nothing here but sacrifice zones

issue 053 - 28th June, 2020

CJW: It sure has been a fortnight. We’ve seen comics, genre fiction, gaming, stand-up comedy, and probably other industries I’ve not paid attention to, be rocked by countless allegations against influential and powerful men for sexual misconduct and other harmful and abusive behaviours. If you’re on twitter at all, or involved in any of those industries/fandoms, then you’ve certainly got some idea of what I’m talking about. I’ve written more on it below, as one case in particular is of relevance to us here.

Thanks again to our paid subscribers, who help keep our pets fed and help keep the lights on. The latest bonus was from Marlee, a love letter to the You're Wrong About podcast, and about the mental health strains that she (and many others) are experiencing throughout this pandemic. (Which is still ongoing, despite what our governments are trying to tell us…) To get access to this bonus, future bonuses, and the full archive, just go here to become a supporter.

CJW: Being a caretaker: a response to JK Rowling (by Alison Evans)

Rowling keeps talking about being ‘targeted’, depicting herself as a victim of ‘trans activists’, and again, tying this all back to misogyny and her history of abuse. Well, sometimes there is a reason people are shouting at you. It’s wrong to expect cool heads when you are talking to people who are directly affected by things that are only abstract concepts to you – people who have suffered lifetimes of pain you are so keen to ignore in centring yours. Sometimes it’s not misogyny, or men, or oppression. Sometimes it’s you.

Friend of the newsletter, Alison Evans, wrote this great open letter to JK Rowling after her most recent anti-trans writings. It’s easily the best response I have seen, and the best thing I have read on the subject.

MJW: Alison is not just an amazing writer, they are a fucking wonderful person and friend, and in this article they share a little bit of that with you.

CJW: Shane Carruth Releases 'The Modern Ocean' Script & Music Because "It Might Be Fun"

If there was any sense in Hollywood, the major studios would be fighting over who gets to give Shane Carruth the largest cheque. But he makes smart and intimate sci-fi films with limited commercial appeal, so instead all we get from him are scripts (because I assume the fact that he’s releasing this now means the project is dead in the water [pun not intended]).

If you just want the direct link to the PDF, here you go!

All the money spent on Super8, Stranger Things, and any other Spielberg-infused nostalgia-fests should have instead been given to Carruth for A Topiary. Not only does it have the band of kids and the sense of infinite possibilities inherent in 80s childhood summer holidays crashing against something otherworldly, but it is also so much more than that, and goes so far beyond what we've seen done with those sorts of stories before.

Years ago me and Austin did a tweet thread about the script for A Topiary. Maybe once he and I have had a chance to read this script I’ll get him on board to guest for an issue (or a bonus) so we can talk about The Modern Ocean.

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CJW: Dorohedoro (Netflix)

There is so much to like about Dorohedoro - the gorgeous art and animation (the opening credits alone), the unique worldbuilding, the great characters and relationships between characters, the music, the humour, the violence, and writing that’s so good they get away with things that could easily ruin a lesser show.

For instance, if you boiled it right down, it’s the story of a man who’s lost his memories trying to find out who he is. The amnesiac hero has been done so many times it’s a trope at this point. But, with Dorohedoro they get away with it by dropping us into the middle of an on-going fight and an on-going story. This isn’t the story of a man who wakes up and can’t remember who he is - this is the story of a man with a lizard’s head and multiple knives, battling evil sorcerers on a murderous rampage, with his gyoza chef friend for support. Cliched it is not.

The other thing I really enjoy about the show is the split focus between our heroes and their friends, and the family of villains who stand against them. You’re probably going to enjoy watching the exploits of Shin and Noi as much as those of Caiman and Nikaido.

It’s so good that I’m even tempted to read the manga just so I can get more Dorohedoro without having to wait, but the 23 volumes are a little daunting.

DCH: This show is amazing. Pause whatever you’re currently binging and get to it.

