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Anniversaries

Apr. 16th, 2014 11:23 pm
[personal profile] strangecharm
"I think it was April 18th," James said to me. "Which will be next Friday. I won't see you Friday, but I will see you Saturday."

I'm not too worried about anniversaries, as previously noted. It's nice to think we've been at this a whole year now, though. Yesterday, after lunch and with nothing good on at the cinema, and not wanting to bother Andrew while he was working from home, we spent the afternoon lying in the grass in a park, soaking up the sunshine. Oh yeah, I remember this, I thought. We used to do this! And now we can again, so it must be a new year.

As we all learned from Spaced, anniversaries are about whatever you mark as important, and while Friday makes sense -- it was a day that ended with the world seeming drastically different than it had at the beginning -- there are two others that stick in my mind.

The first one would've been a year ago yesterday, I see (because it handily involved a timestamped comment). Yesterday I might have been lying next to him in the park, but a year ago yesterday I remember almost as well. I had a long day -- week -- of work ahead of me.

I saw that I had an e-mail just as I was leaving the house that morning, so absentmindedly opened it on my phone in case it was work-related, and saw it was a reply to a rather vague comment I'd left: I'd found a quote from a Terry Pratchett book that seemed to describe my melancholy rather well, and in the first comment James added another good metaphor from Hitch-Hikers about flying being a matter of aiming at the ground and missing because you got distracted, and about failing to get distracted. When I said that I too felt like I'd been hitting the ground from a great height...thats when I got this reply that actually stopped me in my tracks as I was just about to unlock the front door and go to work.

"If you give me a shout, I'll try to catch you," he said.

I didn't stop theatrically, I had no audience. But it was a perfect external expression of my internal state. I had to stop because something in this sentence made me have to rearrange my thoughts about this person. James and I had been chatting in e-mail for a week or two by this point, mostly just about how our days were going or whatever. It was nice and had helped me through some tedious times, but I hadn't ascribed too much meaning to it. But now...what was this? What kind of way is this to talk? Should I be making anything of it at all? Maybe he's just being nice. But, looking back on it now I can realize that it didn't feel like that. And that I didn't want him to be just being nice.

The world looked different already by the time I finally opened the door to go to work.

Later that day I stood in front of a room of people, asking them questions, posed to write their answers on a flipchart next to me, grinning more than the external situation warranted because I was still thinking Someone wants to catch me if I need it. And I'd had no idea until now. I marveled at a world that had such wonders in it.

I was going to talk about the other day from a year ago that I'm thinking of, but it's taken me all day to do this, and the anniversary of that isn't for a few more days, I'll leave it for now.
[personal profile] jimhines

I will be totally, absolutely honest with you here. I wasn’t really expecting to like Mary Robinette Kowal‘s Shades of Milk and Honey [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy].

It’s nothing to do with Kowal or her writing. I’ve adored other things I’ve read by her. I’ve nominated and voted for some of her work for various awards. She’s a good writer. But this one just didn’t look or sound like my kind of book. The description, “Like Jane Austen wrote a fantasy novel” didn’t hit any of my buttons, and I’m afraid the cover art didn’t help. (The newer editions of this series have different and much improved artwork, in my opinion.)

I tend to prefer more action in my plots, more humor and fun in my fiction … which I’m sure comes as a tremendous shock to anyone who’s read my stuff. So it took me a while to pull this one off of Mount ToBeRead…

…at which point I devoured the story, finishing the book in three days, and sacrificing a bit of sleep in the process.

Here’s the publisher’s description:

…an intimate portrait of Jane Ellsworth, a woman ahead of her time in a world where the manipulation of glamour is considered an essential skill for a lady of quality. But despite the prevalence of magic in everyday life, other aspects of Dorchester’s society are not that different: Jane and her sister Melody’s lives still revolve around vying for the attentions of eligible men.

Jane resists this fate, and rightly so: while her skill with glamour is remarkable, it is her sister who is fair of face, and therefore wins the lion’s share of the attention. At the ripe old age of twenty-eight, Jane has resigned herself to being invisible forever. But when her family’s honor is threatened, she finds that she must push her skills to the limit in order to set things right—and, in the process, accidentally wanders into a love story of her own.

There are a few action-type scenes toward the end, but for the most part, this is a relatively quiet book. And I loved it. I loved the characters. I loved the relationships between them, and the way Jane’s insecurities crashed into those of her sister, and the conflicts that ensued. I loved the language, which was careful and formal without ever feeling stilted or stuffy.

The magic was particularly enjoyable. In a genre that includes Gandalf and Dumbledore, the glamours of Kowal’s world are relatively limited in scope: the manipulation of light and sound to craft illusions. It’s seen as a lady’s skill, like painting watercolors or playing a musical instrument. But Jane is very skilled and passionate about her art, and it draws you in until a scene about crafting an illusory birch grove is as thrilling as any battle between heroes and goblins.

Certain elements and twists in the story felt a little predictable, but I wasn’t reading for the plot twists. I was reading for the sheer enjoyment. And I was kicking myself for not reading it sooner.

You can read the first two chapters at Kowal’s website, and I strongly encourage you to do so.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

[syndicated profile] uk_polling_report_feed

Posted by Anthony Wells

Tonight’s YouGov poll for the Sun has topline figures of CON 33%, LAB 39%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 11%. A rather more typical six point Labour lead after a three pointer yesterday.

[syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed

Posted by John Scalzi

Subterranean Press has has more news of the signed, limited edition of the “Unlocked” novella — and if you pre-order in the next couple of days, US shipping will be free. Free, I tell you! SubPress does excellent versions of my work, and this one will be no exception — I’ve already seen the layout and it’s lovely.

Remember that the printed version of “Unlocked” actually is limited, as in, once this signed edition is all gone, there will be no more. So if you want one, move fast. Here’s the pre-order page.

Also, for those of you interested in getting a signed version of Lock In, but are uncertain if you will be able to track me down on my tour, SubPress is also offering pre-orders of signed versions of the novel  – i.e., I will haul my carcass to the SubPress offices, sign a bunch of copies of Lock In, and then they will ship a copy to you, should you be inclined to have one. And you do! I know you do. I can see it in your eyes.


Con Diary: Emerald City Comicon Day 2

Apr. 16th, 2014 08:00 pm
[syndicated profile] womenwriteaboutcomic_feed

Posted by Adrienne Marie

I was taken to my very first con in 2011 by my unapologetically geeky, big sister. Back then, Emerald City Comic Con’s exhibition floor spanned only half of the fourth floor’s ballrooms. In 2014, the entire Washington State Convention Centre is home to the northwest coast’s premiere comic book and pop culture convention. With so much to see and do, how will a 3 day pass begin to cover it?

