The Courage to Embrace Those Far Away Places

After writing a book that takes place in India, and making online friends there, I follow the news from this amazing South Asian country. Much of it is positive and even uplifting.

Countless stories of personal courage and altruism fill the Times of India section called Good News Stories, and everyday headlines tell tales like how the tech savvy country was barely affected by the ‘WannaCry’ ransomware that froze computers in over 100 countries worldwide.

And yet, India has once again made the headlines in the United States with a horrific rape. This time, a jilted lover and his friends abducted and ultimately murdered a young woman on May 9. The details are horrible.

Along with the many tragic aspects of this incident is the side effect of how it serves to further separate the people of this world. No society exists on this planet that does not have its crimes; larger countries have more. Crowding, poverty, stresses from modernization and the integration of different cultures adds to volatility everywhere. But when the awful event occurs in the back yard of somebody else who lives far away from you, it is easy to think  “Oh, that’s the way they are.”

That is unfortunate at any time, but especially now. Thanks to recent events, my own country is seeing a surge of hate crimes with intolerance on the rise. Our world is facing a growing epidemic of nationalism, the frequent outgrowth of which is more hostility, a lack of international cooperation and even wars. Right now, we need all the cross-cultural empathy that we can get.

It’s a delicate matter to feel a sense of commonness when learning of a bad situation that we don’t think would occur in our own culture. (Of course, we could be wrong about that.) But surely it is no stretch to identify with the anger and loss of the victim’s family, with the sense of fear and outrage in the community, and with the confusion and shame of the perpetrator’s family. These all extend well beyond the specifics of the crime, and are woven into the stories of mayhem and destruction of any sort, in any place.

Far away places. They can be scary. They can be easy to demonize and hard to identify with. That is, until we look at the deeper emotions behind the events and see the common threads. Then we can weep for others and wish healing for them, because in our hearts we, too, know what it is like to face sorrow and find the strength to move on.

Enjoy this relaxing duet of two icons of Americana, Willie Nelson and Sheryl Crow, as they sing about “Far Away Places.”

(For more thoughts on Far Away Places see Leaving a Light Footprint in a Far Away Place, As Far Away Places Edge Closer, Caring About Far Away Places and Those Far Away Places Could Be Next Door.)

One Great Idea From the Misogynist Wing of the Alt Right

Like almost everything you can imagine, and a whole lot of things you can’t, it exists on the internet. The same wonderful, amazing tool that fuels my stories by letting me see locations I’ll never visit and open doors into the minds of others I will never meet, also allows me to find voices that repulse and frighten me. In fact, it allows me to find them easily.

Like most people, I avoid the dark corners of the internet, until my desire to make a character or incident more authentic drives me back to some putrid place. This time, I was trying to do something that seemed pretty safe. I was trying to learn more about Argentine women, because I was writing about one. Flipping through sites, I landed on a blog about how to get laid in Argentina. It seemed to be part of series of posts advising men about how to obtain casual, consensual and free sex in every country on earth. Crass but harmless.

The author advised me that women in Argentina were far too high maintenance and that I would be better off just heading over to neighboring Brazil. Something about the general tone started to bother me, and I filed it away for a possible future blog post of my own.

geniusBecause I’m a news junkie, over the last few days I’ve heard a lot about Trump’s new campaign chief executive Stephen Bannon, who also heads up Breitbart News. I had not heard of Breitbart News before, but according to a wealth of sources it is part of an alternate reality known as the alt right, in which a wide variety of paranoid white-centric ideas are held as truths. I checked it out for myself, and found headlines like “Obama Golfs as Louisiana Floods” and “Texas Voter ID Case Compared to Area 51 Alien Conspiracy” (two actual headlines used today). Okay, I’m going to go with the talking heads.

