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August 29, 2013
Open Thread 187 (Worldcon Edition)
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:32 PM *

29 August, 1952, saw the premiere of John Cage’s most famous work, 4’33”.

4’33” has been recorded several times.

Alas, Cage’s attempt to sell the work to Muzak was unsuccessful.

August 25, 2013
Different worlds, same game
Posted by Patrick at 08:25 AM * 41 comments

New York Times,Egypt Widens Crackdown and Meaning of ‘Islamist.’

Bruce Schneier, “Mission Creep: When Everything Is Terrorism.

First, establish that Badguyism is the ultimate, transcendent evil, the thing that trumps all arguments for restraint and justifies any amount of force.

Then start redefining everybody you don’t like as a Badguyist. Dissidents. Malcontents. Layabouts. Litterers.

Where does this stop? I don’t see it stopping.

August 21, 2013
Song of the South at Worldcon
Posted by Patrick at 09:20 AM * 608 comments

Dear World Science Fiction Convention: It’s fine to show Walt Disney’s 1946 film Song of the South as part of your program of interesting anime and animation not easily found on DVD or Netflix. It’s an interesting piece of work! And we’re grown-ups (and bright young people). We can look at controversial, problematic works and have intelligent conversations about them.

But this is not the smartest way you could be describing it, on your web page and in the printed program set for distribution at the con:

Song of the South is a 1946 American live-action/animated musical film produced by Walt Disney. The film is based on the Uncle Remus stories by Joel Chandler Harris. The live actors provide a sentimental frame story, in which Uncle Remus relates the folk tales of the adventures of Br’er Rabbit and his friends. These anthropomorphic animal characters appear in animation. The hit song from the film was “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah”, which won the 1947 Academy Award for Best Song and is frequently used as part of Disney’s montage themes, has become widely used in popular culture. The film inspired the Disney theme park attraction Splash Mountain. The film has never been released in its entirety on home video in the United States because of the subject matter, which Disney executives thought might be viewed by some as politically incorrect and racist toward black people, and is therefore subject to much controversy.
Let’s be clear about something that this squib oddly fails to note. Song of the South’s racism isn’t some elusive, hard-to-pin-down subtext that Disney executives fret might be “viewed by some.” Song of the South is a blatantly, relentlessly, spectacularly racist piece of work.

It’s true, as Mike Glyer notes, that the film had some defenders among African-American journalists on its first release. It’s also true that it’s a movie replete with scenes full of (as Slate puts it) “embarrassingly racist” live-action portrayals of “smilin’, Massah-servin’ black folk.” Noting the film’s “offensively ‘idyllic’ master-slave relationship,” Time magazine said in 2009 that “there’s no denying the fact that by today’s standards, the film is rather racist.” And with typical bluntness, Cracked observes about the film’s singin’-and-dancin’ former slaves that “it’s as if someone made a children’s musical about Jews in post-WWII Germany that had a number titled ‘Hey! Nothing Bad Has Happened to Us, Ever.’”

This being the case, it would have been wise to plainly acknowledge it, instead of saying only that the film is out of circulation because “Disney executives thought might be viewed by some as politically incorrect.” (Bonus points for deploying our tired old friend “politically incorrect.” Yes, Disney executives are notoriously anxious about being dragged by Maoists into sessions of forced self-criticism. Why, you can barely get down the street in Hollywood for all the Red Guards trying to kidnap you.)

Bottom line: Given recent events in the SF world, for any Worldcon (much less one happening in a state that’s currently actively working to disenfranchise African-Americans) to screen this famously racist film while being disingenuous about its nature…is, to say the least, unwise. Showing it? Sure. Showing it while failing to plainly acknowledge its problems? Not your dumbest decision ever, dear Worldcon, but not exactly your smartest, either.

Next time we wonder why organized science-fiction fandom is so very, very white, even more so than adjacent precincts of the geek world like comics fandom or gaming, maybe we’ll recall this little piece of cluelessness. Which isn’t extraordinary. And that’s the problem.

