How not to be a Generic Politician

I just got this email from my senator. Talk about Generic-Off. How pathetic. Could the Senator’s office at least go to the effort of having *different templates on different issues*?

Or even some actual information content in the email?

Like “Ms. Henry, we have noted your concern on the Iraq War, and would like to let you know that X percent of Californias agree with you. Here is Boxer’s position on the issue, and here is how she plans to vote.”

What earthly use is this to me? I’ll be damned if I can remember what I wrote a letter about, or what petition I signed, in this case. Behold!!!

Dear Ms. Henry:

Thank you for contacting my office to express your views. I believe that all citizens should become involved in the legislative process by letting their voices be heard, and I appreciate the time and effort that you took to share your thoughts with me.

One of the most important aspects of my job is keeping informed about the views of my constituents, and I welcome your comments so that I may continue to represent California to the best of my ability. Should I have the opportunity to consider legislation on this or similar issues, I will keep your views in mind.

For additional information about my activities in the U.S. Senate, please visit my website, http://boxer.senate.gov. From this site, you can access statements and press releases that I have issued about current events and pending legislation, request copies of legislation and government reports, and receive detailed information about the many services that I am privileged to provide for my constituents. You may also wish to visit http://thomas.loc.gov to track current and past legislation.

Again, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with me. I appreciate hearing from you.

Barbara Boxer
United States Senator

How hard could it be to hire someone to write you some decent “issue tracking” and letter writing software to keep your constituents informed without sounding like a mealy-mouthed robot talking to another, much stupider robot?

Meanwhile you might like to be aware that watchdog.net is useful, maybe more like what I’m looking for as a constituent than a flail -n- trawl through the entire Library of Congress.

Obviously I still end up voting for Boxer no matter what, but isn’t the idea to make me *really, really, really* support the politicians in office? Maybe even donate to them, because they’re awesome?

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Excite@Home bankruptcy trainwreck continues in slow motion

I cannot believe that I’m still getting legal notices about the Excite@Home bankruptcy and the pay they still owe me from October 2001. For real? Seven years of an utter waste of time and resources. How many lawyers are frittering away their lives and raking in the dough on this bullshit? They gave me most of my money long ago, from when they bounced all our last paychecks.

It stirs up my ire to get these snail mails, sometimes big fat packets of totally pointless legal documents. Some freaking genius should have made a webpage about a million years ago, for creditors (like me) to keep an email contact updated and they’d be able to pay us all that much more in saved postage costs.

Mostly though, I remember surviving the rounds of layoffs, reading Fucked Company every day along with all my co-workers, while then enduring the incredibly wankery company-wide pizza and beer meetings in the “garage” with endless power point slide shows about how great we were doing, that were obvious lies.

And the way they’d do some weird NASCAR event and whoop it up as if that was going to solve all our problems because it was cool.

The one satisfying thing was when they axed a couple of buildings after one brutal layoff, I took a whole lot of the office stuff and furniture they were throwing away and hauled it in my truck to donate it to the nearest elementary school, where second grade teachers fought like tigers over staplers and pairs of scissors. Where is the justice. They were desperate for petty office supplies while five blocks away a bunch of us basically wasted oxygen reading Fucked Company, downloading shit from Napster, and sighing bitterly as we waited for the axe to fall. *

There were some nice people at Excite (aka WebCrawler) that I worked with, but man, that company was so clearly going down. It was sad.

Anyway, everyone keep in mind if you need to get riled up, that there’s a bunch of really rich bankruptcy lawyers sailing their yachts around and enjoying their home movie theaters, still reaping the rich rewards of the dot-com crash.

* Note to future employers, actually I am a super hard worker until everyone around me has been laid off and doom is in the air.

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Geek culture changes

I have gone from working in places where I have about 4 computers on my desk plus root everywhere to working for Silicon Valley startups where people bring their own laptop to the job and no one has ever seen a terminal window before. Most of the bloggers I know (and support at work) deal with their blogs and web hosts entirely from ftp desktop clients. And at someone else’s fairly technically oriented workplace that shall remain nameless, just the other day, I over heard two people talking:

Q: So why do you people use those window things? And why are they always those black screens? Is it like, to look like The Matrix or something?
A: Um, well, I think it’s just a culture thing. It’s old school. Or something.

