Adult Onset Atheist

Monday, August 24, 2015

No Wins Hugo

This post puts a final nail in the SNARL-Hugo series of posts.  I must admit to being completely put off by the quality of this year's short fiction nominees.  I am afraid we will see this problem again if there is not a revamping of the nomination process. 

This last weekend the Hugo award winners were announced, and the big winner was:

NO AWARD

  1.       "No" won handily in five categories (Novella, Short Story, Best Related Work, Editor Short Form, Editor Long Form). 
  2.        "No" came in second in four categories ( Novelette, Professional Artist, Fanzine, Fan Writer), and picked up a prestigious second place John Campbell award for best new writer.
  3.        "No" came in third in two categories (Novel, Fancast)
  4.        "No" came in fourth in one category (Semiprozine)
  5.        "No" came in fifth, beating only one nominee, in only one category (Best Graphic Story)

"No" only failed to place in a couple categories.  Interestingly "No" was shut out in both the dramatic presentations categories; the only categories it had ever won in the past. 

"No" was my personal favorite in the short fiction categories.  I had almost hoped that Kary English's story "Totaled" would have won, but if it had I would have been left thinking that it might have lost to worthy competitors.  I don't think "No" would have beat Kary if there were any other reasonable short stories to judge hers against.  Interestingly the winner of the Novelette category was the only nominated short fiction I have not read.  I will probably not read it as I am just sick of whatever this stuff is that they call short fiction in 2015. 

The thing is that the rabid-sad puppies filled the nominations with work -especially in the short fiction- that was awful.  I should have kept track of the descriptors used to explain how bad people thought the Rabid-Sad puppies work was.  It would have been nice to know if "%!!?# **%$!! That **&p;%;#$!! Was &;*(^)!;$%?" beat out "Can I have my hour back?", or if something more vanilla like "Please get me a plastic spoon so I can scrape the residue left by reading that crap out of my brain!" could chalk up a win. 

The slate-filling is something that is done in reduction down-select voting processes.  In Utah this is the reason behind maintaining a costly caucus-primary system.  Since only two candidates make it from the closed caucus to the public primary it is possible to slate dummy candidates to force out candidates that might win in the primary if the public was given a chance to vote for them.  Since I have been in Utah the slating in caucus has been used to elect Senator Mike Lee, and allowed John Huntsman to be elected governor when the incumbent had something like an 85% approval rating.    It almost worked against Senator Orin Hatch in the last election cycle; hatch went on to win the public primary by a nearly two-to-one margin. The idea to slate out popular candidates in order to control an election is a Utah idea.  Interestingly the two main "sads" in the rabid-sad puppy group are Utahians.  They took what they thought was a winning political strategy from the rooms of the Utah GOP caucus, and applied it to a literary award.

"Our execution wasn't flawless. I made two mistakes, one which was fortuitous as it permitted Three Body Problem to make the shortlist and win, and one which was stupid as it cost us a 6th category in novelette. Our discipline could also have been better, although I don't see that it would have made any difference at all with regards to either the nominations or the awards. But I trust the moderate approach is now sufficiently discredited in everyone's eyes."  -- Vox Day on Vox Popoli 23 August 2015

"From Communists to Muslims to SJWs, various philosophies and religions have been more than happy to attempt to coopt Jesus Christ, because they believe he is dead. What they cannot countenance are the servants of the Living God"  -- Vox Day on Vox Popoli 24 August 2015

In any sacrificial slating there are dummy candidates.  Tim Bridgewater was the dummy GOP candidate for Mike Lee.  Nolan Karras was the dummy GOP candidate for John Huntsman.  In the case of this year's Hugo awards it looked like most of the dummy candidates were just one guy: John C. Wright.  JCW was nominated into so many slots that I would be surprised if it were not some sort of a record.    And all of the work used to nominate him was craptacular.  It was some of the worst written fiction of any length I have ever read in any genre.  The fact that so many of what I hope are JCW's worst works received Hugo nominations does permanent damage to the genre of science fiction.  Already collections that include these turds of stories are being offered for sale with the announcement that they contain "Hugo Nominated" works.  There will be nobody around to say "This story may have been nominated, but it lost to No Award it was so bad".

Reading the Hugo-nominated works of John C. Wright is not just a waste of time it is a waste of interest.  The Hugo process may have finally figured out how to nominate dramatic presentations, but it has failed the written word.  There is a steady stream of ways to be influenced over what TV show to watch; there may be one less way to get reasonable recommendations about what written work is worth reading.  The Hugos does not provide an important voice in the selection of TV shows, but it was (is?) one of only a few for short science fiction works.