UPDATE (Wednesday evening, 21 August): LoneStarCon 3 have announced that they won’t be showing the film. “We accept that while we fully intended to show the film in context, this was not adequately explained in the text published on our website and in our Pocket Program. Moreover, to continue showing the film in the light of the public concern expressed over the last few hours would send entirely the wrong messages about our event’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. We will therefore no longer be presenting this film as part of our program. […] We got this wrong, and we apologize unreservedly to anyone who has been offended, concerned, or in any way been given cause to doubt the welcome that LoneStarCon 3 will extend to all of our members next week.”

August 20, 2013
Impossible Futures
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 02:00 AM *

Impossible Futures
Edited by Judith K. Dial and Thomas Easton
Pink Narcissus Press
ISBN-13: 9781939056023

Do you like science fiction? Are you a fan of small presses? Then please consider backing our very first Kickstarter project, Impossible Futures, edited by Judith K. Dial & Tom Easton.

An astonishing amount of the science and technology in vintage science fiction has come to pass. But an awful lot has not. Where’s your anti-gravity car? Your food replicator? Your very own personal robot assistant?

But those old, never-happened ideas are still fun. For a fresh take on those old ideas, try Impossible Futures!

We have a great mix of all original stories by new writers as well as by several Nebula and Hugo Award winning authors.

Library Journal
From Mike Resnick’s tongue-in-cheek homage to H.G. Wells’s The Island of Doctor Moreau (“The Enhancement”) to Allen M. Steele’s elegy to the “bygone” era of space trains (“Locomotive Joe and the Wreck of Space Train No. 4”), the 13 stories in this imaginative collection are inspired by predicted SF futures that never came to pass.
VERDICT This themed anthology will make a good addition to the collections of short story lovers and fans of classic SF.

Alas, Library Journal did not see fit to mention our (Doyle’s and my) own “According to the Rule,” AKA Monks in Spaaaaace! (inspired by a panel at last year’s Farthing Party).

There will be an Impossible Futures Reading at WorldCon, Saturday, 9:00-10:00 pm, with Fran Wilde and Jack McDevitt.

What can I say? Buy one. Better still, buy a dozen. They make excellent gifts.

August 19, 2013
Helsinki in 2015
Posted by Patrick at 08:47 AM * 113 comments

Speaking of the World Science Fiction Convention. (As we were.) There are three groups bidding to host it in 2015—Orlando, Spokane, and Helsinki. It’s been a while since I endorsed a particular bid in one of these contests, but I’m doing so now.

I’m voting for Helsinki in 2015, because I’m convinced by their core argument: that it would be good for European fandom, and fandom in general, for there to be two European worldcons in a row for the first time. Lots of people will attend next year’s Worldcon in London as first-time Worldcon attendees. It would be great for them to have a Worldcon they can attend again next year, instead of wistfully wondering how many years it will be before another Worldcon is within their reach—and drifting away from the Worldcon community as a result.

None of this would cut any ice with me if I didn’t think Helsinki’s committee is basically competent, and (just as importantly) able to reach out to the fandom-wide network of experienced convention organizers for help, as practically all modern Worldcon committees do. As best I can see, the Helsinki group easily clears this bar.

I have a positive impression of Spokane’s bid as well, and they’ll get my second preference—which will matter if Helsinki comes in last. But Helsinki is my first choice.

August 18, 2013
Our Worldcon schedule
Posted by Patrick at 09:32 AM * 15 comments

LoneStarCon 3, the 71st World Science Fiction Convention. August 29 through September 2, in San Antonio, Texas. Below the fold, Patrick and Teresa’s schedule of public appearances.

August 10, 2013
Collateral Damage
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 08:56 AM * 72 comments

When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow.
— Deuteronomy 24:21

Remember the nineteen firefighters who died in Arizona earlier this summer? Young men, many of them leaving widows and orphaned children behind.

There was a lot of speechifying after their deaths. There were promises of support. But now the news cycle has moved on, and depressing reality has set in. Thirteen of the firefighters were classed as “seasonal” or “part-time” employees, meaning that their survivors don’t get the same benefits as the permanent, full-time hotshots they died beside*. Family members are questioning the treatment of two of them, Andrew Aschraft and Christopher Mackenzie. In both cases, the men’s status was ambiguous: they had recently started working full-time hours, but their employee files do not contain updated contracts. The city of Prescott, Arizona is not paying out full benefits for them. Survivors of the other eleven men have even less basis to appeal.