I also went back to the how-to-get-laid-in-Argentina blog, thinking I might write about it, and lo and behold I found another post there entitled “If Trump Doesn’t Win We’re Screwed.” Hmm. Seems like this guy writes about more topics than effective pick-up lines. It didn’t take much in the way of looking around to find a post called “Ugly Minority Girls Are Winning Beauty Pageants To Satisfy The Diversity Agenda” and to find comments like (I quote the exact words and apologize in advance for any offense) “overweight and obese girls have more sexual partners on average than girls who are in shape, because the same lack of impulse control that leads them to stuff their faces with food also leads them to hoover up cocks left and right” and “homosexuals and bisexuals are more likely than heterosexuals to be mentally ill: their malfunctioning sexual impulses lead to their entire personalities being dysfunctional.”

By this point I was looking for some bleach to clean out my browser. Ick. Yes, people can believe anything they want and they can also share those thoughts with others. But does this blogger seriously believe what he writes, or, like much of the alt right, does he just enjoy shocking people with outrageous statements?

I decided to look further into this. The blogger has a name, Daryush Valizadeh, and he achieved a small amount of infamy when he wrote a post in 2015 suggesting that rape be legalized on private property. His argument was that such a law would coerce women into becoming extremely careful (or paranoid), to the point of never being alone with a man with whom they did not want to have sex. Thus rape would be eliminated. After a lot of criticism, he claimed that he was being sarcastic.

sungazing5The Southern Poverty Law Center follows him due to his “specific examples of misogyny and the threat, overt or implicit, of violence” and you can read their latest on him. (I am happy to provide a link to the SPLC site, but will not link to his blogs.) According to the short Wikipedia entry on him, he is against female promiscuity, which seems a rather odd stance for a man who writes books with titles like Bang Lithuania: How to Sleep with Lithuanian Women in Lithuania and Don’t Bang Denmark: How to Sleep with Danish Women in Denmark (If You Must). I  have no idea what he has against Danish women.

Another odd contradiction is that along with his clarion call for men to be sexually aggressive, he has recently begun to rally his followers to reject globalism and adhere to nationalism. It seems a strange stance for a man who is the child of two immigrants, who has lived in multiple other countries and who writes travel books. Perhaps he is trying a little too hard to merge his philosophies about sex with the politics of the alt right.

I do confess to reading one of his posts from start to finish. It was titled something like “don’t have sex with feminists” and it advised men that the feminist movement could be seriously diminished if males would simply refuse to become intimate with women who held unacceptable ideas like wanting equal pay. (I’m serious, equal pay was the horrible feminist idea that he used as an example.) His plan for stopping feminism is for every man in every bar to respond clearly and firmly to every such statement with something like “then forget it, I’m not attracted to feminists.” He thinks this would make women feel so rejected that they would rethink their silly ideas.

I almost wrote the man to say “Please get all of your followers to do this. Please. What a service this would be.”

Imagine the scene in the bar. He says “Forget it, lady, I’m not attracted to feminists.” She says “Thank you so much for telling me. I’m not attracted to assholes.”

And everyone leaves the bar happy. See, even I can find one idea from the misogyny wing of the alt right movement with which to agree.




Yikes! Get me out of here.

How did I end up on an Islamophobic hate blog?

This started out so well. I enjoy my blogging life because I keep finding people who interest, encourage and teach me. One such is Kurt Brindley, owner of a fascinating webpage called Relating to Humans. Kurt is going to make a movie from one of his short stories, and is raising money by offering space on his blog to his donors. The movie will center on the first group of navy women stationed aboard ship. I’ve written a book, c3, about obstacles faced by young women and a donation to him seemed like much better use of my meager budget than one more ad on Facebook. Plus, I’d like to see him get the movie made.  So I signed on. My guest post looks great and I was quite pleased.

guest post

Not only have 50 or so people liked the post, but one went so far as to post it again on his own blog. Wasn’t that nice.  I wrote him a note of gratitude and hit the like button all around.

Then I got up this morning and checked out his blog. Oh. My. God. Okay, I know that there are people on the internet who hold radically different opinions than my own. They are entitled. I just didn’t expect my name and the cover of my book to ever end up on one of the saddest websites I’ve ever visited. (And remember, I researched a book about hate groups on the internet so I have been to some pretty bad ones already.) This man, who goes by Old Poet 56, equates the Islam religion with the devil, has a passionate post about how President Obama is a Muslim trying to bring this country down, and, well, it goes on from there.  This is beyond crazy stuff to me. I suppose that it is merely his view of the world to him.

