When heroes fall.

I call it the Frank Lloyd Wright axiom: sometimes geniuses are horrible human beings.

Most of the time, I can separate the person from their creation: I can look at the Robie House and admire its beauty.  The fact that Wright was an arrogant SOB (the model for Ayn Rand’s protagonist in Atlas Shrugged) who ran off with the wife of a client does not in the end figure into any assessment of his work.

Sometimes, though, I cannot in my mind divorce the awful things someone has done from what it is I admire them for.

I am not a scientist. While I know Richard Feynmann for being an important figure in physics, I’d be lying if I said I understood what his accomplishments were. My admiration for Feynmann had always come from his seeming attitudes towards the world, his willingness to be provocative and outrageous, and his ability to capture lyrically the  essence of what is magnificent about the world.  Until today, one of his quotes was listed on my sidebar.

That changed with the accounts I have read recently about how Feynmann  treated women. That women continue to be mistreated and marginalized in science and academia today is not Feynmann’s fault, but the willingness to excuse his behavior sends troubling messages.  As I am n0t a scientist, and my admiration is based mainly on his nonscientific attributes, I cannot divorce his humorous writing from his willingness to prey on women, in a manner that would make a PUA proud. I cannot read his eloquent defense of the magnificence of stars set apart from any creationist mythos without also recalling that he thought the young women he targeted in bars “worse than whores” if they wouldn’t have sex with him.  I can’t let go of the fact that he likewise sought out the wives of his graduate students.  As the wife of a Ph.D., who remembers how much power your advisor can hold over your future (especially one as notable as Feynmann), had I had to face it, being sought after for special attention by a husband’s advisor would have made me sick with fear. Coercive does not even begin to describe such a situation.

He cannot be a hero any longer.

He is not the only person whose work I cannot encounter without revulsion for reasons totally separate from that work: I gave up on Orson Scott Card a long time ago.  The good that John Edwards or Anthony Weiner did for progressives is drowned by my disgust and horror at their other activities.

And then there is Marion Zimmer Bradley. The disclosures about her behavior make Feynmann look like a feminist.

I have read all the Darkover novels.  I loved The Mists of Avalon.  I discounted the disturbing aspects of her novels (the status of women on Darkover, the incest and sexual violence towards women and young girls in Avalon) as being simply parts of her convincing world-building.  It’s not as though she approved of those things, I thought.  And on Darkover, she created a world where homosexuality was acknowledged, and accepted.

Recently, her daughter has come forward telling of the severe physical and sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her mother. ( A good summary of the fandom coverage by Jim Hines can be found here.) In addition, MZB’s husband, Walter Breen, was a serial molester of young boys, and Bradley covered for him to the point where she can be seen as facilitating the molestation.  By her own admission, she had no problem in Breen sexually assaulting minors.

After first reading about the abuse, I reread one of her Darkover novels.  I was struck by its treatment of children and women’s sexuality, among other things.  What sort of mind creates such  a place? And excuses it? And then there is Avalon, which includes the following description of a fertility rite:

“The little blue-painted girl who had borne the fertilizing blood was drawn down into the arms of a sinewy old hunter, and Morgaine saw her briefly struggle and cry out, go down under his body, her legs opening to the irresistible force of nature in them.”

Good Lord in heaven.  Child rape painted as an “irresistible force of nature.”

I can no longer read MZB’s work.  Art is the result of the artist.  She committed, and excused in others, horrific acts of predation on children.  Nothing she can write can overcome that:  all of her work is tainted.

There are differences of opinion on this, clearly.  A writer at Entertainment Weekly  who discovered Mists of Avalon after hearing about the allegations against MZB finds the book brilliant.   And the comments on any post about this will include some by people who clearly find the works “feminist,” although rethinking what she wrote about Darkover makes that a questionable assessment. (Yes, she had the Guild of Renunciates who were independent women; they were however, considered outside society and scorned because they forfeited the protection of men — most women were destined for marriage. Or to work in the Towers.) In her Darkover Landfall, her Darkover origin story, she creates a world in which women go overnight from being independent scientists to baby machines. Because of MZB’s unquestionable gifts as a writer, I have read that book probably six or seven times, and only on the last read did it bother me. Not to mention that, as one commenter I read pointed out, in her books telepathy signals a person’s desires, sexual and otherwise, so “no” really can mean “yes.”