"I should mention that during the last few months of the Sad Puppies kerfluffle, I once upon a time accurately described him, Mr. Moshe Feder, and Mrs Irene Gallo of Tor Books as ‘Christ Haters.’ The support of abortion, sodomy, and euthanasia rather unambiguously put a soul into the position of open rebellion against Christian teachings. In addition, any man who bears false witness against his neighbor, delights in poison-tongued gossip, and destroys writing careers of anyone who does not support his politics not only disobeys Christ, but violates the ordinary decency of ordinary men of good will of any faith."  -- John C. Wright on his blog 23 August 2015

There are several conservative commentators who decry the strong showing of "No" at the 2015 Hugos as a petulant attack on the civility and social order.  Most people just don't care, which is actually worse.   Science fiction has actively imagined the downfall of civilization fairly often, but unless people trust the Hugo process to identify the best of science fiction the Hugos awards are literally worthless; there is in fact no other significant purpose for the Hugos.       

"The social justice tendency, here as elsewhere, is driven by anxious white middle-class bloggers and authors who turn their noses up at the tastes of the proletariat. They'd rather celebrate books about coming to terms with the disabled transgender experience than a good story about aliens and ray guns."  -- Milo Yiannopoulos on Breitbart 23 August 2015

If the rabid-sad puppies are successful in pushing the Hugo awards down the path of triviality again next year I will probably join the vast majority of people who don't care about them already. 

The strong "No" showing may be the first step back from the brink for the Hugos.  However, the rabid-sad puppies vow to do the same thing to the Hugos next year.  Vox Day is even holding a special secret workshop for 2016 Hugo strategizing this Thursday (27 August 2015).

The only way to counter that threat is to get enough votes for good works.  But how do you find the really good works out of the seemingly endless morass of science fiction and fantasy?  Well... you could get people to recommend good works to other people who might together nominate them. If you read something worthwhile you need to tell other people about it, and explain why you liked it.  Put your opinion on the line like I did this year.  Help make reading the Hugo nominated works a pleasure in 2016.







Friday, August 14, 2015

How Not to Book a Trip

The following is a guest post by Doris Brody.  She wanted a place to put an HTML formatted story of a birding trip she recently took to Ecuador, and I eagerly offered to put it here.   I hope she does not expect me to edit anything much as my editing skills, as most of my readers know, extend to sometimes paying attention to the automatic spell checker.

Our tour leader is down on all fours and stuck in the mud. He cannot remove his boots until he takes his feet out. He is a mess. Now it is our turn to follow him across the huge mudslide blocking our path. One by one we struggle over getting extremely muddy but luckily avoiding the dangerous pits that lurk beneath the surface.

Mudslides!


The mudslides that have plagued the Eastern slope of the Andes in Ecuador this year are an act of God: the Godzilla of all el Ninos. The decision to cross the mudslide is not.

On this birding trip to Ecuador, we have learned several important lessons about how not to book a trip.

  1.  Get a draft itinerary before you pay all your money down (we didn?t). If the itinerary says “lodging at my house” ask questions. (We did, after paying it all. This got us a hotel?more about that later). 
  2.  If the itinerary doesn't specifically say what meals are covered and which are not, ask. Also, if a meal is not covered, ask if the schedule allows time for it, ask where you eat and when (we didn't). We had two breakfasts and three “dinner-lunches” at the leader?s house (hamburgers and hot dogs for two and chicken for the third).
  3. --Ask questions about “little things” like laundry facilities (see picture) and transportation. We had a car and a pick-up truck. The luggage, covered with a tarp, only got a little wet in heavy rains.
  4.  If the activity level is higher than advertised, opt out.  From 10 to 2 there are few birds out, anyway. Mostly, they don?t justify wearing yourself out hiking up steep slopes in high altitude and noontime heat. Opt out. I did.

The morning of our mudslide experience we arrived just after midnight at our hotel in San Rafael, south of Quito. We had to carry our luggage by ourselves up a steep marble-tiled staircase (35 steps) to our room (one double bed, one ¾ bed and one single), which turned out to have only a trickle of ice cold water, and fell asleep (not hard to do after 17 hours of traveling). We got up at 5:30 AM to get ready to be picked up for breakfast. Breakfast, at our tour leader?s house, consisted of 2 small pancakes, syrup and a juice box. No coffee. The house was a mess (hint: apparently garbage collection is infrequent in San Rafael). We headed across the main pass from Quito to the Eastern Slope and out on a long walk up and down steep muddy trails at 9,000 feet and, finally, across the mudslide. Then it was time for lunch, which was supposed to be sandwiches which our leader had made at home. And forgotten them there.  We were offered, and ate, chips, Oreos and water while the two leaders debated whether to eat at a restaurant. 