Day 2: Today was the day I was supposed to don my first cosplay costume with my friends as the gender bent Avengers (Lady Hawkeye here). Due to some extenuating personal circumstances, the costume was never finished. Alas, I was delegated to holding Lady Thor’s things while she posed for pictures. I make a pretty decent shield maiden, I suppose.

The first thing we did was attend a panel called “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back…Again.” This is one of a series of panels that Emerald City holds every year, featuring a group of the attending voice actors. They read out several scenes from Star Wars in chronological order, each time reading a different character in a random voice, as chosen by the moderator. By the end of the panel, my face hurt from laughter, as there is nothing like a romantic scene between Bart Simpson as Princess Leia and Kermit the Frog as Han Solo. Special surprise guest John DiMaggio had us in stitches, narrating as Tracy Morgan, but it was Andrea Libman who had both the panelists and the crowd laughing uncontrollably when she narrated as what I assumed was one of the characters from My Little Pony. Her voice was very high-pitched, insanely quick, and immensely entertaining.

Most of the day was spent exploring the vast show floor, both the fourth floor ballrooms and the second and third floor exhibits as well. I confess that I am not very good in crowds. I get anxious and very irritated when I’m so closed in. That being said, although Emerald City has almost quadrupled in size since my first attendance, I didn’t have much trouble navigating the crowds. Attendees were friendly and polite, although you did get the odd group who stopped smack in the middle of a walkway. Walking around with Lady Thor was always amusing, especially when my dear friend was very enthusiastic about her character. Several other Avengers cosplayers greeted us with laughs as she addressed them all by “friend” and their surname (with the exception of one surly “friend Rogers”). At least one Loki was told that he was adopted, while just about everything was followed by “for Aasgard!” I love my friends. Every year one of my favourite exhibits at Emerald City is the Lego display by Brick Con. I am never disappointed by the imagination and skill of the exhibitors. This year there was a full display of both Lake Town and Rivendell from The Hobbit (and a memorable scene with the Nazgul from Lord of the Rings).

After the emotional panel with Dean Trippe yesterday, I wanted to talk to him again, and not only bought his “You’re Safe Here” poster, but also let him know how moving I found him and Kate. We ended up chatting for a bit and when I revealed how emotional the panel made me, he came around the table and gave me a big hug. Meeting him was definitely one of the highlights of the weekend.

Dean Trippe

Every year Emerald City has a costume masquerade. My very first year, it was the highlight of the weekend. There were so many excellent costumes and the organizers kept the atmosphere fun and hassle free. The fellow who won was dressed as the best Wonder Woman I have ever seen; every woman in the room was envious. The following year something had gone wrong and the organizers couldn’t get their shit together. We waited 45 minutes for it to start before walking out. Last year we gave it another shot only to have them change the rules—we would only see three of the best costumes per category that had been pre-chosen. Not only was that completely boring, but the hosts were absolutely ridiculous, in the most humourless way possible. This year we got wind that they would have a “funny” theme again and decided to skip the party. I’m not sure how it went, but I am just fine with that decision.

Things I learned: it’s always funnier when Bart Simpson is voicing it; Dean Trippe has the biggest heart.

Corporeal asks: Will the dog bark

Apr. 16th, 2014 07:42 pm
[syndicated profile] political_betting_feed

Posted by TSE

Sex and politics is an explosive mix and one that has driven a lot of scandals in British history, from Parnell’s divorce through the Profumo affair, Jeremy Thorpe, and up to the present day scandals to not even scratch the surface. The most recent rumours (that I happily don’t know enough about to make any troublesome innocent faces) aren’t either as influential or as shocking (the Duchess of Argyll’s divorce case is inexplicably obscure now) as the most infamous historical episodes, but sit comfortably on the lower level of dirty laundry that comes around regularly.

Actually regularly is an understatement, the rumours or stories are constant and familiar to almost anyone with any familiarity with politics, and particularly the world of young activists or staffers. It’s not even an open secret, it’s just open.

It’s tempting to suggest that this is just the revelations of close observation, the only difference with politicians is the microscope applied to them. No doubt if you trained a magnifying lens on any sector of society you’d find plenty of ongoing goings-on, but there is far more to it than that, a confluence of factors that breed a particular type of environment.

Power is its own particular type of aphrodisiac, but political power brings an extra ideological edge to it. If power is sexy then righteousness mixed with power is another level again, and a sense of shared righteousness is beyond even that.

So much for attraction, politics also provides opportunity (or risk, depending on your perspective). Frequent stays away from home at a second address, leaving aside the intense communality of election campaigns or party conferences  (and by-elections are notorious for people being thrown together and then getting together).

So much for the backroom party gossip, there is also a darker more unsavoury side to it.

Politics also places a lot of young and comparatively powerless people close alongside older, more elevated and revered persons and this kind of structure lends itself unpleasant results. Rennard-gate was disheartening (particularly for Lib Dems) not just because of the allegations themselves, or the “investigation”, but that certain older Lords suggested that low level sexual harassment, the not-that-occasional grope is expected and also nothing to worry about.

They are utterly and disgustingly wrong on the second point, and depressingly accurate on the first one. As with expenses, politics is often at the back of the line for modernisation, the culture still hangs over a lot of Westminster and this is especially true of the Lords with its older membership.

Sarah Wollaston MP passed police contact details to people who came to her with allegations, since the acquittal she’s faced everything from apology demands to House of Cards style conspiracy theories. Whatever you think of the investigation itself helping someone who wishes to contact the police do so is surely the correct action here. That she has been vilified in some quarters reflects badly on the critics rather than on her.

The unique nature of political parties is itself a contributing factor, not least in its inherent discouragement of reporting. The victims of the harassment have a personal commitment to the party and so a vested interest in avoiding any public relations damage. Equally there aren’t really any alternative parties to shift to, allegiance is largely defined by personal principle so a shift of organisations is both harder than moving companies and comes with a certain stigma.

Alongside that there is the notoriously murky world of party advancement, something so subjective that it defies transparency. Nepotism scratches the back of cronyism behind principle compatibility, personal rapport and political alliance where a good word in the right ear goes a long way, and a reputation for kicking up a fuss can follow you even further. It all adds up to pressure to keep quiet, smile, and get along.

The traditional method of discipline is the party whip, whose role of enforcing party loyalty to maintain a positive public image leaves them in a less than ideal (to say the very least, and not even mentioning their personal working relationship with the MPs) position to act in such cases,

The unusual nature of politics means it is more vulnerable to these kind of incidents, but the protections have traditionally been far laxer than other workplaces.