As I was reading through scads of comments on php.net and the forums on phpWomen.org I thought about how some people post stuff like “and here’s how I like to indent my code“, with examples. Actually I like reading that stuff and when it’s super simple, all the better. Yet I never post my own notes and habits and cheap unix tricks, because I’m embarrassed they aren’t super whizz bang hackery but are just my thoughts on vim vs. vi, or notes on how to change my csh prompt to be different colors. Why don’t I post on that stuff? I might start. How many times over the years have I gone to look something up and ended up on shallowsky.com? A ZILLION TIMES! (Thanks Akkana!) I’m not posting for programmers – actually I might be posting for the bloggers who are only just trying out their new shell account and want to know what it can do.

So about geek culture changes. Aside from people who don’t scream when they see a command line, what about the deeper culture? I was reading Rebecca MacKinnon’s post Silicon Valley’s benevolent dictatorships and thinking back on all the pocket-watch-toting, vest-wearing, oddball sys admins I’ve known. MacKinnon (heavily quoting Danny O’Brien) describes how U.S. geeks put a lot of trust in technology and the internet:

we have come to depend way too heavily on a small number of Internet and telecoms companies to conduct the most private and intimate details of our professional and personal lives. As long as those companies have values aligned with our own and are run by people we think have integrity, we don’t see a huge problem. But what if the values cease to be aligned or political circumstances change?

While I agree with MacKinnon that a company’s leaders are important, I suspect that a lot of power right now is in the hands of sys admins, quite often the actual benevolent association or intersection of hippies and hacker-anarchists who inhabit university basements and run the backbone of the net. They’re also powerful in determining what happens. I think about what is happening and how it’s partly about a cultural shift in what people think the Internet is – rather than it being something you get your hands dirty in, that you play around with, where you bother to go read the RFCs even if you’re not writing them… something that people like you are *making*… you shift it and its policies – you are its state and government – to something you consume or use that is run by far-distant giant corporations (whether they are trustable or not is not the point.) I wonder about younger generations of sys admins. Are they DIY in spirit – and have they been activists? That matters too – along with privacy policies which in theory are set by legal departments and corporate heads – because the people who will implement that stuff often care and have influence.

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Who are we women bloggers?

We know where we are. But who are we? What are we as a group? Are we a thing? Are we a group?

This might sound weird from a feminist anarchist geek. But I had an epiphany at work during a marketing meeting.

Gina, our head of sales, was trying to describe to the rest of us what it’s like to explain blogging to Fortune 500 company ad executives. They’re used to putting people in demographics, and defining types of people who they recognize as categories. There are understandable archetypes like “soccer mom”. There are “communities”. The companies know that things can be viral and that online advertising is the way to go and that blogs are cool. But how to explain what we are? Who we are? Why we’re powerful? Why we’re not a fad?

Digression: At the first couple of BlogHer conferences I was not convinced that the conference sponsorships were a good idea. They didn’t sway me. I felt marketed-to in a way that wasn’t quite comfortable, or that felt slightly off. I wondered why it wasn’t like other tech conferences, other blogging conferences. Why because we were women, didn’t more big tech advertisers or companies come to us and sponsor us? Where were Apple and Microsoft trying to sell us laptops or giving us cool schwag – after all, we were hard core bloggers and geeks enough to go to a blogging conference.

