations that, for instance, Iraqis are suffering too. It bugs me to get graffiti like that from anonymous Internet drive-bys. It grieves me to get it from my friends. Being bugged is easy to deal with. Grief is different. It makes me think I might as well not say anything.

"...it can be a good thing to preach to the choir. The choir needs to be reminded now and then why it's there, too."

I fear that this really is an honest description of what you think you're doing. Words fail me.

Beth Meacham ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2003, 12:34 PM:

Patrick, my friend, though it's understandable that you feel that all posts in your comments section are addressed to you, in fact I think that most of them are addressed to others. To the other commenters, sure, but more to the invisible, unknowable (at least to us, if not to you) number of people who read and nod and pass silently by.

As each day goes by, and the horror of unjust war weighs on our consciences, some of us cry out where ever we can, and trust our friends to know that we aren't yelling at them.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2003, 12:46 PM:

In fact, the comments by Will to which I'm taking exception are specifically addressed to Teresa, to whom Will's lectures are just as gratuitous. So I'm afraid I stand by my remarks.

Al Brookes ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2003, 12:57 PM:

Patrick, as I understood it, Will Shetterly was not addressing you, but responding to Teresa's comments (that "Politically Correct" is that known species of internet jerk who goes around trying to morally collect on the suffering of others. Typically, he's using a pseudonym and an anonymous nonce-address to do it. Ignore him).

I was personally pleased to see Will's response to this comment. And that doesn't mean I have no respect for Teresa's experience, insight and views - or yours for that matter.

Avedon ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2003, 02:07 PM:

This post reminded me that one thing servicefolk long for is letters from The World. I wondered if there is some way we could get addresses for these people so we could send them some mail.

The other thing it made me think of is that someone we all know is in uniform and could be posted over there for all we know. We all watched "little Chrissy" grow up, running around conventions whenever Gardner and Sue were there. I haven't seen him for years, and it's still hard for me to think of him as a grown man, but if this thing hurts him, then it gets really personal.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2003, 02:34 PM:

We all feel these things more intensely when we feel a personal connection. This is how humans are. It's not that we don't care about total strangers with whom we have nothing in common; it's just that we get numb after a while (and a good thing, too; how long could we remain even marginally functional if not?). The person being a member of our tribe just slices right through that, and brings back that intimate sense of "it could happen to ME and those I care for" that we often lose.

I too am sick of being told, when I'm worried or grieving, "why aren't you worried or grieving over these other folks? And these? And..." Because like all humans I have a limited capacity for grief (probably for worry too, though I have yet to find my limit there).

It's not just when we feel a personal connection, either. This morning I saw a picture of a very attractive man and then found out he'd been paralyzed in an accident. I felt the sadness of this much more acutely because he was attractive. That's not rational, fair, or virtuous; it's just human. And if it makes me a bad person, then there are no good people (and therefore it doesn't).

Madeleine Reardon Dimond ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2003, 03:17 PM:

For those who would like to correspond with soldiers:


I couldn't actually get to the first one; it had exceeded its bandwidth. For books, besides Books for Soldiers, which another commentator and Patrick mentioned earlier, there's http://www.bookcrossing.com/ if you're near a military base. Bookcrossing is about leaving books somewhere in person--but not airports; they're confiscated by security. Patrick, I appreciate all the ways you've listed to support the troops without supporting the war.


Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2003, 05:07 PM:

Xopher pegs it precisely with the comment about limited capacity for grief. We are not bodhisattvas; we must select which of the world's woes get how much of our engagement. This is a spiritual division of labor so that the world's woes might get addressed without us all collapsing under the burden, duplicating effort, and in the end not actually meeting all that many needs, and it is precisely equivalent to the physical division of labor which lets us all live with more benefits than any of us could make by ourselves and to the process of education which lets us know things about the world and others' thoughts without having to reinvent every discipline from scratch. To say "I'm not as deeply involved in that" is not to say either directly or by implication "that is less worthy"; it's merely to acknowledge the limitation of time and emotion.

I cannot feel like everyone's brother. Not everyone's pain speaks equally to me. But maybe if you know that I'm alert to some kinds of misery and doing some things to redress them, you can go on and attend to entirely legitimate matters that I'm not going to get to, and if I know you're doing that, I can do my own part with that much of a clearer conscience. We are not called to save the world single-handedly, after all, and part of respect for others of good will is exactly allowing them to make some distinctions so that with a bit of focus they avoid a bit of burnout.

Timothy Burke ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2003, 05:26 PM:

All I can say is that I'm astonished that there are so many people who seem willing to take on the task of managing someone else's compassion.

