Sunday favorites

Feb. 14th, 2016 12:29 pm
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Posted by Fred Clark

Ecclesiastes 3:18-22

I said in my heart with regard to human beings that God is testing them to show that they are but animals. For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals; for all is vanity. All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again. Who knows whether the human spirit goes upwards and the spirit of animals goes downwards to the earth? So I saw that there is nothing better than that all should enjoy their work, for that is their lot; who can bring them to see what will be after them?

The many advances in the life of Dee

Feb. 14th, 2016 06:51 pm
cupiscent: cocktails by the pool (Default)
[personal profile] cupiscent
So, wow, it's been a while, hey? I'm not even sure who's still around on these platforms (posting to Dreamwidth and Livejournal both) but if you're not following me on Twitter or Tumblr here are the big ticket items:
  1. I had a baby. She's pretty much adorable, and she's even getting ok at sleeping now, so life is starting to settle down.

  2. Around the same time, I scored an agent for my novel. (It was a hilariously hectic week - I passed my driving test, went into labour and received my first offer of representation all in the same 24 hours.) Finally I can stop feeling like a fraud when I put "writer" in the occupation box on forms.

Pursuant to the second point: the novel in question is a rebadged, expanded, and built-upon version of The Notorious Sorcerer's Penultimate Work. I basically took a fic that was 110% self-indulgent fantasy chicanery and crammed in a whole lot more stuff that I love egregiously, like girls having flashy swordfights on rooftops, and self-possessed society ladies organising crime like they organise garden parties (except with less tea). I had a ball writing it, and I'm beyond delighted that my agent also loves it outrageously. Here's hoping we find a publisher who feels similarly!

But on that note, I need to take down the original fic, just to clear the field. I've been sending out notes about this too - so you might get one of those if you commented on the fic - but LJ's messaging only lets me send about five a day, so that's taking ages (and AO3 has no messaging yet, ugh). The point is: if you want to save the fic, you should do that before the end of the month, when I'll be taking it off AO3 and locking it down on LJ.

Life is a maze and love is a riddle

Feb. 13th, 2016 09:07 pm
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Posted by Fred Clark

• OK, I finally figured out what “Always Submit to the Church Administration” reminds me of: Lenka’s 2008 song “The Show.”

Click here to view the embedded video.

Figuring that out also taught me something else I hadn’t realized, which is that “The Show” is from Australian singer-songwriter Lenka and not, as I mistakenly thought, from a reunited Frente! She sure sounds like Angie Hart, though. Not that that’s a bad thing.

• Here are Heath Carter and Erik Loomis on the analogy of a New Gilded Age. Carter focuses on the aspects of the analogy that may be misleading. Loomis focuses on the aspects of it that provide insight.

For me the key factor is this: the term “Gilded Age” was originally coined by Mark Twain. It was not, in other words, a historical designation or category so much as it was a fiercely barbed joke. Whether or not the abuses of our 21st-century corporate overlords are precisely parallel to the abuses of late-19th-century corporate overlords is less important than the fact that we still need that joke and many more like it.

Our present-day Robber Barons may not exactly parallel the original Robber Barons, and our time may or may not be a New Gilded Age, but we absolutely do need a New Twain. We need a lot of them.

TwainQuote

Not quite what I mean when I say we need a new Twain for the 21st century.

“I never asked you to have faith in me, Goody Watson.” I write a lot here about witch-hunting, witch-finders, witch-sniffers and the perennial quest to purify our world and our self-image by punishing imaginary Satanic baby-killers. So it’s refreshing to see someone address all of that with the honesty Mallory Ortberg displays here: “Reasons I Would Not Have Been Burned As A Witch In The Early Modern Era No Matter What I Would Like To Believe About Myself And Would Have In Fact Been Among The Witch-Burners.”

What she confesses there isn’t entirely true, of course, but it’s rare to see anyone admit that it might be even a little bit true when it’s probably more than a little but true for most of us.

She’s also completely correct about the Beaufort Wind Scale.

• Theology lessons from an investment manager at Goldman-Sachs: “This Christian God that we serve is the foundation of our country.” 

