Some fan funds are FANtastic, others just busted

DetCon, the 2014 North American Science Fiction Convention, is running the FANtastic Detroit Fund, an effort to bring local fans to the con who otherwise couldn’t afford it. This helps in the important job of building a local fan base that can run future conventions and other activities. We all know Detroit is in bad shape these days, and bringing in some money to help build Detroit fandom is a good thing.

The description of the fund says, “Detcon1’s FDF selection committee will work with local non-profit organizations, fan groups, schools and other entities to identify candidates to receive the donated memberships. … Anyone is eligible to apply, but if demand exceeds supply, priority will be given to Detroit and Wayne County residents.” The page mentions in passing that the city is “over 80% African-American,” but this isn’t a selection criterion. People of any ancestry and color can help build local fandom. I don’t personally know the people running the con, but the description sounds like a good sign that there’s no sense of light-skinned people above, darker ones invited by their generosity.

Contrast this with “Con or Bust,” a fan fund that explicitly requires people to be “of color” to qualify for financial help. This promotes the ugly old idea that people should be treated according to their physical type, not as individuals. This idea sometimes appears as “racial identity.” Done even with the best of intentions, this modern form of racism puts people with different skin shades into different camps. Race as a biological concept is a discredited myth, whether it’s used to promote hatred or condescension. (Hmm, “Con-Descension,” the con where … no, let’s not go there.) Whenever possible, I talk about appearance or ancestry and avoid the word “race.”

Once you make appearance an institutional criterion, you start tying yourself in logical knots. In the Popehat thread which I quoted in an earlier post, Elizabeth R. McClellan replied to a comment of mine:

You think “of color” and “non-white,” as stated, and “the qualification that their skin must be sufficiently dark” as claimed here, are the same thing?

I promise you no one involved with CoB has ever held up a swatch and said “nope, skin not dark enough for assistance.” Stating that we qualify people by darkness or shade, even to exaggerate how wrong you believe it is for CoB to assist POC only, is a lie, and a particularly gross one given the history of paper bag tests. We don’t do that; we never have; we never will.

Try wrapping your head around that. It’s a lie to say that their criterion is color; the criterion is color! Did McClellan think people would fall for such transparent nonsense, or has she bisected her brain so that color and color really are two different things? I can’t fathom it either way, except that when people cling to an idée fixe, they sometimes do strange things to their own heads. It’s hard for me even to feel insulted by her words; it’s like being accused of having five legs. [Update: Her reference to “paper bag tests,” a term I didn’t recognize, led me to look up history on color discrimination which I hadn’t previously known about, so she can’t be dismissed as a total idiot in spite of her twisted logic. I might have replied that even the KKK didn’t literally use color swatches, but now I’ve learned some people did.]

Nonetheless, another Con or Bust supporter said on Twitter that my comments on that thread were “trolling.” This person apparently can’t conceive that someone would really disagree with her ideas; anyone who claims to must be just a troll. It’s amazing what people can do to their own heads.

With so many pressures to think of people as “racial” specimens, it can take an effort to think of people simply as people. Humans actually have quite a small range of biodiversity considering our global distribution; it’s scary to think what life might be like if there really were populations with significantly different genetic endowments. That’s an idea which even science fiction doesn’t like to touch.

Update, July 19, 2014: I’ve just learned that DetCon has donated two skin-color-restricted memberships to Con or Bust, betraying the spirit of its own fan fund. I have no idea why they did this. On the same page as the announcement they say, “It is our aim that the Detcon1 program, policies and promotions will attract and include all kinds of science fiction fans, without offending or excluding any.”

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New Hampshire Liberty Forum

Some highlights from the New Hampshire Liberty Forum this weekend:

Learning about startpage.com, a search site which is actually a front end to Google that keeps you anonymous. Unlike DuckDuckGo, which also promises privacy, it doesn’t censor your search results.

A session on asset forfeiture. Cops can take your property if there’s a preponderance of evidence that it was used in the commission of a crime, and they get to keep most of what was seized. There doesn’t have to be any evidence you were involved in the crime. There’s a bill before the New Hampshire legislature to abolish it.

LibertyForumA session on how to deal with law enforcement, with Ken White (of Popehat) and two other lawyers. This had lots of valuable information; condensed into one sentence, it would be “don’t say anything.” You do, however, have to say that you’re not saying anything, due to a whacky Supreme Court ruling; and if you’re stopped while operating a motor vehicle, there are certain questions you have to answer. Lecturing cops is within your First Amendment rights but risky.

Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that was a double-length session, and I wanted to go to the one on open source software, so I left early. That one was good too, but in retrospect I might have learned more by staying at the first one. It let me run into a group called Software Engineers for Liberty, so that session could have long-term benefits.

