Open Letter to Amanda Palmer, The Newly Arrived Member of the Petit Bourgeoisie

Edit: Amand Palmer has now decided to maybe do the right thing, although the details are still sketchy. A new blog post reports that she is now going to pay her "volunteer" musicians, and I'm glad she's decided to do that right thing. That said, I hope she really does learn from this and spends some time thinking about her newfound power as a person capable of raising the kind of capital she finds herself in command of. ANd I hope she's paying her volunteers AFM Scale for their performances.

Note: This began life as a comment on AFP's blog here. It's been expanded and edited a bit below.

Dear Amanda,

First, know that I'm a fan. I like your music. I like what you do. I think you're a very talented performer.

Second, know that I'm a musician, and an accomplished one. I graduated from Berklee College of Music in 2000 and I've been around working musicians my whole adult life. I've been a working recording engineer, record producer, and live sound engineer. I've also worked for no money at friends gigs and I've got lots of friends who have struggled hard on tours trying to make enough gas money to make it to the next town. And I have dozens of friends and acquaintances who to this day make their living as professional musicians.

I want you to know this because I want you to understand where I'm coming from when I tell you that what you're doing is awful and you need to stop.

In Defense of Clint Eastwood

People are talking trash about Clint and frankly, its kind of tasteless and bullshit. He's an old man. He looks a little frail. He may be a bit senile. And frankly, when you live to be his age, you get to be a little bit ornery and addled. It's your god given right as an American. Making fun of him is just kind of crass.

It doesn't really need pointing out that Clint Eastwood is a living American treasure. He may well be the last of an era of Hollywood stars the likes of which the film industry doesn't seem to be creating anymore. And as he has matured as a director, he has made some genuinely great contributions to cinema. This shouldn't need to be said, but briefly, this is the man who starred in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, directed and starred in High Plains Drifter, Unforgiven, Pale Rider. He directed Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. He's Dirty Harry and the man with no name. He directed Mystic River, Flags of our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima. And he made Changeling, a film that I dare anyone to watch and not re-assess their feelings about the death penalty no matter what their view might be going in. There are very few people in the world of film that have a record as solid as that.

But that is all beside the point, because what I really think needs to be said is that despite the rambling ad libbed nature of Eastwood's speech at the Republican convention, there were numerous elements within the general thread that were both refreshing and sincere and a welcome break from the general insipid mendacity of Eastwood's fellow Republicans. In particular he made three points over the course of his speech that He was absolutely right about.

Grand Old Party: No Faggots, No Cunts, No Niggers

Perhaps you've heard this story already about the Republican senate candidate in Pennsylvania comparing the rights of a rapist to those of the father of a fetus created via consensual sex out of wedlock.

It comes on the heels of this story about how Paul Ryan, the GOP nominee apparent for the Vice Presidency, thinks that rape is "just another method of conception."

That in turn follows on the ongoing baby mama drama started by Todd Akin, the Republican running for Claire McCAskill's Senate seat in Missouri. That story has now officially hit the "right wing backlash" leg of the news cycle, with supporters of Akin now coming out of the woodwork to include former Republican governor and Fox News personality Mike Huckabee and former Republican Senator and presidential also-ran Rick Santorum.

Remember now, this is the party that claims that they are really just all about smaller government and growing the economy.

Do I really need to explain this shit about how Julian Assange is a piece of shit who made all this crap up? Seriously?

I must make several disclaimers and caveats about the big old dollop of Whipped Truth Cream I'm fixin' to top off your sundae with.

Disclaimer the first, the wikileaks website is a good thing, providing information to the public that is wrongly kept secret is a good thing. A free press is a necessary precondition for an open society. Wikileaks has already played an important part in helping to assure that and I sincerely hope that it will continue to do so.

Disclaimer the second, I don't know precisely what facts form the foundation of the accusations against Julian Assange in Sweden. Neither do you. Stop pretending like you do because you don't. That shit hasn't been released and all we know about it is rumor, innuendo, and third party speculation.

Period; full stop; end of discussion. Those two points are issues on which I will brook no arguments. If you think that saying anything about either the value of Wikileaks or the nature of the charges against Julian Assange in Sweden has ANYTHING AT ALL to do with what follows, you are wrong. You have misunderstood. Stop. Shut up. Read it again. Repeat until you've successfully suppressed your inner moron.

Now that that's out of the way, let me make the point that should have been dead clear to absolutely everyone years ago when this whole thing started: The Extradition of Julian Assange to Sweden has absolutely nothing to do with prosecuting Julian Assange for espionage in the United States.

Surplus Value in a Nutshell

Take all the money you need to survive and add it up. Call this amount X. X is the lower limit of your financial ability to sustain just yourself. It's what you need for food shelter and the basic necessities of life. X is actually quite a low number. The only people who make anything close to X in the United States are migrant workers, and even they make more than X which is the reason why they come to the US seeking work, because back home in Mexico, Guatemala and various other depressed countries, X is significantly lower than it is in the United States and even a little money to send home makes a huge difference in the lives of those living in the abject poverty of the developing world. But I digress. We need to focus on X.

So now suppose that you are entering the labor market. The labor market, without other regulation, is largely like any other market. The prices are controlled by supply and demand. If your ability to produce in whatever job you are seeking is roughly on par with the average entry level worker in the labor market, then the supply for the sort of labor you offer is very high. In fact, it will almost always exceed demand. What this means is that for the Average Worker AW with no special skills that increase his ability to produce above and beyond that of any other average entry level worker, the labor market exerts constant downward pressure on wages due to competition and limited demand.

