Monday, October 7, 2013

The Great Diversity Flap

Recently I’ve read a lot of postings on Facebook and Twitter about the lack of, and need for, diversity in science fiction.
Apparently there is a huge flap going on about the makeup of the people who ran the most recent Worldcon in Texas and their choice of panelists, programming and how writers were or were not picked for the awards ballots.  The term I saw thrown about was “old White guys.”
I am tired of “old White guys” being used as a pejorative term.
I am an old White guy and I resent the manner in which the phrase is being used.
I was born white.  I had no choice in that, just like every other person has no choice or control over what race or circumstances they were born into.
And I will not apologize for having survived long enough on this earth to be classified as old.  It sure as hell beats the alternative.
If there is a cabal of “old White guys” running things they aren’t telling me when and where the meetings are being held.  Thus, I have no voice in how things are run or who may be discriminated against or for.
Right up front I want to set the record straight about my own interest in this whole thing.  I have read and collected science fiction since I was fourteen years old.  I have had a tiny bit of success in publishing science fiction.  I have sold exactly two stories and gained membership in SFWA back when a single story sale was sufficient for membership.  I know it isn’t even a blip on the radar of the successful writers in the field, but I’m still proud both sales were to Analog and one of them was reprinted in France; twice.
OK, that’s enough about my circumstances.  It tells you I have at least a small credibility and a long-time interest in science fiction.  An interest I have been trying to pursue again since I was economically downsized from my last fulltime job.
The current howling and ranting frankly scares me and disappoints me. I see a lot of heat and rhetoric being generated about the subject.  I see a lot of finger pointing.  I don’t see too many people advancing solutions to the problem they say exists.
I am sure there are problems in certain areas of science fiction.  Hell, there are problems in all areas of society and science fiction is not a world unto itself.
I saw one post which wondered why in a “forward thinking community” like SF writers these things were happening.
Being able to organize words into a form which communicates a story of enough quality to be published is a unique skill, but that skill does not necessarily confer on the writer a higher moral purpose or superior social conscience.  Look at the example which has been discussed at length of the writer who has written a well received book, but whose social comments have outraged a large part of the community at large.
Holding science fiction writers to a higher standard than the general population just because of their participation in this genre of fiction seems naïve.
I am sure there are people writing science fiction who have been discriminated against for one reason or another.  There are people all over the world who are being discriminated against for a variety of reasons every day.  Being a writer of fiction in this genre conveys no special invulnerability to the foibles of human nature.
There are no doubt racists, misogynists, sexists or whatever “ists” you find offensive in the field of science fiction writers.   There are the same “ists” in the general population.
I doubt there is a person in this world who has not been treated badly and unfairly at some point in their lives.  And if you can point out a person who hasn’t until now, all I can say is that person ought to be thanking God (or whatever higher power they ascribe to) that they have lived a charmed life up until now.
It’s going to happen, folks.  Do I condone it?  No.  Am I against it? Yes.
And you have a right to express your displeasure if you are the person on the receiving end of the mistreatment, but that displeasure should be expressed to the person who is responsible and not broadcast far and wide as a call to arms.
For the most part people who act like a**holes are going to continue acting like a**holes no matter how loud, long or far you yell about your displeasure.  A leopard doesn’t change its’ spots and an a**hole doesn’t reform just because he (generic) is yelled at; in person, in print or electronically.
I am not making light of the fact that exclusion may or may not exist in science fiction.  Discriminating against anyone for any reason is wrong.  I just think it may be hard to do anything substantial about it.
Face it, discrimination exists in almost every facet of life.  Expecting the field of science fiction to be different is unrealistic.  I’ve met some nice people who are science fiction writers.  I haven’t run into any jerks yet.  It may happen and I’ll deal with it.
Essentially I’m asking what can we, as individual writers, or even a group of writers, do about it?  If you are the recipient of the mistreatment you obviously don’t have the power to correct the situation or you would have done it and not written about it (unless you wanted to brag about your own power).  If you are someone else and just object to the treatment of another, unless you are in a position to exercise authority over the offending party there still isn’t much you can effectively do about it.
The first of the two things that scares me about all this rhetoric is that science fiction may be descending into the culture of victimization.
I saw one post where the writer listed 100 works that he considered “diverse/marginalized”.  The author has the right to post such a list, but I wonder if there is a majority of people who would agree with his list or the label of “marginalized”?
And would the authors of those works agree with the label and the implication they are a victim because they were “marginalized”?
To me there seem to be a greater and greater number of people in our society today adopting the label of “victim” and looking for some kind of social or financial redress for what they consider discrimination or a slight to their person.  They want some action by others to relieve their own emotional pain.
As I pointed out above, there probably isn’t a person in the world who hasn’t been treated badly in some way at some point in their lives.  Outside of physical harm or injury it’s probably something you just have to live with.
Publishing snarky diatribes, lacking proper research and verification, or republishing such remarks without firsthand knowledge or experience with the offending event probably will not cure the emotional injuries despite lighting a warm fire of outrage in your own guts.
Protest for principle is fine, but you have to be willing to live with the consequences of your actions.  I wonder how many of the people who have yelled so loudly will gain anything from the action?  And have they damaged their own reputations if they haven’t made a good case for their indignation?
The second thing I fear coming out of all this Internet activity can be summed up in one word.
I have seen one writer talk about how his first story might not have been published if the editor of the publication hadn’t pledged to run a story by one unpublished in each issue of his publication.
How big a step is it before someone proposes publications devote a certain amount of their space to particular minority viewpoints whatever they may be?  How would you like a rejection letter from an editor which read, “Sorry we can’t publish your manuscript.  There are no (                 ) characters in the story”.  Between the brackets insert your underrepresented class or group of choice.
I have never considered the orientation (gender wise, politically, or sexually) of a writer whose work I was reading.  I think I did know at the time I was reading “The Einstein Intersection” that Samuel Delany was black; didn’t make any difference.  It wasn’t until just a couple of months ago that I found out he is also gay.  Did it make any difference in how I viewed the work?
Look, I want to read good writing.  I don’t care who, or what, the author is.  If that old adage was true about how an infinite number of monkeys at an infinite number of typewriters will eventually turn out all the great literature in the world, I would just want to read that quality work.  It wouldn’t matter if the author was not even my species.
Yes, something should be done about bigots and misogynists, but I fear an overreaction which will just hurt writers and the field of science fiction itself.  And until someone comes up with a workable and effective proposal, all the heat and light being generated recently is just a waste of time and energy by authors who would be better off if they spent the time writing.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