I have lost a literary friend.  I have read the all of the Darkover novels, many of repeatedly. The only thing I can think that would be worse, as far as reading, would be if a horrible revelation came to light about Jane Austen.

Great writers and scientists are people.  Sometimes that means they do horrible things. Looking the other way, excusing their actions because they are great artists, merely denigrates and belittles their victims.*

It’s a matter of who you want to stand next to, emotionally.  I choose to stand next to the powerless.

*For me, one of the most painful statements by Moira Greyland, MZB’s daughter, who has come forth with the details of her horrific treatment at the hands of her mother, was that she waited so long to air the abuse because of fear that MZB’s fans would be angry. Sadly, I find this completely understandable.

Feminists can’t write? News to me.

Charlotte Allen, guest blogging in the L.A. Times, doesn’t understand feminist writers today, because they can’t write. Poor baby.

As evidence, she produces a sentence by Rebecca Traitser,in a piece that appeared in the New Republic:

“I wish that every woman whose actions and worth are parsed and restricted, congratulated and condemned in this country might just once get to wheel around — on the committee that doesn’t believe their medically corroborated story of assault, or on the protesters who tell them that termination is a sin they will regret, or on the boss who tells them he doesn’t believe in their sexual choices, or on the mid-fifties man who congratulates them, or himself, on finding them appealing deep into their dotage — and go black in the eyes and say, ‘I don’t [expletive] care if you like it.’ ”

That’s it.  One piece.  Or, rather, one sentence. That is all the evidence for “feminists today can’t write” that Allen gives. By the way, the sentence on which Allen based her assessment of the lack of coherence among new feminist writers was the last sentence of a piece that I had read weeks ago, which had spread like wildfire among my Facebook friends.

“But what does ‘go black in the eyes’ mean?” Allen whines. “How about ‘the boss who tells them he doesn’t believe in their sexual choices’? What on earth is that supposed to refer to? The boss is a pimp, and his hookers are picking the wrong johns?”

Three paragraphs before, Traitster said exactly what she meant by “black in the eyes”:

Instead, I’ve been thinking about an anecdote in Tina Fey’s Bossypants. Amy Poehler, then new to “Saturday Night Live,” was engaging in some loud and unladylike vulgarity in the writers’ room when the show’s then-star Jimmy Fallon jokingly told her to cut it out, saying, “It’s not cute! I don’t like it!” In Fey’s retelling, Poehler “went black in the eyes for a second, and wheeled around on him,” forcefully informing him: “I don’t fucking care if you like it.”  [emphasis mine]

 

As far as the “boss who tells them he doesn’t believe in their sexual choices,” how else can she parse the Hobby Lobby decision, and the continued right-wing insistence that single women who have sex are sluts? Allen claims to be befuddled by a sentence (and yes, it’s a long sentence, so maybe it challenged her apparently limited reading comprehension) that was perfectly clear in the context of the article in which it appeared.

There are, of course, many wonderful feminist writers out there. The writing is more informal than that published in the 60s and 70s, but to a large extent that can be placed at the Internet’s feet. The important writers on feminist subjects are likely these days to be bloggers, either at major media sites or independent. There are too many to name; a good place to start is with a blog aggregator like feministblogs.org. There are also a lot of blogs which have a definitely feminist outlook.  Some of them are even by men: one of my favorites, Whatever by John Scalzi, once ran a post on what a feminist looks like. (Among other things, Scalzi has announced a policy of not being part of SF conventions that do not have clearly stated anti-harrassment policies.  One of the upshots of this is that Scalzi’s event in San Diego was not held at Comic-Con, but elsewhere.)