• “In the early days of the western United States, a masked man and an Indian rode the plains, searching for truth and justice. Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when from out of the past come the thundering hoofbeats of the great horse Silver! The Lone Ranger rides again!” True story – but not quite the one we’re used to hearing. (via)

• Speaking of Frente!, here’s the ’80s remixed as the ’90s:

Click here to view the embedded video.

For those keeping track, this week I posted songs by Kasey Chambers, Lenka, and Frente! Anyone know of any other fragile-voiced Australian singer-songwriters? Apparently I like that sort of thing.

The Kasey Chambers song was about the inevitability of death, so it seemed appropriate for Ash Wednesday and the start of the Lenten season. Although, of course, in the southern hemisphere this week actually marks the start of Advent (or does the liturgical calendar not work that way?).

Beetlemania

Feb. 13th, 2016 08:39 pm
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Posted by Justin Pierce

Despite my best intentions, I have a few points of continuity (such as nearly of Wonderella's heroes being part of a superhero legacy). In Queen Beetle's case, it's her dad: 70s blaxploitation character The Black Beetle.


I'd like to someday carry this forward to show what happened to The Black Beetle, but it's probably not in the cards for the weeklies.

(no subject)

Feb. 13th, 2016 02:11 pm
nny: (Default)
[personal profile] nny
Well it's cold as hell, lobsters and jellyspoons, and I'm most unfond of it.

Today I have not yet clambered out of my pyjamas and I likely won't, neither. Instead at about 5 I shall have a bubbly bath with a book, and then I shall climb into new fresh and lovely pyjamas and, quite possibly, go to sleep. I would have slept last night, only I was filled to the brim with lovely bubbly.

This is because I got a job. :D I am the newest permanently contracted member of my school, which is the first time I've had a permanent contract. I'm relieved more than anything, relieved and delighted I don't have to move any time soon. Unfortunately they then went on in briefing to say 'so, we're hiring no more staff, you may need to teach things you don't know, also you can't photocopy anything any more', so... there are problems. Obviously.

Still! No Moving!

So if you've ever fancied a trip to Nottingham, I can now actually offer you a bed without tacking on the likelihood that I'll be gone by the time you get here!

That's kind of consumed the entirety of my life, lately. So I have no other news. A mental image, though:

Had a clear but odd mental image of John Reese breaking down with his forehead pressed against Eliot Spencer's shoulder - he has to hunch right down, it's ungainly - and Eliot holding on hard to the back of his neck and softly growling reassurances at him while he death-glares everyone else away.

I really wish I had a fic to build around it.

4.40

Feb. 13th, 2016 06:39 am
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Posted by shingworks

TM_web_440

X[___]

Was working on a batch of Meek pages at once just cuz this scene is a bit complicated for me~ Another page will be up in a day or two.

Wielder of Names 3-59

Feb. 12th, 2016 11:31 pm
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Posted by Abbadon

WON59

“I heard a man’s heart is worn on his sleeve. Well, it ain’t exactly correct by my reckoning, but close enough. Men is easy to read. Their heart shows all up in their eyes and face. It comes out in their breath, their voice, and the slant of their walk. Men is living things, beautiful and simple.

Where does an angel keep his heart then, I wonder? Troubling thoughts, my lads. Troubling thoughts, indeed.”

– Volk, Stoker’s Guild scion

 

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Posted by Fred Clark

Back in the early 1990s, you never knew what you were gonna get when you went to an ATM. Your bank might charge you a fee to withdraw cash — your own cash — from the machine. There might be an additional fee from the network, or from the host bank, or the vendor. You might not learn about any of those fees until after the machine spit out your little receipt, informing you that the $20 you withdrew, and an additional $1, or $2, or $4, had been subtracted from your account.

But that receipt might not mention the fee at all, in which case you wouldn’t learn about it until you got your monthly bank statement in the mail (there was no “online” yet, for most people), or until those hidden fees bumped your balance into the red, sending you into the cascading hell of overdraft charges followed by overdraft charges on those charges.

RC1977

The 1977 first edition is the one to read.

Congress addressed this by amending the law regulating ATMs to require full disclosure of any such fees prior to the transaction. This disclosure requirement was a Good Thing.