Laundry "room"


Our final destination that day, Wild Sumaco, in a beautiful bird-filled setting, was everything a well-run comfortable eco-lodge should be. The meals (three a day) were excellent. We saw wonderful birds there. Four days later, we left Wild Sumaco and headed back to Quito (San Rafael) to the same hotel with the assurance that we would have better rooms and hot water. BUT it was Saturday night. The street was a never-ending traffic jam, the sidewalks were packed with people and the solid wall of discos and karaoke bars across the street were at top decibels. Three of us got Jacuzzi rooms on the first floor but two were sent to the top floor again, opened the door and found it inhabited by a soccer team. They got moved down and we all tried to sleep. Without success. The bars closed at 2:30 but the street didn't quiet down until well after 3:30. After that the real noise began to settle down but the car alarms continued to go off. We had no trouble being ready to leave at 5:30 because most of us were still awake. Breakfast was scrambled eggs, toast and a juice box at our leader's house. Still no coffee  Then we were off to 13,000 feet and a hike to a lake. Again, I opted out. I was happy because on the way we got good looks at a couple of Andean condors.



Our accommodations for the next five days were at a farm right next to the town of Mindo. Not all rooms had attached bathrooms and, though clean, the structures were closer to bunkhouse or shack than hotel. But we ate two excellent breakfasts in the main house.  Three breakfasts were take-away ham sandwiches. Only one other meal was included in our package "lunch-dinner" which we ate around 3PM (pizza two days, steak one day and a really nice restaurant one day).

Giant Earthworm


So was the trip a disaster? No. It was an adventure. The other people on the trip were wonderful to travel with and, in addition, they were very good birders. We saw many birds we would have missed if they, with their eagle eyes, had not found them. Our leader and co-leader took us to a restaurant when the sandwiches were left behind, found us another place to stay after the sleepless Saturday night, found a decent hotel in San Rafael after we had to cancel the proposed trip back to the Eastern Slope because the pass was closed, took us to a couple of decent, even good, restaurants for a couple of our dinner-lunches and gave us a delightful day in Quito when we couldn't go back east. And you could (and I did) opt out of the difficult steep up and down marches in the heat and high altitude. Most of all: WE SAW GOOD BIRDS!

The high point of the trip was our day at Refugio Paz de las Aves. On our last day in Mindo we had to be packed and ready to leave at 5:15 so we could reach the cock of the rock lek by dawn. A lek is a place where male birds come to jump around and make noise.  This activity is irresistible to females. Go figure. When we arrived, it was still almost completely dark on the trail to the lek. Our flashlights revealed a number of cows on the narrow path but they moved off and, as we slogged through the mud, it became obvious that not all of the squishy stuff was mud.  The lek was a leafy tree that was already alive with frog-like croaks and squeaks and shaking with jumping birds. As it became lighter the cocks; bright red birds the size of fat crows with black and white wings became visible. Every time a female (a sort of maroon colored bird) arrived the activity hit a frenzied peak and all the males flew off, chasing the female. Then they returned and began croaking, squeaking and jumping again.

Antpitta in the wild


Eventually, it was time for the antpitta feeding.  In 2004 birders discovered Angel Paz, a campesino who was feeding worms to antpittas. Antpittas are very secretive birds and very difficult to see. He had learned to get the birds to come to his whistle to be fed. Word spread and birders converged on Angel?s farm to see the birds. They paid him money. It became a lucrative  business for the Paz family who are now preserving large portions of their farm for birds. Angel's first antpitta, Maria, was a giant antpitta, a particularly rare bird. She is now gone but giant antpittas still come to a whistle, either by him or other members of the family who are now working in the business. We walked up and down steep muddy trails pursuing antpittas and saw four species of these rare birds. It was a magical day.

The last two days of the trip were spent in and around Quito because we could not get back over the pass to the Eastern Slope because of the mudslides. Quito was beautifully spruced up for the Pope's visit and lively with Sunday activity. We were quite happy to have this finale to the trip.

Even the cast of Dragon Ball Z was excited to see the Pope!


Would I go back to Ecuador? Yes.

Would I book another tour company? Yes.



Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Lending Rainbows

With all the rainbows lighting up the world it is strange to suggest that all in rainbow land is not sparkling in the afterglow of universal love, since such a condition is not uncommon in true rainbow land even when the rainbow nozzles are not turned up full power. The SCOTUS has re-affirmed marriage as a gender-combination-independent Right. Facebook profiles have been rainbow hued to celebrate the SCOTUS decision as the direct result of an app that only colors photos in rainbows. Flags festooned with rainbow-colored bears have sprung up in unlikely places to announce the “final” concert celebrating 50 years of music by the Grateful Dead. Rainbows are everywhere these past few weeks; good rainbows.

