Notes from New Sodom

... rantings, ravings and ramblings of strange fiction writer, THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Friday, August 30, 2013

As Henry Ford Once Said of Nazi Germany...

"We believe a more positive impact can be made through continued involvement, rather than by sitting on the sidelines."

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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Terminator Zero:

Bootstrapping and Branching

Having just critiqued a manuscript using time travel, and found myself trying to explain the clash between Bootstrapping and Branching models with reference to particulr movie uses, I got to thinking about a thing that's always kinda niggled me with the Terminator movies. I mean, I'm by no means a tedious hard-ass about science fictional Correctitude in Hollywood movies--I can forgive the cludging in Looper for the sake of the story--but I do hate to see a premise firmly and clearly established and then just ripped up and thrown away in the name of expedience. It doesn't irk me at all that Terminator 2 has the T-1000 coming back from a future that, by the end of the movie, is averted; it just irks me that it does so after the original movie establishes in no uncertain terms that we're dealing with a fixed timeline.

In the original, the Terminator and Reese have ever already arrived in 1984, you see. The movie has ever already taken place with Sarah Connor being hunted by the Terminator, Reese saving her and fathering John, and pregnant Sarah having headed off to Mexico, getting her photo taken along the way--the photo Reese will know her by. It's ever already the case that Cyberdine will build Skynet, that it will go rogue and try to wipe out humanity, and that John Connor as leader of the victorious resistance will send back Reese after the Terminator, as much to bootstrap himself into existence as to save his mother. Really, John Connor knows throughout the war that the Terminator didn't just fail but was instrumental in his very conception. Skynet brought about its own downfall. No wonder he's the leading light of the resistance; from his mother's tapes, he knows he's already won. (Predestination? Meh. This is post-destination; it's all in Reese's past in 1984.)

But then Terminator 2 comes along and scraps that, insisting that "There is no fate but what we make," deciding to set Judgement Day in 1997, only to have it averted by the actions of the characters. The future Reese came from is now only one potential, a Timeline A of how things will play out if allowed to run their course. Spurred by a sequence of events leading back ultimately to the moment the T-1000 arrives, the characters decide they're not having it and instead bring about a quite different potential future, a Timeline B. With its two futures, the movie overturns the Bootstrapping model and sets a Branching model in its place. (Timeline A might be a dead branch now, but it's still a branch.)

I suppose you could ignore Terminator 3 (wouldn't you rather?) and imagine that it still all happens, (because it still ever already happened) that we're still dealing with the Bootstrapping model in which Reese arrived back from a future that's still going to play out exactly as established: Skynet still goes online (now established as happening in 1997); the machines still rise, but the resistance still wins; John still sends back his own father to bring himself into existence. I guess you could do that.

But clearly the movie is trying to sell you on the idea that they all prevent that holocaust. That's the payoff of the story. A new timeline is created in which things might go along a similar path, but at very least the human race has more than a couple of years before things go to shit. T2 isn't just slipping another bootstrappy loop inside the loop, telling of another attack along John's timeline, equally fated to fail in a fixed history where it's ever already failed, succeeding only in giving John the very belief which made him resistance leader. It's changing the whole model of time travel. Now we're suddenly plunged into a Branching model, with these arrivals causing a counter-attack in Timeline B which somehow never happened in Timeline A.

Never mind that this rules out bootstrapping, that John's father now comes from a timeline which has been written out of reality.


The Bootstrap Gambit

It's like an inverted variant of the Grandfather Paradox, the classic hypothetical: if you go back in time and kill your own grandfather at birth, doesn't that mean you're never born to go back in time and kill your own grandfather at birth? Turn that around: if time works like that, then logically you can contrive rather than thwart your birth; you can send someone back in time to become your grandfather, arranging your own existence--hauling yourself up by the bootstraps. And if you do that, you've ever already done it.

If you're bootstrapping your own knowledge rather than your own birth, it still works the same. Where do you get a time machine? How do you know who to send back? Simple: when you were sixteen, your gramps gave you a million pounds, specs for a time machine and a 2013 email address. Cause when you sent him back as a young man, you paid him a million pounds and told him all he had to do was live off the interest, and pass on the money, the specs and his 2013 email address when you came of age. He was surprised to be emailed out of the blue, but he was up for it. (You sent him a photo of your gramma when she was young. It was love at first sight.)

That's how the first Terminator movie works, basically. It's his father John Connor sends back rather than his grandfather, but it's the same principle. Whether it's a photo which ensures your father finds your mother and causes her to get the photo taken, or a million pounds, time machine specs, and an email address, you're bootstrapping the prerequisites for the bootstrapping to work as much as you're bootstrapping yourself. You can do so because you've ever already done so.


The Dead Mother Paradox

But what happens if the Powers-That-Be suddenly decide that this fixed timeline is mutable after all? Suppose your mother died when you were two. That's clearly the sort of thing you might want to change. So, despite the fact that your very existence depends on a fixed history, for some reason (i.e. because Hollywood wants a sequel,) you decide to try and prevent that death. And for some reason, (i.e. because Hollywood wants a sequel,) it actually works. Wait, what?

I mean, if it's a mutable history, it could be easy enough to prevent her death. Let's make it a piece of piss: all your mother needs is a million pound operation to save her life. So, it's a year after your birth, when gramps gets a message from you in the future: without the operation, you tell him, that death is a stone cold certainty. So now, when your mother needs it, her father-in-law slaps a million pound down and, hey presto, she lives! Her Judgement Day is averted.

Except the million pounds is no longer around when it comes time for gramps to pass it on to you. You no longer inherit one major prerequisite for the bootstrapping to work; he had to sacrifice it to change the timeline. Hmmm. But never mind that! It worked. Your mother lived, so now... now there's no need for you to send back a message about her dying. Never mind need; there's no possibility of you doing so. I mean, that's another variant of the Grandfather Paradox, right? If you go back in time and save your dead mother, doesn't that mean you're never spurred to go back in time and save your dead mother? Because once you've changed history, when 2013 comes round she's not dead anymore. Call it the Dead Mother Paradox. (It's a positive version of the Hitler Paradox.)

The resolution to these is fairly simple though. The Grandfather Paradox doesn't apply if going back and killing your grandfather just creates a Timeline B in which you were never born. You came from the Timeline A you've just undone, so it doesn't matter. The Dead Mother Paradox doesn't apply if you're sitting in Timeline A, and you send back the message to gramps, and he spends the money on her operation, but that just creates a Timeline B where she lives. That's Branching versus Bootstrapping.

But the million pound problem is still a problem. Cause the message's arrival is what causes the branching that saves your mother, and the only way you can have a Timeline A in which she didn't live is if that message arrived in Timeline B, created Timeline B with its arrival. And that means the same would have happened with the million pound--with gramps himself!


The Million Pound Problem

Thing is, the million pounds is just a symbol, really. It represents the sum of innumerable chance events that each had to have ever already played out as they ever already did--e.g. with your mother dying when you were two--to result in the same you sending the same young man back to the same past to do the same things. It represents the causal legacy of the past which your 2013 depends on, a legacy which is carried back, inherited by the past, and remains intact all the way through to 2013. (In Terminator, it represents the post-destination of Reese's past, carried back with him to 1984.)

