March 16th, 2009


Who are the real losers?

I got this from CREDO Action. I'm getting extremely tired of listening to rich, powerful people claim that poor, disempowered people are "lazy" and "losers." Poor people don't work less hard than rich people. They just get paid a lot less for busting their butts, and they have a lot less influence over what happens.

Tell CNBC: Listen to Jon Stewart and report the news.

We know about the Bush administration turning a blind eye and refusing to regulate bad behavior. We know about the banks that played fast and loose with our retirements, and then, when it all blew up, they took golden parachutes lined with our tax dollars.

On March 12, Jon Stewart of The Daily Show discussed another serious problem: financial news networks like CNBC that promoted Wall Street propaganda and then blamed the financial crisis on "losers" who couldn't make their mortgage payments. Stewart took on Jim Cramer of CNBC -- the interview was moving, appalling, and a searing indictment that really hit home. Click to watch the video and see for yourself:

Click here to tell CNBC that they should be ashamed of their behavior. A financial news channel should investigate and report the truth, not
merely air infomercials for Wall Street.

Thank you for working to build a better world.

Kate Stayman-London, Campaign Manager
CREDO Action
from Working Assets

Thoughts on Race and Writing

I've found some more interesting posts on the discussion of race that has sprawled across LJ the last several months. Here's one from Rosemary Edghill. Here's one from Nora, a writer of color. There are some useful and enlightening things in these posts.

But wow, am I reminded that I do not tend to think about race and ethnicity the same way most people do. I'll pick just one example, because this one is fun. A lot of fantasy worlds are, well, McFantasyLand. They're sort of medieval pseudo-European settings with mostly white people and ideas. And then there's my main fantasy world, Hallelaine, the oldest of my settings that I still use regularly. It dates back at least as far as my junior high years, so 25+ years.

Hallelaine has a bunch of continents. I haven't mapped them all: mostly the northern, central, and southern ones. Its sentient species include humans, elves, dwarves, and centaurs among others. Most of those come in assorted shapes and sizes, and they don't always get along. And a little slice of the history goes like this ...

In the central continent, the east is populated by humans, elves, dwarves, and centaurs mostly of fair skin. Underground are the darrow elves, with black skin and light hair. To the west on the Deep Plains and in part of the forest are humans, centaurs, and elves with coppery skin. In the far west it's fair skins again, on the coast and some big islands. A couple of evil cults decided to ally with each other to take over the continent. They cleverly decided to start by smashing the darrow civilization, much of which was also evil, because nobody liked the darrows and would thus not object. This worked. That's where the "scatterlings" come from -- young darrows who escaped in the chaos, or were flung across the world when the Gates exploded. This left somewhat of a power vacuum. Then came the Changu: fierce yellow-skinned elves invading from another continent far to the east. They managed to take over a big chunk of the central continent. Their invasion sputtered and died for several reasons, including: 1) They went from a mostly homogenous place to one where lots of people and livestock mingle: enter the Plague Years. 2) The Deep Plains Nomads have wicked good technology that's not easy for other people to figure out and replicate, things like double-decker compound crossbows. And of course, behind the Changu were the Hunnar: yellow-skinned centaurs who swept down off the eastern steppes and started crowding out the elves.

The northern continent has some fair-skinned humans and elves, some elves in pure white or hints of blue or lavender, and some very short round fat elves with coppery skin. Plus the tarpan, giant horses some of which are rather secretly sentient. The southern continent has one civilization of fair-skinned humans, elves of assorted colors including a striking cinnamon, the marsh humans ... gosh, I don't know how to describe that color, sort of olive or putty maybe, and the desertfolk humans and elves who are every shade from a rich ivory through the common toasts and tans to near chocolate. The dark continent has humans with black or brown skin, the Isuli who are zebra-centaurs with black skin, and the Meerslar who are lion-centaurs with tawny skin (plus Silvermane, the darrow elf who beseeched a goddess to give him the shape of his chosen pride, so there's one black-and-silver Meerslar).

The Rahnee are gypsy-ish humans who range the central continent, sometimes the northern, and all through the Dreitch and the chain of islands between the two. The Islanders and Highlanders are fair-skinned humans. The Freetraders are merchants and privateers and smugglers and sort of pirates, who have a whole floating culture of their own, plus a little batch of islands far out in the ocean; and they'll take anybody and everybody. They're mostly humans and elves, but there's one centaur sailor I know of.