I don't know about the rest of you, but dealing with my own compassion is enough work without courting trouble by trying to micromanage someone else's. Anything that someone wants to say that's compassionate strikes me as good in that respect.

On a more intellectualized note, let me also suggest that one of the reasons that liberal humanism is getting the shit kicked out of it in the world is that some of its devotees are as intolerantly religious in their devotion as anyone else. If you're not a rigorous lover of humankind in its completely abstracted, apersonal form, evidently you're a parochial hick who is getting hung up on little things like "empathy" and "identification". Love it all equally or don't love it at all, or so it seems to me that Politically Incorrect (and more politely, Will Shetterly) seem to be saying.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2003, 05:57 PM:

Reminds me of a joke someone (Teresa?) once told me: a Dominican, a Franciscan, and a Jesuit use arcane means to ask which order is most beloved of Christ.

The answer:

"My sons: I love ALL my orders exactly equally. Signed, Jesus Christ, SJ."

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2003, 07:44 PM:

Go Jesuits!

I’d just like to express my sympathy for all the suffering in the world except that of [insert name of individual here].

Simon ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2003, 07:53 PM:

If Will Shetterly's almost painfully judicious and minutely balanced posts (read all of what he wrote in this topic, not just the one) are to be considered evidence of monstrously out-of-control humanism, there's no hope for anyone.

I've thought before now that Mr. Shetterly is one of the most thoughtful and worthwhile posters on this blog, and am mystified as to why he attracts such hostility, as he has done before.

Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2003, 08:10 PM:

Simon: Partly, I think, it's spillover from the recent exchanges about the role and responsibilities, if any, of those who voted for Nader in 2000 with regard to upcoming elections.

Partly it's what I read as much the same undercurrent as (I gather) Patrick did, which I'd express as: "You are wrong to feel any particularly remarkable or noteworthy concern, grief, or other emotion about this one stranger when all those other strangers are also suffering." It's not like our hosts are out saying anything in the line of "kill them all" or even "let the bastards suffer, if they were worthy they'd overthrow Hussein himself". I see Patrick and Teresa wishing to share the blessings of safety, peace, security, and opportunity with all, and doing what they can to get there.

Against this background, I think it's churlish to slap down an expression of a particular reaction. The war has many human faces. Patrick noticed one, and commented on it. Herein is no fucking blame and no fucking reason to lecture him, to put the matter relatively concisely. The lectures should go to those with a history of demonstrated disinterest and callousness.

Simon ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2003, 08:32 PM:

Bruce Baugh: That's what mystifies me. I don't see those undercurrents. Will Shetterly seemed to me to be almost excruciatingly trying to avoid any kind of churlishness. Read his post that begins "My first thought was ...", in which he describes having the very same reaction Patrick did. To which he adds having other reactions as well, in such a way as - it seems to me - to avoid criticizing anybody else for not mentioning them.

And his infamous post addressed to Teresa reads to me as a criticism of the media, not of Teresa nor Patrick.

I should add that I am not a puppet of Will Shetterly's. I am an entirely different person, I've never even read any of his fiction, and my yahoo e-mail address is real. I disagree entirely with him about Nader, and so posted at the time, but I thought his arguments on the subject were entirely reasonable.

Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2003, 08:46 PM:

Simon, for me the triggers are:

Teresa, "Politically Incorrect" may not express him or herself very well--bitterness is easy right now--but the link is, I think, worth following. [...] It's good to be reminded that George Bush's desires, whatever they may be, affect people like us. [...] Apologies if I sound like I'm lecturing, or even if I think you don't know most of this. [...] As I've been known to say, it can be a good thing to preach to the choir. The choir needs to be reminded now and then why it's there, too.

Well, yes, it does sound like he's lecturing and thinking that they don't know most of this. At least it sounds that way to me.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2003, 08:58 PM:

Will, I followed "politically incorrect"'s link.

I check The Daily Kos several times a day. I read the story about Pvt. Jessica Lynch shortly after he posted it.

I've posted in Making Light about ways of accessing a better grade of news reportage, and reconfigured my links list, precisely so that I and others can more readily see substantial, reliable press coverage of the war, and avoid the sort of coverage you deplore.

That's my idea of how to constructively correct for lousy American journalism. Your mileage may vary.

If z7209@yahoo.com, a.k.a. "politically incorrect", actually meant all that well, let him or her come back and join the conversation in propria persona.

And for heaven's sake, will you quit trying to sell me on the idea that you're helpless to correct lapses of tone in your prose? You're Will Shetterly. Sheesh!