On Writing and Why I Write

I am a writer.
It's something I have been doing for a good many years.
If, as I heard in a writing class one time, you have to write a million words before you write good stuff I may qualify. It's for others to judge.
I have written short stories, newspaper articles, editorials, essays, contracts, letters, PowerPoint presentations, website content, blogs, one unpublished novel and even a few poems.
After a good number of years away from spending a lot of time writing fiction, and now at an advanced age, I am trying to reconnect with my tenuous roots in science fiction and the writing community at large. I am fighting demons of self-doubt and fears of inconsequence.
I had some minor success many years ago and published my first story in Analog Magazine when I was in graduate school. I became a member of SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) based on that publication. I remain a member to this day, proud to be among the names of writers I have read and enjoyed since I was a boy. My credentials may be insignificant in the grand scheme of the Universe, and even in the world of SFWA, but I still carry my two publications in Analog with pride.
Trying to reconnect with fellow SFWA members, writers and people in the science fiction community, I have been adding Facebook friends. I want to learn more about the community I belong to even if I am only on the outer fringes. And perhaps, with any luck and some good Karma, I will introduce myself to other writers; much like the camel that pokes his nose into the tent.
For the most part I have been accepted as a "friend" on facebook by all I have asked. I have also been accused of adding friends in order to increase my numbers and reach some nebulous goal of acquiring all the friends possible. It was also suggested that Facebook was not the route I should take to "promote" myself. While I would love to be better known, and I guess Facebook is a means of self-promotion, I have always believed that "promotion" came from someone else. You can expose yourself, but only others can validate your acceptance and give recognition to you and your work.
With my limited exposure over the years I have found most writers to be generous people. It stems, I think, from the fact writing is the loneliest job in the world. The difficulty of planting your ass in a chair with a blank piece of paper in front of you (or blank computer screen more likely these days) and creating a whole new universe cannot be fully understood by those who don't practice this form of self flagellation.
One prominent SFWA writer, who I am proud to call my friend, said writing is a mountain he has to climb every day.
Harlan Ellison, the well-known science fiction writer, once described the difference between an Author and a writer.  An Author, he said, writes for the fame and the glory. A writer writes because he has to.
There is something inside a writer that forces him or her to take that lonely journey each day. Some need or hunger or compulsion which drives them to put words on paper and hope against hope the end result will faithfully express the thoughts and feelings that crowd the writer's life.
I fought this hunger most of my life. I ignored the thing inside me that wanted me to tell stories. I knew there was little chance of actually making a living as a writer. One factoid from a college course said that in the United States at the time there were probably only ten people who made a full living from writing. It may be higher today, but I imagine the number is still infinitesimal in comparison to the whole population.
Even though I fought the urge to write, it would always catch up to me. If I stayed away for too long I started having dreams. My unconscious mind would tell me stories. I would have vivid dreams of situations and settings and plots. I could only stem these dreams when I at least made an abortive attempt to start writing again.
So, now, at age 69 I am starting out on this journey up the mountain again. I fear the journey. I despair I will ever make a significant contribution to the world of writing. A million distractions poke and prod at me every day. I can only move forward one step at a time, no matter how small the steps are.
And while most of the responses I have had to my reentry into the world of writing have been supportive, one prominent member of my community labeled me little better than a beginner.
Perhaps I am. Only others can judge. I point proudly to my SFWA membership and my limited publications, but only others can be the final judge.
I once heard that if you take an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters they would eventually recreate all the great literature in the world.
Me, I remain just another monkey with a typewriter; or in this case a computer keyboard.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Congress Needs to Face Facts

