Monday, August 31, 2009

Fitness Requires Speaking English?

Did you all see this? In an article by Tim Padgett and Dolly Mascarenas, Time Magazine reports that Baltazar Cruz, a woman from Oaxaca who has been working in a Chinese restaurant in rural Mississippi and gave birth to a child there, has had her baby taken from her-- essentially because the authorities claim that her inability to speak English constitutes both a present and future danger to her child. (The baby has been given to a US couple.) She's challenging the ruling. The Mississippi DHS claims that language is not the issue, but the article calls that spin on their decision into doubt. There's a gag order in effect now, but the Mississippi Clarion-Ledger accessed documents in the case and some of Baltazar Cruz's advocates made statements prior to the issuing of the gag order:

Before the gag order, advocates for Baltazar Cruz had charged that the problems sprang from faulty translation at Singing River. Baltazar Cruz arrived at the hospital after she flagged down a Pascagoula police officer on a city street. She was later joined there by a Chatino-speaking relative, according to MIRA, but the hospital declined his services and instead used a translator from state social services, an American of Puerto Rican descent who spoke no Chatino and whose Spanish was significantly different from that spoken in Mexico.

According to the Clarion-Ledger, the state report portrayed Baltazar Cruz as virtually a prostitute, claiming she was "exchanging living arrangements for sex" in Pascagoula and planned to put the child up for adoption. Through her advocates (before the gag order), Baltazar Cruz adamantly denied those claims. Since "she has failed to learn the English language," the newspaper quotes the documents as saying, she was "unable to call for assistance for transportation to the hospital" to give birth. The social-services translator also reported that Baltazar Cruz had put Rubí in danger because she "had not brought a cradle, clothes or baby formula." But indigenous Oaxacan mothers traditionally breast feed their babies for a year and rarely use bassinets, carrying their infants instead in a rebozo, a type of sling.

MIRA has accused Singing River and Mississippi DHS of essentially "stealing" Rubí. Citing the gag order, DHS will not comment on Baltazar Cruz's case, but before the order, an official insisted to the Clarion-Ledger that "the language a person speaks has nothing to do with the outcome of the investigation." Singing River spokesman Richard Lucas calls the MIRA charge "preposterous" and, while noting that the nonprofit hospital delivered Baltazar Cruz's baby free of charge, insists it "did what any good hospital would have done given her unusual circumstances" by alerting DHS.

Still, despite DHS statements to the contrary, language seems a central issue in the state's case against Baltazar Cruz. It wouldn't be the first time this has happened in the U.S. In 2004 a Tennessee judge ordered into foster care the child of a Mexican migrant mother who spoke only an indigenous tongue. (Another judge later returned the child to her family.) Last year, a California court took custody of the U.S.-born twin babies of another indigenous, undocumented migrant from Oaxaca. After she was deported, the Oaxaca state government's Institute for Attention to Migrants fought successfully to have the twins repatriated to her in Mexico this summer. In such cases, says the SPLC's Bauer, a lack of interpreters is a key factor. When a mother can't follow the proceedings, "she looks unresponsive, and that conveys to a judge a lack of interest in the child, which is clearly not the case," she says. She also argues it's hard enough for any adult to learn a new language, "let alone when you're a migrant working long hours for low pay."

One of DHS's apparent fears is that an infant isn't safe in a home where the mother can articulate a 911 call solely in a language spoken only by some 50,000 Oaxacan Indians. Bauer points out that children have been raised safely in the U.S. by non-English-speaking parents for well over a century. Had they not, thousands of Italians and Russians would have had to leave their kids with foster care on Ellis Island. "Raising your child is one of the most fundamental liberties, and it can only be taken from you for the most serious concerns of endangerment," says Bauer. "Not speaking English hardly meets that standard."

Nauseating, isn't it?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The WisCon Chronicles

AsIf: Australian Specfic in Focus has a lengthy, thoughtful review of the first three volumes of the WisCon Chronicles, by Tansy Rayner Roberts. Near the beginning of her review, she writes

The quintessential 'Wiscon feminist' perspective that emerges from these books is one of questions. No answers, just more questions upon questions. How do we become more inclusive of a variety of Wiscon attendees without losing our identity as a feminist space? How do we discuss race/gender/sexuality/disability without resorting to Default Perspective? How do we as humans get better at having these conversations?

As a complete outsider, albeit one who has a strong interest in feminist discussions, fannish history and obscure science fiction recommendations, I found the volumes compulsively readable.

