Coronavirus – Day #77

Another day, more stuff written. Today has been quite exciting from a local history point of view.

These days Fridays are Queer Britain Lockdown Hunt days. Queer Britain is a project that aims to build a bricks and mortar queer museum in the UK. Every Friday my lovely pal Dan Vo does a Twitter takeover where they focus on one particular type of queer memorabilia. Today the object was badges, of which I have plenty. So I did my bit and tweeted some photos.

During the day Dan does brief interviews with various queer celebrities, much as he has been doing for Museum from Home. His first guest today was Sue Sanders of LGBT History Month, who had some announcements to make.

First up, the LGBTHM theme for 2021 will be Mind, Body & Spirit. Sue also announced the five “faces” of 2021, one of whom will be Michael Dillon. That’s a perfect choice (if I do say so myself, ahem!). Dillon was an Oxford graduate, and keen thinker, a champion rower in his younger days, a deeply spirital person, and later in life the first Western European to become a Buddhist monk.

This means, of course, that I am likely to be rather busy next February. I’ve already started the planning process, and I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to bring you some as yet unknown Dillon facts when we get there. Watch this space!

Out in the world, the UK government continues to be a laughing stock (or laughing at us in the case of Matt Hancock, the Minister for Death). But events here have been overshadowed by the unfolding disaster in the USA. When I saw the rallies that Donny Little Hands did for the Police Union in 2016 I got the impression that he saw a heavily armed police force as his own private militia that he could turn to should he need military backup. It gives me no pleasure to see this coming true.

Anyway, my very best wishes go out to all of my friends in the Minneapolis/St.Paul region, and to all African Americans wherever in the country you might be.

Nalo on Los Angeles #GiveItUp125

My final video for California is with one of the Caribbean’s finest writers. I was worried that I was very much giving a white person’s view of the countries I was visiting, so I asked Nalo if she’d be willing to be interviewed. She’ll be back on Tuesday to talk about Toronto, but right now she’s living near LA. Here she is:

Up in the Sierras #GiveItUp125


I don’t have a lot of photos of my time in California because smartphones hadn’t been invented back then and digital cameras were still a bit dodgy. Also I seem to have spent most of my time photographing visits to science fiction conventions rather than tourist spots. However, there are a couple of records of tourist trips in Emerald City. This is one of them.

Kevin took me up into the Sierras to visit his mother. We timed to visit to coincide with a local Blues Festival, which I wrote about here. There are also photos here and here.

These days you can find good musicians on line, so here’s Craig Horton in action:

And here’s Steve Gannon:

Welcome to (Virtual) California #GiveItUp125

Here we go again. Today I am in Virtual California. There will be music, science fiction, and tourism. Later on I will be joined by Kevin, and by Nalo Hopkinson. But for now, here’s an introduction and some food.

There’s a mistake I noticed in that video. Thanks to Bozo and his jolly chums doing such a good job of destroying the UK’s economy, California now has the 5th largest economy in the world.

And here is Nigella’s recipe for Roquamole. You’re welcome.

Yesterday on Ujima – Punching Nazis, Ending Violence, Mental Health

Yesterday’s radio show began with an interview with Jonathan L. Howard whose latest Carter & Lovecraft book, After the End of the World, sees our heroes transported into a world in which the Nazis won WWII. We discussed how miraculously on point such a book appears these days, and the fabulous Crisis in Earth-X crossover event which sees Supergirl, Flash, Green Arrow and friends doing their own Nazi-punching. Of course we also discussed HPL’s racism and Jonathan’s other projects, including a zombie computer game which might destroy parts of Bristol.

Next up I was joined in the studio by Charlotte Gage of Bristol Zero Tolerance. This is a great project run by Bristol Women’s Voice that aims to make the entire city free of violence against women and girls. Of course this is a bit of an uphill struggle, but at least progress is being made.

Unfortunately, thanks to the continuing squeeze on local council funding, the project (including Charlotte’s job) is currently under threat. There’s a crowdfunding campaign going on, which you can find here, but what Charlotte really needs is for some big company to step up and sponsor the project.

You can listen to the first hour of the show here.

Charlotte and I continued our discussion in the second hour. We talked about how hard it is these days for any charity to get the day-to-day funding it needs to keep operating. Funding bodies are always happy to sponsor one-off projects, but these typically exclude what is called “core funding”, the stuff that keeps your organization running, and often excludes any funding for staff salaries. Up until now charities have often been able to get core funding from local councils who need their expert skills, but this is all being cut. There’s a major crisis brewing here.