I don’t know what the legal situation is. I suspect the finances of Prescott are as screwed as those of anywhere else in this economic train wreck, and that even if the city officials had a legal obligation to pay out the benefits, they’d be struggling to do so. This is what happens when you starve the beast. Widows and orphans go without, because generosity to them means libraries close, class sizes go up, and roads crumble.

This is financial reality, say the Serious People. This is fiscal responsibility.

Maybe, in the short term, for this year’s budget cycle. But it’s madness in the long term. Settlement patterns have changed. More people are living in the exurbs, out where the regular fire department can’t come. Not all of them have very good fire discipline, keeping tinder away from their houses, reducing fuel loads on their land, exercising care with fire and flammables. And the climate is changing, so that formerly marginal areas will become hotter and drier. Expect more wildfires: rural, exurban, and suburban. And that’ll be the tax base burning, which will tighten finances even further (if money is what matters here). People may die, too.

Meanwhile, I’m willing to bet that every hotshot and smokejumper in America is watching Arizona. I’m certain it’s a topic of dinner-table and late-night conversation in many households. And in the end, their financial reality, their fiscal responsibility, may very well mean that it’s time to get a safer job, or at least one that leaves their widows and orphans with the resources to rebuild their lives.

It was pointed out in the earlier thread on this subject that there are advantages to not paying firefighters banker-level salaries: it keeps the job for people who want to do the job rather than get the money. But that’s not to say that compensation is not important; it’s simply not all in the pay packet. The security of what the firefighters value most—which can be presumed to include their families—is also part of what allows them to take the risks they take. That security is, in a very real sense, collateral for the loan of their service and their courage, which (for many reasons) we do not buy outright.

We’re going to regret this.

* Personally, I find this facet of American employment law entirely disgusting. But it is law, so we work within it.

August 08, 2013
Upon this bridge of black and white
Posted by Patrick at 07:14 PM * 37 comments

Forty-four years ago today, a photograph was taken of four guys in a crosswalk.

(Lyrics here.) (As you were.)

August 07, 2013
The Implications are Staggering
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 01:11 AM * 63 comments

Apparently some models of Xerox photocopiers are substituting one number for another in photocopied documents. This isn’t an OCR error, and it isn’t just blurred pixels; these are whole different numbers being printed in apparently true copies. Confused Xerox copiers rewrite documents, expert finds

[German computer scientist David Kriesel] said the anomaly is caused by Jbig2, an image compression standard.

Image compression is typically used in scanners and copiers to make file sizes of scans smaller.

Jbig2 would substitute figures it thought were the same, meaning similar numbers were being wrongly swapped.

The results are duplicatable, and have been found in at least two models of Xerox machines, both with original and recently patched software installed. Photocopied invoices, part numbers, engineering tables, and medical information could be just plain wrong, even if the document that was being copied was 100% correct.

Mr. Kriesel presents his findings, complete with examples, here: Xerox scanners/photocopiers randomly alter numbers in scanned documents

In this article I present in which way scanners / copiers of the Xerox WorkCentre Line randomly alter written numbers in pages that are scanned. This is not an OCR problem (as we switched off OCR on purpose), it is a lot worse - patches of the pixel data are randomly replaced in a very subtle and dangerous way: The scanned images look correct at first glance, even though numbers may actually be incorrect.

Xerox, according to the BBC, is “preparing a statement.” I’m sure it will be very interesting.

August 06, 2013
Open Thread 186
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 05:20 PM *

When Charles Nungesser and Fran├žois Coli vanished in 1927, they were attempting to fly across the Atlantic. It was sad, but not inexplicable. When Roald Amundsen vanished in the Arctic in 1928, it was sad, but not strange. Today in history, 1930, Judge Crater vanished. When a prominent person disappears from a New York City sidewalk it is both strange and inexplicable. The sensation was world-wide; tips came from everywhere, but none panned out (including the one that said he was spotted in California prospecting for gold).