The Rennard allegations were one of the most disappointing things I’ve heard as a Lib Dem, not least for the comments by some of the Lords excusing them. Nigel Evans was acquitted, but the spotlight on his behaviour has brought an anonymous wave of stories detailing various levels of sexual harrassment.

What depresses me further is my conviction that whatever the truth (or not) of those two sets of high profile allegations, what they have brought is attention into a culture of harassment puttering along below the surface, while the circumstances that allow it to perpetuate are largely still in place. This is not all MPs by any means, but it seems reasonable to call it a significant number.

The question now is whether anyone is actually going to do anything. Will the party hierarchies fear what they might find if they went looking, or rather do they fear what they might have to admit to already knowing about if they stopped looking the other way? Will the Commons authorities feel strongly enough about the ‘integrity and honour of the House’ to get really involved? Many of the tales after all are taking place literally on their turf in the Parliamentary bars.  How hard and for how long will the media investigate and keep the story going?

Westminster was rocked by the expenses scandal, not that it was going on, but that the media informed the public about it (and the public really cared). Will anyone care as much about widespread allegations of sexual harassment?

So far we have a third of young men and women working in parliament reporting suffering sexual harassment, and the party whips have been told to tighten things up, opening of hotlines and independent complaints processes, and a promise to look into reform of procedures.

I hope the commitments are followed through on, proper reforms, pathways, structures, and all the rest of it are put into place, I hope they work. Although the Chairman of the 1922 committee has already pointed out problems in the Conservative plans there are improvements being made, or at least touted. But if I’m honest I’m sceptical, and cynical, and doubting of how much of a cultural change will happen and how long it will take. I doubt in the hope of being proven wrong.

I (and I should mention I’ve never been more than on the very humble outer fringes of politics) have heard for years now that this is a hurricane just waiting to touch down, and when it breaks it’ll be a massive scandal. So far, still up in the air. Isolated cases come and go but the big picture stays under wraps.

Will this be the time everything breaks open? I hope so, but sadly I doubt it. I’d encourage you to read the articles that are written with more anonymous anecdotes but don’t worry if you miss them, I suspect they’ll all get written again next year when he have another isolated incident that happens to make the news.

Corporeal

rmc28: Photo of me shortly before starting my first half-marathon (Default)

Link soup

Apr. 16th, 2014 08:30 pm
[personal profile] rmc28
Haven't done one of these for a while, but it's always fun (and will reduce the number of tabs I have open)

Captain America: Winter Soldier
We went away on holiday just after the film opened in North America, and the great outpouring of fannish response happened.

So, there was [personal profile] musesfool posting after seeing an early preview in New York: http://musesfool.dreamwidth.org/648436.html and [personal profile] selenak who posted after seeing it in Germany shortly after I saw it in the UK: http://selenak.dreamwidth.org/973500.html

Two different long thoughtful pieces on the politics of the film:
http://coffeeandink.dreamwidth.org/2014/04/04/captain-america-winter-soldier.html
http://thingswithwings.dreamwidth.org/213279.html

A links roundup so I don't have to (which includes a link to [personal profile] coffeeandink 's links roundup): http://musesfool.dreamwidth.org/653272.html
A couple of fic-rec posts: http://kate-nepveu.dreamwidth.org/898144.html (also includes review/meta) and http://tielan.dreamwidth.org/701766.html


Parenting
http://www.cuppacocoa.com/a-better-way-to-say-sorry/
http://www.cuppacocoa.com/preventing-misbehavior-what-every-parent-should-know/
http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/04/12/opinion/sunday/raising-a-moral-child.html

Misc
Changes in the population / behaviour of people in public space (in New York) between the 1950s and now (a couple of months old, but I looked it up for someone else this week, so may as well mention it again). http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/19/magazine/technology-is-not-driving-us-apart-after-all.html

Unisex toiletries aimed at the teenage market (which for sure needs it): http://www.samfarmer.co/ Once I've caught up my accounts, I'm seriously tempted to see if I can afford some of these pour encourager l'auteur

A lovely poem (The Sciences Sing a Lullabye, by Albert Goldbarth): http://strangecharm.dreamwidth.org/186551.html
[syndicated profile] skepchick_feed

Posted by Rebecca Watson

Several years ago, I was living on my own in Boston (well, the ridiculously nicer town of Brookline, to be honest). I left a Somerville bar after the subway had stopped running, so I hopped in a cab for the fairly quick trip home.

I love cab drivers, and when I’m in the mood, I like talking to them because so many are from places I’ve never been and have interesting stories. That night, my driver was Muhammad from Morocco, a place I’ve always wanted to visit. We talked about what it was like there, and how easy it would be to get around as a foreigner, and how tough the language barrier might be.

About 20 minutes later, we were a block from my apartment. I let Muhammad know that he could pull over wherever was convenient. He asked which building, and I said, “Oh, just up there, so anywhere around here should be fine.”

“This building?”

“Um, yes, but just pull over wherever, really!”

Instead of pulling over to the right, he turned to the left into a parking spot and turned off the car and the meter.

“Ummmm,” I said, “so how much do I owe you?”

“Oh,” he said while turning around in his seat, “it’s okay, we should just talk a bit more.”

I tried to hand him $20, and he grabbed my wrist and pulled me through the window between the front and back seats. He tried to kiss me on the mouth but I turned and pulled away, so he only brushed up against my cheek. I dropped the money and jumped out of the car, dashed across the street, and ran up to my apartment on the third floor. Inside, I locked the door and then felt my way to my bedroom without turning on the lights, fearing that he’d see my window light up and know which apartment was mine.

It was a singular incident for me, and one that I recounted several times for friends as a funny anecdote. It was the final ridiculous thing to happen to me in a string of ridiculous things that had happened all that day. I haven’t really thought about it much in the intervening years.

This past Saturday night, I waited in a New York bar for my friends to finish their last drinks so that we could go back to our hotel. I wanted to go about an hour earlier, but I was waiting to split a cab for the 20 short blocks. As the bartender settled up, I realized that my friends weren’t going back to the hotel, but were heading to another bar. One friend gave me some cash for the cab, and I left on my own.

Out on the street, traffic was light and cabs seemed plentiful, but after a moment of hesitation, I decided to just walk. I was in midtown Manhattan on 7th – not a particularly scary part of town, even at 2am. Still, though, I was really tired, and I had a blister on one of my feet, and I realized at some point that I really would rather just be in a cab. I couldn’t figure out why, then, I wasn’t hailing one. After several blocks, I thought of the Boston incident and wondered if maybe that’s why I hate taking cabs late at night by myself these days.