Will Shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2003, 09:09 PM:

I had just composed this after reading Simon's comment:

I'm grateful to the folks who thought I was saying what I wanted to say, and I'm sorry that Patrick and others thought I was saying something else. I'd prefer to let the subject drop now. I think Patrick's one of the great guys in life, and I piss him off periodically without intending to, and maybe that's why I think of him as family.

And then two more posts showed up from Bruce and Teresa. So I will say something more in a bit. But I've got to consider it a little first.


Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2003, 09:19 PM:

Will, I think you're one of the great guys in life, too. I just wish you'd credit me (and Teresa) with being people who care about compassion and fairness, too, rather than always talking as if you were the first person to whom their importance had occurred.

Your comments to Teresa read like you haven't spent a minute looking at what she's been saying about this Administration and its folly in Iraq. "It's good to be reminded that George Bush's desires, whatever they may be, affect people like us." Jesus Christ, Will.

"The choir needs to be reminded now and then why it's there, too." Yes, and if the choir starts throwing furniture at the preacher, maybe the preacher needs to re-assess his approach.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2003, 10:18 PM:

Simon, I fear this sounds more alarming than it is, for which I apologize. Will's been a friend of ours for ages. Now, where did I set down that brickbat...?

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2003, 11:44 PM:

I’d just like to express my sympathy for all the suffering in the world except that of [insert name of individual here].

Reminds me of an old cartoon from the New Yorker: "I feel that my love for Brother Valentine is less than my love for anyone else in the entire world."

Will Shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2003, 11:52 PM:

Teresa and Patrick, I wish you would just think of me as the village idiot. I'm almost never the smartest guy in the room. I've had an unusual life that's given me some unusual takes on things. That's it, honest. I read and I write through the filter of my experiences. I misread what others have written, and I fail to consider every implication of everything I say. I make lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of mistakes. If any of my books are any good, it's because I rewrite them much more than I usually write posts on the web, and I run them by Emma and the Scribblies, and then editors at Tor help me out.

Here's what I was trying to say:

PI expressed him, her, or itself like a jerk, but I liked the link.

I agree with the power of tribal identity. I tried to give three specific examples that I didn't intend to be general: my niece, Brandi, a corporal with the Marines who I used to be able to pick up and who looks a whole lot like Pvt. Jessica Lynch and could meet the same fate at any moment, God forbid; James Riley, who reminds me of myself in college when I read f&sf and helped start the local SCA branch; and a family of five in their car that, in number, is identical to mine.

The "preaching to the choir" comment was directed at me, not you. I meant that sometimes I say these things to reassure myself. That's what I meant by the sentence right before it that Bruce didn't quote. It wasn't clear in context. Maybe this Will Shetterly you think is a good writer would've been clearer. But the guy who's posting this wasn't.

And, based on Bruce's quote, there may be some confusion from my rather long first sentence in the post addressed to Teresa, too. I meant that the bitterness was PI's.

If this doesn't help, well, please remember the village idiot part.


Will Shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2003, 12:32 AM:

My previous post was written offline and posted before I read any of the intervening comments--I left the comment window open while I was off. If it doesn't quite sound like a response to any of those posts, you're right, it's not.

Patrick, when I said, "It's good to be reminded that George Bush's desires, whatever they may be, affect people like us," I meant that a little as my interpretation of PI's intention, to show why I was cutting him/her/it some slack, and more--as Simon said--as a comment on US news. I was writing right after reading the link. It touched me. Clearly enough to shatter my attempt at clarity.

Speaking of the US news, FAIR has pointed out that they tend to distinguish between people who are anti-war and people who support the troops. I must go scream now.

Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2003, 01:22 AM:

We can donate books for soldiers--I've already heard back from someone who wanted Dune of all things.


Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2003, 04:06 PM:

I do sometimes wonder if some books would be inappropriate...

There's certainly some combinations of recent films which might sting.

[Black Humour Alert]

"Blackhawk Down" and "Enemy at the Gates" for a start.

"Lawrence of Arabia" and "A Bridge Too Far".

Can anything think of anything that would fit with "Dog Soldiers"?

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2003, 07:30 PM:

How about "Ravenous"?

bkw ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2003, 06:07 PM:
Riley isn't more important because he's one of my tribe.

why not? is a member of your family more important to you than a member of mine? i certainly hope so.

there's nothing wrong with valuing one set over another set. not all sets are equal. terribly non-PC of me, i realize, but, i would argue, necessary.