And yet, the conference was fabulous, and I felt that even the companies who didn’t get it, I had some respect for them just for showing up and putting up some cash. Maybe we were an experiment. They were trying to get in on this rumored wave of online stuff even if they didn’t know how. This year, things were different. There were insane levels of corporate sponsorship, but the way it was done mostly didn’t feel odd or wrong or presumptive that all women were a certain way. It felt like they were *getting it*. I didn’t feel alienated. I was charmed. While it was strange to be having a KY sponsored party in Macy’s lingerie department while drinking chocolate vodka and eating cookies, there was no way not to be charmed by the strangeness and by the free 1GB flash drives. Rather than showering us with glossy, expensive brochures we would just throw away, they put their product ads on flash drives that we’d find useful. That gave me a warmer feeling than the cayenne in the hot chocolate vodka. (Despite the perturbing heteronormativity of the lube’s his and her packaging, which gossip I will repeat that hippietastically we had asked them to offset with equal amounts of her and her packaging but the ball got dropped somewhere.) It was smart marketing to women who love their computers – whose computers are important parts of their lives. Same with the clever presence of PBS Kids. They gave out stuff that you’d actually want to give to your kid – again with the flash drives, this time as bracelets. Mood rings. Stickers. Comic books. And even if you didn’t have a kid, you were a kid once, and might like to see Grover and Grover’s puppeteer in person in the studio that PBS set up inside our conference. iRobot had demos and a raffle for Roombas, and also sponsored a latte cart. How civilized is that — don’t just market to me: make me *like you*. Free lattes at a place that I was fairly desperate for nicer-than-hotel-coffee was smart.

That’s very different from the old wave of internet advertising and marketing, the clumsy approaches that feel like this: We guess who you are, without listening. Then we tell you why you’re interested in this thing. Then we beg you to blog about it. Then we measure our success by click-throughs.

Think of radio advertisements. A sponsor takes a ball game, something that people want to have. And says, “Hey. We’re cool like this. We love baseball. We make Blahdeblah Product. We’re helping it be so that you get to hear this baseball game on the radio.” Internet ads need to be more like that. Radio advertisers didn’t have little implants in our brains that gave them precise metrics of whether we *that second* turned our eyeballs to look at a Blahdeblah Product. Instead, they banked on our experential happiness, our participation and investment in the ball game. We’d have a good feeling about the game and our enjoyment, and associate them with it, like a friend. Instead, bad net marketing grabs your head, forces it into a vise clamp and makes you look away from the game and at them while you fill out their survey. It’s intrusive and untrusting, essentially unfriendly.

What I realized during our meeting: we aren’t a consumer demographic. We aren’t the metrics. We aren’t defined by what we consume in the mental model of 20th century markets. We’re cultural producers. Through our blogs, we have open, mass access to the means of production. We’re unmediated and unfiltered, if we want to be. We’re also banding together to control how we’re mediating and filtering. A big medical company might try to hire writers to tell their “true stories” of being moms with cancer. But they would never hit the grass roots authenticity of Motherswithcancer.wordpress.com. I can read that site and completely trust that it’s not the zombie brainchild of Big Pharma. I read BlogHer and trust that, while it’s got ads on it and (now) big corporate sponsors, it’s not a department store mannequin’s version of “what women want”. It’s what women actually got together and said they wanted to do. It’s not a marketing category.

We are something new, a category not quite defined but still coalescing, something like Bluestockings or the French revolutionary feminists who ran their own newspapers in the 1830s. But unlike those tightly knit salons of intellectuals, we are a mass movement, a populist movement, with plenty of muscle and — collectively — economic power. We are not quite like what some people are trying to define us as:

* “the Association of University Women, who also shop”
* “the white 30-something soccer moms who write cutesily about only diapers”
* “men with boobs and social skills, who influence their network of friends”
* “sort of like journalists, but with no self esteem and you don’t have to pay them”
* “computer geeks lite, who want a pink iPhone” (okay, maybe that one)

Or whateverall they seemed to think we were.

What we are: a mass social movement of women who are moving into the public sphere. We are not depending on authority to tell us what or who we are. If we don’t fit into a demographic or a marketing category, that doesn’t mean we don’t get a public voice. We are redefining “what women are” in our society and the shifting marketing and ad markets are evidence that our redefinition is being heard. Publishers can say “Your story is too harsh. It’ll alienate readers. Change it. Your main character can’t be a black woman. Write about something else. That story about your special needs child is too depressing. ” Sure, they can say it – and they do. We tell those stories anyway and find they are deeply wanted and needed by other women.