Kate Baker’s presentation on school choice made some very good points, but I found her personal style impossible to take; she seemed to be saying how awesome she was and how dumb everyone else was with every sentence. I just couldn’t get past that and left early.

The session on press freedom and encryption was very informative. According to Trevor Timm, the federal government doesn’t need to subpoena reporters and fight a court battle to get their sources any more, because it can just intercept the information they send. There are technologies to fight this with end-to-end encryption. These include an operating system called Tails, normally run from a removable drive, which enforces secure communication, and a dropbox package called SecureDrop which doesn’t rely on a third party’s website.

The Atlas Society was there and is holding an event in New Hampshire this summer. Unfortunately, it’s the same weekend as Contata.

Going to a convention where I know hardly anyone is always a bit difficult for me, but I met some interesting people and hopefully will be in touch with some of them again. This was a good convention, and frankly a relief from the growing hegemony of left-wing politics that I’m seeing at science fiction conventions.

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Open discussion in fandom, real and phony

Sometimes the most embarrassing people in a debate are the ones who claim to be on your side. I’ve spoken out against policies at SF cons which prohibit insults, embarrassment, and undefined “discrimination.” These policies hijack a legitimate concern to push conformity of thought. Some of the self-proclaimed opponents of these policies, though, don’t show much regard for free and open discussion themselves.

An article on Popehat presents a case in point:

Sean P. Fodera is a science fiction writer who works in the publishing industry. He’s angry.

He started out angry over ongoing upheaval in the science fiction and fantasy literature community. That upheaval is mirrored in the gaming community and skeptic community and other communities with devoted and vocal fanbases. It’s a conflict between two groups: a group that thinks the communities have a problem with racism, sexism, and harassment and should take steps to address it, and a group that thinks that the first group is engaged in free-speech-suppressing political correctness and should be resisted.

The statement of the conflict presents a straw man. The open-discussion advocates aren’t claiming there aren’t any problems, but that the solution is wrong; better measures against harassment are possible without resorting to “free-speech-suppressing political correctness.” But the immediate point is that Fodera has made a legal threat which isn’t at all consistent with advocacy of openness. He’s threatened to sue the 1200 people who shared an article. (What the heck, let’s make it 1201.)

That article is full of distortions, but none that constitute fraudulent and damaging misstatement of material facts; and even if it were libelous, it’s ludicrous to claim that anyone who links to the article shares culpability. It includes the lunatic claim that people posted to the SFWA Listserv because they “thought no one would notice them.” I suspect Aja Romano, who wrote the article, would smear me as well if I showed up on anyone’s radar. Like Raymond Feist, I don’t like “fugheads” pushing their agendas, so I must be “displeased at the recent influx of diversity.” I’ll come out and say that the “diversity” of fugheadedness as an alternative to reason is worthless. But the major point here is that those who don’t want to ban “insulting behavior” need to be consistent in their own actions. Resorting to legal action is resorting to force.

I get the impression that the root of the issue is a long-running conflict between Fodera and Kawal, and Fodera’s letting his emotions make him act like an idiot. I don’t want to count him on my side, at least not until he retracts his more absurd statements.

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Breaking the reflex of subservience

Though I had a good time at Boskone, I came out of it feeling very lonely. At SF conventions lately, I find there’s a tacit understanding which is alien to me: that our governmental authorities are good, that we’d be so much better if they were given more power, that sure, they make an occasional mistake, but doesn’t everybody? It’s hard to feel at home among such people. But it’s not just fandom, it’s the whole of American society.

A lot of people in fandom were vocal critics of the federal government before 2009. Their sudden silence about war, torture, and power-grabbing presidents after that made it clear that it was all just noises they made to get their guy elected. This is worse than if they’d never made any complaints at all. I don’t like phonies.

At the snack bar of my local supermarket today, I saw a display on the TV screen with the words “Hail to the Chiefs” and a composite picture of the US presidents. Since when to we “hail” them, as if we were in Germany in 1939? Wouldn’t “To hell with the chiefs” be a more traditionally American response?

The New Hampshire Liberty Forum looks more promising, when it comes to finding people who still have some sense of independence.

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Boston’s summer of the DNC, 2004

In 2004, Boston was effectively shut down for a week as the Democratic National Convention, with Tom Menino’s help, shoved everyone out of the way. I wrote quite a few blog posts about it back then; they’re no longer available in their original location, but I’ve collected some of them into a page on the Democratic occupation of Boston.

In my first post, I hoped that someday “people will look back on Boston in 2004 as a period of insanity comparable to the McCarthy hearings.” In the last one, I reported that the state of emergency had been made permanent. We’re still living in it, as the latest Super Bowl shows.