Two nights in a row I have seen on the television news that Wall Street has set a new record.
Tonight some pundit says that the rise in Wall Street and the rise in housing prices means household wealth has recovered and is now back to the point it was before the recessions hit.
I fall back on the old adage, "Figures don't lie, but liars can figure."
I also saw  a news report today, passed along on Facebook, which pointed out the national debt has been going down since 2009 and has fallen faster in the past three years than at any time since WWI.  And taxes are at near the lowest level in 70 years.
A couple of days ago I saw a short video which graphically illustrates the distribution of wealth in the United States. This short film shows how bad people think it is, what people think the ideal should be and what the situation actually is.  The result?
The disparity between the poorest and the richest is the widest it has ever been in this country.
You can watch the video at this URL.  (  Or, search for wealth distribution video on Google.
All this put together tends to belie the Republican claim that we have to slash taxes more and more.
Now I don't like the idea of paying more taxes any better than anyone else but, I do know there is a need for the money that is collected. I don't like the idea of a huge national debt either, but if it is going down why all these cries of disaster from the Republicans.
The cost of almost everything has been going up and up over the last few years. Food prices have shot up.  Gasoline prices have become practically usurious.
So, in light of all this, when John Boehner says we should only cut and not raise taxes I just can't believe it.
If there has been increases in prices in a lot of the things everyday Americans purchase, why does Boehner seem to believe the government can operate outside price increases and with less and less money?
I'm not saying Washington should go on a spending spree, but the government can't operate without inflation just like the citizens can't.
Yes, there are places where the budget can be cut and savings can be achieved, but Congress will never reach the goals the Republicans claim to want through cuts alone. It just ain't gonna happen and the elephant party needs take its' head out of the sand (or other orifice where it has been stuffed) and face facts.
The facts are we still have problems. There are too many people in this country trying to live at or below the poverty line. While the economy seems to have recovered for the wealthy, all those below the wealthy are still struggling to keep their heads above water. Housing prices may be back to where they were, but I would guess there are less people able to afford those homes now than in the past.  The prices on staples and necessities keep rising, but wages and benefits for employees are reduced or stagnant.
Unless some sane and hard choices are made, we will all be in even greater trouble.
Congress needs to take its' finger out of where it has been stuck and use it to write some legislation to address these problems and then use that finger to press on the "aye" button when that legislation comes up for a vote.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


   I am really irritated by the recent Sprint commercial I have seen.

   Essentially the commercial's narration says that the speaker has to "download everything" in the human experience.

   NO, you don't!

  That is part of the problem we have today.  We are downloading or participating too much.  At least we are wasting too much of our time on too much extraneous and irrelevant crap.

   No one can "download" everything.  You can't read it all, you can't watch it all, you can't be everywhere and you can't know everything.

   I think it is this manic need to participate in everything that is distracting us from focusing our energy on important things facing us.