CJW: In case you missed it somehow, Warren Ellis has been accused of sexual misconduct. That article is the best summary of the situation that I’ve come across, and Damien Williams’ comments on the topic were (unsurprisingly) well-thought-out and broad in scope. Ganzeer also posted his thoughts, and had plenty of interesting things to say, particularly on the topic of careerist reactions to the situation, and something else that had also struck me - the kindness and generosity of Katie West and Meredith Yayanos in their initial twitter threads. They don’t want to crucify Warren - they want him to do the work, to do better, and they want the systems in place to change so this can’t happen again (more on this below).

There is a lot more I could say, but I could easily end up echoing Damien and Ganzeer above or Sean Kelley McKeever in this piece. Instead, at the moment I’d rather centre the voices of the women coming forward. (Speaking of centring women, this video from Meredith Yayanos is important, and Kelly-Sue DeConnick explored her feelings on the situation on Instagram.)

I believe them, of course. I was actually surprised that everyone feels the need to say that because it seems obvious. But in case it isn’t: I believe them. However you personally feel about the creators and their works (creators plural - here is a rundown on comics creators who have recently been accused of misconduct, and another rundown on genre fiction), or however much those works might mean to you, don’t let yourself get defensive. Don’t lash out against the people who have already suffered, just because you don’t want their allegations to be true. Believe them, and process your own feelings however you need to without further adding to the burden these people (mostly women) are carrying.

But there’s a related topic that I do want to talk about, and that is the “boy’s club” nature of so many areas of our society, and the way that lets predatory, abusive, and/or manipulative men get away with behaving in these awful ways. 

I began thinking about this after I saw this tweet from Stacey King:

Guys: you know that dude who said something creepy about women to you once or twice, but seemed fine after that? That dude was testing you. Pushing your boundaries to see how you'd react, the same way they push the girls they prey on.

Now, here she’s specifically talking about predatory men, so I can’t think of any specific examples of this from memory, but it tracks with so much typical (but toxic) masculine behaviour. Men, when in the company of other men, are allowed to talk shit, to be gross, to be offensive, to demean women and people in minorities, etc, and there’s a social contract that says not only is this not a bad thing, but it’s actively a good thing. It means he’s “one of the guys” - he’s a “top bloke” as we might say in Australia. And because we’ve been socialised for decades to behave like that and to accept that behaviour, it’s incredibly difficult to distance yourself from it.

Eons ago, at the pub a few weeks before lockdown, a friend of mine said something offensive, and while I was offended and disgusted, I didn’t speak up. I didn’t want to ruin the good time we were having by taking him to task for that sort of bullshit. And I still think about that, and still wish I’d done better.

So, men (and cis men in particular), instead of defending your abusive heroes, or trying to justify a continued appreciation of their work, or even instead of starting a bonfire of all their books you used to love – instead of all that, try and recognise that you were raised and socialised in a toxic patriarchy, and that however mild your particular case of toxic masculinity is, it’s the same culture that allows the predators to hunt their prey and remain safe from consequences. Start to pay attention to the way the men around you talk, and the way they act, and be prepared to speak up when that shit gets out of line – and it will, because we were raised to believe that it’s natural, that boys will be boys. You’ve got to think about this, and you’ve got to stand up and speak up to make a change in the groups that you’re involved with. Maybe you can’t single-handedly change comics or genre fiction or Hollywood, but you can do something to ensure that your scene, industry, or culture is safe(r) for those who could be vulnerable. This isn’t about being a white knight, it’s about doing something to limit the influence of those abusers who will only hurt people and damage the communities that you want to see thrive.

In short, I’m suggesting you do the work. Being vocal on twitter (even in a supportive capacity) isn’t doing the work if you aren’t internalising any of these discussions and considering what you need to do, and what you can do to address these issues in your own life and the spaces you frequent.

I know I can do better in speaking out against the shit I see and hear. And I will do better. It won't be easy because anxiety fucking sucks and I've never been good with confrontation, but I'll do it because it's important. If you know you could also do better, now’s the time to start.