Granted, it was a rather modest Good Thing. The change in the law didn’t set any caps or limits on such fees — so you might still be charged $2 or $4 for access to $20 of your own money, skimming a percentage that would make a loan shark blush. And while the change might help you to avoid overdraft hell, it did nothing else to limit banks’ ability to continue stealing the $30 billion or so they transfer from working people to themselves through that racket every year. But still, it was a small but positive step.

It was also an eminently capitalist step. It was a market-driven measure designed to allow free markets to function more efficiently by ensuring that consumers were informed about the costs of these transactions. Such information, the theory says, gives consumers a choice, empowering the invisible hand of competition. In practice, of course, such information might only tell consumers that they had no choice — that their only options for accessing their own money all charged such fees, and that even if they decided to walk all over town looking for a cheaper ATM they might never find one (I often did, and then usually didn’t). But over time, the theory said, the information would create the demand for other options, and that demand would eventually create a supply to meet it. In some places, that happened, sort of. In other places it didn’t. (Those other places, quite often, were less-white neighborhoods, because America.)

It would be churlish, though, to blame this positive piece of legislation for not transforming the entire world. What it did accomplish was limited and modest, but that limited and modest accomplishment was unambiguously positive.

Back when President Bill Clinton was signing laws like this one, the word that came to be used for such modest-but-positive measures was “Clintonian.” Bill Clinton had a good instinct for politics as the art of the possible — for identifying small positive steps like this and making them happen. Such things might not be revolutionary, but they resulted in tangible improvements in the daily life of millions of Americans. It’s a really big country, after all, and even minor reforms could, on a national scale, add up to substantial increases in fairness and the general welfare.

But while this law requiring disclosure of ATM fees was certainly Clintonian in its effect, and it was signed into law by Bill Clinton, we shouldn’t give him all the credit for getting it passed. A lot of the impetus for that law came from Rep. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, who worked hard to get the bill through the House of Representatives.

Sanders caucused with the House Democrats but he was officially an Independent who, famously, preferred to identify as a “socialist.” (Hence the Vermont joke, dating back to his time as mayor there, of referring to the state’s largest city* as the “People’s Republic of Burlington.”)

Sanders’ role in this legislation is why I remember it, and why I wound up referring to it, often, throughout the 1990s.

At the time, I was working for Ron Sider at Evangelicals for Social Action. Ron is best known as the author of a terrific book called Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. That book seemed to get a lot of people very angry — particularly those who might qualify as its titular Rich Christians. And a lot of those angry people responded angrily by hurling the harshest, nastiest word they could think of: socialist.

This was silly and dumb, of course. Ron wasn’t a socialist, he was a Mennonite. The core of his book was a call for voluntary, private, personal generosity — what he called a “graduated tithe.” It was, essentially, a plea to “live simply that others may simply live.” He wanted readers to decide on a standard of living that seemed, to them, to be enough, and then to commit voluntarily to give a bit more of their more-than-enough to help the many millions of people who have less-than-enough.

But still, whenever I went out as a representative of ESA, this “socialist” thing was something I’d have to deal with. For many in the white evangelical world we were trying to reach, the only thing they’d heard about ESA and Ron Sider was that word. So I’d have to point out, as in the paragraph above, that Ron’s call for deeper voluntary personal generosity was not, in fact, anything at all like socialism. And sometimes, to help people get past that, I would talk about the law requiring disclosure of ATM fees.

People knew about this law because they’d seen it in action every time they used an ATM. That law, I pointed out, was passed thanks to the only member of Congress who refers to himself as a socialist. Here in America, in the 1990s, I would say, this is what “socialism” has come to mean: The very modest claim that banks should be required to inform you that they’re about to charge you two bucks for the privilege of access to your own money. This Red Menace doesn’t try to stop those banks from charging you what amounts to 10 or 20 percent for a $20 withdrawal, it just requires them to tell you about it beforehand. So, I said, half-joking, if that’s what “socialism” means these days, then I’m not sure it’s really something you need to be afraid of.

Anyway, even though I used the modest scope of that law as a kind of punchline for years, it was still, as I said above, a Good Thing. Rep. Sanders deserves real credit for pushing for it and President Clinton deserves real credit for signing it.

It took a couple more decades before we’d see legislation that even began to tackle the more substantial matter of the way ATMs and ATM fees fuel the overdraft racket that transfers tens of billions of dollars every year away from the working class and into the pockets of the banksters. That didn’t happen until Dodd-Frank was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010.