   If you spend a lot of time checking out what Kim Kardshian is doing or tweeting about the unkind remarks in the Oscars about Rhianna and Chris Brown or wondering what Snooki is up to, you can't be spending enough time on things like the debt crisis, the gridlock in Congress or the looming disaster for the economy if sequestration happens.

   And you don't even have to go that far.  There are enough issues and difficulties facing us locally to where you live that are in need of serious thought and positive action you don't even have to deal with the insanity that is happening in Washington D.C.

   Just take a look at your local news on television.

   Here in the San Diego area what about things like the closing of the program that feeds low income people because of lack of funding?

   On the east coast there are still people living away from their homes in terrible weather because their homes can't be rebuilt fast enough.

   So, you can obsess over Britney going back to darker hair if you want, but when the economy goes south and you lose your job in the following downturn I hope someone else has enough time to give you a hand.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Death of the Middle Class

I was, I suppose, middle class.
Well, maybe lower-middle class.
Since my forced retirement I am more correctly somewhere below lower-middle class and closer to the poverty line.
Having been middle-class I felt I fit right in with the rest of the country and gave me a sense of belonging.
I've just discovered I belonged to a vanishing species.  Not just because I'm an old white guy, but just because I was classified middle class.
That's right, the middle class is endangered.  My information concerns the San Diego area where I live, but I suspect it is not limited to my corner of the world.
I quote from a news story I found, "Between 2007 and 2011, middle-wage occupations in San Diego dropped by 15.2%."  The same article pointed out during the same period middle earners in California dropped by 13.2% and in the nation by 8.3%.
The old fable that anyone could work their way up from poverty into the middle class and a comfortable life seems to be gasping for breath.
Doing a little research, I found an article that said 15.1% of the population in the United States lives in poverty.  That is 46.2 million people.  This hits disproportionately high in the Black and Latino communities and in the South, but I suspect it also hits a lot of the elderly community.
It's not hard to see how the American Dream and the middle class died.  It was sacrificed on the altar of profit by bankers and Wall Street speculators.  It died at the choking hands of business management that makes hundreds of times in wages what the common worker does.  It was bludgeoned by politicians who bowed to the pressures of the wealthy to maintain that wealth and to their own lust to retain power. And finally, it was poisoned by a pervasive attitude that money and the acquisition of it was the be all and end all of the life experience.
I am not sure the "dream" can ever be revived, but I think the effort needs to be made.  The middle class that remains needs to start fighting for its' own survival.  While the Tea Party movement started out as a fight for economic equality before it was co-opted by the extreme right, something like that movement needs to start up again, but this time someone has to keep their eye on the ball and not get sidetracked into some radical or reactionary cul-de-sac that becomes a joke and impotent.
While there are still significant numbers in the middle class it needs to bond together in a movement for self preservation.
This is a call to arms.  It is a clarion call to rise off the couch, abandon reality TV and put pen to paper and deliver a message to the members of Congress that they better start serving all the people or risk losing their cushy space at the government trough and have to actually work for a living.
Use whatever strength in numbers the middle class has left and put up a fight against the erosion of economic stability for those below the one percent.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Approaching Irrelevancy

I am becoming irrelevant.
It didn’t happen overnight, but as a slow progression as the years added up.
First I passed the age where movie producers no longer cared about me and what I thought. (17-25)
Then, I passed the age where TV networks cared about me. (18-45)
Somewhere a little later I passed the age where any company wants to hire me because I might increase their company medical costs and because I wouldn’t settle for wages that were too low to actually live on.
Next I reached the age where AARP started sending me information packets and membership applications.
Then I hit the age where I had to apply for Medicare.
Now I’m getting mailers from insurance companies for term life insurance and mail from funeral service providers.
Before you start thinking this is all whining, remember you have already passed a few of those milestones listed above.  You, too, are slowly becoming irrelevant.
The question is, why do we make people less and less important as they age?
Foreign cultures revere their older citizens, or at least appreciate their experience and wisdom while we, as a nation, seem only concerned with the cost of keeping older people alive and healthy in our society.
It may be an over simplification, but can you think of any other reason for the obsession to cut funding for Medicare and Social Security?  It’s all talk about how much those programs are costing us and none about the consequences to the citizens, mostly older citizens, when these programs are gutted in the name of fiscal responsibility.
We used to brag about how we were the greatest nation on earth.  That myth seems to have been exploded in the financial collapse of 2007.  Now we can’t seem to get out of our own way and spend all out time in partisan bickering.
The two major political parties seem to have no greater agenda than gaining control and keeping it.  Once they have a measure of control they don’t seem to be able to do any actual governing.  Neither of the parties seems to be able to reach a real compromise on the problems facing us as a country.  It’s all about how their side is “right” and how they won’t let the other side “win”.
Well, that just doesn’t cut it!
And it’s time for us, the marginalized, those of approaching irrelevancy to do something about it.
There was an old adage about WWII where a person bemoans the fact he stood aside and let others who weren’t his “kind” be taken away and when it came time for him to be taken away there was no one left to stop it.
That’s where we stand today.  Oh, no one is being taken away, but we are being made irrelevant and marginalized and unless we do something about it we will all surely fall.
I am tired of being irrelevant.  You should be too.  You should be tired of the efforts to make you that way.  If you dismiss this, then who will speak up for you when you reach the next age where no one cares about what you think?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Television Reaches NEW Lows