"Race" type issues that have come up include:

  • Kerredani humans figured out that male darrow elves make the best wet-nurses, and exploited this feature, because Kerridani law gives a female wet-nurse and the baby certain familial rights to each other. Get a male elf and you don't have to treat him like a real person -- forgetting that the reason for the law is to prevent traumatizing people by tearing apart family bonds.

  • In the central continent, it took a long time before human/elf crossbreeds built up enough population to be other than rare freaks. For ages they were pretty much ostracized, or else quietly subsumed into one or the other culture. Then two of them stuck together, and started their own little culture on the banks of a river. It grew into three linked towns, later with a heavily mixed population and eclectic marriage customs. But the term for someone of mixed human/elven ancestry is still "bastard elf."

  • For a while the Changu tried slave-running. They'd pack a ship with a couple hundred darrows or forest elves or humans, and head for home. This ran aground on the reef of their trigger-happiness: bored Changu sailors shoot at anything that moves. Shooting at orca shapeshifters is not prudent. They started busting open Changu slave ships. The cargo washed ashore along the north edge of the central continent where the plains run down to the water. Let's say the Deep Plains deities and the darrow elves were not ready for each other and had some mutually appalling culture clashes.

  • The Red Elves of the South and the Tongan Empire used to get along tolerably well in a "you don't touch mine, I don't touch yours" sort of way. Then a hot-headed young prince of Tonga went out heroing and fell prey to a band of Red Elves, the chieftess of whom was not inclined to take no for an answer. The prince eventually got loose and returned home. Then the Red Elves picked a very messy war with the Empire, which only ended nine months after the original incident when the chieftes in question was able to divest herself of the very-unwanted halfbreed baby and dump him in a ditch in the half of the city-cum-battlefield that she'd set on fire. The baby lived, poor thing, and those two cultures have never gotten along since.

  • You can't sic a djinn on anyone from Waterjewel. A tribal ancestor once came across some bandits who had a djinn in a bottle. Not wanting to profit from slavery, he ran off the bandits and freed the djinn (nearly getting them both killed in the process). Waterjewel folks take a dim view of slavery in general and an especially dim view of trapping someone in a whole different dimension just to do your bidding. And that's part of where their amazing luck comes from, because you never know when there might be a free djinn around listening for wishes.

  • Centaurs can be 1) oblivious to skin color variations because their colors are so varied; 2) inclined to believe that certain colors or patterns have specific meanings; 3) horrible, obnoxious, racist pigs who will abandon their own offspring for having the wrong coat pattern; or 4) unwilling to go along with their herd's beliefs but unable to do otherwise because the herd-bond is a prevailing psychological force in their species.

This is a lot more fun for me than McFantasyLand. It means I have characters who think totally differently than I do, than each other too, and they have plenty to argue about. They don't necessarily have the same issues as Earth cultures of similar style. And it means I can have a story about something other than race, where a centaur porter wanders across the street behind my main characters; it means I can have a story about something other than race but with all brown people in it because there aren't any white ones where they live; it means when I do want to write about race, I can easily find characters doing something ghastly to each other.

The above spread covers a handful of fully-written stories, scene sketches from a dozen or two others, parts of a long-ago roleplaying game, lots of poems, and miscellaneous history that hasn't found its way into codified form yet. It comes out of personal experience, visits to other countries, visits to other worlds, friends from all around this world, reading history books written by winners and by losers, and thank you Mr. Butler for teaching me how to plot and that "everything is geopolitics" in Western Civilization class.

I know a handful of other writers who have built (or found) worlds containing a patchwork of character species, colors, and cultures. Most of you in my audience here, if you're doing that, I've already read some of your stuff. But if you're newish and you think I might not know this about your setting, sing out, would you? I'm always looking for more of these and they're not easy to find.

Interview with John Willmott of Celtic Ways

I've been graced with an interview of John Willmott of Celtic Ways, which I have posted over on Reviews from Hypatia's Hoard. I think you'll all enjoy it. Here's a teaser:

Last spring, happy chance brought me and some of my family to the Heartland Gallery in Urbana, Illinois on an evening when John Willmott and Claire Roche were performing.  John is a storyteller and Claire is a harpist, and together they keep alive some of Ireland’s greatest traditions.  Later this week, they will be performing again at the Heartland Gallery.  So I thought this would be a fine time to interview them, and they graciously agreed.  John got back to me first…

Elizabeth Barrette:  How long have you been a storyteller?

John Willmott:  Since I was 6 years old, over 50 years ago, when I first discovered an ancient cairn near my Yorkshire home and made it my den.