The finality of the Grateful Dead concert is hardly the cause of the rainbow problems. Age has unsurprisingly set the parking brakes on the Magical Grateful Dead Bus. Baby-faced Bob Weir will be 68 in October, bass guitarist Phil Lesh celebrated his 75th birthday back in March, and Jerry, who died a couple of days after his 53rd birthday in 1995, would have turned 73 on the first of August. I predict that, within the coming decade, some former deadhead will get a walker and name it “roll away the dew”.

The rainbow problems I speak of are happening within the rainbow family of living light whose annual gathering ended today. It was held this year in the Black Hills National Forest near the Pine Ridge reservation. The Black Hills have been identified as sacred land by members of various Native American tribes; most notably Lakota Sioux from the Pine Ridge reservation. All of the black hills (including almost half of South Dakota, and large chunks of Wyoming, North Dakota, and Nebraska) are also identified as belonging to Native American interests by the treaty of Fort Laramie which was signed in 1868.

In 1980 SCOTUS (United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians, 448 U.S. 371 ) awarded hundreds of millions of dollars to the fort Laramie treaty signatories for the land (and years of compound interest at 5%) illegally confiscated since signing the treaty. They did not give the land back, and the bulk of the money has been sitting in an account unclaimed since the award as a statement towards promoting the return of the land.

Due to continually compounding of interest it is estimated that the settlement amount is now worth just north of a billion dollars. This makes the Lakota some of the wealthiest Native Americans in North America. Unfortunately the fact that they do not spend any of the money does little to improve the living conditions on Pine Ridge, and it continues to be one of the poorest places in the United States. Needless to say the decision to keep a billion dollars locked up while many people who could lay claim to the benefit of that money live in extreme poverty is not a universally supported decision.

Days before the Rainbow gathering was to begin a handful of Lakota headed by James Swan and Duane Martin served a legal-looking document to members of the rainbow family claiming that they were not to be allowed to gather in the sacred black hills as defined by the Fort Laramie treaty. This came as a bit of a surprise as Rainbow representatives had gathered permits and permissions from recognized representatives of the Lakota as well as the Forest Service (which currently administers the land).

There are undeniably sacred sites in the black hills. The big ones, like devil’s tower, are on protected federal lands. There are also many little ones; like individual burial sites. However, the Fort Laramie Treaty land mass is huge (millions of acres) and most of it is not a specific sacred site. The Rainbow Family gathering site had no specific sacred sites on it, and so may not have been any more sacred than anywhere in Rapid City or the town of Sturgis (where, for the past 75 years, there is a huge motorcycle rally in August).

It may actually trivialize the problems in the government of Pine Ridge to state that there are long-standing and severe divisions and disunity within it. However, it is difficult to really map the frontlines of the internal political struggles as the federal government is called upon as the root cause somewhere in almost every discussion on the topic. The fact that the federal government’s special relationship with Native American Reservations often makes it the root cause of very local issues does not help defuse those instances where paranoia or simple scapegoating uses the spectre of the “Feds” to displace blame.

In most of the world even the most severe of local political infighting does not usually involve death squads. In 1973 a group of activists took over the historical site of the Wounded Knee massacre in the Pine Ridge reservation. Some were protesting the Federal Government, but most were attempting to oust the tribal president (Richard Wilson). Wilson held the office using actual paramilitary GOONs (Guardians of the Oglala Nation ) to intimidate and even assassinate opponents. Many Lakota died in unexplained car crashes, and as many as 60 of Wilson’s opponents were violently murdered between the Wounded Knee incident and Wilson’s re-election in 1974. To put this into perspective it is more than ten times the violence rate per capita as that seen at the height of the conflict in Northern Ireland.

The Pine Ridge Reservation was at war with itself. Many blame the federal government for either not doing anything or instigating the problems to begin with. The conflict did not go unnoticed by the Feds, and the United States Civil Rights Commission stated that Wilson’s 1974 re-election was invalid because of widespread fear, abuse, and intimidation.