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Jesus and Mo

This post is just to give a nod to Jesus and Mo, a web comic that explores issues relating to religion in a thoughtful but humorous manner. This cartoon made the news recently when some Muslim fanatics issued death threats against parliamentary candidate Maajid Nawaz for tweeting one of the cartoons from the site.

Jesus and Muhammad discuss the disparaging nature of their holy texts with an unseen barmaid

Cartoon from “Jesus and Mo”

The UK’s Channel 4 reported the event in a crawling, cowardly way, presenting a copy of the cartoon in question but blacking out the drawing of Muhammad. Channel 4 has offered a ludicrous explanation in which it claimed that its concern was “the likelihood of significant offence to our audience.” Got that? It’s not the blanking out of the cartoon in question which Channel 4 regards as offensive, but the cartoon itself. The Channel 4 cowards claimed that the cartoon which the story was about was not “integral to the story.” Then why show any part of it? “As to not pixelating the image of Jesus, it was not felt that the same level of offence was likely to be provoked as the image is commonly depicted in cartoon form.” In other words, Christians don’t commonly threaten people’s lives for showing images of Jesus; you have to engage in threats and violence for Channel 4 to blank out the news to your liking.

Earlier the BBC had banned “Jesus and Mo” shirts worn by audience members at a televised debate. Again, the reason behind any phony words was fear of violence by murderous Muslims.

Actions like these by news agencies strengthen the impression that all Muslims are murderous fanatics, and that their threats of violence are so credible that Britain must capitulate to their demands. This in turn encourages the fanatical anti-Muslim movements in Europe. If the news media tell you that they have to cover things up because their lives are in danger, people will wonder just how bad the stuff that isn’t being reported at all is. People don’t have time to investigate every issue in detail; if the news media tell them, in effect, that Muslims are terrorists, a lot of people will believe it. The Muslim Society of Britain has denounced the website but not (as far as I can tell) the threats, thus giving more support to the same conclusion.

That isn’t the only side to Islam, though. Jesus and Mo promotes critical understanding of, and skepticism about, religious ideas. This is why both the mainstream UK agencies and Allah’s fanatics hate it.

I guess this ended up being more than “just a nod.”

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Rolling your own news

There’s a limit on how much any one news source can be trusted, and we need to be wary of relying on sources that we tend to agree with. There are news aggregating applications, but they transmit their own biases. Recently I tried out an iOS application called Zite, which has good reviews. It demanded personal information from me (which I faked), restricted my topics to a predefined set (which I picked as best I could), condescendingly told me “don’t be shy” when I hadn’t picked enough topics, and then delivered me an article which wasn’t a news story and wasn’t relevant to the topics I’d picked. One minute later, that application was gone from my iPad.

I’ve found two good approaches toward news gathering, both based on making my own choices. One is RSS/Atom feeds. RSS and Atom are two similar but distinct protocols for delivering news feeds; most readers handle both. I’ve collected feeds from a variety of sources, giving me more perspectives than I could get from any one.

On my desktop computer, I use Sage, a Firefox add-on, to view feeds. It’s simple and works nicely; the only quirk that I dislike is that it overrides the name I choose with the title given in the feed, which sometimes isn’t very descriptive. (Why bother asking me if it’s going to change it?) On iOS, I use Free RSS Reader. It hasn’t been updated in years, but I prefer its simple, straightforward approach to anything else I’ve seen.

Here’s a short sampling of feeds, including news sites and news-related blogs, which I follow. You need to put the URLs into an RSS reader. Clicking on them may or may not do anything useful, depending on your browser and installed add-ons.

My other roll-your-own news source is Twitter. Some sources which I keep in a list include:

  • @timesofindia
  • @PNS_NH (New Hampshire)
  • @haaretzcom (Israel)
  • @TorontoStar
  • @AJEnglish (Al Jazeera)
  • @washingtonpost
  • @FRANCE24
  • @BBCNews

This isn’t an endorsement of any of the individual sources I’ve listed, but together they provide some interesting perspectives.

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Idea for a convention harassment policy

Harassment policies at SF and filk conventions should be simple rather than complicated, should address harassment rather than hurt feelings, and should be clear without forcing the con committee into an untenable position.

Something like this: “If people clearly indicate they want to be left alone, leave them alone. Repeated or flagrant violations may be answered by banning offenders from some areas or functions, or revoking membership without a refund. Threatening or illegal actions may be reported to the hotel or to law enforcement.”

There’s a lot of subtlety in getting the right wording, but I think this covers something close to the right ground. It won’t satisfy the people who never want to hear anything that makes them uncomfortable; I don’t intend it to.

Comments?