I have an advanced degree in television and film.
I say this only to indicate I have a little knowledge of what it takes to put a program together and not to brag about my education.
I am also ashamed to say it because of the sorry state of television today.  (And movies too, but this will deal with television.)
I had thought television couldn't descend any further into the abyss of bad taste and banality.  I was wrong.
During idle moments I have surfed the cable channels recently and discovered 'reality' television has dropped off the cliff of taste and probably cannot be saved.
I thought things like "Survivor", "Big Brother" and "The Bachelor" had reached new depths of voyeurism and silliness.  Again, I was wrong.
There are several shows dealing with tattoos.  Huh?  Is there really that much interest in spending half a hour watching people trying to correct the mistakes other people have had drilled into their bodies?
There are a couple of shows dealing with dancing.  No, not dancing competitions (I could almost understand that), but crazy mothers who are sending their kids to dance classes.
Of course there the "Real Housewives of . . ." (insert your favorite city or condition.)
Finally, I stumbled across one I couldn't believe at all.  The ultimate in bad taste is "Double Divas".  Yes, a show dealing with two women who design bras; catering to the American male obsession with large breasts.
OK, I'll admit that cable network shows like this are designed to appeal to a smaller audience than a network show.  Thus, they appeal to a smaller, specialized consumer of entertainment, but a show essentially about large breasts?  Plllleeessseeee!
I thought all this was bad, until I saw some of the hype for what the major networks are introducing for their 'second season' starting here in January.
Gag me with a Gensu.
NBC is offering us a doctor with a split personality who turns . . . what?  Evil by night?  Killer by night?  I can't tell form the promos and I really don't want to know.
Fox is advertising a doctor who is forced to treat members of the mob.  And that will go away shortly to be replaced by a guy who hunts a serial killer (haven't we seen this before about a thousand times?
TNT is offering a doctor show as well.  "Monday Mornings". The promos are overly dramatic, but I gather it is about what hospitals call a mortality and morbidity conference where doctors explain why something went wrong with a patient.  Sure, just what I want to watch doctors screwing up and trying to explain it.
ABC has its’ own trashy entertainment in “Scandal” a show about cleaning up the messes of politicians in Washington D.C. as well as the aforementioned “The Bachelor”.  The network also weighs in with “Nashville” about dueling country music stars.
I thought "Entertainment Tonight" was banal enough, then the same network (CBS) offers a second helping of trivia about entertainment personalities called "The Insider".  But, not being stupid enough already, they teamed the people from that show with a celebrity gossip website called "OMG!" and created an even dumber program called "OMG! Insider". It gives you not only a half hour of mind numbing trivia about stars, but pairs it with a website where you can get up the second details and the trivial pursuits of wannabe stars and TV personalities.
No wonder we can't get our economy moving again, everyone is spending  all their waking hours wondering if Lindsay Lohan has been arrested again, who Kim Karsashian is married to/dating/pregnant by this week or   who John Mayer is dating today (I would say this week, but his relationships don't seem to last that long.)
And if the programs weren't coarse enough you can always watch the commercials.  Cutesy comments about going to the bathroom?  Give me a break Charmin.  Try and treat your audience like adults instead of sniggering sixth graders laughing at potty humor. 
Come on, folks, read a book.  Watch a movie even. (Although these days that isn't really too much of a step up from television.)
 Network viewership numbers have been declining over the last few years (no surprise there with the content they are producing) and I can only hope people are just turning it off and not just switching over to watch huge breasts being fitted for a new bra.