Timothy Speaks Out: “I Shall Not Be Cancelled!”

Outspoken and controversial international publisher Timothy the Talking Cat has taken a stand in an editorial in his vast network of newspapers, TV-stations and weird little notes he glues to shop front windows. As part of the Cattimothy House stable of magazines (along with Squirrel Watch Weekly and Better Homes & Litter Trays) this blog shall also be carrying this (mandatory) editorial. However, the staff of this blog would like to make it clear that the opinions expressed are those of management and are very specifically not the views of Susan who said “I’m going to kick his backside into next week when I find him”.

I Shall Not Be Cancelled: By Chief Editor and Publisher Timothy the Talking Cat

“In these trying times a spectre of illiberallity, illliberallllity, illiberality is stalking the land, the blogs and the few social media platforms that I haven’t been banned from using due to my over reliance on spam-bots.

The free exchange of information, ideology, ice-cream and ideas, the very lifeblood of a free society, is each day becoming more vasoconstrictively constricted as if we had encountered a giant illiberal python with a desire for cat for dinner. While we have come to expect this on the radical right (indeed we have come to passively accept it and perhaps even endorse it quitely in our way – after all we know who has the money) censoriousness is also spreading more widely from stroppy leftist and frankly HOW DARE THEY, ungrateful layabouts that they are. They should maybe take a shower or two while they are it! (Ha!) These damn lefties have an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty, exactly like Donald Trump keeps saying they do.

I, on the other hand uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from ALL quarters. Yes from everybody! And that is exactly why I am demanding that lousy leftist keep their loud mouths shut! How can I get to enjoy my precious (and frankly quite expensive) free speech in peace with these loudmouths running around pointing out my moral failings? I simply can’t! Free speech is absolutely precious and that means that I, as a wealthy and powerful and influential commentator on world events should not have to put up with scruffy ner-do-wells holding me to task just because I rehashed poorly thought out arguments that I cribbed from a neo-nazi adjacent website! This stifling atmosphere will ultimately harm the most vital causes of our time.

The restriction of my capacity to debate, whether by a repressive government (unless they pay me) or an intolerant bunch of blue haired protestors or “tik tok teens” or the frankly annoying Bortsworth K-Pop Appreciation Society who utterly ruined my evening constitutional yesterday with there lour music and syncopated dance move, invariably HURTS those who lack power. That is EXACTLY why I am telling those with LESS power than me that they need to SHUT UP because otherwise I might have to hurt them.

You see, the way to defeat bad ideas is by giving my bad ideas lots and lots of exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away. Is that what we did with Flat Earthism? No, we ensured that every school child in Bortsworth was given a free text book by me explaining why heliocentricism is a lie in exchange for me funding repairs to the toilet block I had accidentaly ruined in that zepplin incident THAT WE DO NOT TALK ABOUT. We refuse any false choice between justice (for me) and freedom (for me), which cannot exist without each other but mainly cannot exist without me. As a creative professional I need a culture that leaves me room for experimentation, risk taking, and even mistakes — lots and lots of sometimes expensive mistakes. We need to preserve the possibility of good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences, particularly for me. This is why I keep targetting my critics, to ensure they meet dire professional consequences and my bottom line remains unchanged.

Thank you for my time.

Neither Law nor War

A post I could subtitle more in-conclusions about bad behaviour.

In the midst of the on-going (and increasingly free-floating) discussion about poor behaviour in the science fiction community, the topic of Lou Antonelli calling the police about Worldcon Guest of Honour David Gerrold in the midst of the 2015 debarkle came up. The incident was cited as an example because the immediate consequences for Antonelli were seen as quite mild by some, especially because of his wider pattern of behaviour. I’m not going to re-prosecute the ins-and-outs of that, especially because of my own less-than-great history with Antonelli. However, it had an element to it that I thought was relevant when it comes to actions and consequences. It is an element that corresponds with how some conflicts within SF&F communities are characterised.

I would suggest that in many of the dialogues I’ve seen two contrasting framings are used. One is in terms of war and diplomacy and the other is in terms of criminal justice. In the preceding paragraph I already used a couple of terms that are least slightly loaded to each one i.e. “conflict” and “prosecute”.