They are _all_ part of our tribe.

i'm sorry, but no, they're not. i'm most likely not a part of your tribe either.

someone who wants to kill me and my family is not part of my tribe.

others i would welcome in my home, and may earn a place in my tribe. some i would not welcome. discriminatory? perhaps. but again, i would argue, necessary in the interest of survival and prosperity.

but then, necessary only if such is important to you.

Marna ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2003, 11:46 AM:

I don't know if this makes any sense at all. But this is how I see
it, and this is what I know about myself. Oh, well, at worst, perhaps
you'll all be pleasantly distracted for a minute trying to sort out
what the heck I'm on about.

It's not what you care about. It's what you can IMAGINE. It's what
you can comprehend. It's what you can, however imperfectly, encompass,
or what you are able to talk about. Most importantly, it's what you
can FEEL about.

Now, maybe some people CAN feel for people they don't understand,
don't have much in common with, can't imagine being or even knowing,
just the way they can for people they do. In fact, obviously, some --
many -- people can. Thank all the gods. We need as many people like that as we can get.

I can't, though. I start second-guessing myself, because I live in fear of broad and inclusive empathy becoming easy sentimentality, contradiction, shameful inaction.

To this day, if somebody asks me about September 11, well, like
everybody, I could go on for a very very long time. On any number of
levels. In any number of ways. I try not to. I don't really feel
entitled to.

But if I want to say something that I know is absolutely honest,
really true, all I can do is talk about one thing. One person, one
moment. About how it was, to see a woman I love dearly fold slowly
onto a kitchen floor in New Hampshire at the sight of a carton of ice
cream, broken, for that moment, that day, into shards, and to be
looking into her eyes at that moment.

Not because that is any sort of adequate response, but because that is
the largest thing I can hold within me without having to resort to
some sort of abstraction. And abstractions are always, to some
degree, wrong, less than, distanced. It's not everything, maybe it
isn't anything, but it is the biggest truth I know for sure. It's the
biggest thing I can really feel.

And so it is my starting point. There are dangers -- parochialism, in
all its forms, bigotry, in all its forms -- to that approach. The
only way is to try to use it as a starting point -- to make yourself
go from "not MY friend, not MY child", to "not ANYBODY'S friend, not
ANYBODY'S child." Or at least to go as far down that road as you can
force yourself to go, everytime.

But everybody needs a starting point. Everybody needs some way to
remember that it's not about little lights on a computer screen,
little bright explosions on a tv screen, little graphics in the
newspaper. You can't skip the starting point, and the starting point
for staying human amidst horror is whatever you can take in and try to
bear close to your heart, to remember pity and fear and love by.
Because ANY abstraction that is not leavened by these things becomes
inhuman, inhumane, very quickly.

I CARE that there are people in harms' way over there. I care that
there are people in harm's way all over the world, right now. I try to
live that care every day, as best I can, and it's never quite enough,
worse, it's never quite RIGHT. Especially when I try to deal with
that in the context that some of them are shooting at each other.

I KNOW people like James Riley. Three or four SF fans, who are also
serving members of the US military, one of whom is both liable to
deployment herself and freshly married -- freshly married because her
love is deployed and she wouldn't let him go without that extra bit of
magic -- and who are despite my known Quakerish Canadian Pacifist
ways, are dear and true friends, people I know and love, are in or due
to go into this mess.

I can talk about what I think the peace movement or my country or your
country or our shared culture or our world has on the board in this
devil's game, but it all feels like useless words. And I might be
wrong about all of it, and never know. But I know what I, personally
have on the board. That much I can be sure of.

We all, every side and group, seem to have blundered into this, all of
us firmly convinced that We Had A Plan and Reality Had Read The Plan,
and reality hasn't read the plan -- as always -- and now apparently we
shall have to keep blundering until we blunder back out. Assuming
that there is such a place as out, and not just The Next Crisis. I can
talk about something like that. I can care about it. I can think about
it. But I cannot FEEL about it. it's so big, it just leaves me blank
and despairing and paralyzed.

But I understand what the fact that James Riley is an sf fan and maybe
a SCAdian and that now he is a POW means. I can even think of one or
two unambiguously positive and real things that a person might DO
about that fact. Most of which have already been suggested.

I understand that there are probably going to be some empty places and
some full eyes at Worldcon and Pennsic this year, and that some of
them might be staying empty. I can actually understand what that's
going to feel like, and what it means.

And from there, maybe I can see a little further. And if not, at
least I can pray for James Riley and indulge my irrational belief that
the Gods do better if you make your requests specific, and have some
kind of faith that everyone embroiled in this mess has somebody, or
many somebodies, praying for them in the same way.


James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 04:34 PM:

Rescued this morning.