Literally as I was pondering that, a man passed me and made a comment about the hotness of my hair. I couldn’t quite hear him and I didn’t stop to get a clarification. He reached for me but I quickened my pace and he didn’t follow.

Half a block later, another man walked up to me and offered me $1,000 if I’d let him do unspeakable things to me. Again, I didn’t respond, nor did I slow my pace. One of the first lessons I learned in Getting Street Harassed University was Just Keep Going Because Maybe He Will Decide to Murder You and People Will Say It Was Your Fault. He said something else I couldn’t make out.

As I passed that guy, a third man fell in beside me and matched my pace.

“Oh my god, did that guy really just say that to you?”

“I guess,” I shrugged, eyes straight ahead and still keeping my pace.

“I can’t believe he said that. I bet a girl like you gets shit like that all the time.”

I shrugged. “Whatever.”

“I bet you got some stories. I bet we got a lot in common. We’d have some good conversations.”

“Whatever, man, I’m just trying to get home to my boyfriend.”

“Your boyfriend ain’t here. He can wait.”

“Sorry, dude.”

“Come on…”

“Nope.”

“Maaaaaan (unintelligible cursing)….”

I continued walking straight ahead and he turned away. Just then, a group of guys approached me. “I bet she’ll give you her number,” one said to the other. I passed them. “Will you?” one shouted from behind me. “No,” I shouted without turning around.

Four come-ons in two blocks: a new record for me! For the next few blocks back to the hotel, I wondered if it would have been less upsetting to deal with one guy in an enclosed space who could drive me wherever he wanted, or several dozen guys in an open space gauntlet who could follow me or drag me wherever they wanted. Then I thought a bit about how unfair it is that that’s even something I have to think about. Then I thought about how my parents raised me on the phrase, “Well, life’s not fair,” and I hurried back to my hotel where I slipped into bed with my boyfriend.

“I’m never letting you out of my sight again,” he said. I laughed and told him it wasn’t that big a deal, that it’s just been awhile since I’ve had that much harassment in one short time period, and that it didn’t bother me that much, but even while I said it I knew that at least two of those statements weren’t entirely truthful.

The next morning, I Tweeted/Facebooked this:

New record set last night: 4 come-ons within 2 short blocks. Fave: “I’ll give you $1k if you let me…” @everydaysexism

(If you’re not aware, @EverydaySexism catalogues daily examples of things like street harassment and assault.)

One of the Facebook responses was this, from someone I don’t know named Joshua:

So it’s apparently now sexist to approach a female with sexual interest? Awesome.

My first thought was this:

finger face

My response was this:

Omg who is this dumbass on my feed, ha ha

He’s a ferengi

Hello feeeeeemale, I am approaching you with sexual interest and offering two bars of latinum

I’ll be honest, that made me laugh and laugh. Joshua posted again to say this:

Discounting the one offering money; Wait, wait, wait… I think I know how it goes…

1) Male initiates come-on
2) Female declines
3) Male respectfully accepts declination
4) Male gets called names on the internet
5) Female rights have been upheld.

And finally I unfriended him, because, really, you know you don’t have much going in the logic department when to even try to make an argument you have to begin by discounting the only example your opponent gave you. It’s my experience that people who are so indoctrinated and unable to think critically about their own viewpoint (in this case, the view that it is somehow anti-man for a woman to use her personal Facebook page to complain about unnamed (and un-gendered) strangers offering her money for sex) are not worth arguing with. They’re only good to bat around like a catnip mouse for a few amusing moments before discarding.

I thought that would be the end of it, but (and I still can’t even believe this happened as I’m typing this) Joshua then had the audacity to send this email in to the podcast I co-host, The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe:

From: Joshua [redacted]

Email: [redacted]

Location: UK

Category: Feedback

Subject: Leaving the SGU

Message: Dear SGU,

I’m writing to say a farewell to the SGU… Recently I had a minor altercation with Rebecca Watson regarding an issue of sexism. This was my first ever direct contact with a SGU member, taking place on the above named’s Facebook wall in response to a post I didn’t think warranted the sexism ‘label’, and I was excited for a discussion that would result in my own enlightenment and clarification of an issue that I’m interested in, albeit not especially knowledgeable of.

However… When, what I thought, I provided comments that would elicit clarification of an issue or incite an explanation, Rebecca instead resorted to insulting me. This was… surprising… As I previously stated, this was my first direct communication with an SGU member. The latter of which, without providing any thoughtful commentary, called me a “dumbass”, “stupid”, and even likened my physical appearance to that of a ‘Ferengi’. If I’m truly honest, this hurt my feelings. Quite substantially. It almost feels like a pillar of confidence has broken away. I’ve listened to the SGU for literally years, and you guys have brought me through some incredibly tough times. I’m now a working research assistant at a university, and frequently use the SGU as a source of my argument skills, insight and critical thinking within debate. All five of you have inspired me deeply, and I admire you all, regardless of this setback. However, I honestly feel quite heart-broken about this altercation. I did not mean to offend Rebecca, and if I unintentionally did I at least wouldn’t have expected the response I received.

I apologise for sounding melodramatic, but moving forward I don’t think I can continue to listen to the SGU. This perturbs me a lot, but whilst listening to you guys, specifically Rebecca, I will only be reminded this episode, doubtlessly questioning ‘How could someone I’ve admired for so long judge me so harshly without giving any second thought’. I mean, this is literally a case of one of my sceptical heroes defying all of my conceptions of them, and personally attacking me on a relatively public medium. This leaves me a little heartbroken, but I feel I need to send this email, not with the expectancy of a response, but for my own personal closure.

Thank you for everything you have taught me, and I wish you all the best of luck in the future.

Joshua [redacted]

I wasn’t planning to respond to this, and was happy just to have actual proof that mocking someone like this does actually hurt his feelings. One might even hope that he might have the self-awareness to realize if he was that hurt by a stranger calling him a Ferengi in a Facebook conversation, maybe women might be hurt by many strangers constantly calling them sex objects as they try to walk down the street unmolested.

But after reading the Facebook thread, Steve Novella did respond. His response is more than sufficient, I think:

Joshua,

Thanks for writing. I think either you are missing the context here, in which case I can enlighten you, or you are perfectly aware of the context here.

Here is what you wrote:
“So it’s apparently now sexist to approach a female with sexual interest? Awesome.”

This is not a genuine question. The “awesome” at the end clearly makes it a negative and sarcastic commentary.

Rebecca was recounting how she was harassed on the streets, including one person directly offering her money if she would pleasure him. Your comment was clearly dismissive. If you were genuinely confused you could have actually asked a question, and if you were the slightest bit savvy you would have included a disclaimer so that your comment would not be confused for sexist trolling.