In the specific Antonelli-Gerrold case, it can be cast as part of the Puppies-v-The Hugos as a conflict and the response to Antonelli’s actions as a means of de-escalation and re-building bridges between factions (type 1: war and diplomacy) versus seeing it in terms of Antonelli’s breach of the rules (formally in terms of a code of conduct and broader social rules of behaviour, as well as him actually involving the police). Again, just using this to illustrate what I mean and how the framings impact thinking — we’ve gone over the details (and later misbehaviour) of Antonelli enough.

Both the type 1: war/diplomacy framing and type 2: criminal-justice framing really do have relevance and what they also have are implications about how to draw a line under an event. The story for the first is there was a big conflict and it ended with a truce or the two factions splitting irrevocably or an overwhelming victory etc. In the case of a criminal-justice framing the story is the person did a bad thing and then received a just punishment for what they did. The coda to both is not ‘and everybody lived happily ever after’ but ‘and then we all moved on’.

In reality nothing is so final. Intra-community conflicts exhaust themselves rather than coming to decisive ends. There aren’t formal leaders or even clear boundaries between groups and there aren’t actually truces. Similarly, while breaches of formal codes of conduct can have formal consequences, a lot of shitty behaviour results in in-formal consequences i.e. people making decisions that aren’t guided by a neat set of rules. An author might behave in a really shitty way but if their publisher doesn’t want to dump then, there’s no court of appeal to which people can demand that they be dumped. So the consequences to shitty behaviour will never fall equitably.

In particular, we have a current situation where there is a major central SF&F community with major conventions, modes of communication and relationships with major publishers, editors, agents and other movers and shakers but also a bigger (but more diffuse) world beyond that. If I may cite a different name, our old pal Jon Del Arroz, when his overtly harassing behaviour became apparent, he was already in the midst of cutting ties with the mainstream community. That was a calculated move and part of a particularly cultish approach among the alt-right of making themselves ‘less fragile’ i.e. removing those aspects of their lives where people who expect normal standards of behaviour could enforce them with social sanction. The ‘you can’t sack me if I already quit’ attitude is a means of avoiding the consequences of poor behaviour.

So neither law nor war are entirely appropriate framings. I’m not the metaphor police, obviously we will all continue to use them but I think both can distort our expectations of a definitive conclusion to an incident. A given shitty-person hasn’t ‘served their time’ because they weren’t actually a criminal and didn’t actually have a sentence handed down. A big kerfuffle was X number of years ago but there wasn’t actually a peace-treaty, nor should everything that was said or done be treated as if it was distinct from personal behaviour.

Oh, I’ve got this far and this is where I should start building a case for a third point of view. Surprise! I don’t have one and I did warn you there would be a lack of a conclusion. However, some un-cohesive points.

  • Harm reduction is a better model for thinking of consequences that justice or punishment. What is the problem with X’s behaviour? Where and how they mis-use whatever power and influence they have?
  • The above is also a better way of judging whether somebody really has learned from their past ‘mistakes’ or ‘done the work’. Is the person now avoiding the situations where they act out? [In Antonelli’s case he acts out, then apologises and then quits social media for a bit and then…gets into the same cycle again later. Without making any ethical judgements, it’s pretty clear that social media and social media conflicts aren’t a healthy place for him.]
  • No individual should feel that they need to place themselves at a position of risk out of a desire to show forgiveness, to give somebody a second chance or because others claim that somebody is a reformed character.
  • Nobody should feel obliged to purchase or consume or promote the work of somebody whose past bad behaviour put you off their work in the first place. There’s not a statute of limitations on that other than your own feelings.
  • Nobody should feel like they need to stay silent about why they are avoiding a given person or not purchasing their work or avoiding a given con, publisher, magazine because that venue promotes that person. That’s not the same as demanding a secondary boycott of a given venue (and that’s not me saying that nobody should ever demand a secondary boycott of a given venue either).
  • But…honesty matters. Making stuff up or inciting fears or spreading unfounded rumours isn’t healthy for a community regardless of who they are about. Pragmatically, a false or exaggerated story about a bad-actor also provides cover for them and helps them (or their supporters) with the ‘reverse victim’ aspect of DARVO.
  • Community self-honesty matters as well. Racism, sexism, bias and petty motives do play a role in these kinds of cases and some situations may have intractably complex power dynamics. We need to interrogate our biases and motives but not at the expense of letting abusive people harm others. If we respect the agency an humanity of people who are being abusive then we should not let them continue to be abusive!