We’re more like the women of the 1800s who started to be able to make a living from their writing. (Though men generated an enormous backlash against them and trivialized their work as being from a pack of scribbling women… babblers and amateurs who appeal to the crude taste of the masses and are not Literary Enough (for… what exactly?).) Have we hit critical mass, finally, with blogging? Can we end run capitalist patriarchy? Are we successfully changing it as it co-opts us?

Older feminists are standing back in a mildly skeptical way. Oh yes, we’ve heard this before, now is really the moment when we can all tell our stories, across class and race and gender and all barriers, and our histories won’t be lost. Right. We’ve never heard *that* one before. I really believe it’s true this time. We have to fight to keep it true, and to keep control and power in the hands of regular people, accessible to everyone. Keep that access to the means of production, cultural production, out there, and keep spreading it.

And by that I mean things as simple as: fight your local library not to block MySpace from their public access computers.

I also felt this deeply at the Global Voices Summit in Budapest. The technology is to the point where mobile phone are ubiquitous in developing countries. A protest happens a country’s mainstream media can’t cover it because of censorship or a threatening political environment, and yet videos go up on YouTube. Fighting for universal access to a decentralized Internet is crucial to our future, and all areas of this fight need to tie together and be allies.

So who are we and what are we? Women who are speaking, who are consumers who talk, sort of like journalists, sort of like authors; we are conscious, individually and, more and more, collectively, of our power to speak and be seen in the world of public discourse. We have jobs and we’re in public, we’re out of the domestic sphere, but our thoughts, the way we’re framed in public conversations, in the media, isn’t yet all the way out of the domestic sphere. My point is that we are no longer containable by old style media. We aren’t an elite of “influencers” to be courted and co-opted. We’re journalists who write about who we are, not what we’re told to write, like a million mommy-blogging Hunter S. Thompsons writing The Curse of Lono instead of their assigned sports article.

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In which I feel pissy about DRM and iTunes

It’s the same old song as everyone else has already sung, but man do I ever hate the Apple DRM junk in my trunk. I mean stabbity stab stab! I bought this damned album on vinyl once for 12.99 20 years ago, and then I bought it on CD, and the cd got stolen but luckily I had taped it on audiotape, and then I couldn’t find it anywhere bcause it was out of print nad was deliriously happy I could find it and hear it again by clicking 99 cents thing on iTunes. And that was several years and several Macs ago and now the damned song doesn’t work! For fuck’s sake, how many more times do I have to buy this song before I get to archive it without a waste of the world’s resources?

I was contemplating how very broken things are in music distribution. Books too. I want to own the electronic copy for whatever I buy, and then be able to get or make a physical copy of it. To record and manipulate music so I can hear it in my car. To print it or get print on demand in some graceful way. Whatever! But having just a book doesn’t satisfy me either because I want to cut and paste and quote bits of the book, fair use style, or search the book, or index it or annotate it. Think of it this way. I am willing to do a fair amount of valuable cultural work — FOR FREE — which benefits us all. Art is a contribution to the world and all art builds on other art. We need to be able to expose the connections and references. It is not information I love best, though I do love it. It is meaning. Meaning created by context and for there to be context, people have to be able to access it.

This rant inspired by my resolve to get on line and buy all the CDs possible by Dressy Bessy. I got something by them on a mix CD, and then went and downloaded more, and now love them and feel a blinding loyalty. I would like to directly give that band the $12.99 and NOT buy a CD with packaging that I will likely ruin or lose anyway. Just make it so that somewhere, it is recorded on heaven’s unchangeable heart (i.e. the motherfucking IN-ternets) that I bought this music and have the rights to mess with it under whatever nice license they like. Then, if I lose the CD or my hard drive crashes I will still have the rights to interact with the bit of cultural product that I gave currency to.

iTunes of course does NOT do this… but has planned obsolescence, which I consider one of the evils our species has unleashed on the world.

