The comprehensive summary of the implosion of RWA

I am impressed with this detailed dissection of the recent collapse of the Romance Writers of America. Not only does it cover all the bases, it reveals a lot of the blatant racism in this country. One thing that surprised me is that the RWA was founded by a black woman, yet there were all these policies put in place that made sure black authors were handicapped in the struggle to succeed. Like this:

This discovery grew into a widespread Twitter discussion about the important institutional role that Grimshaw had played as the romance buyer for Borders, at a time when Borders commonly shelved all African American authors in a separate section together, away from specific genres, like romance. It raised questions about how she’d made her decisions in such an important gatekeeping role, and whether she had given African American writers a fair shot at prominent placement. (Though, to be clear, the policy was the case across Borders—not just in romance.) Milan weighed in, but she was far from the only participant.

Wait, what? Black authors were segregated in bookstores? This is very white of me to admit, but I didn’t have the slightest idea, yet for years they had this discriminatory policy in place. Were they afraid some delicate white lady might accidentally buy a novel that had two black people falling in love? Let’s not even discuss the possibility that she might pick up something with queer characters in it.

These are practices that I would have thought a writer’s organization would have been at the forefront of challenging, but no, they just simmered for decades because they had an unwritten policy of only saying nice things about romance books. They refused to recognize the conflicts, suppressed all complaints, kept everything tightly bound up, until there was no other option but a messy, damaging cataclysm that has all but destroyed the organization.

There’s a lesson there for all of us, even if you aren’t a romance novel fan.

Don’t island girls count?

I guess the cost of influence went up. It’s not enough anymore to just offer free candy from your beat-up van anymore, you need a private plane and to give away millions of dollars. At least, that’s the lesson I’m learning from the Jeffrey Epstein case, which has taken another lurch into the gutter despite the fact that he’s dead.

Jeffrey Epstein allegedly transported underage girls to his secluded homes in the US Virgin Islands and forced them into sex work from 2001 through 2018, according to a lawsuit filed by the Attorney General of the US Virgin Islands.

“Epstein created a network of companies and individuals who participated in and conspired with him in a pattern of criminal activity related to the sex trafficking, forced labor, sexual assault, child abuse, and sexual servitude of these young women and children,” according to the lawsuit filed by Attorney General Denise N. George.

The suit, filed Wednesday, alleges that Epstein used a system of private planes, helicopters, boats and vehicles to bring young women and girls to his island residence on Little St. James. There, the victims were “deceptively subjected to sexual servitude, forced to engage in sexual acts and coerced into commercial sexual activity and forced labor,” the lawsuit says.

The scheme led to the molestation and exploitation of “numerous” girls between 12 and 17 years old, the suit alleges.

The lawsuit says that flight logs and other sources established that the enterprise stretched from 2001 to 2019. As recently as 2018, the lawsuit says, air traffic controllers and other airport personnel reported seeing Epstein leave his plane with young girls who appeared to be between 11 and 18 years old.

Remember, he was convicted of doing similar things in Florida in 2008. Convicted. Yet there he was, trafficking in young girls with barely a hiccup from 2001 to 2018. In between raping children, he was visiting prestigious scientists and offering them big bucks to help polish his reputation, and they accepted. They knew! Lawrence Krauss and Seth Lloyd were all completely aware that the source of their money was filthy and tarnished, and they took it anyway, and tried to make excuses to others that Epstein was a good guy, a true patron of science, who was trying to help advance knowledge — Krauss tried that line on me at an atheist conference in 2010, and I didn’t fall for it.

That’s what pisses me off. These people all knew what was going on, even if now they’re trying desperately to pretend they were innocent and unaware. A guy who was convicted of pedophilia and sex trafficking shows up at your door, accompanied by a couple of “Victoria’s Secret models”, and offers you tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in free money, but shhhh, don’t tell the university administration, and somehow you’re so fucking stupid you don’t suspect something shady?

Come on.

Am I that much smarter than some of the best-known names in science, at the most prestigious universities in the world?

Or maybe I’m just a little more sensitive to the idea of raping children than they are.

Minnesota has white people

These are the fine residents of Beltrami County in Minnesota.