That’s the closest I can get to a conclusion: treat everybody as people and not as things.

As always, this is thinking out loud and not intended as authoritative wisdom. Contrary views on any of this welcome. I’ve used Antonelli and Arroz as examples because they are fairly clear cut situations but I’d rather avoid getting into the weeds of who did what where unless it is pertinent to the broader issues eg. there’s a question about the power difference between Antonelli & Gerrold which is relevant but the question of whether Antonelli ‘swatted’ Gerrold or not isn’t relevant (either way it was a dangerous and irresponsible thing).

An inconclusive post about bad behaviour

In recent days there has been a renewed focus on some genuinely shitty behaviour by science-fiction writers and others in the SF&F community. I don’t have a lot to say about the specifics because a) I literally don’t know anybody and b) it’s a good time to listen rather than suck oxygen. The discussion has rippled outwards as well and while the specific behaviour initially talked about revolved around the behaviour of male authors and predatory, harassing or emotionally abusive/exploitative behaviour to women, there is a wider question of power-dynamics and bullying behaviour.

Those broader questions have then touched on issues in the semi-recent past, including events like RaceFail from 2009 and the issues around Requires Hate that came to a head in 2015. Those in turn raise the issue of nested power dynamics, in a complex and international community where publishing has its own hierarchies & positions of power, social media and size of followers has another power dynamic and these play out with existing social divisions around wealth, class, language, sexuality, gender and ethnicity (and ethnicity within both national and international contexts).

It is a complex ethical space and at the same time the issue at hand is very simple: STOP BEING SHITTY TO OTHER PEOPLE & START TREATING PEOPLE AS PEOPLE NOT AS THINGS OR GAME PIECES. I say “simple” and even as I write I use a paraphrasing of Kant’s categorical imperative and in this context have to point out that philosophers long and appalling level of racism and sexism. A simple idea that we keep failing at in fractal like ways.

Part of the self-reference in the issues of both bad behaviour and power dynamics is how we (as a community and as individuals) respond to people within our community acting badly towards others. Assuming we aren’t talking about behaviour that amounts to criminality* then we are talking about behaviour that we can only discourage/punish by the means of social consequences. Social consequences (which could amount to simply not following somebody on Twitter any more to something more substantial) are themselves acts which employ varying degrees of power dynamics between people.

And that circles back to systemic biases, specifically whether shitty person A and shitty person B end up suffering different consequences for similar behaviour of if shitty person A is a person-of-colour/woman/trans/gay/etc and person B is a straight, cis American/British white man. One of the big issues with systemic biases is they can are easiest to identify in aggregate: they often function stochastically and when looked at case-by-case there are (particularly in the kinds of behaviour I’m talking about) sufficient differences between case X and case Y that the difference in consequence can be rationalised away (X was dumped by their agent because of X’s behaviour but then Y wasn’t… but then X had done i,ii,iii,& ix and Y had done ii,xi, &xii etc where each of these are non-trivial cases of genuinely bad behaviour to others).

In workplaces or in more formal settings like a convention, a rules based approach can add a quasi-legal framework to things. By codifying both behaviours and consequences it can be easier to track both and look for inequities as well as providing frameworks to ensure that people who have behaved badly are still treated as people. In practice though, that doesn’t happen and we also have very recent examples of such structures being used as an instrument of bullying and power plays. Rules and power structures can be weaponised by people who act in bad faith.

However, the alternative that we have without those frameworks is a situation where I can say with confidence that probably different kinds of people are treated inequitably in these situations because I know in advance that our communities have not magically transcended systemic biases or hundreds of years of class, racial and gender biases BUT would struggle to spot whether a given case is an example of that.