Where is the lovely open source non profit Registry of Cultural Production and Rights… or the international agency… even as a part of a government… a beautifully organized repository?

That would be my own killer app.

Where I could register my intent to translate something, and pay the original author of it… Pay them directly. And then translate and publish. Think how beautiful this killer app of copyright would be for translation as well as books and music.

Or genetic material, or whatever.

(Somehow I am thinking as I say this, on the back burner of my mind, about OLPC (which is lovely in many ways but I have a big BUT) and Dil’s gold bangles from whichever Patrick O’Brian book that was. The same fallacy of physical objects and possessions and property, the same middle class assumption that the important things is STUFF.)

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Geek dress code, Silicon Valley version

Skud blogged a very funny comparison of geek vs. non-geek dress codes. I think the geek code allows for a more fine-grained analysis!

THE GEEK DRESS CODE
With elements of clothing listed in order of ascending formality
================================================================

Shirts:

Tshirt your mom bought you at Kmart when you were in high school. Ill fitting; 80s colored; perhaps with abstract designs.
Tshirt for tech company, probably white, grubby, boring.
Tshirt for unboring tech company or science fictional thing.
Cool tech tshirt, black.
Cool tech tshirt, black, tucked in, with belt.
Snarky geek tshirt perhaps from threadless or Thinkgeek; tight fitting to show off boobs and/or muscles.
Snarky geek shirt with sports jacket; best multitool on belt.

Underwear:

Underwear worn yesterday, turned inside out.
Underwear your parents or s.o. got you for a utilitarian present.
Underwear that is actually cute and fits, that you bought for yourself.
Underwear with snarky geek saying on it. Impressive!

Pants:

Baggy pants, too short, bought in high school by mom; used to be either green, grey, black, or brown; now a greyish nothing-color; holes optional.
Jeans.
Jeans without prominent holes.
The “nice” jeans; no holes, no stains; they fit.
Black jeans!
Pants that are not jeans but are not quite suit pants either -OR- a misguided Utilikilt.

Skirts:

Long flowing hippie skirt, unfashionable, no underwear, or boxers
Skirt that is more current style of some sort.
Miniskirt and combat boots ( with snarky tshirt, multitool, and jacket, this is punk geek formal).
Ball gown of amazing ridiculousness, with sneakers.
Actual fancy dress that looks fantastic, with girly shoes (to be used sparingly).

Bras:

None.
Tank top.
Tank top with shelf thing built in.
Actual bra, scungy.
Fun colored lacey bra -OR- none, with Snarky geek shirt, tight.

Stockings:

Mismatched white tube socks.
White socks.
Black socks.
Fun socks.
Tights.
Ironic leg warmers.
Stripey knee socks.
Stripey thigh highs.
Fishnets, pristine.
Fishnets, artistically torn, with safety pins. Especially on guys. Guys, y’all are taking notes, right?

Accessories acceptable for dressing up:

Laptop backpack.
Laptop bag, fancy.
Laptop modded in any way; stickers; etching; plastic case.
A funky vest. (For hippie chicks or old unix sys admins).
Pocketwatch. (Sys admins ONLY).

We could keep going, I’m sure! I can’t even begin to touch upon shoes.

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Pink and sparkly

Okay on the one hand, Geek Girl Bingo. Pink, sparkly, cute, colour choice, stereotype city. I am totally down with calling people on their constant application of these ideas to femininity.

On the other hand, I kind of want this. On the substrate of the pink and sparkly Hello Kitty laptop, I would add a million bad attitude stickers, and it would be glorious. I could mod my Hello Kitty with some green tentacles to make a Hello Cthulhu. It’s kind of a problem.

Clearly my mind is not free from colonization.