And if this recent spate of allegations makes you feel uncomfortable about some of your own behaviour, now is the time to recognise that. Sit with it, no matter how awful it feels, and begin to consider how you can address these failings. Nothing worth doing is easy, and perhaps you’ll need some form of therapy to help process the issues that lead to your harmful behaviour, but you need to do it. The people around you deserve better. The people who look up to you deserve better. None of us are perfect, and all of us have hurt someone, but we can work on ourselves to ensure we do better in the future.

MJW: The Butterfly Effect and The Last Days of August

The fact that when I’m feeling really shitty (which is most of the time now) I turn to relistening to my old favourite podcasts as a kind of a ‘comfort-listen’? But the podcasts I relisten to are always kind of sad and depressing? What the fuck is wrong with me? 

Anyway, My favourite format is a limited series (like I love a long backlist, but my real favourites are really tight and well-made single series podcasts) so I relistened to Jon Ronson’s two podcasts The Butterfly Effect and The Last Days of August in one long day where I was so epicly bonkers that I took two hour-long walks and in between punished my already tortured body with hours of garden work just to escape my head and ease my restlessness. 

ANYWAY, these are two intense and complex stories. The Butterfly Effect takes the singular event: a European dude buys a small porn streaming company and turns it into Pornhub, and tracks the ripple of that through the lives and stories of the people who were affected by it. The Last Days of August is also set in the porn world, and explores the way that a porn star’s suicide made headlines as a tale of an internet pile on, but turned out to be something far more nuanced and complex and...even ordinary? than that. 

I think both were initially Audible Originals, but are now on all the podcast apps, so you search for it, I’m too sad and lazy to link it. 

MJW: This is 100% pure hilarious gold from the NZ government, and such a fucking important message. We’ve got to start having this conversation. 

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DCH: God I needed this track right now.

CJW: Arrow by Noveller (via Andrew Macrae)

I listen to quite a bit ambient and/or instrumental music. Being a writer, it’s not uncommon - many of us need some music/noise to help us work, but can find lyrics distracting. That said, there’s something unique about this album by Noveller, the solo project of Sarah Lipstate, that I’ve not come across before. It’s layered, textured, ambient but dynamic, and as synthy as it can sound, the music is largely created with an electric guitar and effects pedals.

I can put my finger on exactly what it is that grabs me about Arrow, but I know it had me from the first listen.

Anyway, ignore me, and just go listen for yourself.

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DCH: New Run The Jewels has dropped.

“You so numb you watch the cops choke out a man like me/Until my voice goes from a shriek to whisper—‘I can’t breathe’/And you sit there in the house on couch and watch it on TV,” Killer Mike raps on “walking in the snow,” his voice urgent. The lyric is about Eric Garner. Now it’s about George Floyd, too. That these two unjust killings occurred under tragically, uncannily similar circumstances (out in the open; with other officers standing by; with a man being suffocated to death; on camera) nearly six years apart only underscores the unending flow of racist violence in America.

Listen to Walking in the snow now.

CJW: Another interview all about Repo Virtual:  9 Questions for Corey J. White (REPO VIRTUAL), and a review from the Unofficial Hugo Book Club. Also, Repo Virtual has made Amazon’s Best science fiction and fantasy of 2020 so far

If you’ve read this newsletter for any length of time, you can probably guess how conflicted I am at all the positive attention RV has gotten from Amazon and Goodreads... 

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MJW: Other me (Mia Walsch)’s memoir Money for Something got its first review in The Age

Her stand-and-deliver account of life as a masseuse in parlours all over Sydney – and later as a Dominatrix at BDSM club – is frank, gritty, funny, grungy and upbeat. It’s also a revealing self-portrait that documents her drug addiction and serious mood swings, among other things. Intense writing, distinctive voice.

It’s out on July 2 in Australia and I think you can order it internationally here? Maybe? Oh yeah, I’m also having a digital launch, so if you want to see me be awkward on video talking memoir with Yen-Rong Wong, you can do that here.