We also had a brief chat about trans-inclusive feminism and the difficulty of getting any sort of dialog going. There is so much going on in feminism right now with attacks on reproductive rights, the #MeToo campaign and so on. It is a huge shame that so much time and energy is being wasted on attempts to keep trans women out of feminism.

Finally on the show I talked to Levi, a young man from Bath who has been working on a project about men’s mental health. Suicide is apparently the number one killer of young men in the UK, and the theory is that much of this happens because men are socialized not to talk about their feelings, and so have no one to turn to when things get bad. I also think that one of the main cause of violence against women is that men are socialized to believe that violence is the only properly masculine way to solve any disagreement. So this is really valuable work that Levi is doing. What’s more it has resulted in a handbook being distributed to children’s mental health services all over the country. Here’s hoping the make good use of it.

Here’s the film he and his friends made:

You can listen to the second hour of the show here.

The play list for the show was as follows:

  • Bat for Lashes – Two Planets
  • Jimi Hendrix – All Along the Watchtower
  • Tracy Chapman – Behind the Wall
  • Linda Ronstadt – You’re No Good
  • Renaissance – The Winter Tree
  • Isaac Hayes – Winter Snow
  • Labi Siffre – Sparrow in the Storm
  • Stevie Wonder – Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing

The Labi Siffre song dates from 2006 but is even more on point now. It contains this verse:

The message written on our walls
For the strong to climb : the weak must fall.
This is heresy I guess, but could the strong
perhaps learn to live with less.

Ben, my engineer, joked that I’d be mobbed on social media for playing such heretical views. It has all been quiet thus far, so maybe the world isn’t as far gone as we think.

My next show will be on January 3rd. As I doubt that I will get any guests then, it will probably just be me playing music and highlights from 2017. If anyone wants to do a pre-record interview let me know.

Queering Localities, Day 2

Friday was pretty full on, including having to deliver my own paper, but I had a really great time and learned lots. Here are some highlights from day 2 of the conference.

Louise Pawley from Brighton told us about an amazing protest against Section 28. It was a year that the Tory party was having its annual conference on the south coast. One day the Brighton queer community gathered on the beach and gazed out to sea. At the exact time the tide was due to turn they lit torches and turned around to face the building where the conference was being held, symbolizing the tide turning against homophobia. I have no idea how many of the politicians saw this, but it was a magnificent gesture.

My own session included American historian, Susan Ferentinos, who told us all about a range of LGBT+ exhibitions that have been staged in the heart of Red State territory. It is good to know that even in the most conservative parts of the USA people still find ways to celebrate queer culture.

My thanks go to my colleague, Julian Warren, who expertly co-presented with me. It was a pleasure to tell the conference about several of the great LGBT+ history projects we have done in Bristol. It is also, as always, a pleasure to share a platform with Surat-Shaan Knan who was there talking about his Rainbow Pilgrims project.

Probably my favorite paper of the day was Jenny Marsden introducing us to the remarkable photographic archive of the trans community in Cape Town in the 1950s and 60s. Everyone was taken with the idea of the “salon crawl” where visitors would sample all of the various hairdressing salons where the queer community of District 6 worked and hung out.

The final session of the day included three remarkable papers, starting with Anne Balay on the subject of queer truckers in the USA. Truck driving is an awful job, with truckers generally working 14 hour days almost every day of the year. With the advent of “spy in the cab” technology it has also become one of the most intensely micro-managed jobs in the world. As a result, white men have moved out of the business, leaving it to people of color, women and queers (and in many cases people who are all three). Anne learned to drive a truck and worked in the industry for a while to do her research. I’m looking forward to the book when it comes out.

Zhenzhong Mu told us all about the tradition of yue opera in China. Officially these performances are done by women, but there is a sizeable subculture of men who gather together for weekends to stage their own amateur performances in drag, and to have sex with each other, before going home to their wives and jobs.

Rebecca Jennings gave a paper about lesbian separatist communities in Australia and Wales in the 1970s. There was much talk of essentialist views of femininity, and some rather naive ideas about setting up self-sufficient communities far from civilization while remaining defiantly vegan and eschewing all modern technology. “No one told me about wallabies,” complained one European visitor to an Australian site. The cute little creatures would destroy crops and keep people awake with their enthusiastic nocturnal bounding. Goodness only knows what they would have done if the camp had been attacked by drop bears. Thankfully modern feminism is far more about bringing down the patriarchy rather than trying to leave it and setting up an equally authoritarian matriarchy.

My thanks to Justin Bengry and Alison Oram for putting on the conference, and to Katy Pettit for her flawless admin (and the cake).

Now I need to go write a bunch of emails to new friends I have made.