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Come to Wiki Wednesday

Well, I’m crossing over my day job into my personal blog here, but what the heck. I love my day job (and wikis) enough for it to merge that way! I’m turning into kind of a wiki fanatic, so much that a couple of months ago I realized I had the same sense of fannish belonging at our wiki meetup that I do at poetry readings, blogging meetups, and science fiction cons: the sense that I’m finally around other people who share some basic philosophy of reality that might not be quite mainstream. For poetry, it’s, well, being poety. For blogging, it’s that I don’t feel like anything is real until I’ve written it up and posted it to the Internet and had 6 people link to it. For sf cons, it’s that my brain has been steeped in the structures of alien societies since I was 5 years old, so much that I’m a Martian. In the case of wikis, that means that I want to collaborate on everything, and I want to be able to take everything back and travel backwards in time, and while I browse the non-wiki-ish Muggle web or even read a book, I get frustrated that I can’t double click on the page to edit the page.

This month I look forward to bringing up my pet peeves about wikis. Talk about wiki interoperability. I flip back and forth between wikis all the time, from Socialtext to Mediawiki to PBwiki to Kwiki, and can never remember which markup is which. In one, I have to use double square brackets, in another, single square brackets, to make a link. Not to mention the problems with quotes, pipes, header markup, and everything else. Why can’t they all just get along?

So here’s my wiki wednesday invite:

June 6th will be Wiki Wednesday, with events in London, San Francisco, Montreal, and Vancouver. There’s also a wiki meetup in Sydney, Australia, June 12th.

Anyone is welcome to give a quick presentation, demo, or talk on using wiki and social media technology. We have an interesting mix of developers, wiki entrepeneurs, wiki editors and administrators, bloggers, and consultants. I wrote up the last London and Palo Alto meetings, so you can get an idea of what happens at the event.

In San Francisco, we’ll be meeting at Citizen Space at 6pm. Eugene Eric Kim is giving a talk on wiki interoperability and wiki ohana. He’ll describe real-world end-user pain, concrete opportunities (especially ways Wiki developers can help the entire space by improving their own tools), and a practical strategy (WikiOhana) for achieving interoperability. This could lead into a great discussion! I’m hoping we’ll hear as well about events at Recent Changes Camp Montreal (RoCoCo), which Eugene wrote up with some excitement in his blog, eek speaks. Check out his writeups of the recent Identity conference, too, he has some fantastic ideas. And just a heads up, in July, Eszter Hargittai will be our featured speaker for the SF Bay Area.

In London, Wiki Wednesday has become a large and vibrant get together. David Terrar has created a Ning page as well as a signup page on the wiki. The meeting will be at 18:15 at the Conchango offices.

In Vancouver, the event so far has a high amount of wiki software developers. Check the Wiki Wednesday page for details.

In Montreal, there will be a focus on continuing the discussions at Recent Changes Camp, but also there will be time for wiki project explanations and demos.

Please sign up if you’d like to come! You can sign in on the wiki page at:
http://socialtext.net/wikiwed

Or on the upcoming.org invite:
http://upcoming.yahoo.com/event/200305/

Also, if you are interested in presenting at a future Wiki Wednesday, or would like to organize one in your city, please let me know.

Thanks a million to Wiki Wednesday organizers David Terrar, Luke Closs, and James Matheson, as well as to Tara Hunt and Chris Messina from Citizen Agency.

I leave you with this photo by George Kelly, because it made me laugh really hard:

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Wiscon panels coming up, and some commentary on a game

Here’s my panels for Wiscon! I can’t wait!

Last year’s flirting panel was a blast and at this year’s followup I’m hoping to make a cool handout. Debbie says if I email her the stuff she’ll make the handout, because I have too much to do! One good technique “touch/don’t touch” is actually playing out mini scenarios and then switching roles, so that you get to do the no-saying and the no-recieving and get practice doing that gracefully on both sides. (Something I learned in anti-date-rape workshops in the 80s.) Another super great idea I learned from Ian K. Hagemann – to always thank a person who lets you know a boundary, because they are honoring you by communicating it instead of letting you continue to cross it in ignorance.

I don’t have any specific and book-focused panels this year – no time to prepare properly for that – But I can’t wait for the Karen Axness Memorial Panel where we all list great little-known books by women sf writers and there are always fabulous handouts that expand my reading list. I’m also excited to go to the cultural appropriation panels.