The situation is slightly different for a Skilled Worker SW. SW is in a better situation because SW has skills that make his output greater than that of AW. What this means is that if SW and AW work for the same amount of time, SW will produce a greater absolute output than will AW. Accordingly, SW will be able to demand higher wages in the labor market. However, there is a limit on SW's ability to exploit this ability to produce more which is the competition from other skilled workers. This also exerts downward pressure on skilled workers.

Whither the MTV Generation?

Permit me a moment of self indulgent self reflection please:

It occurred to me the other day that the characters on How I Met Your Mother, Community, and The Big Bang Theory are roughly either the age I and most of my oldest friends are, or they're roughly the age of the leading edge Gen Y/Millenials who, now that they're mostly out of college, are now old enough and jaded enough to hang out with us in bars. And there's a recurring theme in all of these shows that seems to me more and more striking the more I think about it. That theme is of a group of ostensible adults who despite spending a fair amount of time in and around the trappings of adulthood, more or less are still living the crazed frenetic existences of our much younger days. This despite the fact that, as the HIMYM episode Murtaugh brilliantly pointed out, the characters in these shows are clearly "too old for this shit."

Sometimes an Organization Breaks Your Heart [Updated]

Update: the entire ReaderCon board has resigned.

Update 2: the Con Committee has released an official statement reversing the board's decision and committing to future action. Guess I was wrong about the ConCom having no real power.

ReaderCon is the only science fiction convention I make a point to attend every year, despite it being a five hour (or more) journey by bus, train and bus again. Longtime readers of this site will remember when I discovered it and loved it. For the past two years I've even hosted a reading event there with the great Brian Francis Slattery.

But the problem with loving anything is the risk that it will break your heart. At the last con, writer Genevieve Valentine was repeatedly sexually harassed by fan notable Rene Walling. Valentine reported this to the Board of Directors expecting that Walling would be banned for life, since ReaderCon policies state that there is zero tolerance for harassment and harassers will be banned for life. However, Walling was merely banned for 2 years. Lots of people are speculating that this is because he is friends with members of the board and a high profile figure in fandom (former WorldCon board member, former Arisia fan guest of honor, blah blah blah). You can follow the various reactions from the round-up here and here, but the basic point is that if you don't enforce your own policy then that policy has no meaning, and further, especially since Walling has a history of harassment, giving him a slap on the wrist makes ReaderCon feel like a less than safe and welcoming place. Con Committee member Matt Cheney has resigned in protest, and at least one other key member of the Con Committee has objected. (The Con Committee is a group that helps the Board with organizing and putting together the event, but has no formal power.) Writer Veronica Shanoes has put together a petition demanding Walling's permanent banishment and the resignation of the Board of Directors, or else the signatories will no longer attend. Over 300 400 people have put their names down, including notable figures like Catherynne Valente, Jeff VanderMeer, Ekaterina Sedia, Ted Chiang, NK Jemisin, Kelly Link, former ReaderCon Guest of Honor Ellen Datlow, editor Liz Gorinsky, editor John Joseph Adams, SFWA publicist Jaym Gates, radio host Jim Fruend and many more. I've put my own name down.

Frankly at this point, if the Board does not cede to the demands in the petition, ReaderCon will almost certainly cease to exist.

A few people have accused the undersigned of overreacting, mostly anonymous cowards in the comments section.

This is not overreacting.

We men may sometimes find it difficult to imagine what it's like for women at an event like this. As a man, I've never gone to a con (or any event) wondering if someone's going to follow me around and make inappropriate comments or touch me in unpleasant ways. I ride the subway every day and never wonder if I'm going to get groped. In my life I've gone to parties and gotten passing-out drunk and never had to worry about getting raped. These aren't things I have to deal with, or think about. My personal security is almost never on the line. But women have to think about these kinds of things all the time.

If the predominantly male Board of ReaderCon says that people who behave this way are allowed in, it sends a message to women: your personal security is at risk here. Your personal security is not that important to us. And it implicates the convention-going public in that sentiment: it implicates us all, and it says to the world, this is what science fiction and fantasy conventions are like.

Which sort of goes back to the objection that JF Quackenbush lobbed at sf conventions, that they're places for people to go to behave badly. Specifically, he called them "a building full of adults who have failed to figure out how to live like grown ups." I don't think that's true, and my experience at ReaderCon has been the opposite of that, but sometimes the haters are proven right. And sometimes an organization breaks your heart.

Pretty Much Sums Up the Problem of "Literary" Fiction

In the New Inquiry (which is a wonderful online periodical), Rob Horning has an article that pretty much sums up the problem of "literary" fiction:

I don’t like the word literary. It seems to imply some particular formal characteristics, but that implication only allows the term to serve as an alibi for the status aspirations of the people who use it, who want to control its meaning. It’s a sort of social tautology that way. The literary is what literary people say it is, which is what makes them literary people.

What’s at stake in claiming something is literary is different from claiming that some book is good. What counts as literary is a moving target, but it’s not always moving in one direction. We are not making collective critical progress toward a better, more comprehensive understanding of what the literary sometimes pretends to be: an expression of the perfectibility of prose, of the ability to capture the truth in words and well-formed sentences. Instead, literariness is ruled by the laws of fashion; it changes merely to replenish its potency for those empowered to declare what is and isn’t literary. Fixating on what is literary actually denies for books the possibility of transcending fashion. To evoke a book’s literariness is to evoke its transience, not its staying power. It says, this book’s only relevant and lasting meaning rests in its capacity to signify the literary.

In other words, the term "literary fiction" is about status and not quality.

Read the whole thing, it's worth it if only for poking fun at John Updike's descriptions of sex.