Fun fact: these white people just voted to forbid settlement of any refugees in their county.

Another fun fact: This is Beltrami County.

Those big lakes in the center of the county? That’s the location of the Red Lake reservation. Southwest of the county is the White Earth reservation. Leech Lake reservation is just to the southeast.

So this county just voted to ban non-native foreigners. The hypocrisy is hilarious.

Love doesn’t always win in the end, as it turns out

I’m not at all involved in this ongoing meltdown of another organization, but wow, does this account of the chaos at Romance Writers of America sound familiar.

It’s interesting to watch a major organization collapse in real time. I’m not involved, thankfully, but seeing the fall of the Romance Writers of America has been something. Whether it truly does cease to be still remains to be seen—a lot of its members are not on social media, and probably have no idea what’s going on—but for the online writing community, it seems the RWA will come to an end, going the way of all dinosaurs.

But to those authors on Twitter who are aghast—AGHAST, I tell you—that there could racism and bigotry in the RWA, I have to ask: why is this news to you? Courtney Milan has been fighting for marginalized romance authors in the RWA for quite some time. What exactly do you think she’s been fighting against?

Yikes. That link has a comprehensive summary of the events, but in short: the woman who was chair of the ethics committee, Courtney Milan, complains about racism in some of the authors’ works, leading several people to file ethics complaints against her, and then everything blew up with a flurry of resignations, firings, retractions, total chaos. Even now further revelations about bias in the management of RWA are trickling out.

It’s rather obvious that bigotry was rife in the organization (as it is everywhere), and what’s driving much of the meltdown is that some peoples method for dealing with racism is to deny that it exists. Problem solved! I’ve seen the same thing happen with various atheist/skeptic groups, and I rarely see them outright ending, they’re more likely to reconstitute themselves. Unfortunately, it’s 50:50 whether they improve vs. ending up under the sway of the assholes.

I hope they’ve put their best detective on the case!

Welcome to Trump’s America, where bigots can run over kids on the sidewalk.

The girl was walking to Indian Hills Junior High when a vehicle drove onto the sidewalk, ran over her and left the scene, the release said. Officials say the girl was able to return to school one week after the incident, according to CNN affiliate WOI-TV.

During her interview with detectives, Poole Franklin, a Des Moines resident, said she was the driver and intentionally struck the girl because she “was a Mexican,” police said. Poole Franklin then “made a series of derogatory statements about Latinos,” police said.

I’m glad the girl is physically OK now, but you have to wonder how safe she’s going to feel about using public sidewalks from now on.

There’s still one thorny question to resolve, a difficult problem that will require bringing in a Hercule Poirot to puzzle out.

Authorities are looking at whether Poole Franklin running the girl over was a hate crime, Clive Police Chief Michael G. Venema said during a news conference.

Oooh, that’s a difficult one.

Just Asking Questions, The Atlantic way

We mere bloggers have seen this before, and are able to see through it fairly easily. It’s the phenomenon of Just Asking Questions, also known as JAQing off, in which an interlocutor dodges any effort to state what they really think by the game of only asking questions, questions that they already know the answer to, simply to troll for attention and stir up opposition. It’s an extremely common tactic, one that takes an act of will to cut short. The only way you can win is to not play the game.

So why aren’t experienced, professional journalists, like the gang at the prestigious publication The Atlantic, able to recognize the problem? Maybe it’s because they like JAQing off themselves, as they do in this dreadful article, What does Tucker Carlson believe?. Is that even an interesting or useful question? We know what Tucker Carlson does, does it matter what he thinks in his heart of hearts? So we get nonsense like this:

The subtext of these conversations is the question of whether Carlson is, as Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently claimed, a “white supremacist sympathizer.” For a time, the question could be written off as unserious, a voguish desire to ascribe racism to anyone who might not support increased immigration. But in recent years, Carlson and some of his guests have lent more and more plausibility to the label. On August 6, for example, days after a white gunman killed 22 people in El Paso, Texas, motivated by a fear of a “Hispanic invasion of Texas,” Carlson took to his program to argue that white supremacy was “not a real problem in America,” but rather a “hoax” drummed up by Democrats.