That’s the Internet.  It is the media of the moment in which we live. But women writers in all sorts of media are raising their voices to protest attacks on their reproductive freedom, denounce a culture which excuses rape and other violence against women, expose and object to the inequalities and harassment women are subjected to in the workplace, and so on.

Of course, Allen is just being disingenuous: she begins her piece by saying

I’m not a feminist — that’s an understatement — but I sometimes get nostalgic for feminists.

Not today’s feminists, though, but the feminists of yore — of what’s called “the Second Wave,” the radical women’s movement of the 1960s and early 1970s. It’s not that I agreed with what those Second Wave feminists advocated: It mostly consisted of throwing away your makeup, ditching your husband, and going to live in an all-women, macrobiotic-diet “collective.”

It was because those old gals could write. Their ideas might have been repellent, but they expressed them in bell-clear, eloquent English that any professional writer would envy. [emphasis mine]

 

(Note her disdain for the very writers she purports to praise: they clearly are not “professional writers.”)

I’ve read a lot of “Second Wave” feminist works, and yes, they are brilliant, but the writing is not the uniform marvel that Allen would have you believe.  There is a lot of pedestrian writing in Betty Friedan’s work, for example. That does not matter to Allen.  She cherrypicks lyrical and moving passages out of important feminist works, and contrasts that with one sentence taken out of context from an informal editorial piece by one writer. On the basis of that, she is willing to dismiss all feminists today as dolts.

Allen ends with

Now, I don’t believe a thing those Second-Wavers wrote. I don’t want to bash the male sex, quit cooking for my husband, or start a revolution. But I’d rather read their writings than the sloppy prose that today’s wave of feminists produces. [emphasis mine]

 

In the end what Allen really objects to are the ideas that feminist writers have been promulgating. Our ideas are “repellent.”  In the 70s, she would have written the same article, deriding the same writers that she now praises for their incoherent ranting.

There’s just no pleasing some people.  Especially anti-feminists.

Some things to think about. (More links.)

Senior NSA official claims that we live a police state.

Blackmail as part of the NSA’s playbook.  I thought that went away when J. Edgar Hoover died, but then I have always been naive.

Tom Engelhardt’s Requiem for America.  Engelhardt’s saying a lot of what I have thought over the past couple of years, only much more eloquently.  I want my country back, damn it, but that’s not going to happen.

(Hat tip to Mike the Mad Biologist for the foregoing.)

From slacktivist: A Good Joke Can Change The World.

 

Lists.

Okay, so I’m struggling with this.  It is the time of year to reflect on all the things I’ve done wrong in my life. (This hits me in summer, moreso than my birthday or New Year’s. Summer has always been hard, but this year, given Mom’s death, it’s harder than ever. I am having an especially hard time letting go of the past few years of screwups.)

Things to be grateful for:

Starbucks, specifically Iced Venti Half-Caf Nonfat No-Whip Mochas with Sugar-Free Hazelnut Syrup (a.k.a., the Nutella Mocha.)

Sam and Nora, the baristas with whom I actually have conversations at the neighborhood SB.

@midnight.

Suits. (The clothing, not the television show.)

Weird Al’s new album.

Gasoline has gone down in price since last week.

DVRs. (Although this is a mixed bag: I have 56 mostly unwatched episodes of Doctor Who, which I can’t seem to bring myself to erase. Not to mention the 42 episodes of Good Eats, although I watch those occasionally for tips. Good Eats, Doctor Who, Jeopardy!, @midnight, The Wil Wheaton Project: I’m not a nerd, I just enjoy watching them on TV. Smart = Sexy.)

We’re not having mandatory water rationing — yet.  (I think we should and will soon — but it is still a pain.)

In spite of having close to 190K miles on it, the van’s air conditioning still works.  Mostly.

We’re past the summer solstice and days will be getting shorter from here on out.

My online friends.

And the usual things: I have a home, and a family.

 

I try to do fifty items each time I do these lists; today I can manage a dozen.

Oh, and I’m grateful I started this blog.  I think.