Dodd-Frank is a big, sprawling mess of an omnibus law, and whether it does enough or goes far enough to restrain the “too big to fail” banks and to prevent a repeat of the Great Recession is still a matter of debate. (It probably does not.) But apart from that aspect of the law, Dodd-Frank also includes a bunch of other, more modest measures — the kinds of things we used to describe as Clintonian. My favorite of those is the establishment of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which is awesome.

I don’t suppose the CFPB qualifies as revolutionary either, but it’s changing your life, for the better, in dozens of modest little ways. Quite often, it works through the same modest mechanism of disclosure discussed above. Disclosure and opt-in measures haven’t halted the banksters’ annual theft of billions of dollars through the overdraft racket, but the amount of that annual wealth-transfer is, for the first time, going down instead of increasing. And the CFPB has had even more success going after payday lenders and the shadow-banking industry that fleeces the unbanked poorest of the poor even worse than Wall Street treats those of us who can afford a checking account. Whether or not the general public views Richard Cordray as a “revolutionary,” the banksters sure do.

I realize that all the good that the CFPB is doing is still not enough. There’s more to do and more that must be done. Much more. But I wouldn’t want to lose the tangible progress CFPB has made and is making. “All Cris Carter does is catch touchdown passes,” former Philadelphia Eagles coach Buddy Ryan said before sending the receiver off to a hall-of-fame career in Minnesota. I know what Ryan meant, but still, it turns out that actually catching those touchdown passes is kind of important.

- – - – - – - – - – - -

* The term “largest city” really means something very different from what you’re thinking once it’s qualified with the words “in Vermont.” Burlington has a population of about 42,000, which is roughly the size of Sayreville, N.J., or of Fairfield, Ohio, and quite a bit smaller than Farmington, New Mexico. But to my brother-in-law and his neighbors in the Northeast Kingdom, Burlington is still the city – a bit too crowded for their liking. Plus it’s full of transplanted Flatlanders. Burlington may be the smallest largest-city in any state, but it’s big enough that you can tell when you’ve found it — unlike Vermont’s state capital of Montpelier, which I drove through, twice, without realizing that I had done so. Vermont is very … Vermont.

** It’s helpful to compare Ron Sider’s gentle pleading with, for example, everything that every Christian ever wrote about wealth and poverty from the first century through the time of Augustine. Those Christians taught, unanimously, that superfluity is theft — that possessing any more than what you need for your daily bread was no different than stealing from the poor through violence. And they wrote detailed sermons and screeds outlining just what they believed counted as superfluous possessions.

Maybe those Christians could be described as, in some way, “socialist,” but it was just dishonest and wrong to use that term for the sort of thing Ron Sider was talking about. Heck, if the Apostle Peter had been a fan of Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, he would’ve commended Ananias and Sapphira for their generosity and sent them on their merry way.

 

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Posted by Fred Clark

Kali Holloway, “How Delusional Nostalgia Is Killing the White Working Class”

White Americans overall believe African American and Hispanic gains are their losses. A 2011 study from Harvard found that “white Americans see racism as a zero-sum game that they are now losing.” …

That is, they perceived racism, and the limitations it sets on African Americans in every sphere of American life, as beneficial to whites. Equality, by white Americans’ curious logic, doesn’t serve us all: The more equal some of us become, the less equal others of us get. For blue-collar white Americans, who are more vulnerable than their more affluent and better educated peers, this fear is particularly pronounced. The terror of slipping down a rung on an already precarious ladder is transformed into a sort of paranoia.

Walter Brueggeman, “The Gospel vs. Scripture? (via)

For me, the conviction from Martin Luther that you have to make a distinction between the Gospel and the Bible is a terribly important one. Of course, what Luther meant by the Gospel is whatever Luther meant. And that’s what we all do, so there’s a highly subjective dimension to that. But it’s very scary now in the church that the Gospel is equated with the Bible, so you get a kind of a biblicism that is not noticeably informed by the Gospel. And that means that the relationship between the Bible and the Gospel is always going to be contested and I suppose that’s what all our churches are doing – they’re contesting.