Roberts then gives due consideration to each volume. She concludes:

What I admire most about these Wiscon Chronicles is not just the collection of intelligent thought, and the best example of documenting the convention experience I have ever seen, but the acknowledgement of the bad parts as well as the good - the exposure of privilege, of negative as well as positive reactions to the discussions, and the willingness to shine a bright torch on all the grey areas, for the purpose of greater and more constructive conversation. I particularly liked that this was a space in which women, people of colour and others who are not normally encouraged to display their perfectly reasonable anger or frustration, were able to do so here without 200 blog comments from people telling them that they could get more done if they were just a bit calmer about it. They don't have to speak in reduced voices here - and funnily enough, their opinions still manage to come out perfectly lucidly.

The overall message that the
Wiscon Chronicles gave me about the people behind the convention (not necessarily the committee of a particular year, but the people who regularly participate in the con one way or another) is 'we're not perfect, we're never going to please everyone, but we're trying, and we want to listen to you so we can do a better job next time'. In a world where SF conventions more and more are about spin and press releases, it's so refreshing to see a group of people who are willing to admit to being people and who are more interested in finding ways to have better, deeper, more productive discussions than they are in defending traditional behaviour, or 'right vs wrong'. This is Wiscon, warts and all, and that's what makes the books so very crunchy. There are some damned smart people in these pages, and it's worth listening to what they have to say, especially when they disagree with each other.

But do read the whole review!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Quote of the Day

The legacy of a terror regime is enduring: so many features that ought to be dismantled linger on, because they're so useful.
---Gwyneth Jones, Band of Gypsys

Thursday, August 20, 2009

PolicySpeak vs. Narrative

Linguist George Lakoff, considering the monumental degree to which the public discussion of health care policy in the US has been permeated and distorted with mid- and disinformation, does not focus on the one inescapable given, viz. that the lobbyists for the insurance and drug industries (the medical-technical business complex) will stop at nothing to preserve the corrupt status quo, but rather asks this question:

Barack Obama ran the best-organized and best-framed presidential campaign in history. How is it possible that the same people who did so well in the campaign have done so badly on health care?

....There has been a major drop in support for the president throughout the country, with angry mobs disrupting town halls and the right wing airing its views with vehemence nonstop on radio and tv all day every day. As the NY Times reports, Organizing for America (the old Obama campaign network) can’t even get its own troops out to work for the President’s proposal.

What has been going wrong?

His answer is simple: instead of offering the public at large a narrative, the Obama Administration has focused on the politicians:

The answer is simple and unfortunate: The president put both the conceptual framing and the messaging for his health care plan in the hands of policy wonks. This led to twin disasters.

. . . . . .

The policymakers focus on the list, not the unifying idea. So Obama’s and Axelrod’s statements last Sunday were just the lists without the unifying institution. And without a powerful institution, the insurance companies will just whittle away at enforcement of any such list, and a future Republican administration will just get rid of the regulators, reassigning them or eliminating their jobs.

Why do policymakers think this way?

One: The reality of how Congress is lobbied. Legislators are lobbied to be against particular features, depending on their constituencies. Blue Dogs are pressured by the right’s communication system operating in their districts. Congressional leaders have a challenge: Keep the eye of centrists and Blue Dogs on the central idea, despite the pressures of right-wing communications and lobbyists’ contributions.

Two: In classical logic, Leibniz’ Law takes an entity as being just a collection of properties. As if you were no more than eyes, legs, arms, and so on, taken separately. Without a public institution turning a unifying idea into a powerful reality, health care becomes just a collection of reforms to be attacked, undermined, and gotten around year after year.

Three: Current budget-making assumptions. Health is actually systematic in character. Health is implicated in just about all aspects of our culture: agriculture, the food industry, advertising, education, business, the distribution of wealth, sports, and so on. Keeping it as a line item — what figure do you put down on the following lines — misses the systemic nature of health. The image of Budget Director Peter Orszag running constantly in and out of Senator Max Baucus’ office shows how the systemic nature of health has been turned into a list of items and costs. Without a sense of the whole, and an institution responsible for it, health will be line-itemed to death.

In other words, the lobbyists' story is simpler, more direct, and emotionally urgent, while the Obama Administration doesn't have a story, but a list.

Lakoff elaborates:

PolicySpeak is the principle that: If you just tell people the policy facts, they will reason to the right conclusion and support the policy wholeheartedly.