 

 

Speaking of Weird Al…

I have fallen in love with “Sports Song.” It captures the essence of every college fight song out there — except for Stanford, who insist on being weird. (I keep thinking of UGA, and Michigan, and even Georgia Tech.)
It’s not “Fight Fiercely Harvard,” but it’s good.

Edited to add: I just realized that the running back smashing over the tackle is wearing a Cincinnati Bengals helmet. That’s just great, although the Bengals did not suck as much in 2013 as they did earlier in their existence.

Edited to add again: The other night when Weird Al was on @midnight, host Chris Hardwick said he could no longer listen to the song  “Happy” without hearing the lyrics to “Tacky” instead. The Weird Al effect strikes again:  Al has corrupted “American Pie,” and “Another One Bites the Dust,” among many others. (With the last one, I have trouble even saying the name of the song: unless I am concentrating, I invariably identify it as “Another One Rides the Bus.”) Some of these are welcome: I never did like “Like a Virgin,” or “Bad.” And then there is “I Lost on Jeopardy”….

Also, I just realized that “Word Crimes” has a split infinitive in it.  That doesn’t bother me, but his target audience might find it irritating.

Links! Oh boy!

Every time I get on my computer, I run across dozens of links I want to write about, and never do.  Sometimes those links get lost when I close down the browser (or Georgia crashes); sometimes they just get added to the lengthening list of links on my Safari Reading List.

Today, however, I decided “what the hell, I’m just going to stick these in a post.” So here goes:

Under the heading “about damn time” comes the news that the Church of England has decided to ordain women bishops.  Have fun with that, guys.

“You’d think they could password protect a palantir”: John Scalzi’s record of his live-tweeting of a LOTR marathon. I rediscovered this today, and it’s a gem.

Speaking of John Scalzi, many of you are familiar with his “Lowest Difficulty Setting” post; he has an example of it in action here. I usually would never add a “don’t read the comments” warning to a Scalzi post — he’s the one of the best comment moderators on the web — but there is a certain… tedious repetition to some of the commenters’ views that can be wearying. (Although “Libertarian Dismount” is going to be my next band name.)

“Dating while mentally ill.” This article raises salient points not only about dating, but about relationships of all types. As I told a friend about my own decision to be open about my mental illness, it’s better to be lonely because people are scared off than heartbroken because they find they can’t cope and disappear.

Robert Reich’s “Rise of the Non-Working Rich” is well worth reading, and even more worthwhile to use to respond to your uncle’s rants about “welfare cheats.”

And this article is useful when faced with relatives insisting we need draconian voter-ID laws because of massive fraud: “Voter Suppression In Modern Georgia.”

Two articles about the way in which Big Tech screws over artists: “Not-So-Zen and the Art of Voluntary Agreements” (about Google’s stance on copyright) and “Freedom of Thought in a Vacuum of Patronage.” One response to those issues would be to regulate Google, Facebook, and Amazon as public utilities; since we can’t even get basic net neutrality secured, I’d say that will happen when an American Saddleback sails past my airplane window.

Federal judge rules death penalty unconstitutional in California.  I give the chances of this being upheld upon appeal as somewhere between “slim” and “a snowball in hell”, but it is nonetheless cheering news.

I love the music to Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” I find it insanely catchy.  I cannot listen to the song, however: the words go beyond off-putting to disturbing. So thank you, thank you thank you, Weird Al: “Word Crimes” makes it possible for me to dance along at the same time I indulge my inner self-righteous grammar geek. (The irony of this — and yes, I do believe that word is used correctly — is how lax my grammar can be in my blog posts. I once had a blog post linked in an article by the Pew Center for Journalistic Excellence, with a footnote stating that grammatical errors were the fault of the blogger.) You even mentioned the Oxford Comma (see sidebar profile).  “First World Problems” was better in concept than execution, but “Tacky” had me giggling like a seven-year-old at a bubble-makers’ convention. (Weird Al devotees, help me out here: doesn’t the “Tacky” video end in the same alleyway where Al shot “Bob”?)

There is so much more out there (Mike the Mad Biologist is responsible for most of my link backup, along with Slacktivist and my Facebook friends) but I think that this is enough for now.