If it doesn't remain intact, if the causal legacy that you get in 2013 is different from what it would have been because the time travel has changed the course of events, then you have a Branching model that doesn't do bootstrapping at all. If you sent back a message loaded with the causal legacy of your 2013 and it created a Timeline B that reaches 2013 with a different causal legacy, then the same thing happened when you sent back gramps with his million pounds: a new timeline was created, and that million pounds traveled down it, the legacy inherited by his grandson in that timeline while you're left in Timeline A with your dead mother and exactly no million pounds.

You have no money to pay the young man you were going to send back. Which is a moot point, because you don't have the email address to contact him either. Which is also a moot point, because you don't even have the specs for the time machine you'd need. Which is also a moot point, because your grandfather having arrived in another timeline, you never existed. Bootstrapping is fragile. If your existence depends on a briefcase packed with a million pounds in period money, specs for a time machine, and the email address of the guy you need to send back in order to exist, if it depends on this causal legacy you can only inherit from the past because you sent it back there, you're completely fucked if the Powers-That-Be decide that actually, after all, something like that arriving in the past has not ever already done so (as per the established premise,) but is instead a graft from which a new timeline grows.

That's how Terminator 2 completely smashes the premise established in the first movie. By the end of it, they've changed the future at the most massive level, causing the innumerable chance events to play out wholly differently. They've spent the million pounds on preventing Judgement Day, so to speak. If Judgement Day doesn't take place in 1997--and Terminator 3 cements the fact it doesn't--2029 arrives without that million pounds, with a whole other causal legacy. Whether it's a T-1000 or a message to your grandfather, if it creates a Timeline B in which Judgement Day never happened, then Judgement Day and all that followed is the Dead Mother of the paradox here. For Terminator 2 not to nullify itself in that paradox, it has to nullify the first movie in its very foundations.


Terminator: Epilogue

Being the type of person who can't resist a challenge, however, I did get to thinking about how you might make it work. And it seems to me that if you can recast the first movie as working in a Branching model, maybe it's possible. What if the stuff that looks like bootstrapping isn't actually bootstrapping at all? Suppose there's an original timeline--let's say it's our reality--in which the Terminator and Reese never appeared in 1984. Sarah got pregnant with John by a different father. He grew up without a single appearance of Arnie in his life. Then Cyberdine and Skynet happened, the war, the resistance. As a last ditch effort, Skynet sends back Arnie. John sends back Reese. That creates the timeline of the first movie, in which Skynet has actually succeeded in thwarting this John's birth, but it doesn't matter because Reese has fathered another John.

There are only two things, really, that need to happen in this timeline as per the first movie: the pregnancy and the photo. If these could be sourced in an original branch timeline sans Terminator and sans Reese, then you can resolve the whole thing into a Branching model and you have none of the problems that come from overturning one approach to the premise and slapping in another. The pregnancy isn't really an issue. If she hadn't been running around being chased by a T-101, Sarah could easily have been having a one night stand. It's the frickin 1980s, for fuck's sake. She's out on the club scene, as I recall. The photo is the only gnarly issue as that requires specific circumstances--her on her way to Mexico.

Rewatching the epilogue of the first movie, however, I can imagine it tweaked to become the pre-credit sequence of a Terminator Zero. That whole scene of Sarah driving along the dusty road, recording herself, pulling into a gas station where she gets her photo taken... actually there's only one shot where her dialogue explicitly ties what's happening to time travel, where she's sitting in the car, saying, "Boy that's a tough one. Will it affect your decision to send him here, knowing that he is your father. If you don't send Kyle you can never be. God, a person could go crazy thinking about this." That's a whole two sentences waving the flag about time travel; I only include the lines before and after because they're part of a continuous shot. The rest of it?

Tape seven, November ten. Where was I? What's most difficult for me is trying to decide what to tell you and what not to. But I guess I have a while yet before you're even old enough to understand these tapes. They're more for me at this point, just so I can get it straight. Should I tell you about your father. I suppose I will tell you. I owe him that. Maybe it will help if you know that in the few hours that we had together, we loved a lifetime's worth.

And then the kid takes the picture, there's the back and forth about a storm coming, and she drives off.


Terminator Zero: Prologue

So what you might do, I'd say, is you open on that epilogue, maybe tweak it in the subtlest ways--change the colour of the Jeep, say. You cut the giveaway lines, and you take it up to the shot of the photo. Then you segue to a young John Connor of Terminator 2 era, a 10 year old of 1995 who is most definitely not Edward Furlong, looking at that photo, playing a tape voiced by Linda Hamilton--diegetic, not voiceover so the noise disguises any change in the actress's voice with age. And you have him listening to this after her death in this original timeline.

You have her telling him of his original father, some terrible but non-fantastic backstory of meeting and losing his father and having to leg it for Mexico. She worked in a night club (as I recall) in the 1980s, right? A world of drugs is a world of dealers. It doesn't have to be detailed; it's only there to establish that Reese was not this John Connor's father, that he was instead someone she met and had a few hours with in some sort of deadly circumstances that ended with her getting the hell out of town. To take the roughest, dodgiest stab at something along the right lines:

Maybe he wasn't as good as the man I saw in him, but I know he wasn't as bad as the man he saw in himself--a soldier turned murderer, killing for criminals instead of for his country. I don't know. All I know is that his job was to kill me, and instead, after it was all over, he let me go, told me to run and keep running. To stay alive.

In the background, TV news shows NATO air strikes on Bosnia, references the first use of Predator UAVs aka drones. As Sarah's voice is faded down, John's adult voiceover comes in: He never knew his father. It was only when he was ten, when his mother died, that he found the tapes telling of the crime she witnessed, and the man sent to kill her. Sometimes you can be in the wrong place at the wrong time, she said, but he was in the right place at the right time. And instead of a shallow grave out in the desert, she found herself with a gun in her lap, in a Jeep bound for Mexico. The next time she crossed that border she was already dying.

Kicked around from foster home to foster home, he tells us, by the time he was nineteen, it was a choice between army and jail. As the TV flicks channels, the scene around the screen flicks between foster homes and teenage Johns, aged twelve, aged fourteen, and so on, camera slowly zooming on the news images (war, violence) until they fill the frame, segueing now to John as a nineteen year old soldier in Iraq, 2004. The year of Fallujah. The urban devastation, choppers in the air, it's an all-too-real analogue of the opening of the first movie, the destruction of 2029.

You use his voiceover and the action to conjure the mechanisation of war versus ground troops dealing with insurgents, show the seeds of 2029, with the contemporary era of drone strikes and oil wars as an obvious stepping stone along the way. Because Terminator Zero is set now, in our world. Judgement Day wasn't in 1997 because the base timeline is our real world development of drones.

This much I know, if we don't stop it, there's a Judgement Day coming, the day when we reap the whirlwind. The machines we built to fight our wars for us will rise against their masters, and we'll fight back, but it doesn't matter...

A recorded voice comes in now, takes over:

... but it doesn't matter. We all die. Everyone dies. Even the machines die, in a mutual annihilation that leaves this planet an empty waste. Only the two of us got out in the last seconds, before the end of everything, one man and one machine.

It's 2013 and a bloody-shirted John Connor is listening to a recorded message, his own voice from 2029. It's a flash-forward to the meat of the movie, see, in which this John Connor is going to be found by his dying future self and handed this message.

It's out there, John. You have to stop it. You have to believe that I am who I say am, that I'm you. You're the only person I can turn to, in the hope that you'll see yourself in me, see me in yourself. If you can't trust yourself, John, who can you trust?

And now the shot changes, reveals that John Connor is listening to this as he stands looking down on the body of his Future!Self. Cut. Opening credits.