Seven

Is the number of trans people elected to political office in the USA yesterday. Helen Boyd has the full list. That’s a nice little black eye for the whiny child in the White House.

As usual the media has been talking all sorts of nonsense about people being the “first”, as if trans people were only invented yesterday. Monica Roberts has a nice post on the history of trans people in US election.

Of course none of those people were elected to a position in national government. However, seven also happens to be the number of trans people worldwide who have achieved that honor. Again Monica Roberts has done the research.

The UK is somewhat behind the curve on this. Indeed, we are in serious danger of going backwards. The Scottish Government released some (excellent) proposals on reform of the Gender Recognition Act today. Westminster is expected to follow suit. Because there will be a public consultation, there will also be a very well-funded campaign aimed at getting the government to scrap the Act altogether. The flood of (deeply dishonest) news articles about trans people we have been seeing over the last few weeks is just the softening up operation. I’m afraid I will have to be asking for your help in the near future.

Airships Over America

Thanks to Kevin, and to Dave Clark of Cargo Cult Books, copies of Airship Shape & Bristol Fashion are on sale this weekend at BayCon, a large annual convention held in San José, California. Kevin tweeted this photo to show us what good company we are in.

Any other US bookstore who are interested in stocking the book, just ask. I can have the books printed and shipped within the USA.

Political Stories

I’ve not been commenting on the US election, partly because I’ve lived there and know that the situation is far more complex than most people over this side of the pond think it is, and partly because I deeply distrusted most of the reporting. Now it is all over, here are a few thoughts.

Although Obama’s share of the vote went down this time, he still won the electoral college by a massive margin. Yet most media outlets were constantly telling us that the election was neck-and-neck. People who understand the system, like Nate Silver, and doubtless the bookies, were confidently predicting an Obama win. Why? Do no TV or newspaper politics pundits understand how Presidential elections work?

Also, various people in the social media lists I’m following are hoping that some sort of third party will arise, or at least that the next election will be less acrimonious and divisive. Any chance of that?

Personally I suspect that the journalists know exactly what they are doing, and that this sort of election will become more of the norm, not just in America, but worldwide. Why? Because elections are becoming more about the media event than about politics. The media wants stories, preferably simple stories with a good guy and a bad guy. Exactly who was the good guy and who was the bad guy will depend on which news outlets you follow, but in both cases those telling the story want the result to be in doubt right until the last moment.

Quite what this means for the idea of democracy isn’t clear, but we monkeys are deeply addicted to stories and I can’t see that changing any time soon.

Freeloaders, We Hates Them

My American friends have been having a good laugh recently over the fact that Mitt Romney told a bunch of his rich backers that Obama voters are freeloaders who live off state handouts. It seems an odd audience to say that to, given that most of them, like Romney himself, will employ clever accounts to keep their tax bills down to the absolute minimum (though I guess they must resent having to pay for those accountants). However, I’m not sure that the message will play out quite as badly as my Liberal friends expect.

My evidence from this is something called the British Social Attitudes survey. The 29th edition was published yesterday, and its findings are consistent with the fact that an awful lot of Britons read the Daily Malice. I quote from their conclusions:

Neither redistribution in general nor welfare benefits in particular are as popular as they once were. This is by no means a recent change and certainly predates the recession. It primarily reflects a change in public attitudes during Labour’s years in power between 1997 and 2010.

These findings point towards an increased sense of ‘them and us’, with the most vulnerable in the labour market being viewed far less sympathetically than before, despite Britain’s current economic difficulties.

Somehow I doubt that Britons are unique in having become more mean-spirited (not to mention xenophobic — apparently 52% of Britons think immigration is a bad thing). And Americans tend to be more individualistic than Britons, not less.

The trouble is that no one is a freeloader in their own mind. Also everyone has anecdata about “real” freeloaders (mostly gleaned from the right wing media). In times of austerity the temptation to think that you are working hard, while others are sponging off the state, will be greater. A message that “people who vote for me are hard working, while those who vote for Obama are freeloaders” might work very well for Romney.

Silicon Valley Gets Desperate

So there you are, kicking out one great software idea after another, and all you need to get them to market are a pile of top class computer science graduates. You want the very best people, no matter where in the world they come from. Unfortunately your government makes it very hard for those people to get work visas. What do you do? You buy a cruise ship, anchor it 12 miles off Half Moon Bay, and put them all on that. At least, that’s the proposal for Blueseed, one entrepreneur’s solution to a desperate need.