PolicySpeak is the principle behind the President’s new Reality Check Website. To my knowledge, the Reality Check Website, has not had a reality check. That is, the administration has not hired a first-class cognitive psychologist to take subjects who have been convinced by right-wing myths and lies, have them read the Reality Check website, and see if the Reality Check website has changed their minds a couple of days or a week later. I have my doubts, but do the test.

To many liberals, PolicySpeak sounds like the high road: a rational, public discussion in the best tradition of liberal democracy. Convince the populace rationally on the objective policy merits. Give the facts and figures. Assume self-interest as the motivator of rational choice. Convince people by the logic of the policymakers that the policy is in their interest.

But to a cognitive scientist or neuroscientist, this sounds nuts. The view of human reason and language behind PolicySpeak is just false. Certainly reason should be used. It’s just that you should use real reason, the way people really think. Certainly the truth should be told. It’s just that it should be told so it makes sense to people, resonates with them, and inspires them to act. Certainly new media should be used. It’s just that a system of communications should be constructed and used effectively.

I believe that what went wrong is (a) the choice of PolicySpeak and (b) the decision to depend on the campaign apparatus (blogs, Town Hall meetings, presidential appearances, grassroots support) instead of setting up an adequate communications system.

And here is his suggestion for a narrative he thinks would work:

Insurance company plans have failed to care for our people. They profit from denying care. Americans care about one another. An American plan is both the moral and practical alternative to provide care for our people.

The insurance companies are doing their worst, spreading lies in an attempt to maintain their profits and keep Americans from getting the care they so desperately need. You, our citizens, must be the heroes. Stand up, and speak up, for an American plan.

He also suggests changing the language the Administration uses to talk about health care policy, and then reviews what he sees as the major mistakes the Administration has made. The remainder of his essay discusses "the Conservative Communication System" and the Culture War.

The issue is so personal, the villains so clear, that I never have understood why progressive change on this issue has been impossible in the US for so long.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Excess! Excess! Read All About It...

A couple of reviews up at the mid-August edition of the SF Site caught my eye this morning.

Paul Kincaid reviews an Aqueduct Press book, Centuries Ago and Very Fast by Rebecca Ore. He seems to think it's a novel rather than a collection of linked short stories. He concludes:

There are passages of beautiful writing in here, scenes of genuine wonder, and a sense of humanity that is palpable. Yet when they emerge it seems to be in despite of the author, whose attentions always are focussed elsewhere. This would have been a much more interesting book if she hadn't chosen to make it about sex.

He also has some general comments to make on slash fiction and on fiction that focuses on sex:

Sex, as a goad for human behaviour and a model for social interactions and relationships, is endlessly fascinating because we still have not discovered the limits to its permutations. Fiction about sex and its ramifications, therefore, is always worth paying attention to. The problem with the sex act, however, in all its limited variations, is that it rarely makes for interesting fiction (it may be arousing, but that is a different thing).

The other review is of Julie Phillips' The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon, by Richard A. Lupoff. His review doesn't have anything new to say about the book. He praises it for being one of the most important nonfiction works published in the field over the last few years. But he picks as one of its "very small flaws" Phillips' "going overboard with her research and wandering into "TMI (Too Much Information) territory." The Sheldons' purchase of a chicken hatchery and Allie's flower garden was apparently too much for him.

De gustibus, and all that...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

WisCon Chronicles 4 - Fiction with Tails

A faster than usual update here ...

There’s still some room in the Chronicles plan, so we’re calling this time for anyone who read at WisCon 33, who would like to give us an excerpt or completed piece of fiction – reprints are fine if with permission of your publisher – up to 4 thousand words. And with it the option of a tail.

It isn’t mandatory, but we’d love to have up to five hundred further words with the writer’s own comments/take on the piece. What you wanted to do here, what worked or didn’t work, what was the most interesting or exciting or taxing part of writing this one. If thinking about race, class and gender proved to be important parts of this process, so much the better, but what we’d really like is to showcase some of your work inside a personalized frame.

I already have a number of pieces of fiction in, and I’ll be offering those people this option in retrospect. We still have space, though, so if you’d like to join the party, do!

My contact e-dress is still

An ineffable pleasure

O frabjous joy! It's raining! The perfume of rain after a long and often tediously hot dry spell-- can any smell be more enchanting?