The larger context here also is that Rebecca and other female skeptics have been under constant online harassment by sexists and misogynists in the movement. So yeah, they’re a bit sensitive to that kind of trolling.

For the record she also did not compare your physical appearance to a Ferengi. She compared the attitude in your comment to that of a Ferengi – and even gave a specific example.

So – giving you the benefit of the doubt, at best you naively stepped into a touchy issue unaware of the history and grossly misinterpreted the situation. If you genuinely are interested in learning why your average woman does not like being cat called on the streets late at night in the middle of New York, then you might try apologizing for your insensitivity and asking more appropriate questions.

You must understand, however, that your behavior, including this e-mail, are indistinguishable from the all-too-common sexist trolling that we get. So at this point you really should just apologize or go away.

Regards,

Steve

(Previously in amazing Steve Novella responses…)

[personal profile] james_davis_nicoll
Sorry, not cute. I misspelled "steadfastly provincial in the manner of persons from great empires".

[syndicated profile] womenwriteaboutcomic_feed

Posted by Megan Byrd

Lumberjanes, the highly anticipated new mini series from Boom! Studios, made its debut this past Noelle Stevenson, Challengers Comics 2014Wednesday. Co-writer Noelle Stevenson stopped by Challengers Comics + Conversation in Chicago, IL for a flannel filled signing.

On our way to Challengers for the Noelle Stevenson signing, I began to suspiciously eye each person on the bus wearing flannel. Were they heading to the Lumberjanes signing? Some of them were; in my mind, the others were still unknowingly supporting the new comic book series. Once I arrived at the store there was no doubt who the fans were. The staff on hand were all wearing flannel, though co-owner Pat Brower sheepishly admitted his plaid tie was the closest thing he had to match. It’s hard to imagine co-owner Dal Bush ever wearing flannel, and he in fact wore his signature suit and tie for the event. Noelle herself could have stepped out of the pages of Lumberjanes, sporting a red flannel and denim vest. We spoke briefly with the Lumberjanes co-writer before the start of the signing. It’s been a busy month launching the new series, with Stevenson making con appearances nearly every weekend for the past month and attending several signings to promote the book. We were happy to hear that the series was being enthusiastically embraced by fans and retailers alike. The online fan base the series has already built is impressive in their enthusiasm as evidenced by the number of fans that snapped photos wearing flannel with their purchases this past Wednesday. Pat Brower confirmed that the first issue has already sold out from the publisher within the first week, a good sign that BOOM! Studios has a hit on their hands with this all-ages friendly title.

Challengers was one of several retailers to commission an exclusive retailer cover. Kali Ciesemier illustrated the naked variant featuring the main characters in a canoe, embarking on adventures with “friendship to the max” as the new series has promised to deliver. The back cover of the variant also includes a Challengers’ exclusive merit badge design. These details made the retailer incentive truly enticing, and many attending the signing chose to pick up extra copies for friends. The cover for Lumberjanes wasn’t the only thing that stood out upon entering the store. The music was notable as well, skipping from Taylor Swift to Spice Girls to Stevie Nicks. This was clearly no random shuffle. According to co-owner Pat, Noelle specifically requested the music for the signing. Included in the final pages of the first issue you will find a playlist for a mixed CD created by Lumberjane April, and we were all getting a sampling of its contents. We’re hoping future issues will include playlists from the rest of the characters.

Check out the rest of the photos from this event, including fans holding their own copies of the book and quite possibly the youngest Lumberjanes fan to request a signed copy of the first issue. You can also read a review of the debut issue here.

Click to view slideshow.

Invincible

Apr. 16th, 2014 03:59 pm
[syndicated profile] robert_sharp_feed

Posted by Robert

Over the weekend I went to see Invincble at the Orange Tree in Richmond, a new play by Torben Betts.  Its the kind of theatre I prefer: intimiate scenes in-the-round, teasing apart something relevant about contemporary life.

This one centres on an upper middle-class couple, Oliver and Emily, with a tragedy in their past and an warped sense of social responsibility.  They have chosen to live among ‘ordinary’ people in the North of England.  Rather than live in a middle-class ghetto and contribute to the extortionate London housing bubble, they profess a desire to improve this community.  Emily plans to become a school governor and says she is setting up an Amnesty group and an artists’ collective.

But its all a facade.  Their neighbour Alan has a cat, which they hate and eventually murder.  Thry cringe at Alan’s love of beer and football.  They are at first patronising, and then incredibly snide about his attempts to paint.  Quickly, they alienate themselves from the community they hoped to improve.

The couple eventually come into an inheritance, and immediately make the selfish choice to leave.  Even Emily, the righteous, organic fair trade Amnesty arts collective school governor daughter of Quakers, needs barely any persuasion to abandon her communitarian principles and move to Highgate, where the schools are better.  Alan and his wife Dawn are abandoned to their preordained fate: spiralling credit card debt, monotony at work.  For their son in the army, death awaits on the streets of Kabul.

The question Torben Bett’s puts to the audience is whether we would do any different.  Probably not.  What parent would choose to risk their kids’ education on a failing school.  What mother would approve of her son being sent to die in Afghanistan?  Like the rest of us, neither Alan or Emily are inclined to abandon their culture or their comfort for an ideal that the political system will not support.  Ultimately, its an argument for socialism—some things we support in principle we’re just too selfish (or perhaps, self-interested) to do in practice, so we need the collective power of the state to create a better environment for us.

[syndicated profile] tim_worstall_forbes_feed

Posted by Tim Worstall

The aim and purpose of a welfare system is to provide the maximum benefit to the recipients at the least cost to ourselves. This seems like a fairly logical thing to be aiming for too. However, there’s good evidence that the current US welfare system simply doesn’t do this. So, the argument then becomes how can we improve that welfare system in order to increase the benefits to the recipients or, perhaps, to reduce the costs to ourselves as taxpayers. To which the most obvious answer is to abolish the system of giving people benefits in kind, things like SNAP, or food stamps, Section 8 housing vouchers, Medicaid, and simply give them money instead.

My example comes from this little story:

The way the scam worked was recipients would come into the store and pretend to purchase food. The willing cashier then swipes the Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card and reaches into the cash register and produces the cash, taking his or her cut.

This was just one store. One imagines the arrests were the exception. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the program, “In FY 2012, over 100 analysts and investigators reviewed over 15,000 stores and conducted nearly 4,500 undercover investigations. Close to 1,400 stores were permanently disqualified for trafficking [converting benefits into cash] and nearly 700 stores were sanctioned for other violations such as the sale of ineligible items.”

Now the writer over there is frothing in indignation at the idea that someone would so cheat the system. But we should go further than this and ask why they’re doing so and what we can do about it.