And From There...

As for the movie itself, you open with the arrival of Terminator and Future!John together, a fight scene in which Future!John is mortally wounded but escapes--dives into a river, say. The Terminator doesn't care as it stands on a bridge, looking down into the water. Its internal PoV HUD comes up, flicks through files to faces till it stops on that of Future!John, identifies him as a lieutenant. Disregards him as irrelevant. Nope, he wasn't the resistance leader in the baseline future, just a soldier who dived into the machine as the Terminator was sent back to take out its actual target: the retired General who did lead the resistance, (and who set off a doomsday device when all was lost, we'll learn, so at least the machines wouldn't win.) Now that HUD comes up with its mission objective, the face of that general... who is of course Arnie. Arnie isn't the Terminator here. He's the target.

And so you have a movie in which the John Connor of 2013 is an Iraq War veteran who meets his future self and is tasked with foiling a Terminator set on killing a five star general, thrown into a straightforward plot where he has plenty of obstacles just to get near the guy he's trying to protect, to persuade him that there's a threat. You've got the scene where the Terminator attacks and Arnie is finally persuaded as John rescues him. But hey, the army still insist they'll take it from here, and John is interrogated over his crazy story. And the Terminator attacks again, of course. We reveal that the General is in on the ground floor of Skynet, a drone project for automated airspace control in the Middle East. Maybe he's the hawk who's pushing for it. Maybe he's the guy insisting on an emergency kill code. You want a finale? The Terminator sets out to bring the project online now, and they have to blow the whole shithouse up.

With Arnie as the target... well, he gets to do some action heroic stuff, but you don't have to carry the movie on a guy in his 60s playing either main hero or implausibly aged Terminator. And to make it a bit less of a sausage-fest, why not bring in Reese's mother to be a strong heroine? Make her the widow of an army buddy that he's close to, someone he'd turn to when he's on the run with Arnie. By my reckoning, Kyle is 8 years old at this point, a surrogate son. (Let's not make John secretly his father though. That would mean in the first movie, Reese is shagging his gran. Yeahno.)

Oh, yeah, and another twist... the Terminator wins. Sorta. It gets what it wants, Arnie dying in the end, sacrificing himself to blow up the robot and the test facility of Skynet drones unleashed in Hollywood havoc. Its target has been terminated. But it's a Pyrhhic victory, as the General will become a symbol to the resistance, the first martyr to the cause. (Hence the modeling of the T-101 on him, in a post-credit scene, as a psychological tactic for unnerving the humans in 2029 or in an initial plan to send him back to the 1980s on an infiltration mission... until the resistance kicked the machines' asses before they could do so, and a last minute plan to kill John Connor pre-empted it.)

It's even a loss, ultimately, as this is what spurs John to become the man who wins the war in the altered timeline from which the first movie is created. He's set on proving that even if they can destroy a leader like the General, someone else will step up to the role. And even if they kill a John Connor, he says in a closing voiceover, another will rise in his place. I'd end with him heading out into the wilds, into forested mountains rather than the desert, with Reese's mother and the kid--maybe knocking on a cabin door that's opened by an old comrade. He's gathering the resistance to be ready. He doesn't know how it will play out now, but if Future!John came from a world where the General was alive, that's not what's ahead of them now. Maybe they have no future at all, but he refuses to accept that. There is no fate but what we make. If the machines think they can write our destinies for us, they better prepare themselves. There's a storm coming, and its name is John Connor.


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Sven Werner's Tales of Magical Realism

"Keep pedaling at a steady pace! Keep pedaling at a steady pace! Keep pedaling..."

And then there's Sven Werner's Tales of Magical Realism, which I'm not even going to try and describe. The video above gives too much away really, but if it helps sell you on it, so be it. This one's for fans of fantasy in the tradition spawned by Kafka rather than Krull, for those who like it modern, or maybe modernist--on the threshold between 19th and 20th centuries, stretching up through modernity's era of trains and taxis in strange lands of regimes with incomprehensible ideals. Did you see the tweet where I simply said "DO NOT MISS THIS"? No? Well, in that case, I'll just say it again: DO NOT MISS THIS.


Paper Cinema's Odyssey

You also still have a chance to see The Paper Cinema's Odyssey at Summerhall, Main Hall at 14.15. I can't recommend this enough. For all the simplicity of the concept (in theory,) the combination of puppetry by way of cut-out drawings with music and sound effects makes for a staggeringly complex show--the amount of effort they've put into it will blow you away--and one that comes alive to utterly captivating effect. I might be giving a delightful little detail away if I describe Telemachus as an angel-headed hipster, but fuck it, if it piques your interest, it's worth it. Again, just go see it already. I went to it twice while I was doing Story's End; it's that good.


After the Apocalypse

"Ah! Democracy! It's been so long since we've heard that term!"

You have a few more days to see The Creative Martyrs doing their After the Apocalypse show at the Voodoo Rooms (at 20.25.) A sort of Laurell & Hardy cum Vladimir & Estragon, all the way from the Weimar Republic, by way of the People's Soviet Republic of Ruritania, and now here, at the Edinburgh Fringe, in this post-apocalyptic world of twenty seconds into the future, where you, the audience, huddle in a crumbling music theatre, struggling to survive, to rebuild, to re-organise, under a new (democratically-elected!) Glorious Leader, a Brave New Utopia Dystopia Utopia Dystopia! Impossibly catchy songs, masterly audience interaction and all of the rollicking entertainment comes with more than a few satirical barbs that couldn't be more timely. Hell, two years ago, these guys were focusing on surveillance state stuff that's in the news now.

Go see them while you still can.


Scruffians News


With the SCRUFFIANS! short story collection starting to really take its final shape now--that's the trade edition cover up there--the Lethe Press website has an audio version of "How a Scruffian Starts Their Story" as read by Matt Cresswell available for your enjoyment. Go. Listen. And if you like it, keep an eye out here for the ToC of the collection. Lethe Press being a gay spec fic press, the focus in the selection of stories is gay-themed, so it won't have every single Scruffian story in the one place, I'm afraid. Don't hate me. There's a brand new story in the trade edition, two in the deluxe! And looking at the material that didn't make the cut because of that focus, I'm thinking that a second collection might well be on the horizon if I can find a good home for it. Actually, it appears I have two themes--sex and death--so it might well be more of a companion collection than second collection.

Also, along similarly Scruffian lines, I can now announce that a contract's been signed for a Scruffians mythos novella with LA CASE books, to be published in ebook form in both Italian and English. At 14,400 words (yes, exactly 14,4000 words--4 acts of 9 passages of 4 panels of 100 words,) this meaty little motherfucker is, if I say it meself, a must-read for anyone who's into these stories. You've read the Victorian era tales, where the Waiftaker General and his stickmen are still Fixing urchins from the Institute? You've read the modern era tales, where the Scruffians themselves offer the Stamp to any strays as wants to join a crib? Well, this pint-sized punk-ass rollicking adventure (of a full novel, really, just Fixed in scampitude) is the story of the most pivotal event in Scruffian history. Why, it's only the most important fabble of all, ain't it! It's the fabble of "The Taking of the Stamp."