Complex thing is complex! I don’t have any solutions at the end of this but I do know that worst thing to do in the face of a big ugly complex thing in which people are suffering genuine hurt is to give up. Seeing first that something is both complex (see above) but also simple (stop being shitty to other people) is part of interrogating a problem**.

*[or behaviour that arguably does amount to criminality but which victims have substantial reasons not to want to involve law-enforcement for so many reasons.]

**[and yes, I’m aware that seeing things in terms of ‘problems’ is also a cognitive bias of my own because I like problem solving and yet that is also a way of turning people into abstract things. Recursive thing is recursive.]

ETA: I finished that post and went to check my mail and there was a newsletter essay by Alexandra Erin that addressed the topic better (because she’s a better writer 🙂) https://alexandraerin.substack.com/p/more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger I liked this paragraph:

“You can’t win at sadness. No one wins at sadness. If you go with sadness, that means the game is over. Sadness means you’re out of moves. Sadness means there is no convincing the other person or people that you were right all along, that what you did was fine. Sadness means the final death of your last hope of powering through and coming out the other side untouched and unscathed.”

Cartographer Catch Up

The serial mega-novella Homunculus Cartographer continues on twice a week over here: https://homunculuscartographer.home.blog

Every two weeks or so I’ll run a catch up post here with a little plot summary and links.

The story so far:

Cartographer Homunculus is an artificial being created by alchemist bears to gather data for a map making business. Carto’s job is to journey across the bowl shaped world called the Unfolded Hades gathering data. Accompanied by the bodyguard Sir Pangolin (a pangolin) the story starts with Carto having just left the Horse Lands and venturing into the human lands known as the Electorates. There they discover that a civil war is brewing.

Travelling onto to the town of Fishport they look for a ship to take them across the Alkaline Sea – the inland sea surrounded by the Electorates. Hundreds of years ago the sea was turned into a solid mass of (slimy) crystals across which ships sail on vast ski-like runners.

Having spotted a suitable ship, Carto and Sir Pangolin find themselves forced to board it after accidentally revealing a military secret…

Can Jeff Bezos ski down a pile of his own money?

Following up from yesterday’s Scrooge McDuck speculation, I thought I’d spend more time on this question and by ‘more time’ I mean ‘too much time’ as indicated that I ended up reading a vice.com essay entitle “Does Jeff Bezos Have Huge Feet” https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/bvgy85/how-big-are-jeff-bezos-feet-an-investigation

The classic Scrooge McDuck picture shows him skiing down what appear to be gold coins and dollar bills. We can rule that out immediately (see https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2018/06/22/dragons-and-wealth-inequality/ )

I’ll assume he is amassing American coins for this purpose. Are there enough coins actually available for Bezos to get his $150 billion in coins? I don’t know. There’s enough for him to get it in notes (https://www.federalreserve.gov/paymentsystems/coin_data.htm ) but that itself would have a significant impact (the US has nearly 2 trillion in notes so he’d need about one twelfth of all the notes to get his fortune in cash).

We will assume that the Federal Reserve will make new coins so that Bezos can swap notes for coins. The next question is which coins he should get. Wikipedia has the details https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coins_of_the_United_States_dollar

Coind=diameter mmw=width mm
1 cent19.051.52
5 cent21.211.95
10 cent17.911.35
25 cent24.261.75
50 cent30.612.15

From this we can work out the volume. However, as we will be dealing with a big pile, I’ll shift to cubic metres rather than millimetres.

CoinVolume mm^3V m^3
1 cent433.2348946283610.000000433234894628361
5 cent688.978753940970.00000068897875394097
10 cent340.106413432260.00000034010641343226
25 cent808.9273571959580.000000808927357195958
50 cent1582.17675796350.0000015821767579635

Jeff Bezos has approximately $150 billion dollars. That’s 15,000 billion cents.

From there we can work out how many of each coin he can get with his money and what the total volume of those coins would be.

Coinnumber of coinsV of  coins m^3
1 cent15,000,000,000,0006,498,523
5 cent3,000,000,000,0002,066,936
10 cent1,500,000,000,000510,160
25 cent600,000,000,000485,356
50 cent300,000,000,000474,653

The cube root of the volume will give us the height of the cubes when stacked as a cube but you can’t ski down a cube. Actually I can’t ski down a slope either but then I’m not a billionaire and my skiing ability isn’t relevant here.