The first and most obvious point is that if people are willing to trade food stamps for cash at a discount then they obviously value the lesser amount of cash more highly than they do the greater amount of food stamps. This is inherent in revealed preferences and our observations of what they’re actually doing. They would only be making this trade if they valued that smaller amount of cash more highly than that greater amount of food stamps.

This isn’t confined to food stamps either: Census has, when discussing the measurement of poverty and the alleviation of it through welfare made the admission that many of the things we provide, other than cash, are valued by the poor at less than the cash we spend to provide them with it. And this is obviously an inefficient outcome. Just to invent some numbers, for every $100 we spend on providing welfare the poor actually get $80 of welfare out of it. That would be true if the food stamps/cash trade was being done at 10/8 of course, but those numbers are only as a logical example.

This means that there’s a net loss of welfare in the whole system. We’re spending more than the value of what is being received. And that’s really not what we want in a system at all.

So, what could we do to remedy this? The most obvious solution is to simply abolish giving people things and give them money instead. Then they can go and buy what they want, not what we think they should have. And they do value that ability, as we can see from the fact that they will trade the food stamps at a discount and as Census admits.

So, the first and most obvious part of our solution is that we should abolish food stamps. We then have a choice. We could say that we’re spending the right amount on welfare right now. So, we just give the poor the same amount of cash instead of in food stamps. Or, we could say that we’re alleviating the right amount of poverty right now. Meaning that we should give those poor the amount of cash they value the food stamps at and save us some cash in the paying for it. This leaves them just as well off and us better off.

Or, of course, we can do a deal that benefits everyone (as “Pareto improvement” in the jargon) and give the poor a bit more cash than they value the stamps at and a little less than the face value of the stamps. This saves us money in paying for it and makes them better off in the way that they value things.

Then we can go off and look at the other things we provide in kind, housing, medical care and so on, and see whether the poor value them at less than face value. If they do, then give them the cash instead.

I agree, it does sound slightly odd, but it is still true all the same. The very fact that people will trade food stamps for cash, at a discount, is the very thing that shows us that food stamps are an inefficient method of alleviating poverty. We can alleviate the same poverty at lower cost, or alleviate more at the same, simply by abolishing the entire food stamp program and simply handing out cash instead.

Review: All-New X-Men #25

Apr. 16th, 2014 04:00 pm
[syndicated profile] womenwriteaboutcomic_feed

Posted by Kayleigh Hearn

All-New X-Men #25anxm25
Brian Michael Bendis
David Marquez, Bruce Timm & Laura Martin, Arthur Adams & Justin Ponsor, David Mack, Skottie Young & Jason Keith, Robbi Rodriguez & Justin Ponsor, Lee Bermejo & Marte Garcia, Kent Williams, J.G. Jones, Ronnie Del Carmen, J. Scott Campbell & Nei Ruffino, Maris Wicks, Jason Shiga, Dan Hipp, Max Wittert, Jake Parker & Matthew Wilson, Jill Thompson, and Paul Smith & Bob Wiacek & Jodie Bellaire
Marvel Comics

All-New X-Men #25’s cover blurb proclaims that this is a “monumental” issue, and it actually doesn’t feel like hyperbole. When All-New X-Men was first announced, many readers and critics scoffed at the concept—the original five X-Men, traveling through time to discover their shocking futures? Okay, that’s a good concept for a first arc, but an ongoing series? The original X-Men (Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Angel, Beast, and Iceman) couldn’t possibly stay in the future indefinitely, could they?

Twenty-five issues later, they’re still here. Writer Brian Michael Bendis and regular artist Stuart Immonen have created one of the most fun, gripping, and vital X-Men books on the stands. There have been stumbles along the way (“Battle of the Atom,” what the fuck?) but Bendis has totally sold me on the concept of the young X-Men staying in the present, determined to make a better future for themselves and mutantkind. I don’t want them to go back.

But All-New X-Men #25 isn’t about the time-traveling X-Men. Rather, it takes us back to the man who brought them into the present in the first place—Henry McCoy, aka Beast. This is a dark night of the soul for Beast, as he receives a mysterious visitor who rebukes him for meddling with the time stream. Beast convinced the X-Men to time travel with him by telling them that they needed to stop present-day Cyclops from committing mutant genocide—a claim that was, to put it politely, bullshit. Beast hoped to shame his former friend-turned-revolutionary from his current path by confronting him with his young, idealistic self and his teammates, but this plan backfired. Not only did the young X-Men refuse to go back to the past, they eventually joined Cyclops and his team. Beast knows he’s made a mistake, but can it be put right?

anxm25The bulk of the story is essentially one big issue of What If? illustrated by a murderer’s row of talented artists, most of whom have never previously worked on an X-Book with Bendis. Beast is shown visions of over a dozen possible futures for the X-Men, many dark and foreboding. Bruce Timm draws a beautiful, dangerous vision of Jean Grey as Xorn from “Battle of the Atom.” J. Scott Campbell draws the X-Men in space. (Nightcrawler: Space Pirate?) Arthur Adams draws a Beast who succombs to his animal instincts and devours dinosaurs in the Savage Land.

But it’s not all grimdark apocalyptic futures; Bendis gives a good ribbing to familiar X-Men tropes and conventions, with hilarious results. The schism between Cyclops and Wolverine is transformed into “Scott + Logan: BFFS Forever!” Maris Wicks draws Kitty and Piotr’s on-again, off-again romance as the world’s most batshit soap opera (“Where’s your son?” “Apocalypse ate him”) with perfect comedic timing. And Max Wittert, whose comics parodying Jean and Scott’s domestic life have been a hit on Tumblr, makes his Marvel Comics debut illustrating what Jean and Wolverine’s homelife is really like. These scenes are a big highlight of the issue, and are fun departures from the X-Men’s usual action-oriented adventures. The sheer variety of the art makes All-New X-Men #25 one of the most unique comic books out right now.

Unfortunately, it’s hard not to feel “future fatigue” with the X-Men. There are a myriad of alternate futures already glimpsed throughout the franchise’s history—most recently in “Battle of the Atom” and Wolverine and the X-Men—and contemplating a dozen more is a bit exhausting. This issue has a lot of intriguing ideas, but limited to splash pages or two-page spreads, some feel like discarded, underdeveloped ideas jotted down in a notebook rather than fully-realized concepts.

Bendis is clearly having fun with this issue, and it has the vibe of a jam session with some of his favorite artists. But for readers who want to see the plot move forward after the status quo-changing end to “The Trial of Jean Grey,” Bendis’s interlude may be too self-indulgent.