Late this afternoon, as I approached the post office, I felt the faintest of sprinkles caressing my face. All around me, people exchanged looks of hope. One man actually lifted his hands to the sky and said please! please! let it rain! I didn't believe it would. The clouds didn't look dense enough. But I was wrong!

A little later, as I was walking home with a load of groceries from the Madison Market, I fairly danced my way home as the sprinkles became a drizzle. And now, as I prepare for bed, I can hear that soft shushing patter of rain falling on leaves and grass. It's not a big rain. But it pleases the senses.

ETA: Turns out, the rain was substantial: all of a quarter of an inch. The trees and the garden are grateful (even if their thirst is probably not yet slaked).

Thursday, August 6, 2009

WisCon Chronicles 4 - There's Still Room

The initial deadline for material to be considered for WisCon Chronicles 4, aka MyWisCon, passed last Sunday, 1st August, and things are shaping up pretty well. The academic component is up to projected capacity, with some very interesting papers, and more to come: parts of what may become a conversation on Women Warriors, an academic paper, response, and further response from the papers' authors.
Panel reports and My WisCons are looking good, with four My WisCons in and some very interesting things promised for mid-August, including a couple of long-attendees’ perspectives and two full panel transcripts. Some people have needed extensions, and I’ve had a few bright ideas along the way as well. We’re also hoping for some party reports.
Fiction and poetry are behind the other two, but what we have is of great quality, and I have ideas for more. Guest of Honour speeches are still promised, along with the WisCon ethnography. As things stand, we will comfortably reach our middle-range capacity for the volume, with the contributions coming or already in hand.

However, before we hit the top cap., there’s still room for more panel reports or My WisCons, as in overall impressions and thoughts on the Con, and if you have poetry or fiction, and you read at WisCon and would like to have something published in here, I have room. Complete poems, fine, excerpts of fiction, up to 4K words, or shorter complete fiction – Nancy Jane has given me a great flashfic – road stories of the future. Nisi Shawl is putting in a story from Filter House too! Thanks so much, Nisi. I have a couple of ideas for fiction presentations, but if you have something as yet unpublished, or something out which the publisher will allow you to reprint or excerpt, here we are.
Contact me with thoughts, queries or material at

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

World Fantasy Award Ballot

The nominations for the World Fantasy Awards have been announced. Here at Aqueduct Press we're thrilled to see that Nisi Shawl's Filter House has been nominated for the single-author collections category and that her "Good Boy" (an original story in the collection) has been nominated for the novella category. Way to go, Nisi!

Here's the complete ballot:


This list of nominees for the 2009 World Fantasy Awards is as follows:

Best Novel

  • The House of the Stag, Kage Baker (Tor)
  • The Shadow Year, Jeffrey Ford (Morrow)
  • The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins; Bloomsbury)
  • Pandemonium, Daryl Gregory (Del Rey)
  • Tender Morsels, Margo Lanagan (Allen & Unwin; Knopf)

Best Novella

  • “Uncle Chaim and Aunt Rifke and the Angel”, Peter S. Beagle (Strange Roads)
  • “If Angels Fight”, Richard Bowes (F&SF 2/08)
  • “The Overseer”, Albert Cowdrey (F&SF 3/08)
  • Odd and the Frost Giants, Neil Gaiman (Bloomsbury; HarperCollins)
  • “Good Boy”, Nisi Shawl (Filter House)

Best Short Story

  • “Caverns of Mystery”, Kage Baker (Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy)
  • “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss”, Kij Johnson (Asimov’s 7/08)
  • “Pride and Prometheus”, John Kessel (F&SF 1/08)
  • “Our Man in the Sudan”, Sarah Pinborough (The Second Humdrumming Book of Horror Stories)
  • “A Buyer’s Guide to Maps of Antarctica”, Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld 5/08)

Best Anthology

  • The Living Dead, John Joseph Adams, ed. (Night Shade Books)
  • The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Ellen Datlow, ed. (Del Rey)
  • The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror 2008: Twenty-First Annual Collection, Ellen Datlow, Kelly Link, & Gavin J. Grant, eds. (St. Martin’s)
  • Paper Cities: An Anthology of Urban Fantasy, Ekaterina Sedia, ed. (Senses Five Press)
  • Steampunk, Ann & Jeff VanderMeer, eds. (Tachyon Publications)