What I really need to know is the angle of repose of a pile of coins (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angle_of_repose ) but I can’t find that. For simplicity’s sake, I will just assume a 45 degree triangular prism that is a half-cube instead and work out that height.

Coincube height mprism height
1 cent187235
5 cent127160
10 cent80101
25 cent7999
50 cent7898

Now in all those decimal conversions I may well have added or omitted a zero but assuming I haven’t, those are quite tall piles (and it will be really funny if I have). If the prism was narrower (ie taller than it is wide) then the total height could be higher. Whether mechanically you could ski down a pile of coins I’ve no idea.

I initially left of one dollar coins because I thought they might be too valuable to work but as they are gold colour, they would fit better with the original image. However given the results I thought I should check them out.

Coind=diameter mmw=width w mmV of  coins m^3prism height
1 dollar26.492165,33969

A 70 metre tall pile of gold-coloured coins would be a big shiny slide if you have an obscene amount of money.

However, yes, I do believe Bezos could fill a big money vault with enough legal tender to ski down it and by that standard he has far too much money.

Missing moments from movie history

George Lucas’s original plans for the Death Star 2 included the addition of two death ray dishes that would be big green circles as well as two huge triangular “solar deflector arrays” on the sides to make it “look cool”. The combined effect was deemed to look “unfortunate” and a new design was adopted post-production.

Hugo 2020 Ranking Novellas

I’ve read and reviewed all the 2020 Hugo Award novellas.

I thought I might try ranking them along different criteria. There is at least one I loved and at least one I hated but there are several here that had some very notable qualities that I was less than enamoured with. Splitting these impression into different criteria doesn’t make those criteria objective but it lets me think about how my different feelings/impressions play out between them.

Cohesion: How well did the story hold together as a single piece. Did the multiple parts all work in concert? Lower ranked stories had parts that I liked but which worked less well when taken as a whole.

  1. Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom
  2. In an Absent Dream
  3. The Haunting of Tram Car 015
  4. This Is How You Lose the Time War [this feels a little unfair as some of the lack of cohesion was intentional]
  5. The Deep
  6. To Be Taught, If Fortunate

Characters: How well did I feel I know and care about the characters in the story by the end of it? I was surprised that Time War ended up sixth but looking at it this way made me appreciate some aspects of To Be Taught

  1. The Haunting of Tram Car 015
  2. Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom
  3. In an Absent Dream
  4. To Be Taught, If Fortunate [I found them annoying in places]
  5. The Deep [Perhaps a little unfair also as the central character was struggling with a loss of identity]
  6. This Is How You Lose the Time War

Prose: Pure word-smithing. Which ones show how to put a sentence together.

  1. In an Absent Dream
  2. This Is How You Lose the Time War
  3. Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom
  4. The Deep
  5. The Haunting of Tram Car 015
  6. To Be Taught, If Fortunate

Engaging Plot: How much did I want to know what happens next! Possibly this overlaps too much with cohesion but pacing and characters also play a role. Time War does better as a result.

  1. The Haunting of Tram Car 015
  2. This Is How You Lose the Time War
  3. In an Absent Dream
  4. Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom
  5. The Deep
  6. To Be Taught, If Fortunate

Boldness: Which story tries to push envelopes and be inventive! A story can do well on some of the above criteria by playing it safe but the spirit of science fiction is to boldly go where no story has gone before or at least not as often! This is a tough criterion because they each really do push some boundaries.

  1. The Deep
  2. This Is How You Lose the Time War
  3. Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom
  4. To Be Taught, If Fortunate
  5. The Haunting of Tram Car 015
  6. In an Absent Dream

Intangible sfnalness: I want to give a boost to fantastical ideas here! But this is a tough category. They each emit large amounts of fantastical energy.

