Review: The Rift

The Rift is a short novel by fellow FTBer William Brinkman. It’s a fictionalized version of the feminist wars in skepticism, one where the skeptics work for the aliens. I was provided with a review copy.

The Rift book cover

I admit I’m not very familiar with Brinkman’s Bolingbrook Babbler, but I know Brinkman has been writing it since 1998, and that he has perfected a style of satirical fiction where real (often political) events are mixed with the fantastical. Like The Onion, you might say, but long form.  I also know that some of it is quite topical, covering issues in atheism and skepticism.

The specific focus on skepticism produces interesting results, where the skeptical movement is juxtaposed with the reality of the paranormal. It’s delightfully absurd, but also hints at deeper interpretations. It implies a dilemma: do you side with the skeptics, who conceal the truth even as they fight for it, or do you speak the unbelievable truth? It explores, in a metaphorical way, the faults of the skeptical movement—something that can be quite difficult to talk about in a non-fictional context, if I do say so myself!

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Equality vs equity: An overanalysis

It’s time for a critical analysis of the “equality vs equity” meme, a widely duplicated and mutated image of three people standing on crates to watch a baseball game.

equality and equity

I shrink images to fit this blog’s margins. For bigger versions, see my sources. Source

The linguistic island

Of all my complaints about this meme, my most significant is about its choice of words. On the surface level, the meme is educating us about the distinction between “equality” and “equity”. However, outside of the meme, that is not how the words are used. The equality/equity distinction, mostly just comes from the meme. The meme is not educating us about the meaning of these two words, it is establishing new meanings.

It is not illegitimate to create new meanings for words, of course. But the problem is that the meme masquerades as educational, and everyone takes that for granted. As a result, every discussion of “equity” eventually comes back to the meme.  The meme is a linguistic island, and there is nowhere else for the discussion to go.

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Problematic fiction, and action

Lately, I’ve been seeing discussions of “anti-shipping” hit mainstream, for example in a Kotaku article trying to connect it to the latest video game controversies. I’m separated by two degrees from any anti-shipping arguments, but I’m aware it’s a clusterfuck, so I’m a bit apprehensive about this new attention. People who are involved in anti-shipping flame wars are notorious for pulling in complete strangers to the subject, and coercively classifying them on one side or the other. It’s a nasty flame war I prefer to keep at arms distance, although I find some of the underlying questions to be interesting.

Briefly, anti-shippers (or simply “antis” if you want to be enigmatic and ungoogleable) are people with moral objections to certain kinds of problematic ships. The precise content of anti-shipper or pro-shipper stances is slippery, but in my understanding anti-shippers commonly object to ships with characters that are canonically minors, and even label it pedophilia. If you’re familiar with the dominant culture in fanfic (AO3 in particular), and their habit of shipping basically every pair of characters, you can see how the disagreement is substantial and significant.

This raises several questions. What exactly counts as problematic or not? What does it mean to have a moral objection to problematic content, vs just not liking that content, or not wanting to be exposed to it? Once we’ve identified problematic content, what actions do we advocate taking in response? As a writer who has occasionally critiqued works of fiction from a social justice perspective, it is that last question that fascinates me.

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Mixed race in the 2020 US Census

TL;DR: The 2020 US Census shows a very large increase in the “Two or More Races” group. However, at least some of this likely has to do with changes in the question design and coding procedures, and shifting constructions of race.

The US Census construction of Race

When the US Census asks about race and ethnicity, it tries to reflect the way that racial/ethnic identity is constructed in the United States, but it also has to obey certain constraints. As a result there are some outstanding differences between race as it is constructed by US residents, and race as it is constructed by the US Census. For example, Middle Eastern Americans often do not identify as White, and are not perceived as White (and I suspect this perception has increased since 9/11), but in the US Census they are still classified as white.

Another outstanding difference is in how the US Census defines “race” vs “ethnicity”. According to the Census, “Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin” and its negation are the only ethnic categories, and are excluded from the racial categories. I can say from my own experience with surveys, that this system is really weird, and causes no end of confusion among respondents.

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A retraction

I am publicly retracting and apologizing for a blog post I published on my blog A Trivial Knot in March of 2020. That post is “Trump’s Atrocious Trolley Tradeoff“. The essay contained a political discussion of the pandemic, and speculation on possible outcomes, and most regrettably, a comparison to the number of deaths in the Holocaust. This problem with this was pointed out by my (now former) coblogger and friend Sara, whom I treated rudely. Afterwards, Sara chose to disassociate herself with The Asexual Agenda, and the local ace meetup group.

The reason this has been much delayed is that Sara asked me not to explain why she left. However, I could have still retracted the essay without mentioning her. In any case, Sara has finally come forward to explain the problem.

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“Latinx” and intersectionality

Since the issue at hand is about how to refer to people in the US of Latin American origin or descent, and since I am deliberately not favoring any particular word, in this post I will use “Latino/x/e” to describe this group.

In a previous post, I discussed why we grant members of a group special authority to talk about issues related to that group. In this post, as a case study, I examine the word “Latinx”, a contentious gender-neutral term for people of Latin American origin or descent. It’s commonly argued that this word should not be used, on the basis that Latino/x/e people themselves don’t like it, and presumably they have special authority to speak on the matter. I’ve also heard people say that “Latinx” must be coming from misguided non-Latino/x/e people.

As an example of these arguments, there was a recent NYT essay that argued that “Latinx” fails because it is rejected by 97% of Latino/x/e people in the US.

But something that the essay completely ignores, is that “Latinx” has strong associations with specifically queer Latino/x/e people. This is acknowledged by the Pew Research poll that the essay is based on:

The first substantial rise in searches [for “Latinx”] (relative to all online searches) appeared in June 2016 following a shooting at Pulse nightclub, an LGBTQ dance club in Orlando, Florida, that was hosting its Latin Night on the date of the attack.

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