Oh, and I’ve set up another Patreon. Let’s see how Memoir Patreon does vs Science Fiction Patreon.

CJW: Capitalist Catastrophism (via Ospare)

It is possible to interpret the global response to this sequence of events as a vicious reassertion of capitalist realism. After a brief respite where it seemed that another world was possible, we have been thrown forcefully back into this world, a world where capital reigns supreme, where it is not inconceivable to let people die so that capitalism might live and where we must bail out private companies with public money.

Another piece on the nature of our world vis a vis capitalism, but instead of putting forward the argument we've previously shared that we're in or heading toward neofeudalism, here the author is making the case that it's actually capitalist catastrophism (in response to Fisher's Capitalist Realism) that's coming down the pipe.

[Capitalist Catastrophism] describes a situation in which capitalism can no longer determine what it means to be “realistic,” not because of the force of movements assembled against it but because capital’s self-undermining and ecologically destructive dynamics have outstripped capitalism’s powers to control them.

[...]

From this point on the climate struggle is not just about “saving the environment,” as we used to be told, but about how much of it we will lose, how many of us will die, and how those who are left will adapt. Under capitalist catastrophism, in other words, the climate crisis becomes the primary vector of international class struggle.

On the one hand, it’s incredibly depressing to grapple with the climate catastrophes and governmental responses that are leading us to capitalist catastrophism, but on the other hand, the author suggests that it’s only the extreme nature of these catastrophes that might allow us to finally get out from under capitalist realism and imagine then build something better for our future.

I was so impressed with this piece I went right ahead and signed up for the Roar patreon, so definitely give it a read.

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DCH: World has six months to avert climate crisis, says energy expert

The world has only six months in which to change the course of the climate crisis and prevent a post-lockdown rebound in greenhouse gas emissions that would overwhelm efforts to stave off climate catastrophe, one of the world’s foremost energy experts has warned.

Thanks rich people. You’re a big help. Truly.

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CJW: COVID-19 Broke the Economy. What If We Don’t Fix It?

With the economy at a standstill, we're being challenged by some experts to envision a different kind of economy—one that could help solve the climate crisis, rather than make it worse.

[...]

Along with robust other policies around healthcare, housing, and education, degrowth would mean that people can work and earn less without a massive blow to quality of life. It also calls for more progressive rates of taxation, so that wealth is more evenly redistributed.

[...]

"Degrowth is not about degrowing the entire economy indiscriminately, but rather growing some sectors that are important and degrowing others that are destructive," Hickel said.

Degrowth for all, and the guillotine for any elites that stand in the way.

In all seriousness though, this is a great summary of degrowth as it could (and should) be implemented as the world moves forward post-pandemic (assuming we ever truly reach a post-pandemic state).

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DCH: Covid-19 Flares Up in America's Polluted ‘Sacrifice Zones’

AIR IS POLITICAL. Research indicates race is the biggest predictor of whether a person lives near a heavily polluted area. Covid-19 is especially lethal for patients with respiratory problems.

More evidence the climate crisis disproportionately fucks BIPOC. Wicked problems are intersectional. And require intersectional solutions. 

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MJW: Native smokebush plant adapts to allow for ant pollination, researchers find

"With ants, there are a few examples all over the world of ants pollinating flowers, but this is the first time that we have shown that it is the plant that has evolved to facilitate this kind of pollination — it's not the ant that has evolved to the environment... I was really quite excited because it was a new thing, we had never observed that before."

MKY: that is so cool! And a preview of what Australia’s flora and fauna might look like as the extinction crisis also escalates, I guess?

I was also super happy to learn that there’s at least one species that has figured out how to coexist with - dare I say out-wit? - that super predator of Australia’s wildlife, feral cats: meet the long-nosed potoroo.

MJW: Oooooooh

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MKY: Scientists Edited Human Embryos in the Lab, and It Was a Disaster

“There’s no sugarcoating this,” says Fyodor Urnov, a gene-editing expert and professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley. “This is a restraining order for all genome editors to stay the living daylights away from embryo editing.”