… The prophets are largely focused on economic questions, but I suppose that the way I would transpose that is to say that the prophets are concerned with the way in which the powerful take advantage of the vulnerable. When you transpose that into these questions, then obviously gays and lesbians are the vulnerable and the very loud heterosexual community is as exploitative as any of the people that the prophets critiqued. Plus, on sexuality questions you have this tremendous claim of virtue and morality on the heterosexual side, which of course makes heterosexual ideology much more heavy-handed.

Margo Kaplan, “Fertility clinics destroy embryos all the time. Why aren’t conservatives after them?”

The disparity between how the law treats abortion patients and IVF patients reveals an ugly truth about abortion restrictions: that they are often less about protecting life than about controlling women’s bodies. Both IVF and abortion involve the destruction of fertilized eggs that could potentially develop into people. But only abortion concerns women who have had sex that they don’t want to lead to childbirth. Abortion restrictions use unwanted pregnancy as a punishment for “irresponsible sex” and remind women of the consequences of being unchaste: If you didn’t want to endure a mandatory vaginal ultrasound , you shouldn’t have had sex in the first place.

Daniel José Camacho, “Do Multicultural Churches Reinforce Racism?”

Multicultural churches have been better at making people of color approximate white attitudes and perspectives on race than challenging Whiteness itself. Part of the issue lies with how race and racial categorization itself is understood. Like popular reconciliation paradigms, multicultural paradigms mistake racial separation and lack of diversity as the heart of racism when these, in fact, are symptoms. …

To be sure, cross-racial/cultural relationships are important and beneficial in many ways but insufficient by themselves to undo racism. Relationships and group-dynamics need to be held within a larger context. More than a superficial multiculturalism which boils down to demographics, we are desperately in need of Christian practice that is liberative and decolonial, that attends to structural realities and exercises long-term memory.

 

 

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Posted by Fred Clark

Originally posted October 28, 2005.

You can read this entire series, for free, via the convenient Left Behind Index. This post is also part of the ebook collection The Anti-Christ Handbook: Volume 1, available on Amazon for just $2.99. Volume 2 of The Anti-Christ Handbook, completing all the posts on the first Left Behind book, is also now available.


Left Behind, pp. 165-170

My least favorite book by C.S. Lewis is one called The Problem of Pain. Lewis eventually seemed not to like it very much either.

a-grief-observed-c-s-lewis-hardcover-cover-artIf you’ve ever seen the movie or the play Shadowlands, then you’re familiar with the circumstances — his autumnal marriage to Joy Davidman and her slow death from cancer — that led Lewis to write a much better book on the subject. That later book was called A Grief Observed. Where The Problem of Pain is detached, abstract and inhuman, A Grief Observed is raw, candid and full of human experience. Grief has become one of those books that people give to others who are dealing with grief and suffering. Nobody does that with The Problem of Pain – that would be cruel.

In the early pages of Grief, Lewis writes of the crisis of faith brought on by the suffering and death of his wife. He doesn’t come to question the existence of God but, rather, the nature of God. What if loss, pain and suffering are what God intends? What if God is really like this, a “cosmic vivisectionist”?

That’s a tough question, and at some point an inescapable one for anyone who — like me or Lewis — believes in the existence of a loving God.

It’s not entirely clear that the God of Left Behind is a loving God. As many have noted in the comments section here, the vengeful demiurge of LaHaye and Jenkins seems like a cruel god. Both he and his followers seem to take a bit too much delight in the destruction of the wicked and the weak. They seem to be basing their idea of God on a twisted paraphrase of Julian of Norwich: “All go to Hell, and all go to Hell, and every kind of person goes to Hell.”

Even Kirk Cameron — the former Growing Pains star who now plays Buck Williams in the Left Behind movies — seems troubled by this cruel picture of the Almighty. He wrote a column for the loopy “Worldview Weekend” folks titled “Stay Behind” in which, as someone said here in comments, he seems to call for evangelical Bodhisattvas:

I wonder if Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye would ever consider writing a book called Stay Behind, about a group of Christians who would rather stay and reach the lost than depart and be with the Lord?

Since even Kirk/Buck is troubled by this impression of the deity of LB, Tim & Jerry have to deal with it. And they almost do here, as just such an objection is raised by Chloe Steele:

“Daddy, what does this make God? Some sick, sadistic dictator?”