Best Collection

  • Strange Roads, Peter S. Beagle (DreamHaven Books)
  • The Drowned Life, Jeffrey Ford (HarperPerennial)
  • Pretty Monsters, Kelly Link (Viking)
  • Filter House, Nisi Shawl (Aqueduct Press)
  • Tales from Outer Suburbia, Shaun Tan (Allen & Unwin; Scholastic ‘09)

Best Artist

  • Kinuko Y. Craft
  • Janet Chui
  • Stephan Martinière
  • John Picacio
  • Shaun Tan

Special Award, Professional

  • Kelly Link & Gavin J. Grant (for Small Beer Press and Big Mouth House)
  • Farah Mendelsohn (for The Rhetorics of Fantasy)
  • Stephen H. Segal & Ann VanderMeer (for Weird Tales)
  • Jerad Walters (for A Lovecraft Retrospective: Artists Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft)
  • Jacob Weisman (for Tachyon Publications)

Special Award, Non-Professional

  • Edith L. Crowe (for her work with The Mythopoeic Society)
  • John Klima (for Electric Velocipede)
  • Elise Matthesen (for setting out to inspire and for serving as inspiration for works of poetry, fantasy, and SF over the last decade through her jewelry-making and her “artist’s challenges.”)
  • Sean Wallace, Neil Clarke, & Nick Mamatas (for Clarkesworld)
  • Michael Walsh (for Howard Waldrop collections from Old Earth Books)

Award Judges

Judges for 2009 are Jenny Blackford, Peter Heck, Ellen Klages, Chris Roberson & Delia Sherman.


In an email to me this morning, in response to my congratulations, Nisi said: "I am so stoked."

Monday, August 3, 2009

Reviews by and about Aqueductistas

Reviews, reviews, get yer reviews here!

--Nisi Shawl reviews Margaret Atwood's latest sf novel, for Ms Magazine, here.

--L. Timmel Duchamp reviews On Joanna Russ, ed. Farah Mendlesohn, for Strange Horizons here.

--and Gayle Surrette reviews Cheek by Jowl at SF Revu here.


Sunday, August 2, 2009

Calling all Activists! Time For More (yes more!) Instigation!

I don’t blog much.

I never really learned how to type because my mother didn’t want me to have the option of becoming a secretary. She wanted me to run some organization, create wild new things, and argue injustice further to the corner. How could she have known in 1966 how important typing would be to all that?

Additionally, I’m a dyslexic academic and proofing what I’ve written, I feel like a fool running in bare feet over hot coals without the proper juju.

So I usually reserve the typing/proofing-torture for plays, novels, or papers.

But this is an unnecessary limitation, a habit that I don’t need to hold on to.

As usual, coming home from Wiscon I felt excited, connected, and activated; experiencing our collective force, I was rearing to go! I was particularly inspired by a thoughtful panel on class, and I had the good fortune to be a panelist discussing Andrea Smith’s Conquest and its connection to the work we do as feminist writers and readers.

Smith argues, among other things, that as we work to create the society we want, as we struggle with the persistence of empire in our lives, we should center on the most vulnerable ones in order to achieve the most profound transformations.

I’ve been thinking about that these last few months.

I think other people should think about this too!


I know many writers are solitary, like a one-person band. And of course: Predatory Corporate Capitalism has a profound effect on what we value, what we think is possible, what we decide to do. However as Albert Einstein said, "The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them."

Timmi and I were surprise guests one Friday afternoon at the Clarion West Writer’s Workshop in Seattle this summer. It was a real treat to meet with a group of sparkling new writers who were inventing their futures. But I sat there thinking that Timmi coming up with Aqueduct Press was one of the big Science Fiction Ideas at the table—Back in 2000 and something Timmi decided that she didn’t like the present publishing world and so decided to make a better one—to publish those works that had been neglected by other presses that she believed readers would relish.

This is the way to go!

So what are the things we want to create?

What are the things we want to make happen?

How can we center on the most vulnerable?


Saturday, August 1, 2009

A New Interview and a New Review

A new interview: Gwyneth Jones is interviewed by Charles Tan for the Nebula Awards site. Her Buonarotti tale "The Tomb Wife," which is reprinted in The Buonarotti Quartet, was a finalist in the short story category this year.

A new review: What Remains, Ellen Klages and Geoff Ryman's WisCon GoH chapbook, is reviewed by Steve Fahnestalk for Tangent. The reviewer, who was unfamiliar with both Ellen's and Geoff's work going into the review, enjoyed the book. And to answer his question at the end: yes, What Remains can still be purchased through Aqueduct's website.