It is not a question whether he is a “white supremacist sympathizer.” We know that he is. Watch his show, and as shown above, it’s a parade of white nationalist talking points. Right there, the writer has answered the question…so why even pretend it’s an issue that we need to talk about? Because that’s Carlson stock in trade, the racist tirade, followed by the knitted brows and quizzical expression that just makes him look stupid, as if he’s JAQing off right there, “Why are you accusing me of being racist?”

At least The New Republic sees through the facade.

It all comes back to the lie of objectivity in journalism—the idea that reporters and editors are not themselves actual people with beliefs and bias. If an outlet takes a stand and dares to say, for instance, that President Donald Trump is a racist, it runs the risk of appearing “biased”—or worse still, alienating the faction of its wealthy conservative readership with sympathetic views of the administration. Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet exemplified this when he deflected a simple question about whether Trump is racist, responding in that special Timesian speak to say, “I’m not in [Trump’s] head enough to know whether he says [racist comments] because he wants to stoke his base.”

Then, to make a straightforward enough statement—that Tucker Carlson is a racist, say—is to issue a grave moral ruling, rather than to simply describe what is plain to see. And so for the purpose of self-preservation, and grinding against the core tenets of journalism, a facade must be crafted, one that requires a very specific kind of reporter and a very specific environment of praise and accolade in political journalism.

Reporters who carry out this grimy task are actively rewarded by the editors who hold the keys to power at major national publications. Shortly after the Carlson piece dropped, Yoni Appelbaum, a senior editor at The Atlantic, deemed it “fabulous” and doted on Plott [the author of the Atlantic piece] as one of the industry’s “great profile writers.” CNN’s media critic lauded it as “very good.” John Hendrickson, an Atlantic senior editor, wrote that the piece included “the greatest kicker I’ve read all year.” Bill Scher, contributing editor at Politico, called the piece “exceptional.”

Amazing. The metaphor of masturbation works on so many levels when looking at modern American journalism — it’s a circle jerk of JAQing off, where any effort to expose the reality of what’s happening in the media is deflected with a question and a pretense that one is thinking very hard and very deeply about a plain and simple fact.

Tucker Carlson and Donald Trump are racists.

But what does it mean to be a racist? How can we truly know what is in men’s hearts? Sure, they do and say racist things, but have you considered the possibility that it’s merely economic insecurity? Whether they are actually racists is a profound and important question worth writing at length about, but in the end, how can we really be sure? I wonder how many articles I can churn out asking questions?

Oh, shut the fuck up, wankers.

There’s something wrong with UNC’s business school

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill had a Confederate monument called “Silent Sam”. It needed to go. They needed a solution to allow “the University to focus on its core educational mission”. So they came up with an amazing plan.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans, one of those groups that idolizes past treachery, wanted the statue. It seems to me that the obvious solution would be to simply sell it to a private organization like that so that they would haul it away and take on the guilt and obligation. The UNC Board of Governors does not think that way, and had an alternative plan.

They would pay the SCV millions of dollars to take possession of the statue that they wanted.

The state’s monuments law prevents the removal of a public statue but there is an exemption for private ownership. The SCV arranged to acquire all property rights of the monument from the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC). We reached an agreement with the SCV to settle the threatened litigation with the following terms:

  • The SCV owns the monument;
  • The monument will be transferred to the SCV;
  • The UNC System and the Board of Governors will fund a separate charitable trust administered by a neutral, independent trustee in the amount of $2.5 million; the funds will come from interest on the university endowment fund, not tax dollars or tuition and fees.
  • The separate charitable trust is to be used only for the preservation of the monument, as determined by the trustee; and
  • The monument cannot be located in any of the 14 counties currently containing a UNC System constituent institution.

We also agreed that the SCV would sign a separate agreement limiting its ability to display flags and banners on university campuses, in exchange for a payment of $74,999. This agreement addressed the possibility that the consent order might not be approved, in which case the SCV agreed that it would not sponsor events on any of our campuses for five years.

Wow. That’s an interesting way to get rid of something. I have an alternative: pay me half that amount, $1.25 million, to take it on. Since I am in a Yankee state, we could call it spoils of war. I’d install it in my front yard and spit on it every day as I walked to and from work, which is all it deserves.