  1. This Is How You Lose the Time War: Crammed full of time hopping weirdness
  2. The Haunting of Tram Car 015: Steam punk djinn 1910s Cairo
  3. The Deep: Hundreds of years of a deep sea history mixing magic, trauma and tragedy and the history of a people
  4. To Be Taught, If Fortunate: multiple planets and exotic life forms richly imagined
  5. Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom: a classic of taking a single science fictional idea and exploring the social and human ramifications
  6. In an Absent Dream: The intricacies of the Goblin Market and its cruel/not-cruel rules

Scores! In alphabetical order.

  • Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom (1,2,3,4,3,5)
  • In an Absent Dream (2,3,1,3,6,6)
  • The Deep (5,5,4,5,1,3)
  • The Haunting of Tram Car 015 (3,1,5,1,5,2)
  • This Is How You Lose the Time War (4,6,2,2,2,1)
  • To Be Taught, If Fortunate (6,4,6,6,4,4)

Oh but I have painted myself into a mathematical corner! Multiple rankings on different dimensions! A point system would be better but we’d still need to think about how to weight each category! Oh no!

What I could do is treat each criterion as the preferences of a different voter where each voter is part of my fractured taste in stories. However, it’s a cold morning and implementing instant run-off voting on a spreadsheet is to much like hard work and I’m not sure the numbers would work (To Be Taught… would get eliminated first but without changing anything). One method that uses a simple calculation rather than an iterative process is a Borda Count. Each ranking generates points based on how many candidates are ranked lower. Add them all up and the candidate with the most points wins! The results aren’t very different than averaging the rankings but statisticians don’t ask you why you think you could possibly go around averaging that set of numbers if you shout “voting system!” at them. Of course you then get psephologists shouting “violations of the Condorcet!” at you.

Borda’s method gives me this ranking which I think is almost right in terms of how I’d rank them holistically — Time War should be lower, The Deep should be higher I think.

The Haunting of Tram Car 01519
This Is How You Lose the Time War 19
Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom18
In an Absent Dream15
The Deep13
To Be Taught, If Fortunate6

Happy Five Years Today

So today is the actual five year anniversary of this blog. Yay! I hope you’ve enjoyed the month’s festivities. The new serial story blog https://homunculuscartographer.home.blog/ is live with the first three entries for the story. There will be another chapter on Sunday and then every Thursday and Sunday for weeks and weeks!

I hope to do the Hugosauriad book launch tomorrow or the weekend. You can access it on Smashwords already (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1023724 ) but it is still under review for circulation to other outlets. After a miraculous zero issues with the file itself, it then got snarled up in a different automated check. Smashwords scan files for links to or references to Amazon (basically to stop authors using books on Smashwords as just spam links to their books on Amazon). Because the Chuck Tingle chapter and some of the chapters in that same era talked about the impact of Amazon and the Kindle and/or had links to relevant pages (eg the story summaries for Chuck’s books) that set off warning lights. I made some crude edits to de-Amazonify those bits, so the this is now the expurgated Chuck Tingle chapter but not the expurgations that people might expect! Pounded in the Bibliography by Somebody Else’s Amazon References I guess 🙂

Here’s the very first post: https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2015/05/29/hello-world/ which was more of a ‘Hello World’ (which is in the actual URL)

The second post explained the https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2015/05/29/about-the-name/ and also said:

“Logic can be equivocal, whimsical and pedantic. Entities that have interesting characters and names need not be human and need not even be things. This blog will look at books and politics and particularly speculative fiction. Occasionally there will be logic and maths. Often there will be crimes against spelling and grammar.”

I think I met the five year KPIs for that task!

The next post (still on May 29) was a very short introduction to what would be a major topic https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2015/05/29/puppies-and-hugos/ That was a story so far. I think I thought things had passed their peak for 2015 at the time…

And then (still May 29) I got started: https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2015/05/29/on-petunias-and-whales-part-1/ Well, if there was an original sin for this blog it was that series of rambling posts!

The very last post of May was the other thing I needed a blog to explain: how to vote in an era of trolls https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2015/05/31/hugo-voting-strategy-high-bar-no-award/ What I was anticipating was more spoilery/trolling tactics in the future. The idea was that we might end up with slates every year and on the slates there would be some stuff that actually was good put there to mess with our heads — what we would later call ‘hostages’.