“Good Time Joe” Crater, an Associate Justice with an eye for the ladies, left a mid-town restaurant on the evening of 6 August 1930, enroute to a Broadway theater, and was never seen again. Despite a huge search, and offers of large rewards, no trace has ever been found.

He was declared legally dead in 1939, and his missing-person case was officially closed in 1979. Despite a 2005 claim that he’s buried under the Boardwalk on Coney Island, he’s never been officially located.

Did he vanish willingly, or meet with foul play? Who can say?

Dysfunctional Families: Hope
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 04:12 PM *

So Dysfunctional Families regular somewhere else has been talking about the move from surviving to thriving, and one bit struck me especially strongly:

What has helped along the way: patience, kindness, more patience, one warm meal per day (oven-ready meals and the like count!), crying whenever I needed to cry, lots of pictures of cute animals, praise (no matter how undeserving I felt) for every step taken, bare-bones hope.

I want to expand a bit on the last point. I don’t know how other people commonly experience hope, but for me it certainly isn’t this shining beacon or light in the dark it tends to be compared to.

Throughout the years it meant holding on with my fingertips, dragging myself through another day, for no particular reason (at least I couldn’t give one), going on without knowing what I might end up with since the things I wanted to achieve weren’t lost to me, I often never had them in the first place. And somehow I think that hope was beneath it all, in its most basic form. The knowledge every living being possesses, the possibility of growth, of reaching for the sun.

To me, hope has always seemed like the neglected virtue in the trifecta, the one that got invited just to make up the numbers. Love is the “greatest of these”, and I’m certainly a big fan. Faith is kind of a given in the New Testament, with all its mustard seeds and mountains moving. Hope? Classic overlooked middle child.

But then, DF is all about the neglected siblings, the undervalued people, the unconsidered treasures. And I’ve always felt like Hope is that kind of a virtue. It’s that thing I do when I don’t have the resources to go out and love, or faith’s belief that things will get better. Hope is the thing that stays when everyone else is gone; the one I can afford when the other two are too expensive. It’s the friend who meets me where I am and does the thing I’m doing. If all I can do is wash the dishes, Hope will stand with me and dry them. If I’m in the place where I go to cry, Hope is the one who left a box of tissues there. Hope is who I talk to when I unburden myself, because it’s the possibility of a betterment when I can’t bear to believe in one. Hope witnesses.

In Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, hope is the force that defeats “the dark at the end of everything”.

YMMV, of course. Void where prohibited or not in your emotional vocabulary. Objects in mirror may be more wonderful than they appear.

This is part of the sequence of Dysfunctional Families discussions. We have a few special rules, specific to the needs and nature of the conversations we have here.

  1. If you want to participate but don’t want your posts linked to your contributions to the rest of Making Light, feel free to choose a pseudonym. But please keep it consistent within these threads, because people do care. You can create a separate (view all by) history for your pseudonym by changing your email address. And if you blow it and cross identities, give me a shout and I’ll come along and tidy it up.
  2. On a related note, please respect the people’s choice to use a pseudonym, unless they make it clear that they are willing to let the identities bleed over in people’s minds.
  3. If you’re not from a dysfunctional background, be aware that your realities and base expectations are not the default in this conversation. In particular, please don’t do the “they’re the only family you have” thing. Black is white, up is down, and your addressee’s mother may very well be their nemesis.
  4. Be even more careful, charitable, and gentle than you would elsewhere on Making Light. Try to avoid “hlepiness” (those comments which look helpful, but really aren’t). Apologize readily and sincerely if you tread on toes, even unintentionally. This kind of conversation only works because people have their defenses down.
  5. Never underestimate the value of a good witness. If you want to be supportive but don’t have anything specific to say, people do value knowing that they are heard.

Previous posts (note that comments are closed on them to keep the conversation in one place):

August 05, 2013
Look at us all in our pretty dresses
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 05:38 PM * 77 comments

So this morning, my Twitter feed brought me a post on xojane by Bronny Zigmond, a “fatshion” blogger. She talked about how she’d been posting photographs of herself in clothing she liked to encourage other large women to be happy in their bodies. But when she started checking who was linking to photos on her blog, Tumblr, and Flickr pages, she discovered that it wasn’t just plus-sized women:

I quickly noticed that my outfit photos were also being reblogged onto porn or jerk-off Tumblr accounts. These were blogs run by guys who would use their Tumblr as their personal jerk-off folder. They would reblog photos of naked fat women, fat women in porn, and then also photos of me wearing the new cute dress I’d just bought from Top Shop. Often they would even include detailed comments about what they wanted to do to me sexually.