Speaking of cultural appropriation! I can bring a copy of this: Bone White, Blood Red: a roleplaying game of the Pueblo Revolt. It is written in the voice of “Spider Grandmother” and “Worn Pot” who teach Bear, Coyote, Wren, and Badger how to play the game. My immediate reaction is basically, “huh” and a stance of automatic suspicion against what I think of as Cherokee hair tampon syndrome.

The game would be rough for me and I would rather just have character sheets with the beads and string as a metaphor or an optional visual aid, as I could never remember all the details of which bead meant what without written notes. But I would certainly give the game a try and the difficulty of remembering stuff would be part of the point. (Would that difficulty be fun, though?) As the fictional in character bits in roleplaying game books go, this one is not bad at all.

So is it cultural appropriation? Well, yeah. Does that make it awful? It’s not a yes/no on/off answer. It means that it is open to some criticism and commentary, which game authors as well as book authors should listen to with an open mind and some humility, as the Spirit of the Century rpg authors recently did.

In other interesting gaming news, you can download and playtest Steal Away Jordan. The players all play slaves in the U.S.

Your name
Your name is not your own. If you were born into slavery, your parents may not have had much say in the choosing. The name your master calls you may not be the name your relations use in private. If you run away, you will change your name. Therefore, the GM chooses your name, but you may pick a nickname.

That’s pretty interesting! You can read a report and discussion thread of a playtest game on The Forge.

Anyway here’s my Wiscon panels!

===============

Feminist SF Wiki Workshop
in Caucus Room (Time to be determined)

Come learn about the Feminstsf wiki, learn what wikis are and how to edit them, contribute your ideas, creativity, and feminist vision to the wiki.
Equipment: projector that can plug into a laptop, and a screen
Length: 70 minutes
Laura M. Quilter, Liz Henry

Please Touch/Don’t Touch (Feminism, Sex, and Gender)
Friday, 8:45-10:00 p.m. Friday, 8:45-10:00 p.m. Friday, 8:45-10:00 p.m.
One of the many qualities which sets WisCon apart from most other SF conventions is the perception that, for one weekend a year, the Concourse is a safe and inclusive space for SF fans of all genders, orientations, identities, races, and religions. Many people have commented that this extra level of comfort seems to create a very “touchy-feely” environment, with a lot more casual physical contact between old friends and new acquaintance, and a very different, (more open?) environment for flirting and hook-ups. But not everyone is quite so comfortable with such a relaxed atmosphere… Where do you draw the lines between casual and significant, affection and flirting, too much and not enough? How do the conditions change from situation to situation? And how do you tell someone to “back off”… or deal gracefully when someone else lets you know that you’ve crossed a line?
Karen Swanberg, M: Debbie Notkin, Mary Kay Kare, Liz Henry, Jed E. Hartman

Let’s You And Her Fight (Feminism, Sex, and Gender)
Sunday, 10:00-11:15 a.m. Sunday, 10:00-11:15 a.m. Sunday, 10:00-11:15 a.m.
This year there was a panel about how to flirt at Wiscon. Next year I’d like to see a panel on how to fight at Wiscon. It’s not bad to want to get along; but it is when that urge causes us not to speak our minds in public, and leaves us gr umbling in private. How do you speak up and explain that you think the respected panel member is talking out of her hat, while maintaining a friendly attitude towards someone who is, after all, a fellow feminist and fan? Ideally people will get a chance to practice. I would particularly like to draft Steven Schwartz for this panel.
Steven E. Schwartz, Liz Henry, Joan Haran, M: Alan Bostick, Lee Abuabara

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Patriarchy exists and we’re kicking its ass

My blood is BOILING WITH RAGE from reading about the threats and extreme harassment that people made against Kathy Sierra.

And I wish I could ride in on my warhorse and help fix it, but I can’t. I’m not even surprised at the threats and harassment. That stuff and real life acting out of it happens every minute of the day. The surprising thing is someone speaking up *in public* in her own voice, unmediated.