“Careful, honey. You think I’m wrong. But what if I’m right?”

“Then God is spiteful, hateful, mean. Who wants to go to heaven with a God like that?”

“If that’s where your mom and Raymie are, that’s where I want to be.”

“I want to be with them, too, Daddy! But tell me how this fits with a loving, merciful God. When I went to church, I got tired of hearing how loving God is. He never answered my prayers and I never felt like he knew me or cared about me. Now you’re saying I was right. He didn’t. I didn’t qualify, so I got left behind? You’d better hope you’re not right.”

“But if I’m not right, who is right, Chloe? Where are they? Where is everybody?”

And that’s it. “Rayford dropped the subject and went to watch television.”

“Careful, honey,” he cautioned his daughter. I picture him looking furtively over each shoulder and backing away from her slightly, fearful that God may smite her on the spot.

Rayford doesn’t disagree with Chloe — he never argues that God is not a “sick, sadistic dictator,” or that God is not “spiteful, hateful, mean.” He simply points out that the spiteful cosmic dictator has whisked his wife and son off to Heaven, and that if he ever hopes to see them again some day he’ll have to play by the Great Dictator’s rules.

L&J seem suddenly to realize that it’s been nearly eight pages since the last phone conversation, and even longer since Rayford has had a chance to say something condescending about Hattie, so they correct this with a phone call from Pan Continental Airlines. As Rayford receives his instructions for his next assignment (with, of course, plenty of irrelevant detail) he also learns that Hattie has asked to be assigned to his next flight.

Rayford sighed. “No objections, I guess. No, wait. Let’s just let it happen if it happens.”

“I’m not following you, Captain.”

“I’m just saying if she gets assigned in the normal course, I have no objection. But let’s not go through any gymnastics to make it happen.”

There’s no indication here that Hattie’s request was some kind of sexual overture. She’s just been through a catastrophe and she’s reaching out to everyone she knows for mutual support and comfort.

Rayford, on the other hand, responds to hardship — and to all of life — like the American evangelical he is soon to become. Take care of your family with a fierce defensiveness, and let everyone else fend for themselves.

He tries again to convince his daughter of his theory that the dictator-God was behind the disappearances. “Don’t say you won’t even consider it,” he tells her.

“Well, did you consider the space invaders theory?”

“As a matter of fact, I did.”

“You’re kidding.”

“I considered everything. This was so far beyond human experience, what were we supposed to think?”

Rayford is lying. He never considered “the space invaders theory.” He never considered any possibility other than the rapture theory. Within instants of learning about the mass disappearances — all the way back on page 19 — he had already made up his mind: “The terrifying truth was that he knew all too well. Irene had been right. He, and most of his passengers, had been left behind.”

The closest he comes to considering the ET theory is when his daughter mentions it and he mentally mocks it as a nutty California notion, the kind of ridiculous idea believed by “people on the West Coast [who] afforded the tabloids the same weight Midwesterners gave the Chicago Tribune or even the New York Times.”

So why does Rayford lie to his daughter? And, more to the point, why do L&J seem to think it’s OK for Rayford to lie to his daughter? It’s possible they simply haven’t been paying attention. Continuity is not their strong suit — Jenkins’ 28-day process for cranking out these novels doesn’t seem to include time for reading them over before having them published.

But what seems really to be happening here is that L&J are telling readers that it’s OK to lie if that’s what you have to do to convert the heathen. Chloe’s mortal soul is in peril, and what’s a little white lie compared to that?

Rayford tells his daughter about the “In Case of Rapture” videotape made by Irene’s pastor. Chloe remains skeptical, so Rayford responds with this succinct statement of the logic behind L&J’s faith in their vindicating Rapture scenario:

“You’re coming at this as a skeptic, so sure it sounds ridiculous to you. I see no other logical explanation, so I can’t wait to hear the tape.”

Chloe, reluctantly, agrees to ride along when Rayford goes to the church.

“We’ll go over there tomorrow,” Rayford said, disappointed in her reaction but no less determined to follow through, for her sake as much as his. If he was right, he did not want to fail his own daughter.

A loving father, Rayford won’t rest until his daughter is dead and in Heaven. Even if that means lying to her until his tongue turns black.

What Goes Around...