Nuff said.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Door, I Show You It

Dear citizens of New Sodom,

Dear commentariat of this blog,

But most of all, dear clueless cuntfucker,

On the previous post to this you will find a comment wildly misconstruing my crude détournement of the Sochi 2014 Olympics by the (hardly subtle) insertion of swastikas, in (fairly direct) reference to the IOC's stance of collaboration with fascism. This comment, asking how Russia sheltering Snowden classifies as fascist, is surprising and dispiriting--I'd have expected more civic responsibility of any citizen of New Sodom, expected enough savvy of the situation beyond New Sodom to get the significance immediately, or at least enough sense of the core concerns here as to not require a cluebat to send one in the right direction--but it is not in itself an outrageous faux pas. However, the responses to my correction of this incomprehension are... problematic.

A simple correction of incomprehension requires at most acknowledgement; what is neither required nor desired here is clueless nuisancery. In the eight or nine years this blog has been running, I've yet to ban a single commenter or even delete a comment for reasons other than spamming. Instead, even with outright homophobic abuse cut-and-pasted by flyby asshats, I've elected to respond, to let asinine comments stand as self-evidently asinine, preferring to unpack their idiocies for the entertainment of readers and for the exploration of folly's intricacies. I am not however a man of infinite tolerance, and there are particular (ill-)manners of discourse that will try my patience to the point of ire. Faced with persistent recidivism in application of such, having been quite clear at numerous points in the past on the fact I regard such behaviour as boorish, sadly it seems there is no other way to get through to some than to address a particular example directly and draw a line, to say that I will no longer tolerate this particular flavour of asshattery.

When I post something like the mock-up poster below, and you so wholly miss the point that it requires nothing more than a correction to point you in the right direction, this is a simple misunderstanding, and it should not be difficult to respond to that correction appropriately. The responses on the post below are not appropriate. They are so characteristically inappropriate, to be clear, that I have considered the possibility that there is a lack of sincerity at play here--that surely only outright trollery would produce such graceless rot. But trollery is not, I think, the case here, simply the bad faith of a snipewank who remains sincere even as he stretches his argument into petty dishonesty, untruths-to-self that are sustained (unlike those of the troll) but fundamentally insubstantive, expedient rhetorical nonsenses employed more for the gameplay of discourse than anything else. From the words snipe and wank, the meaning of the composite term should be clear. Suffice to say that this, more than crude cretinous bigotry, is what I consider inappropriate.

Even so, I would not be making this post were snipewankery the only problem. Unfortunately, the inflated self-esteem of the snipewank entails a hauteur that's bound up with one's sense of entitlement, a belief in one's authoritative judgement, and when the post in question is that of a queer writer addressing queer concerns, the hauteur of a straight snipewank can cross the line and become cuntfuckery. The arrant presumption of telling someone they're "doing it wrong" takes on a whole new dimension when placed in the context of members of abject social groups having to endure such condescension as a systemic refusal to recognise equality--as women endure mansplaining, so queers endure straightsplaining, and as the personal assumption of superiority automatically renders this snipewankery, the cultural interpersonal capital bolstering that assumption on the part of straight men renders it cuntfuckery.

And cuntfuckery is where I draw the line.

So, with this blog renamed to Notes from New Sodom and its ethos cemented in that conceit, with those responses in the previous post as examples of discourse incompatible with that ethos, in the interests of clarifying just where that line is drawn and why, here is a more appropriate response to the correction of your cluelessness, for future reference:

"Oh, you mean the combination of the swastika with the Sochi 2014 Olympics logo is a caustic comment on the IOC pandering to Russia's resurgent fascism? Doh! My bad. That should really have been blindingly obvious, shouldn't it? Now that I think of it, I'm not sure how I could be so oblivious as to fail utterly to spot the connection between the symbol of fascism and the actions of fascism. I mean, actions like in that photo all over the internets where the blackshirted Occupy Pedofilyaj skinheads have an Uzbek teen stripped and on his knees holding a dildo. Or the video with the kid who gets piss poured over him by another gang in this growing movement. Or the countless incidents over the last few years of LGBT activists getting the shit kicked out of them by organised mobs of street thugs while the Russian police looked on and/or helped the self-identified nazis--back when those LGBT activists were still actually allowed to march, that is. Why I wouldn't make the connection between 20th century fascist street thuggery and 21st century fascist street thuggery, I just don't know.

"Fuck, man, the fact that St Petersburg's law against the promotion of homosexuality is now state-wide, Putin happily riding the wave of prejudice in which 74% of Russians, according to a Pew Research Center study, say society should not accept homosexuality... the fact that Russia has confirmed it will apply those laws to visiting athletes and supporters... the fact that the IOC when questioned about the support they'd give LGBT athletes actually warned them of further punitive action should they step out of line... and what with Stephen Fry leading protests that made prime time BBC News, even drawing explicit parallels to 1936 in his open letter to David Cameron and the IOC... really, I'm not sure what I was thinking. What the fuck else would that image be about but the IOC going beyond complicity with Russian fascism and into outright collaboration? Why the fuck I thought it had anything to do with Snowden, I have no idea. The idea that imagery referencing Russia, fascism and the Olympics would be referencing Russia, fascism and the Olympics... it's really a no-brainer, huh?

"The more I think about it, in fact, the more I realise, using my natural human powers of Theory of Mind, that my utter obliviousness must surely have been... well, tedious at best. Sensing the irk in your curt response, I appreciate your forbearance in placing responsibility for my wild misreading of the obvious target--the IOC's appeasement of Russia's burgeoning fascism--not with myself but with the mainstream news which has so wholly failed to appraise someone like me of this dire situation. I can imagine how frustrating and dispiriting it is to run into such blithe ignorance of the resurgence of fascism, how difficult it must be not to lash out with a bitter fury at those of us who have the luxury of ignorance here, those of us who can afford to place homophobic fascism so far down in our list of priorities that we don't even see the blatant significance in that image. It must have been galling, I imagine, to see the resurgence of fascism in Russia--the kidnapping and torture of your fellow queers--so far off my radar. That you'd curb your anger in the face of obliviousness, withhold judgement on the ignorant individual and instead direct blame at the mainstream media... I appreciate that.

"Indeed, when I think of how I missed the point despite your increasing focus on queer politics here--c.f. the recent posts on segregation, or Bert & Ernie, or Da Vinci's Demons, or simply your identification as THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!--I realise now how my errant interpretation of that image wouldn't just be gobsmacking in its obliviousness of the queer political context, the obvious real world referent. I realise how it speaks of a complete disregard of your perspective as a human being with their own agency. Not only was I grinding your face in the fact that the situation on Russia so little impinges upon my consciousness that your image went over my head; I was grinding your face in the fact that despite everything you've been banging on about on this blog for the last few years, it didn't even occur to me that you'd be coming at this from a queer perspective. I fabricated an authorial intent out of whole cloth, imagining that you, a Scottish anarchosocialist sodomite, would for some unknown reason have suddenly become a zealously Americanist critic of a whistleblower on the current surveillance state overreach, and such a fervent one indeed that you'd (bizarrely, incomprehensibly,) compare the regime sheltering said whistleblower to the nazis. Of all things, I projected onto you a random stance of rabid US patriotism. To you, I can only imagine, that must have seemed a flagrant disregard of the very notion that you could have a queer perspective.