Kathy rocks for speaking up. She rocks for calling this out and exposing it on her blog. She rocks for calling the cops and the FBI, and for saying so. She wasn’t shamed into silence or afraid of being called “too sensitive” or “humorless”, two things which often stop women from speaking up. I admire Kathy’s strength. I imagine the moment after she wrote that post, when she was looking at the “Publish” button and wondering whether to push it. I’m glad she did. I’m inspired, and I take her public response as a good example.

My immediate, visceral reaction is this:

You know what, jerks, bring it on. I’m not afraid and none of that shit will ever, ever, shut me up.

I really like what Dannie Jost said in Kathy’s comments:

On the grand scale of things, this is very unfortunate and totally unacceptable, it is however necessary to continue the fight which is nothing more than a fight for human rights and dignity. Learn to deal with your fear, do not let them win…

Molly Holzschlag added in the same vein:

I’ve always believed this is a self-correcting community. Well folks, we need to correct this absolutely unacceptable, abusive, illegal and heinous behavior.

Kathy, your community is with you. Your abusers will not win this one, oh no, unless they are ready to take on the rest of us, who greatly outnumber these sick and twisted people who are obviously jealous of your success.

Keep being yourself, don’t stop and let the bastards EVER win.

Thanks for those thoughts, Molly, I knew I liked you!

I’d like to link out further to reclusive leftist, who describes the exhaustion we experience as women bloggers:

Every time I read somebody saying that patriarchy doesn’t exist anymore, feminism’s won, etc., etc., I think, try being a feminist blogger for a while. Or if you already are a feminist blogger, wait a bit until the shit finds you. Or try doing online research on anything connected to feminism and find yourself shoulder-deep in a slime pit of woman-hating so toxic it makes you want to weep with fear and despair.

I do feel that fairly often — but in this case, am more angry than despairing.

Some commenters mentioned a book called “The Gift of Fear” which sounds interesting but also maddening. I get the idea it’s to tell women that if they start feeling afraid they should pay attention to that and get the hell out of dodge. SCREW THAT. Like we need any more “chilling effect”? How about a book called “The Gift of Total Rage” or “The Gift of Collective Action To Overthrow Patriarchy,” suckers. To hell with fear.

Now let’s kick some ass.

I’d like to make a call to action. When this kind of shit happens, we’ll call it out and document it in public. Call it in the moment. Call it in front of your coworkers. Call it if it’s major or if it’s minor, it’s all part of the same spectrum of misogynist behavior. How about just saying, once in a while, right in the moment if you can, “That’s not funny,” when it’s really not. Say it crosses your boundaries. Say it’s not acceptable to you. This takes practice, but with time, we can all do it and find strength in numbers.

Update: Really good post from Min Jung Kim, It’s awful, yes. I’m happy to see people like Robert Scoble and Mike Arrington speaking up in support of Kathy, and considering the times they didn’t speak up. So I hope they hear Min Jung’s points about the pressures on women to be anonymous online, and in particular, Asian American women:

it is also important to be quite clear that this is not the first time this has happened.

It’s just the first time it’s happened to someone that you know.

You see, I’ve known several other women (specifically Asian American women bloggers – Comabound, BadGrrl, C., A., J.,N, etc) who have had to pull down their blogs, shuttle from one domain to another, remain utterly anonymous, password protect their sites, or give up their online communities altogether. The list is longer than I’d like.

Why? Oh yes, stalkers. Rape fantasies. Obsessed emails. Comment trolling.

Threatening notices. IM harassments. Flowers sent to your work office. Etc.

I’ve gotten them all too.

This is NOT NEW.

We could also do well to think about the reaction to this situation and what was the blogosphere-wide reaction to that dude who was harassing Lynne D. Johnson so bad a couple of years ago? (Here’s some links on that incident: Hip Hop Hates Me; krispexgate; That damn lesbo; xxl mag online.

My own reaction at the time? Did I say anything? I can’t remember. Makes you think doesn’t it?

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