At the risk of sending more people his way, I am going to insert a link to his site called Truth Troubles because it doesn’t seem fair to level what is basically an accusation of paranoid hatred without giving any other reader of this post the chance to see if I am overreacting.  I welcome hearing opinions on the subject!

I agonized for awhile about what to do. Finally, late this morning I posted this comment on Kurt Brindley’s perfectly fine blog and also on Old Poet 56’s toxic blog as well. I haven’t heard a peep back anywhere.

Old Poet 56: while I initially appreciated your publicity for my book, this morning I spent some time on your blog and am compelled to tell you that I am offended by the harsh Islamophobia that I found on your website. I am approximately your age and have worked with a large variety of cultures as I spent 32 years as a geophysicist in the oil business. I have found many good, kind people among every nation, creed, age group and other demographic I encountered and I believe you do humanity a huge disservice by painting any one group with a single brush. I think it would be best if you removed any reference to my book from your site. If you read it, you would find that it treats all cultures found in Central Asia with appreciation and respect and that it presents a theme of peace well at odds with the tone of your blog.

I don’t know if he will ever take down the reblog of my guest post or not. I don’t know if there is any mechanism for me to force him to do so. I do know that I do not wish to be associated in any way with the intolerance I found on his site.

Now what do I do…


I know sexism when I see it?

When you read a book of fiction written decades ago, you steel yourself for possible sexism, racism and general intolerance. You accept that the hero will likely be a tall, non-elder, physically fit and able, straight white male possibly assisted by inferior but lovable sidekicks from other demographic groups. I’ve listened to many a lively discussion about how much slack a writer from days past is entitled to before the enlightened reader of today gets tired of the stereotypes and throws down the book.

sustainable human 1I don’t have an answer. But I do know that there is a difference between writing that reflects cultural norms of its time and writing that has a mean spirit. It’s a little like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous 1964 quote regarding obscenity. “I know it when I see it.” I think we can all agree that we would never all agree completely on what is obscene and what isn’t, yet the vast majority of people would reach identical conclusions on either side of a small fuzzy line. That is obscene. That isn’t. We know it.

I believe that the same sort of standard applies to older fiction. I just finished reading Frederick Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth’s 1952 science fiction satire The Space Merchants. I enjoyed it. But being female, I’m particularly sensitive to sexism in a story and, let’s face it, older science fiction often was as sexist as anything else of its time. On the surface, The Space Merchants suffers in this way. The hero is a tall, non-elder, physically fit and able, straight white male. The women are called “girls”, every executive has a female secretary he orders around, and most of the rest of the work force is male.

As I finished the book, however, I decided that the authors’ failing was not one of prejudice, but rather an inability or unwillingness to see some parts of future society as significantly different than their own. In 1950, women were called “girls”, every executive did have a secretary, and most of the work force was male. This story was intended to focus on other changes in society. Even if the authors did consider it, reworking the common role of women was not necessary to the plot, and might well have distracted from the main messages of the book when was being read back in the 1950’s.

In the authors’ further defense, the love interest is a female surgeon, the main character’s compliant secretary is uncommonly capable, and one of the evil characters is a deranged woman who is an expert at torture. Women may play a fifties-style role in the book, but they are as three-dimensional as the males and as good at what they do. It’s hard to call that sexism.

I know that in the seventies and eighties Frederick Pohl went on to write Gateway and Beyond the Blue Event Horizon, both excellent books filled with fully-developed and competent women. C.M. Kornbluth died at age thirty-four. We will never know what masterpieces he might have written as he aged.

I’m completely okay with giving this book a pass on its treatment of its female characters. Other science fiction books of that era? Well, that’s another blog post waiting to be written.

(For more about the Space Merchants, see my posts The Kinky of the Future, Through the Eyes of Another, and Predicting the Future or Shaping It.)