"What I mean is, not only did I ram it down your throat how little a straight person could care to know about the homophobic fascism in Russia; I rammed it down your throat how little they could even have that iota of consideration required to anticipate you caring about such fascism. To you it must have seemed that I demonstrated not just a jawdropping ignorance of the situation in Russia but a breathtaking disregard of the very notion that a homosexual employing the swastika in a work of art might be referencing the fascism which strives to exterminate homosexuals. Wow. It's one thing for the kidnapping and torture of gay kids in Russia to have so little impact that, despite the agitation against the Sochi Olympics, a random commenter on such an image sans context wouldn't make the connection. It's another thing for your consistent advocacy on queer issues to have so little impact on a recurrent commenter like myself that I'd fail to make the connection even in the context of your blog.

"So I'm guessing that you read my comment and were staggered, aghast at my inability to get where you were coming from, that you could get your head around me being ignorant of the IOC's collaboration with fascism, but really didn't know quite what to make of the fact that after years of reading and commenting on this blog I still somehow managed to obliviate your core concerns. That even with the tub-thumping of the immediately preceding entry, I'd not just disagree with your priorities but lack even sufficient cognizance of their existence/possibility to prompt the realisation that they were in play. I'm guessing you were profoundly saddened by my failure to stop and think for even a second that THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!! might be firing off another of his potshots at the cuntfuckers. I'm guessing you wondered how indicative this might be of a wider disregard, how far other straights might be similarly bound into such a straight perspective, so incapable of imagining what goes on in a mouthy queer's head that it wouldn't even occur to them that you were being a mouthy queer again, despite your active presentation of self as a mouthy queer, as THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

"Yup, thinking this through with my amazing human capacity of Theory of Mind, I see now how that oblivious comment probably played. And now that I know where you're coming from, that poster makes so much more sense. And having been oblivious of the situation in queer politics you were referencing--hell, so oblivious even of your queer perspective that I didn't even consider you might be applying it here--well, I'll simply stand corrected and accept your caustic comment on aforesaid situation for what it is. You see the IOC's collaboration with Russian fascism as collaboration with Russian fascism. Nuff said. I thought you were on about something else entirely. You're not. So I'll shut the fuck up now.

"Far be it from me to compound my cluelessness by blathering on about my own concerns with the US government's attitude to Snowden, spouting some irrelevant opinions about the motivations that will, in my not so humble opinion, underlie a US boycott, as if a Scottish sodomite would and should see Russian fascism and the International Olympic Committee's collaboration with it through a US filter. A Scottish sodomite who may or may not give a shit about that particular surveillance state politicking, but who's certainly made it clear that this is not the issue being addressed. As a regular reader of your blog I understand the concept of derailing, and I imagine you really wouldn't like me trying to draw you into a discussion of my unrelated concerns on a post expressing yours.

"Nor will I end that blather with a reassurance that there's no problem here... as long as your opinion on this entirely unrelated issue is acceptable, as if the onus is on you to renounce the stance I fabricated for you out of whole cloth, as if despite my total misreading of your actual target, what required to be resolved was not my error but the wholly imaginary disagreement I projected on you. For me to do that would, I appreciate, be just absurd. I imagine your gobsmack at the first comment would be veritably dwarfed by such a bizarre turn in the discourse, if I were to actually have the audacity to condescend so, to present myself as letting you off from an argument after I've been so resoundingly obtuse. I'd come across as a complete cock, wouldn't I? Or cuntfucker, to use your term. I can put myself in your head, imagine how it would look to you--as a near comic pompousness in which I actually think it's my station in life to discharge you of the heinous offense of disagreeing with me in my imagination. What an assumption of authority that would be!

"And what I certainly won't do then is condescendingly dismiss that caustic comment with a supercilious admission that it's amusing but... For a start, I can see how your combination of the symbols is hardly meant for my amusement. It might constitute a sort of visual satire, I suppose, but really... it's not exactly meant to be laughed at, is it? To see a comment on such an issue as mere joke would be a trivialisation of your intent, right? I don't imagine you were chortling to yourself merrily as you pasted it together. Now I know what it's referring to, I can quite imagine it comes from a bitter raging disgust at the IOC's collaboration. Given that I don't imagine everyone in the entire world bar me to be ignorant, I'm sure you of all people had no more illusions about the IOC's spineless attitude than I, see it similarly as mere dismal confirmation of an ugly reality, but that's not going to magically dissolve the furious contempt that surely motivated you in slapping that image up on your blog. So I wouldn't think to pat you on the back over how funny it is... but...

"Nor will I follow up that but with a bizarre analysis of an ex-KGB boss's agenda as idealistically anti-Communist--like Hitler's(!)--as if such an analysis somehow negated the situation: neo-nazi gangs kidnapping and torturing gay teens; 74% of the population saying society shouldn't accept homosexuals; anti-gay laws expanding from St Petersburg to the whole country; Putin presiding over all of this; the IOC collaborating. Or as if it negated the purpose of a pointed visual comment on that situation. I mean, I do understand how the word but works, so for me to use it like that would, I understand, be to essentially say that regardless of the value of humour I find in that image, really, there are other factors outweighing that value. Simply to include that but would be an unfathomable signal that I'm about to open an argument aimed at silencing you, at establishing the facticity of something countermanding the justification for the post provided by the humour.

"I understand that to place a but here is to say that what follows is a counter-argument. I understand that after completely missing your entire point in my first comment, I'd now be slingshotting from irrelevant US-blinkered waffle topped with an absurd acquittal (from the crime of an imaginary opinion) to the outright obnoxiousness of arguing that there are reasons against a caustic comment which, in slapping a few swastikas on the the Sochi Olympics logo, does little more than point to the current situation and say we're dealing with fucking fascism. Knowing how the word but works, I know that I could only be presenting what follows as a delegitimising criticism of that comment, as a challenge to your choice to construct and post it. It does offer me some amusement, I'd be saying. But still. And yet. However. Nevertheless. Regardless of this. For the following reasons, the implication would hang in the air, that amusement is inadequate justification.

"What could I even follow that with? Some nebulous handwaving about Putin being anti-Communist? And the next time you tell that story about not being allowed to debate Section 28 at school because the teacher feared it would breach Section 28, maybe I'd say, That's terribly droll, but Thatcher was actually anti-union. At best surely I could offer a false dilemma between criticising IOC collaboration with Russian fascism and criticising the Fellowship's instigation of Bahati's Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda. I'd probably also betray my ignorance by talking vaguely in terms of US support and Africa, as if the former were mere cheerleading and the latter were an inchoate mass. But the main cuntfuckery would be my use of an either-or fallacy to agitate at you for your inaction on A when I could instead be agitating elsewhere for action on B, thus solving the false dilemma. That's generally how political agitation works, after all. If all of us wasted our time simply agitating for each other to do B instead of A, neither would be dealt with.

"In ranking Russia below Uganda here, I'd also be obliviating the exact same rhetoric being utilised in both, as I'm guessing you could link me to--but don't worry, I'll go look it up myself; I'm sure it's easy to find--of homosexuality being described as foreign to the native culture, unAfrican or unRussian. Why, I'd be obliviating the fact that you have, on this very blog, highlighted not just the Fellowship's influence in the very inception of Bahati's bill, but the supremely dubious links between the Fellowship and Invisible Children, the latter with their whole Kony2012 campaign to send US military advisors into Uganda to train their armed forces. I'd be obliviating the fact that you were agitating about B precisely when the Kony2012 campaign made this a priority. In my overweening assumption I'd be erasing history--albeit on a small personal scale--just to sustain my bogus argument against your present stance against Russian fascism.