So this can all stay in the realm of spec fic for now… though, somebody tell Putin cause what are they building in there? [RT link, i know… i know]

CJW: Something something, this is how we get Winter Men? (Which is a fantastic comic, by the way.)

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CJW: New Facebook Tool Allows Employers to Suppress “Unionize” in Workplace Chat

I was thinking a few weeks ago that we're mere months away from Facebook offering employers a way to (pay and) find out if their workers are badmouthing them or their company in private. I hate that my tech cynicism and pessimism is so often on the money. (And that I’m not being paid megabucks by Silicon Valley to be a pessimist futurist [as if I’d accept the cash].)

This article in particular, though, is about Facebook trying to build their own version of Slack, because nowadays they don't innovate, they just buy up or rip-off the “innovative” companies.

More FB bullshit: Facebook Moderators Ordered to Spend More Time Viewing Online Child Abuse

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DCH: Facebook creates fact-checking exemption for climate deniers

Facebook is "aiding and abetting the spread of climate misinformation,” said Robert Brulle, an environmental sociologist at Drexel University. “They have become the vehicle for climate misinformation, and thus should be held partially responsible for a lack of action on climate change.”

As if we needed another reason to hate Zuckerberg.

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CJW: William Barr Turns DOJ Into Donald Trump's Law Firm

In May, after Barr moved to drop the charges against Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser — even after Flynn had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI — Barr defended his actions in the case by saying that “history is written by the winners.” That is the kind of statement that might be expected from an amoral bureaucrat in a police state rather than the chief law enforcement officer of the United States.

I truly hope this writer's tongue is planted firmly in cheek here, otherwise imagine watching the past few weeks of police violence all across America and still failing to realise you live in a violently racist police state.

DCH: Related - ‘State-sanctioned violence’: US police fail to meet basic human rights standards

Researchers in the university’s law school put the lethal use-of-force policies of police in the 20 largest US cities under the microscope. They found not a single police department was operating under guidelines that are compliant with the minimum standards laid out under international human rights laws.

Fuck the police. #acab

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DCH: Millions of documents from >200 US police agencies published in “BlueLeaks” trove

Dates on the most recent documents were from earlier this month, suggesting the hack that first exposed the documents happened in the last three weeks. The documents, which were titled “BlueLeaks,” were published on Friday, the date of this year’s Juneteenth holiday celebrating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans in the Confederacy. BlueLeaks had special significance in the aftermath of a Minneapolis police officer suffocating a handcuffed Black man to death when the officer placed his knee on the man's neck for 8 minutes and 45 seconds.

I’m here for our hacking heroes. #acab

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DCH: Seasteading – a vanity project for the rich or the future of humanity?

“Coronavirus is an opportunity to show the world that what we’re building is actually going to be very useful in the future,” says Chad Elwartowski, in a recent video post from his beachside base in Panama. The Michigan-born software engineer turned bitcoin trader is a leading figure in the seasteading movement, a libertarian group dedicated to building independent floating cities on the high seas. Along with the bunker builders and survivalist preppers, their long-held ambitions have been bolstered by the current global pandemic. “No matter if you’re scared of the virus or the reaction to the virus,” he adds, “living out on the ocean will be helpful for these situations.”

Because being out on the water made it super safe for all those people on cruise ships.

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DCH: My Little Pony Fans Are Ready to Admit They Have a Nazi Problem

That sounds just as strange no matter how many times you say it. My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is a cartoon television show about friendship, compassion, and a group of magical horses with names such as Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy who live in a fantastical land called Equestria. It’s marketed to children. Nevertheless, it has an extremely dedicated adult fandom, which is mostly made up of men, or “bronies,” as they’ve been referred to for nearly a decade. Most of these men are white. Some of these men are vocal white supremacists.

Bronies = Brownies = Brownshirts. It all fucking makes sense. 

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Cutting Room Floor:

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CJW: Be good. Be kind. Be vicious when you need to be. Thanks for reading.

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