Feb. 12th, 2016 09:00 am
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Posted by Judith Tarr

I'm in another Storybundle this month--another of those "Women In" collections, this time Fantasy, and as usual it's a great communal experience. We all get together, help each other push the bundle, and read other's books. It's fun, it's profitable. It spreads the word about a variety of books and writers.

This one has me thinking about the whole "Women In" phenomenon, and where fantasy used to be versus where it is now. What goes around comes around, but there's always a new angle to it, one way or another.

It's been interesting watching fantasy evolve out of the primordial soup that was, primarily, Tolkien. There were other ancestors, of course, and other strains of fantasy, but by the end of the Sixties, Tolkien was the one name that ruled them all.

Out of Tolkien came the clones. Some were so close that they followed the actual plot outline of The Lord of the Rings, and a handful of those sold as well as if not actually better than the original. There were actually readers who complained that Tolkien was a bad copy of his own bad copies.

And that was the Seventies, and a good chunk of the Eighties.

In the Eighties, something happened to the perception of fantasy as a genre. Very Serious People decided that fantasy was easy, fluffy, comfy, and you just made it up as you went along. It therefore followed, by the logic of such things, that it was full of girl cooties. Real writers wrote science fiction, which was brawny, male, and preferably hard.

Of course there were guy fantasy writers, and some of them were monster bestsellers, but for the most part, fantasy was the province of the Female Fantasy Writer. I still have my pink FFW button from that era, and the pink fluffy bunny it's pinned to.

It all seems rather quaint now, and it's been pretty much forgotten as the women's side of history so often is. Somewhere in the Nineties, fantasy stopped being a girl thing and turned into a guy thing, so that come the new millennium, Very Serious People were very seriously declaring that women were just beginning to enter the male realm of fantasy.

The one exception being urban fantasy: you know, the one with the tight leather pants and the vampires and werewolves. And a few guys making buckets of money off it, but mostly it's full of girl cooties. Real fantasy is brawny, male, and epic.

Nobody is going on about how you just make it up as you go along, which is a big improvement. But the old divide is still there, and so is the age-old putdown of the women's side.

This is an old song. Really, really old--as old as what we know of human history.

A few days ago, through my Twitter feed, I happened across Mary Beard's lecture on "The Public Voice of Women." It's a couple of years old, but the subject matter is truly timeless.

Beard argues that women's voices have been diminished and silenced for millennia. Women were told to shut up in Greece, in Rome, in the Western Middle Ages (and from what I know of history in general, this is by no means unique to Western Europe). She lists example after example and source after source. It's endemic. It's deeply embedded in the culture.

What's amazing to me is not so much that this has been going on for so long, but that it's now being called out, and people are making an actual effort to change it. Of course there's backlash, and some of it is seriously ugly. But the ugliness is being called out, too. It's no longer possible to just reflexively diss the female voice. There are, finally, consequences.

That's major. It can get really, really tiresome to fight the same battles over and over and over again, and to watch the older battles and the women who fought them be systematically and consistently erased. But when I realize how deeply ingrained the silencing of women is, I find it all the more remarkable that there's actual, perceptible progress. Women's voices are actually being heard--and sometimes even being taken seriously.

Just watching television from the Sixties, or reading books from the Seventies, I can see how perceptions have changed. I'm right now in the middle of a reread series for Tor.com, rereading the early works of one of the foremothers of modern fantasy, Katherine Kurtz. The books are holding up, for me, much better than I ever thought they would, but their gender politics is dire. It's also completely in period, and in character, for the early Seventies when the books were published.

In these books, beginning with Deryni Rising, the protagonists are all male, and the medieval setting is heavily and unquestioningly patriarchal. The female characters are few, and every one is in some way problematical. They're all either evil sorceresses, flutterbrained idiots, or Noble Females On Pedestals. None of them is a rounded human being. That's reserved for the male characters.

And that was completely normal and unobjectionable around about 1972. It really is striking that, less than forty-five years later, it's not only seen as a problem, it's no longer the standard approach to female characters in fantasy. Even if the writer doesn't honestly believe in women as human beings, he still comes under pressure to make a show of writing Strong Female Characters.

That's a sea change. Will it last? Now there's a question.

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Captain Oblivious

October 2014

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