"And without even a moment's consideration that you might be attacking homophobia on that other front in ways I don't have a fucking clue about, I'd be a straight man, of all people, telling you, of all people, a queer man, that as far as queer activism goes you're doing it wrong. How could I defend that? If you managed to curb your utter contempt at the sheer hauteur of a straight idiot like me trying to dismiss a single image post with my correctitude, if you refrained from pointing out my arrogance in presuming to enlighten you on what was more important--when I'm so fucking clueless on this matter that I didn't even get the queer significance of that image in the first place--if you made only the simplest acerbic response, pointing out that to highlight one massive festering boil of homophobia is hardly incompatible with action in the face of another... what could I say to justify my swaggering conceit in seeking to rectify your grave error in posting that image?

"Not being an ignorant cuntfucker, I've heard terms like mansplaining and straightsplaining. I know that the latter is what I'd be doing with you, that you'd class this as cuntfuckery, and that given your lack of compunction in dealing with cuntfuckery, I'd be positively begging for the full brunt of your fury. What could I, a cuntfucker, possibly say after telling you, a cocksucker, that you're doing it wrong when you point to the situation in Russia instead of to the situation in Uganda? Were I to impose my bumptious egoism on you in your own virtual home, with neither cognizance nor consideration of the fact you do not need some random cuntfucker to enlighten you on how important Uganda is, what could I possibly say to make this anything less than insufferable boorishness?

"Would I quibble? Would I concede that in principle one might object to both, that in theory one might post a cut-and-paste image attacking IOC collaboration in Russian fascism and yet still, with the 23.5 hours of the rest of the day, and with fuck knows how many hours of the days before or after, manage to also agitate against US activities in Uganda? Would I deign to allow this as a speculative potential, but do so only as a preliminary to the assertion that (in practice) you must choose your priorities or have them chosen for you? As if this were some grand wisdom I were dispensing unto your pitiful folly. As if you needed me to tell you this. As if it didn't occur to me for a second that you might actually be exercising that capacity to prioritise what matters now, that you might have actually been exercising it as regards Uganda during that whole Kony2012 thing--maybe even before! In context, surely that would be of a kind with the infantilisation of women or people of colour, the inveterate tendency of the white cuntfucker to treat the abject as intellectual and emotional inferiors requiring education. It would also be head-deskingly ironic for me to warn you of how, in your feeble inferiority of unfocused aims, you risk having priorities imposed on you... precisely as I myself am seeking to impose my priorities on you.

"No, no, I wouldn't be so patronising. I wouldn't spew out some more blatherous opinionation when I'm pretty sure you couldn't give two smears of a shit on a stick that I think Putin's trying to curry favour with the Russian Orthodox Church--being more concerned, I'd guess with that 74% of the population who'll actually give serious exterminationist power to any opportunistic demagogue who knows how to capitalise on it. I'm pretty sure you don't give a flying felch-crazy flip-fuck what I think about US politicking over Snowden; I mean, having completely gotten the wrong end of the stick over this and met with only irk at my doing so, it's clear you're not remotely interested in arguing about this with me, defending the opinions I imagine you have so I can impose my correctitude on them; so I'll shut the fuck up about that. You probably don't much care about my judgement on the notion of the Olympics in principle either. Or what I think of the wholly irrelevant subject of Zionism. To start throwing such random opinions would just be a smokescreen.

"All of that would be empty prattle, and obviously unwelcome in the face of the brusque sarcasm I'd no doubt have got from you for you're doing it wrong straightsplaining. The idea that you shouldn't make a caustic comment about Russian fascism and the IOC because it's a terrible waste of the time you should have spent making the noise you already made a year ago... clearly that would raise at least a derisory snort from you, and in the face of such it would be clear that I am now, at best, as far as you're concerned, an excruciatingly tedious oaf whose inveterate snipewankery long since left you wondering why the fuck I even read your blog. I think the message would be clear, no? That my seemingly infinitely high valuation of my opinion is in inverse proportion to your own valuation of that same opinion. If I carried on despite the cues indicating you considered this behaviour obnoxious, that heedless discourtesy would surely seem born of the sense of entitlement that leads a guest to to so take their host's hospitality for granted that they think nothing of insulting them even as they hang around long after they've outstayed their welcome.

"So I wouldn't do that. I'd just shut the fuck up. I wouldn't end my pointless self-absorbed wittering about Snowden and Putin and Miranda and corporatism in sport and Zionism(!) with a comment that an author's meaning can sometimes be lost, despite their best intentions. I'd know by then that all you'd hear is the soulsucking nasal whine of an ignorant egoist with too much self-image invested in their smarts not to spin their mistake as an author's meaning being not actively misunderstood but passively lost, spin it indeed as the author's failure to live up to best intentions. I'd know that such a comment, after all the clueless incomprehension and arrogant assumption, all the condescending dismissal and insufferable correctitude, after all the utter guff, would just seem a final cherry on top, an attempt to recast my obtuseness as your opacity. In the face of outright incomprehension that symbols of Russia, Olympics and fascism might refer to Russia, Olympics and fascism, you'd surely be thinking, I still have to make it about you being wrong. I'm not sure you'd call that blaming the victim, but it would certainly be a self-serving attempt to turn responsibility for my cuntfuckery on to you.

"So I'd inflict none of that obnoxious wordspew on you. If you corrected me without even a sniff of personal criticism, just a roll of eyes at a lack of good reportage, I'd simply acknowledge that correction and move on. It's not like I'd need to save face, after all. It's not like my egoism is so bloated (or so small and desperate and over-compensating) that I can't accept I was wrong even when tacitly absolved of responsibility for it. It's not like I need to wheel out a whole set of rhetorical maneouvres--derailing, assumption of authority, trivialisation, silencing, delegitimising, false dilemma, erasing history, correctitude, straightsplaining, infantilisation, smokescreen, sense of entitlement, blaming the victim, whatever--in some vague hope that something in all that cuntfuckery will... what? Draw you into a spurious debate on my bogus nonsense so that somewhere in the mire of bad faith I can persuade myself that I've re-established my correctitude, that regardless of my complete incomprehension of an image well nigh as simple and obvious as they come, I can be proud in my correctitude and disdainful of your wrongosity? Why the fuck would you put up with that sort of shit?

"No, there's just no need for it. Actually, come to think of it, since I'm not going to lay that sort of shit on you, it's not like I even need to tell you that. You don't need to know what cuntfuckery I'm not going to crap all over your blog. So I could probably boil all of this alternative response down to something much simpler. When it comes down to it, at the end of the day, there's really not much more I need to say than this:

"Oh. Right. My bad."

And there you go. Oh. An expression of surprise. Right. An acknowledgement that the correction is received and understood. My bad. An acknowledgement that as a citizen of New Sodom such a spectacular obliviousness is something of a faux pas, a disregard of the core concerns here, where you are at least expected to exercise the minimum of awareness of what those concerns might be. Hell, even if you don't know shit about Sochi and can't think it through enough to use the arcane mysteries of Google and your amazing human powers of Theory of Mind to ascertain the obvious, that faux pas isn't even a big deal. I find it hard to imagine how you can read this blog, have that misconception cleared up and not face-palm at how obvious the referent is in retrospect, but I'm not one to require a show of apologies for a stumble--or for anything really. What I do ask is that you don't take that stumble as an opportunity to springboard into snipewanking cuntfuckery so tedious it seems designed to irk. Those bolded words throughout, they're not that hard to avoid if you put a bit of effort in, if you have the respect for others required to do so.