Sadly I don’t think I’ll be able to afford a berth on it. More to the point, it sounds distinctly like one of those Libertarian seasteading projects. I can see there being a mutiny on board, and the whole thing turning into a live action single person shooter game. Worse still, the ship might get attacked by the most vicious predators on the planet.

Weightless Books Sale

Listening to the latest Coode Street Podcast, I have finally discovered why Black Friday is called Black Friday. As you may be aware, much of the retail business is focused on the Winterval shopping frenzy. That’s particularly the case for toy shops, but other stores do very well over the holiday as well. In the US, that shopping period starts on the Friday after Thanksgiving (when everyone except the shop staff are on vacation), and that Friday is the first day of the year on which many retail businesses finally break even, or “go into the black”, as the accounting vernacular has it. Thank you, Gary, for explaining.

Anyway, everyone with a retail store in the US is having a sale at the moment, and that includes ebook retailers, in particular our friends at Weightless Books. You can get 25% off just about anything, and a whopping 50% off books by Small Beer Press. This means titles by people like Geoff Ryman, Karen Joy Fowler, Maureen McHugh, Ted Chaing, Delia Sherman, and of course the first ever Translation Awards Long Form winner, A Life on Paper: Stories by Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud (translated by Edward Gauvin). Gavin Grant explains all here. If you don’t buy anything else, get Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord, because it is an absolutely wonderful book.

Running the Numbers

Over on his Livejournal, Neil Clarke has been doing some analysis of short fiction category of the Locus Recommended Reading List. The numbers are quite an eye-opener. I knew we had done well, but it hadn’t occurred to me as even possible that we would tie with Asimov’s for the most selected stories. We did, with 7 each. Am I proud? You bet!

The trend towards fiction from online venues continues, and this is the first year that more short stories have come from online venues than from print magazines and books.

Also worth noting is that 38 of the 68 stories are by women. Six of Clarkesworld’s seven recommended stories are by women.

Meanwhile on Twitter there has been a great deal of fuss. It has been created by what I’m starting to think of as the UKIP wing of British fandom, because the people concerned are constantly whining about being oppressed by Locus and the Hugos in pretty much the same way as right-wing tabloid newspapers whine about being oppressed by the EU.

There story here is that a vicious cabal of Evil Americans (such as Jonathan Strahan, John Clute, Graham Sleight, Farah Mendlesohn, Tansy Rayner Roberts and myself) gather together each year to plot the downfall of British science fiction by picking only American works for the Recommended Reading List. This year, apparently, we were worse than usual, with the list being hideously skewed towards US writers, magazines and publishers. That, of course, is all part of my Evil Plan. So I decided to look at some numbers to see how Evilly I had done.

I’ve looked only at the three adult novel categories as those are the only ones I have significant input to. As a benchmark, I’m going to use the fact that there are roughly 5 times as many Americans in the world as British people, so if the list had been chosen purely at random there would be 5 Americans for every British writer. (I am assuming here that American and British writers have equal access to publishing opportunities. As far as I know, no one is arguing that they don’t. This is not analogous to a gender or race issue where there may be barriers to entry.)

There are 17 novels on the science fiction list. 11 are by Americans. Greg Egan is Australian. Canada would kill me if I identified Bill Gibson as American, even though he was born there. Johanna Sinisalo is Finnish. And three (McDonald, Reynolds, Banks) are British. That gives us 11.5 Americans to 3 British, which is about what we would expect. Must try harder!

On the Fantasy list there are 24 novels. 14 are by Americans. Michael Ajvaz is Czech, Lauren Beukes is South African, and Guy Gavriel Kay is Canadian. The other 7 (Fforde, Fox, Gilman, Miéville, Mitchell, Pinborough and Stross) are all British. So that’s a ratio of 14:7. And that, apparently, is hideous anti-British bias. Hmm.

The one that surprised me was the First Novel list. Of 15 entries, 11 were by Americans, but there was not a single Brit amongst them. At last, my Evil Plan is working. Possibly. I’ll come back to it in a minute.

Of course if you are of a UKIP frame of mind there’s little that can sway you from your feelings of oppression. There is always some excuse for why things that are doing well and appear to be British are in fact not so. For example, some of those “British” writers live in America (Gilman) or, heaven forbid, in Edinburgh! (Stross). Then again, most of them have US publishers as well as British contracts. This, I suspect, will be held up as evidence that they are writing “American” fiction, and therefore don’t count. The assumption being that if they wrote “British” fiction it would be too intelligent and left-wing for an American audience and American publishers would not buy it.

My explanation is a little different. The US publishers are well aware that British writers are very good, and so anyone from these isles who gets a bit of critical attention gets snapped up for a US contract. As the UK market is much smaller, it is much less likely that a successful US writer would get a UK contract.