In order to fight in and survive the war that the Pine Ridge reservation was in the mid-70s took conviction and an ability to be violent. It was probably inevitable that the violence from one of the sides would strike out at the Feds. On June 26th 1975 two FBI agents who were performing what regular police would perform anywhere else (attempting to locate a robbery suspect for questioning) were ambushed on the Pine ridge reservation. The two agents radioed in that they were taking automatic rifle fire and were unable to defend themselves adequately with their 38 special revolvers. When their bodies were recovered there were over 125 bullet holes in the agents’ cars. FBI agent Jack Coler was killed by two execution style bullet wounds to his head received after being incapacitated by other wounds in the gunbattle. Agent Ronald Williams had powder burns on his hand where he attempted to shield his face from the gun muzzle from which came the bullet that killed him.

It took hours for the Feds to put together a force of sufficient strength to approach the ambush site. They came under fire, but most of the ambushers had already fled. One ambusher died, and his body was discovered clothed in one of the dead agent’s jacket, which he presumably took as a souvenir. The dead shooter was not one of Wilson’s GOONs. He was a member of AIM (The American Indian Movement). AIM, with its actual movie-star leaders, was the major opposition to Wilson, and lead the Wounded Knee takeover. Suspicion was immediately cast upon Leonard Peltier who coordinated some aspects of AIM security.

Leonard evaded authorities until February 1976. In September of 1975 he narrowly avoided being caught when his RV was pulled over in Oregon. After a brief gun battle Leonard ran away on foot; Jack Coler’s service revolver was found under the front seat of the RV. In his 1999 memoir (I have not actually read the memoir) Leonard admitted to firing on the two agents, but denied firing the close up shots that killed them.

Leonard Peltier’s 1977 trial is widely denounced as a sham. Amnesty international called it an “Unfair Trial” as late as 2010.

Just a few short days after Leonard was apprehended a badly decomposed body of a woman was discovered on the Pine Ridge reservation. It would eventually be identified as Annie Mae Aquash; the highest “ranking” woman in AIM. She had been killed by an execution-style 0.32 caliber bullet to the back of the head. The federal trials of the two men who would ultimately be convicted of Annie’s execution stretched from 2003 to 2006. In 2012 what may be the last state trial for the kidnapping, rape, and murder of Annie upheld the conviction for John Graham; formerly a member of AIM. Annie was allegedly on her knees praying for mercy when the bullet entered the back of her skull.

It is widely believed that Annie was either killed by secretive government agents who framed AIM, or conversely, that she knew too much about Leonard’s involvement in the 1975 ambush. Several people have testified that Annie was with them when Leonard allegedly boasted about his involvement in the FBI ambush by saying: “The mother f***er was begging for his life, but I shot him anyway.”.

Out of this madness of violence sprung a collection of –now aging- young activists who are formulating their positions now that the actual leadership of that time are aging out of power. Any threats of violence coming from these people, even indirect threats (like: “If you don’t do what I say I’m not responsible if something bad happens to you”), cannot be easily ignored as bluster.

At the same time that Pine Ridge was experiencing some sort of modern gangster version of the old west the Rainbow Family of Light was beginning to develop. The first national gathering was held at Strawberry Lake Colorado over July 4th weekend in 1972; over 40,000 hippies showed up to that event. First approximations suggest that only a couple thousand may have braved the threats of violence to attend this year’s gathering in South Dakota; better numbers will take a bit of time to develop.

Hippies have even been a part of the evolution of Pine Ridge from hyper-violence to the current status of more simplified abject poverty. The Rainbow Family gatherings are always alcohol free, and hippies helped block roads during protests of reservation border liquor stores (the reservation is removing its anti-alcohol laws). The last treaty council Epyapaha (I think Alex White Plume was the last as it does not appear as if Epyapaha is an official position) famously leveraged the “Lakota Nation” status of the Pine ridge reservation to begin the commercial growing of marijuana.

Native American culture has been an integral part of the Rainbow family since it emerged from the vortex. Teepees are iconic location points at the gathering sites, and many rainbow children profess a strong, if only imagined with good intent, bond with what they think Native American spirituality is. The rainbow gathering is a gathering of tribes, and those tribes are a lot like a conceptualized image of Native American tribes. If there was an actual threat to a real Native American sacred site most rainbow people would walk the long way around.

None of the potential violence materialized. The most vocal Lakota aggressor –Duane Martin- spent a bit of the weekend in jail for unpaid child support. Many more level-headed Lakota activists, a couple wearing t-shirts advertising for the release of Leonard Peltier, actually attended the gathering to build the bridges which will probably result in the kind of non-violent activist alliances that will benefit the future. Unfortunately however, the family’s light was dimmer that it could have been. Many actively avoided this year’s gathering in South Dakota because of the intimidation, or because they did not want to accidentally trample a sacred spot.

Or…. maybe the real reason that so many avoided this year’s gathering was to lend the family’s rainbows to the rest of the country which so desperately needed to borrow them for a bit?