Or it could just be melted down and recast in a more appropriate form.

Or you could do as Greg Doucette has done, and sue the SCV for $2.5 million, to be turned into a scholarship fund for African-American students.

Man. I wish I was at a university that was so rich they could afford to pay off white nationalists to protect their “educational mission”, so we could jump down their throats and instead force them to pay for, you know, education instead. UNC just has funny priorities.

This man is not a racist

You know he’s not because he says he’s not.

That’s how racism works, you know: if you think a nation founded on black slavery, and another nation that carried out brutal ethnic cleansing, are just peachy, saying the magic words “I am not a racist” absolves you of all blame. You can support policies that promote white supremacy, you can put up Nazi flags like they’re Christmas decorations, you can intentionally put up pallets painted with Confederate symbols and point them at a minority-majority school, but as long as you deny that you’re a racist, you’re safe.

For bonus points, you can get really irate if someone accuses you of being a racist as long as you insist you’re not a racist, and then you can turn it around and accuse them of being racist against white people. What’s really neat-o is that if they then say “I am not racist!” you can smirk knowingly, because you know that everyone who says that is lying.

Words are magic!

Heritage. I’ve learned to hate that word.

Here’s Nikki Haley babbling about heritage to excuse confederate-flag-waving murderers.

“Here is this guy that comes out with this manifesto, holding the Confederate flag,” she said. “And had just hijacked everything that people thought of—we don’t have hateful people in South Carolina. It’s a small minority; it’s always going to be there.”

“People saw it as service, and sacrifice, and heritage,” the ex-governor continued. “But once he did that, there was no way to overcome it. And the national media came in droves—they wanted to define what happened. They wanted it to make this about racism. They wanted to make it about gun control. They wanted to make it about the death penalty.”

Apparently, according to Haley, the media at the time wanted to make the mass slaying of nine black people—an admittedly targeted racist attack, as laid out in Roof’s manifesto—about race.

Right. The Confederate flag wasn’t a symbol of hatred until Dylan Roof picked one up. It didn’t take a mass murderer of the national media to make that flag all about racism — that’s what it has always been about.

Here’s another one. The town of Wake Forest, NC decided to cancel their annual Christmas parade. For years, various Southern heritage groups have freely marched in these parades, but this year, they got word that protesters were going to show up, so they finally noticed that some people might criticize the celebration of treachery in their family-friendly event.

“Make no mistake about it — the Town of Wake Forest is extremely sensitive to the emotion the confederate flag stirs among those on both sides of this issue,” officials wrote in the statement. “We recognize that for some the flag represents racism, hatred and bigotry, while others see it as a representation of Southern heritage protected as a matter of freedom of speech/freedom of expression.”

Saying something is your “heritage” doesn’t mean it’s worthy and good. Everyone inherits bits of their culture that are both good and bad — it is the responsibility of every generation to winnow out the bad and strive to improve the heritage they leave to their children. Just because grandpappy did it does not automatically make it a blessed action. Your grandpappy might have been an asshole.

The southern heritage is always focused on the colossal catastrophe that afflicted the region a hundred years ago: the heritage of brutal slavery, a misbegotten war to defend white people’s right to own black people, and a humiliating, crushing defeat. You’re celebrating the wrong things! Waving the Confederate flag is a declaration that you’ve learned nothing, are pining for the “good ol’ days” when you could own slave labor and treat a significant part of your population as subhuman.

For the love of god, can Southerners please find something else to be proud of? Every time you put that hateful flag on your pickup truck, you’re telling me that the only thing you can think of to demonstrate pride in your heritage is a demonstration of barbarity and hatred and ignorance.

My grandpappy was an abusive drunk who was also an army engineer who served in WWII, who aspired to be an architect and was frustrated in his dream by poverty. This behavior is like putting a crumpled beer can on a stick and wacking women with it while saying “Woo hoo, Grandpa!”. That would be neither fair to the man or a part of his life that I want to emulate. But heritage makes it all OK, I guess?

Michael Harriot has a few words about the Confederate flag.