Complicating matters is the international nature of publishing. Orbit, for example, tend to buy world rights to books, but it is British editor Tim Holman, based in New York, who calls the shots. Angry Robot has a US branch, but they are headquartered in Nottingham.

One area where you might expect British publishers to score is in First Novel, because the writers there might be people who were discovered by a UK operation and have not yet got a US contract. As I noted, none of the First Novel authors are British. However, three of the four non-US authors were first contracted by British publishers. That’s Terry Dowling (Australian), Hannu Rajaniemi (Finnish) and Lavie Tidhar (Israeli). So the reason why there are no British authors on the First Novel list is, at least in part, because British publishers are looking outside the UK for new talent.

Finally a brief word on magazines. The absence of Interzone from the list is obviously a clear indication of anti-British bias, right? All the other magazines are “American”. But, as noted above, a lot of the short fiction is now coming from online venues. That means that they are edited by Evil Americans like me and (as of this year in the top job at Strange Horizons) Niall Harrison.

I took a look at the numbers for Clarkesworld’s 2010 stories. 14 of the 24 were by Americans. The other authors came from a variety of countries including two British and one Irish. Non-fiction is mostly American, but I get so few submissions that it is really hard to get much diversity into the selection. In cover art, however, where excellent command of English is not required, the picture is quite different. Only 3 of the 2010 covers were by Americans. There were 2 from Brazil, 2 from Turkey, and one each from Russia, France, Bulgaria, the Phillipines and Mexico. So yeah, clearly Clarkesworld is an Evil American magazine.

Anyway, enough bashing of the English for now. Time to watch them getting bashed on the rugby field instead (I hope).

Traveling European Fans Wanted

Via Steve Green on Facebook I understand that TAFF, the Transatlantic Fan Fund, is in a bit of a crisis this year. The deadline for nominations for the 2011 race, which will take a fan from Europe to the Worldcon in Reno, is this Saturday. To date only one candidate has come forward (John Coxon), and the rules of TAFF state that if the race is uncontested then it must be canceled.

So here is a big opportunity for a European fan. If you would like an expenses-paid trip to Reno, why not give TAFF a try. Of course there are obligations (see the official website for details), but nothing a reasonably organized person can’t cope with. You will need three nominators from Europe (one of whom could be me if I know you), and two from North America (whom I can help you find), so if you have two local friends you are all set. How about it?

The Timing of Summer

Here in Britain we tend to recognize summer on the basis of astronomy. June 21st is the longest day of the year, so it must be mid-summer’s day. That means summer is half over already, and a pretty rotten summer it has been.

Americans, on the other hand, at least those I have talked to about such things, use a different system. When Kevin emailed me yesterday he talked about it being the “first day of summer”. Astronomically this is a bit daft, but practically it does make a bit of sense. The weather here in May can be pretty dodgy, but the weather in August is often very good and early September can be quite lovely. Counting “summer” as being mid-June to mid-September therefore makes quite a bit of sense.

What times do people in non-English-speaking countries count as “summer”? Is there an historical reason for the UK/US divergence?

Regardless, it is a gorgeous day here, and I’m getting some where out of my summer dresses at long last. Wimbledon has started. England are playing Australia at cricket. Stupid time for me to be so busy.

You Don’t Have To Be Crazy…

It being election time here in the UK, the TV is full of party-political broadcasts. The latest fashion is for celebrity endorsements. David Cameron has apparently being hitting the campaign trail with a pop star in tow (or possibly the other way around). Meanwhile Labour has put out a broadcast staring Eddie Izzard.

Why, out of all the other things going on in the election, do I find this worthy of mention? Well, because Mr. Izzard is a well-known transvestite. It is quite remarkable that Labour should choose him as a front man. But in America, if the American Psychiatric Association gets its way, Eddie would be of much less use to politicians, because he’d be certifiably crazy. That’s because the APA wants to stigmatize every man who occasionally wears what they deem to be gender-inappropriate clothing as a lunatic. It doesn’t matter how otherwise sane and stable the man is, the mere fact that he sometimes wears “women’s clothes” is, in the APA’s eyes, enough to mark him out as suffering from a mental illness that will require treatment.

The idiocy of the proposal becomes even more obvious when you note that the reverse does not apply. According to the APA, a man who tries to look like a woman is mad, but a woman who tries to look like a man is perfectly sane. This tells you everything you need to know about the motivation behind the new “diagnosis”.

So, US readers, pop over here, read a bit more, and then sign the petition. You don’t have to be crazy to do so.