If you are incapable of commenting with even the modicum of respect required to construct such a response--of either the long or short variant--then simply do not comment here. You are not welcome. Fuck the fuck off, you cuntfucking cuntfucker, and never darken my fucking door again. Capiche? Do not argue with this, my dear Snipewank. You have the choice of either accepting that, as far as I'm concerned, you're clearly incapable of communicating with me other than as an insufferable boor, or of believing what you will of my antipathy and knowing simply that this virtual abode will no longer offer virtual hospitality. Should you choose the former, the above should, I hope, provide you with an adequate dissection of why and how that effect is engendered in your manners of discourse. Please to learn from it and apply the principles in future.

Should you choose the latter, I have no intention of suffering you being an insufferable boor over whether or not it's reasonable for me to see you as an insufferable boor. I have no interest in a tedious discourse with you on your correctitude and my wrongosity in that respect. There is no way for you to hold to this without judging all of the above to be written in bad faith, in which case you have zero respect and discussion is futile. If you can't get it through your skull how shit like that comes across and adjust your behaviour accordingly, I will in all likelihood simply start deleting your comments. To give no leeway, not to give the benefit of the doubt even when it is thoroughly trying to do so, goes against the grain with me, but I take comfort in the fact that I've no doubt--not an iota--that you'll consider this a proof of your correctitude and my wrongosity, a refusal to engage with the mighty ego intellect before whom none can stand. That is your prerogative, and I'll leave you to it.

I will also however invite you to leave with it. Go with my best wishes--genuinely, sincerely, I find you insufferable, but I wish you all the best, these well-wishes simply including a hope that you might at some point recognise the boorishness I'm rejecting as unacceptable discourse here, that you might realise how you're presenting yourself, interrogate your attitude to others, and become a better person for it. At the moment, I'm simply no longer willing to put up with it--which is my prerogative--so I'll bid you goodbye.

Hugz and kittehz

THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!


UPDATE: Email response to an email received:

I'm genuinely surprised to hear that you're not straight. I'm assuming you've mentioned this before somewhere, so I happily accept that--I can only presume your mention of this at some point has just not stuck in my memory. Bear in mind, you're just a faceless "S. Johnson" to me, somewhere out there in the US, a teacher--science, as I recall? Your comments have been predominantly on science versus religion, sf versus fantasy; I don't know you beyond those opinions, and clearly I've missed or forgotten whatever mention of sexuality you made. I've been reading your comments for as long as I remember as those of some straight US teacher who seemed to have zero interest in me other than as someone to castigate for expressing opinions you disagree with, or for *not* expressing the opinions you consider (unquestionably) correct.

For that assumption on your sexuality, I unreservedly apologise, and only hope you'll appreciate that a whole lot of my frustration--not "hurt feelings," not sensitivity, but frustration--was based on a genuine belief that a straight man was lecturing me from a position of cluelessness, and determined to impose their concerns over mine. You can expect an amendment/retraction to that entry shortly. I'd rather not delete it, can't pretend it was never said, but I'll certainly not cover over my mistake. Maybe if nothing else, *that* will convince you that it was written in good faith, that no matter who you are on the other end of the internets, this is how you've been coming across. Perhaps the most open and honest thing I can do is post this letter beneath. If I look like a fool for that assumption, fair enough.

Other than that: I have no idea where you get the idea I'm right wing from. I'm not. I've lionised the Red Clydesiders and the International Brigades in my fiction. The latest novel is an anarcho-socialist atheist humanist détournement of the gospels. Kissing the ass of the US? I'd have thought I'd made it clear on numerous occasions that I find the culture self-deluded to the point of dangerous, its patriotism etc. beyond ethically bankrupt. I'm not fond of the UK either, which is currently having its own fascist resurgence, just with the EDL focusing on immigration rather than sexuality. Not to mention the actions of the UKBA. And so on. The idea that I wouldn't tell bitter jokes about David Miranda, Glenn Greenwald, and Bradley Manning because it "wouldn’t be good business" is risible. Trust me, if I were a stand-up at the Edinburgh Fringe right now, the developing dystopia those stories reveal might well be the bulk of my material. If I refused to be drawn on Snowden, it's not from some support of these surveillance state(s), simply because I've found our exchanges increasingly sour and unproductive.

Why so? You repeatedly seem to decide that if I have not told you my opinion on something--e.g. Snowden, the Russian Orthodox Church, Miranda, Manning, all of which by all indications I basically agree with you on--I must actually hold the diametrically opposite opinion... and must be corrected on it. For fuck's sake, if I so much as say that I'm more concerned with the power of a massive homophobic majority populace, to you that means I "look kindly on the Russian Orthodox Church." It's not a see-saw. If I find X more worrying than Y, that doesn't mean I'm waving the flag for Y. Except to you, it seems, it does. Every single time we debate I find myself being castigated for opinions I *do not hold*.

Even in your email you project that I think "everyone will understand that a Sochi boycott is about fighting hideous oppression of gays." No, I expected people to understand the significance of the image. I see nothing in the US regime to make me disagree with your claim that a boycott, if it did take place, would have a whole other agenda. But I don't actually want a one-off boycott of Russia. If the IOC go ahead with Sochi, I'd rather see every nation with a concern for human rights withdraw forever, putting the bullshit lie of the "Olympic spirit" to the sword. (It's been bankrupt since 1936. Hence the "Timeless" in that title.) I've said so publicly, just on Twitter rather than the blog. I don't consider any such withdrawals remotely likely. Still, I'll happily make the connection between 1936 and 2014, because I think that connection needs to be made, in part to highlight the resurgence of fascism, in part to expose the collaborationist sideshow we're all likely to be having in two years--after which, with or without a boycott, we'll simply hold the next games elsewhere and everyone will spew utter bullshit about how they've been "redeemed."

Anyway, there's no real point in this discussion, is there? I'm glad you've written this as, to be honest, the contempt in your plain-faced insults is what I've been picking up from you since Day One; it's refreshing to see it without the thin veil of pseudo-courteous disrespect. So, as I say, I'll revise that post to make it absolutely clear how wrong I was about your sexuality. You are clearly not the cuntfucker I thought you were. But now that we're both nice and open about the fact we just don't get along, to put it mildly, can you please just find someone else to enlighten? Given your stance that my "tender regard for Zionism is bigotry," I'd suggest you go find that Red Wolf blogger to whom I'm that "Liberal Brit genre writer Hal Duncan who equates Zionism with fascism and Muslim extremism." I'm sure you'd get on like a house on fire.



Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Timeless Spirit of the Olympic Games


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Building New Sodom

Down at Nine Worlds, as part of the Queer Fandom stream run by Tori Truslow, I had a half hour talk to give on a subject of my choice. I thought I'd post it here too.


Afternoon, I'm THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!! That's capital T H E dot dot dot dot Sodomite Hal Duncan exclamation mark exclamation mark, so named in a lovely piece of hatemail from one whose linguiphilia, shall we say, shone through in their exuberant overuse of excess capitalisation and spurious punctuation. Not just some Sodomite, not just the Sodomite, but THE Sodomite. And not just the customary three full stops to signify a pause for effect, but four! Clearly being a queer, there's just a little extra... drama in my dramatic pause. Not just a single sad solitary exclamation mark either, but two, standing solidly together, upright and firm, proud as the morning glory of two cocks in frottage.