[syndicated profile] lib_dem_voice_feed

Posted by Stephen Tall

The new LDV members’ survey is now live. So if you are one of the c.1,500 registered members of the Liberal Democrat Voice forum — and any paid-up party member is welcome to join — then you now have the opportunity to make your views known.

Questions we’re asking this month include:

  • do you support or oppose Scotland becoming independent?
  • should we decriminalise/legalise ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ drugs?
  • hot-topics such as Heathrow expansion, opt-in organ donation, e-cigarettes, 50p top-rate of tax, pension annuities, and Nick v Nigel
  • your views on Nick Clegg’s leadership and of leading figures within the Lib Dems;
  • and what you think of the Coalition’s performance to date.

It should take no longer than 10 minutes minutes to fill in. All registered members of the Forum should have today been e-mailed with a unique link to take you to the survey. If you haven’t received yours, or if you are signing up to the Forum now, please drop Ryan Cullen a line at ryan@libdemvoice.org. Please do check your spam folder first, though, in case it’s ended up there!

We’ll publish the results in a few days’ time. You can access the results from our previous LDV members surveys by clicking here — and you can access a Google spreadsheet of our ‘Coalition tracker’ and ‘leading Lib Dems’ ratings here.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

[syndicated profile] skepchick_feed

Posted by Amy Roth

I meet a lot of inspiring people and sometimes when I’m really lucky they come over to my art studio, eat vegan cake with me and let me photograph them. This was one of those times.

My friend Carrie Poppy introduced me to a really cool woman by the name of Claire Knowlton. Claire does a lot of activism and she has thought deeply on where to put her efforts. During the last week of April she is participating in The Live Below the Line Challenge.

I asked Claire some questions about her activism and I took some photos of her. Enjoy!

Clair 2 sm


What type of activism do you do?

I’ve leafleted for animal rights with PETA. One time my bff and I brought a few signs and a stack of leaflets to a “Zombie Walk” down Hollywood Blvd. There were maybe 100 people dressed up in zombie costumes zombie-ing their way down the street. Since my bff and I were the only ones with signs, everyone assumed the whole thing was an animal rights stunt! Our signs said, “Flesh is for zombies. Go vegan.”

I’ve done phone banking for elections.

I’ve gone door-to-door through South Los Angeles for marriage equality.

I’ve written lots of letters on behalf of prisoners of conscious with Amnesty International.

But I think the best activism I do is in my day-to-day life: living according to my values, and explaining why I have the values that I do when asked.

Clair 5 sm

How did you fist get involved with The Life You Can Save organization?

I read the book by the same title (which my bff gave me). I jumped onto the website and took the pledge to give a percentage of my income to highly performing nonprofits working against extreme poverty. And I realized that there was no organization behind the book. 14,000 people had taken the pledge publicly on the website, but no one was harnessing their passion. In the fall of 2011, a couple of Peter Singer’s grad students reached out to me about helping them start the organization. And I’ve been helping since then. I am proud to say that we received our 501(c)(3) status from the IRS about 4 months ago, and I am serving as the President of the Board.

Clair 7 sm

Can you tell us a little bit about the specific issues you are addressing by participating in the, “Live Below The Line Challenge”?

Living in the U.S., it’s hard to imagine what extreme poverty really means. We have a social safety net. If you are really really poor, there is food, shelter, healthcare, clean water, and laws that will help protect you. Our social safety net is full of holes, It’s no where near perfect, but it’s more than much of the world has.

The Live Below the Line challenge takes a step toward mimicking extreme global poverty. 1.4 billion people live on less that $1.50 per day. And before you say “well $1.50 goes a lot farther in those countries”, no it doesn’t. That $1.50 figure is adjusted for purchasing power parity. It is the equivalent of having $1.50 in the U.S. to live on. With no social safety net to step fill in the gaps. So yeah, that is not enough. It’s not enough to feed yourself well, to clothe yourself, to shelter yourself. And forget education, transportation, or healthcare. You can’t meet your most basic needs on $1.50 a day. That’s what we mean by extreme poverty.

In the Live Below the Line challenge, I’ll be feeding myself on less than $1.50 a day for five days. I get to keep my apartment. I get to keep my car and my health insurance. I get to drink as much tap water as I want. I don’t have to account for the fuel to cook my food, or heat my home. It is not a perfect approximation to living in extreme poverty by any stretch. But it is effing hard! I did the challenge last year, and I walked away with a much more tangible concept of what it means to go without. Hunger hurts.

Clair 10 sm


How can other people get involved in this challenge or help out?

Live Below the Line yourself! You can join the challenge on your own, or be part of my team (I’m heading up The Life You Can Save’s team again this year). https://www.livebelowtheline.com/team/the-life-you-can-save-2014

You can donate to the challenge. https://www.livebelowtheline.com/me/claire

At The Life You Can Save, we recommend a minimum level that people should donate towards ending extreme poverty, based on their income. You can find out how much we recommend you give, and take the pledge: http://www.thelifeyoucansave.org/TakethePledge/HowMuch.aspx

Clair 6 sm


What other organizations do you recommend for people that want to help make the world a better place?

Check out The Life You Can Save’s list of recommended charities.


Claire, thank you so much for explaining this project to us and thank you for all the work you do. And an extra special thanks for letting me photograph you!


All photos © Amy Davis Roth

[syndicated profile] badastronomy_feed

Posted by Phil Plait

I did a couple of interviews recently that I figured I should let y’all know about.

First, I spoke with my pal Desiree Schell on her Science for the People podcast about the recent BICEP2 news about cosmic inflation, as well as the new Kuiper Belt Object that was found in the outskirts of the solar system (I wrote about both stories: here and here, respectively). Desiree also talked to Paul Bogard and my good friend Nicole Gugliucci about other astronomy things in that same interview.

Second, I was in Australia in 2013 to give lots of talks and soak up Aussie culture (and as many Tim Tams and Minties as I cold get my hands on). The very first thing I did after arriving was talk to astronomers Katie Mack and Alan Duffy for their Pint in the Sky video podcast. They split it in to two parts; here’s Part the First:

and here’s Part B:

Basically, I shilled my nerd insult book 27 Nerd Disses: A Significant Quantity of Disrespect (also available on Amazon) that I co-wrote with Zach Weinersmith (and illustrated by Jess Fink) and generally was a smart-ass. But we also talked about other stuff, including how I wended my way down the torturous path to science communication, and what it means to be an astronomer.

These were all fun interviews, so thanks to Katie, Alan, and Desiree for inviting me on!

Also: I'll be in Edmonton, Alberta to give a free public talk about the Mars Curiosity rover called "Where Our Curiosity Has Taken Us" on May 3, sponsored by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. So take off to the Great White North, and I hope to see you there!