But it didn’t stop there.

Some of them began coming to my blog and leaving comments about how they loved my thick thighs or how they loved “BBWs” (a term I have never identified with at all). Others sent me sexually explicit emails. I was hosting my outfit photos on Flickr and at last count I had 164 users blocked on there. That’s 164 times that I logged on to see that a user had favorited multiple photos of me and clicked on their profile to realize, “Oh, hey, it’s another perv who is sexualizing images of me without my consent.”

Result: one blogger silenced, a bunch of people who might have enjoyed and been uplifted by her work in the way she wanted left with a duller, quieter internet.

Meanwhile, on another part of that same internet, Reuters reports that some of the intelligence information that was—honest—only for national security has been making its way to the Drug Enforcement Agency for more ordinary prosecutions via a special interagency clearinghouse.

The unit of the DEA that distributes the information is called the Special Operations Division, or SOD. Two dozen partner agencies comprise the unit, including the FBI, CIA, NSA, Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Homeland Security. It was created in 1994 to combat Latin American drug cartels and has grown from several dozen employees to several hundred.

But even the people doing it know that that kind of sharing isn’t kosher, so they’ve been training investigators to lie about using it.

“You’d be told only, ‘Be at a certain truck stop at a certain time and look for a certain vehicle.’ And so we’d alert the state police to find an excuse to stop that vehicle, and then have a drug dog search it,” the agent said.

After an arrest was made, agents then pretended that their investigation began with the traffic stop, not with the SOD tip, the former agent said. The training document reviewed by Reuters refers to this process as “parallel construction.”

(Remember, when you read that line about “finding an excuse”, that there are lots of laws to find people in violation of.)

There is actually a term in US legal parlance for evidence obtained illegally, and evidence obtained via illegally obtained evidence: Fruit of the Poisonous Tree. It’s the rule that means that following investigative leads obtained by breaking the law invalidates whatever you find when you get there for use in court. There are exceptions, into which I am certain that this process will be crammed one way or another, but the principle is that illegal police work contaminates the results.

So those NSA records that we’ve been hearing about? The process of collecting and collating all of our communications metadata that they can even arguably lay hands on, allegedly for national security? In some quarters, it must look like an orchard of poisonous trees, and at least one part of the legal system is already making jam from what it bears.

Do you know the old riddle about what’s worse than finding a worm in your apple?

The Reuters story is half a worm. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that this process is more widespread. I wouldn’t be astonished to hear that local law enforcement and the state police are sharing this data like fashion photos on a jerkoff Tumblr. Your data. Mine. Not because we put it out there for their use, but because they can, because it’s there like a picture of a beautiful woman in a lovely dress, and our desire for reasonable privacy and decent justice is as significant and relevant to them as Zigmond’s desire not to have strangers slobbering over her fashion photos.

But unlike Zigmond, we as a society can’t easily quit this internet gig. Even if you aren’t on Facebook, you probably have a shadow profile. Even if you use Tor, the G-Man may be there before you. And the other people and companies you deal with may not be as careful as you are.

So what to do? Bruce Schneier has a suggestion, though even he doesn’t sound bullish.

Curbing the power of the corporate-private surveillance partnership requires limitations on both what corporations can do with the data we choose to give them and restrictions on how and when the government can demand access to that data. Because both of these changes go against the interests of corporations and the government, we have to demand them as citizens and voters. We can lobby our government to operate more transparently — disclosing the opinions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court would be a good start — and hold our lawmakers accountable when it doesn’t. But it’s not going to be easy. There are strong interests doing their best to ensure that the steady stream of data keeps flowing.

Speaking as a woman on the internet, which is to say, someone who assumes that the question is not whether I get my turn in front of the troll firehose but when, I’m not sanguine either.

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