[syndicated profile] tim_worstall_forbes_feed

Posted by Tim Worstall

As we know Alibaba’s preparing for an IPO soon enough. And there’s also a number of reports out there about the great success they’re currently having in the financial field in China. This success is to be loudly applauded for economic reasons, as it will help to remove one of the great economic distortions in that economy. However, given that that distortion is deliberately put there by the Chinese Government there might be a certain resistance to allowing Alibaba to go too far too quickly.

The concept under discussion is known as “financial repression”. No, this doesn’t mean government turning everyone upside down to take the money that falls out of their pockets, but rather that said government deliberately intervenes into the financial system to make sure that household savings are directed into the activities that that government thinks should be financed and at rates that that government thinks are appropriate. This can only be done by limiting the choices of households as to what they can do with their savings and thus is “repressive”. The first and most obvious is that there have to be capital controls: there’s no use in trying to direct the flow of credit around the economy if people can simply send their savings outside that economy. Then you’ve got to restrict alternatives to the system you control: this explains in part China’s crack down on Bitcoin. It’s an alternative to the standard savings and credit structure of the state owned banks and therefore cannot be allowed to continue. Finally, you set the prices in that credit system that you do control. China sets the interest rates that can be paid on deposits and it sets them very low indeed. They’re certainly below the country’s inflation rate meaning that people actually lose money by having it in a bank.

The flip side of this is that the banks then have a huge pool of savings (Chinese household savings rates are above 50% of income, a quite astonishing rate) which they can then lend out cheaply to the state owned enterprises (SOEs) and this is very much the point of the entire system. To direct those huge savings, as cheaply as possible, into the industrial system. And that works for those SOEs and thus presumably for the people who control the political system.

The down side of this is that non state owned enterprises cannot get access to those savings, given the way that the state owned banks direct them to state owned companies. The private sector part of the market gains nothing from this system, actually, it loses quite considerably from it in lack of access to credit.

Now, we could say that this is all fine. But the real problem with systems of financial repression is that eventually someone is going to work out a way around it. Some form of disintermediation, meaning that the banks, and their fixed deposit rates, are no long the gatekeepers to the system. And that’s very much what Alibaba has been designing (along with several other companies of course).

Over the past year, Alibaba’s financial-services unit has taken a number of steps to expand. It has moved into insurance, broadened its loans to merchants on its e-commerce sites and introduced an easy way for shoppers to invest any excess funds from their Alipay accounts in financial products online.

All of those steps mean China’s largest e-commerce company by transactions is moving steadily toward becoming a full-service bank. That has led some analysts to worry that the rapid expansion by the private company into a sector dominated by state-run banks and conservative regulators could lead to problems as entrenched interests in the sector fight back against the competition.

Quite, that’s exactly what they’re doing. Not particularly becoming a bank, that’s a legal move, but occupying the economic position of a bank. And they’re not constrained by those low deposit rates, nor must they channel the savings to those SOEs.

Moreover, just like demand deposits at banks, users can withdraw their money from Yu’E Bao whenever they want. But while demand deposits earn an annualised rate of 0.35 per cent in banks – a level capped by the government to ensure that banks have plump profit margins – Yu’E Bao rates have averaged about 5 per cent over the past month.

Clearly and obviously this is a threat to that traditional banking system and the entire system of carefully designed financial repression. And we should welcome this, of course we should. For it’s a good deal for the Chinese saver to be able to get an above inflation return on her savings. And a move to a market allocation of credit rather than a politically directed one is also a move towards both greater freedom and greater economic efficiency. However, there’s always a problem with the ending of financial repression: and that’s the transition period.

Think back to the Savings and Loans crisis in the US. Yes, there was skullduggery, there was outright fraud as well, but the basic problem was going to be there anyway. Traditionally, the system was described as 3-6-3. Borrow at 3% (ie, pay your depositors 3%), lend out on mortgages at 6% and be on the golf course by 3 o’clock. A simple enough system. But do note what it is that banks and S&Ls do. They borrow short term and lend long term: they perform maturity transformation of credit. The deposits can be demanded back at any time (or perhaps on 30, 60, 90 days terms for CDs) but the loans are out there for years, in mortgages for 30 years maybe. And if you’ve lent out a bunch of money for 30 years at 6% but interest rates then become 10% on the short term funding that you’re getting from your deposits then this is a problem both for the institution and its regulator. Which is exactly what happened to the S&Ls. Partly the market disintermediated away from them, the rise of money market funds and the like. And partly interest rates went sky high but they had already lent out at fixed rates. Thus much of the system went bust: as it would have done even without any skullduggery or fraud.

So it’s the period when financial repression is being transitioned away from that is the dangerous one. Those who have themselves oriented in the correct manner for that repression can be caught out when it disappears. And this is the fear over the Chinese system. Those state owned banks have been depending, for a very long time, on paying near nothing for those vast retail deposits. They’ve then lent it on, for longer time periods, to those SOEs. Now, if Alibaba and the others manage to attract a significant portion of those household savings then this means that the basic funding mechanism of the banks is at risk. And they’ve still got those large and long term loans to the SOEs that they’ve got to fund.

It’s possible to overstate the risks here. If the movement away from bank deposit accounts happens more slowly than the rate at which the SOE loans mature and are repaid then there’s no danger of anything at all. We can just watch the system getting better and more efficient and everything’s great. However, if there’s explosive growth in these alternative systems then some portion of the banks’ financing base will disappear faster than they can contract their loan book. Which will leave them gasping for funding and won’t be a pretty sight at all. And the probable reaction is that there will be limitations from government on what those new financial intermediaries are allowed to do.

It’s an odd situation: we should all be applauding the threat that Alibaba and the new players in China’s financial market pose to the financial repression in the country. But we also don’t really want them to be too successful too quickly, given the reaction that’s likely to engender.

matgb: Artwork of 19th century upper class anarchist, text: MatGB (Default)

British Liberal, house husband, school play leader and stepdad. Campaigner, atheistic feminist, amateur baker. Male.

Known to post items of interest on occasions. More likely to link to interesting stuff. Sometimes talks about stuff he's done. Occasionally posts recipes for good food. Planning to get married, at some point. Enjoying life in Yorkshire.

Likes comments. Especially likes links. Loves to know where people came from and what they were looking for. Mostly posts everything publicly. Sometimes doesn't. Hi.

Mat Bowles

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I'm the Chair of the Brighouse branch of the Liberal Democrats & the membership secretary for Calderdale Lib Dems and run the web campaign for the local candidates. I have a job, a stepdaughter and a life.

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