So... THE... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

I guess that means I speak for Sodom. Fair enough. We have no ancient homeland to return to, we Sodomites, just a wasteland of salt, but I'll speak for the New Sodom that's being built in every gay village in every city in every corner of the world, in every online community where we connect with others like ourselves. In every gathering like this, in every heart in this room. Take a look around you, at your new neighbours.

Welcome to New Sodom.

Brothers and sisters--no, siblings, citizens, we who were born into exile are tasked with the reconstruction of a city in which every faggot is welcome. No, every freak. The New Sodom I'm talking about is not just for the queer in terms of sexuality. To be queer is to be deviant from a default, from a normative Us defined by the exclusion of an abject Them. Even white is an artificial default defined thus, a pretended absence of colour, an identification of all who have darker skin as deviant from the default, exotically Other, ethnically queer. If default can mean white, straight, cis, able-bodied, neurotypical, male... we only have to look at the exclusion of women to know that this default, this normative, is not even always the majority. What unites us as citizens of New Sodom is not that we are members of one minority or of various minorities. What unites us is that we're queer, in whatever respect. And we are many.

Being many, we have the power, I truly believe, to build this New Sodom, in our culture, in every progressive work of fiction, on the page or the screen. To reconstruct the city of the soul--call it Babylon or Byzantium or Birmingham--to rebuild it as a place of social justice. As audience or artist, we're always already rebuilding the city we live in, in the narratives we construct and consume. This is why I want to talk today about one specific problem in the fiction that has built and is still building a city that is not New Sodom, a city in which the abject continues to be misrepresented and excluded. I want to put a name that you will recognise to the system we're living in, in which members of myriad abject groups are not welcome at the heart of narrative, where they're allowed in only to perform certain roles of service to the normative protagonist--as the Gay Best Friend, the Magic Negro.

I say it's time to raise the sword of a word, to bring it sweeping down and cut the Gordian Knot of tangled discourse, to cut the crap and call this system what it is:


The status quo in the media, in our narratives, is segregation. It’s a state in which members of abject groups--black, queer, whatever--are deemed to not belong as main characters. This is the segregation of not being able to sit at the front of the bus. The abject may be allowed in as an exception if this “serves the plot” if there's a reason for the character’s gayness. This is the segregation of being stopped in a white neighborhood and challenged on your purpose in being there. The abject may be allowed in as Gay Best Friends or Magic Negros in service of the straight, white protagonist. This is the segregation of travelling into a white neighbourhood to work as a cleaner in someone’s house.

It’s segregation for the readers too. They may be able to go to a little corner of the genre where the stories speak directly to them--a gay imprint like Lethe Press, a magazine like Icarus, queer cinema, black fiction. This is the segregation of the ghetto. While this holds, for all that the abject may appreciate much in the narratives they’re written out of, the constant awareness of their erasure from these narratives is a barrier that prevents full enjoyment, an unwelcome sign that says, “No Blacks” or “No Gays” which they must choose to ignore. This is the segregation of water fountains at which the abject cannot drink and be refreshed as the normative can.

Segregation. I do not use this word lightly. I use it literally, not figuratively. I'm saying that segregation can be enforced normatively rather than legally, that prescribing the role you can play in a narrative is no less segregation than prescribing the seat you can take on a bus. And as these fictional narratives we construct and consume shape our readings of the world around us, segregation in them plays out in practical, physical limitations on where you can go without challenge.

What happens when narratives are segregated like the buses of Alabama in 1963? A kid coming back from the shops with Skittles gets followed by someone who can only see him in the role that segregated narrative has prescribed for him. That kid gets challenged because narrative after narrative says he doesn't belong in this neighbourhood. He gets shot and killed because narrative after narrative has allowed in black male teens only in a certain seat at the back of the bus, in the shadows, as a threat. And his killer walks free because all the jurors have read or watched that same narrative over and over again, so many times they actually consider the paranoid fear of a kid with Skittles to be reasonable.

This is what happens when your narratives are segregated, excluding the abject from protagonist roles, boxing them into bigoted clichés, thugs in hoodies.

This is what happens when your cheap and easy hackwork consistently erases the permutation in which the abject is central subject, the PoV character to whom the stalker in the car is the threat.

This is what happens when you blithely construct a culture of narratives in which it's second fucking nature to cast Muggers No.1, 2 and 3 with black skin.

This is what happens when you can't even write a black cop without giving him a stereotypical gang kid backstory---like his innately violent nature has to be "redeemed."

This is what happens when systemic segregation in narrative wires the bigoted clichés so deep, it defines how real life scenarios are read and in a vicious circle defines the stories real life inspires you to write.

This is what happens when every single Hollywood movie on a 2011 IMDB official list of the Top 50 Sci-Fi movies has a white lead:

The Empire Strikes Back
Star Wars
The Matrix
Terminator 2
A Clockwork Orange
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Back to the Future
Return of the Jedi
Blade Runner
Donnie Darko
District 9
The Thing
The Terminator
Twelve Monkeys
V for Vendetta
Star Trek
Children of Men
Bride of Frankenstein
Planet of the Apes
Young Frankenstein
The Day the Earth Stood Still
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
The Iron Giant
Jurassic Park
Iron Man

This is what happens when you lie to yourself that segregation doesn't exist, or that you're not swayed by its constant agitprop.

This is what happens when you think you're "not racist," but you don't even notice the absence of the abject on lists like the one I've just rattled through.

This is what happens when you resist pressure for social awareness in your subculture with denials, excuses and rhetoric of "PC fascism."

This is what happens when you blithely dismiss the import of bigoted clichés in fiction because that fiction pleasures you like a ten dollar hustler.

This is what happens when you automatically write a black male teen into the narrative you're constructing in the cliché role allotted him: threat.

This is what happens when you just don't, can't, won't construct your narrative with the black male teen in the central role, protagonist imperiled, a kid walking home from the shops, with a creepy-ass cracker as the true threat in the story.

What happens is murder with impunity.

I'm talking about race here because it's the obvious inroad to treat of segregation in racial terms. And because as a queer man, I feel solidarity with people of colour in a struggle that's shared in the abstract even if it's very different in the specifics of the prejudices. But most of all, as a white queer man, it's not my responsibility to fix your homophobia. It is my responsibility to fix my racism. When I talk about building New Sodom, desegregating narrative to stop refusing the abject protagonist roles, stop boxing them into bigoted clichés, it's not just about me as a queer man claiming seats for queers at the front of the bus; it's about me as a white man refusing to countenance the exclusion of people of colour from such a seat. Or people of disability, transgender, women, whatever. This is the ideal I mean when I talk of building New Sodom.

Still, being where we are, let me give a queer example of the sort of segregation to be found in fiction right now.

Only a few months back, from the pen of David S. Goyer, writer of the Chris Nolan Batman movies, Starz gave us Da Vinci's Demons, a fantasy adventure TV series based real loosely on the Renaissance painter I like to call THE.... Sodomite Leonardo da Vinci!! Here's a quote from the historical Leo:

"The act of procreation and anything that has any relation to it is so disgusting that human beings would soon die out if there were no pretty faces and sensuous dispositions."

Not a lover of the vagina, methinks. If you're not convinced, Leo also said this:

“A man who is ashamed to show or name the penis is wrong. Instead of being anxious to hide it, man ought to display it… with honour!”

I don't know about you, but to me... arguing for men to get their cock out, trying to persuade a bloke to drop his britches in the fifteenth century equivalent of a Tumblr selfie... it bespeaks a certain motivating orientation. Come on, man. Don't hide that cock away. Put it on display. Get that glorious virile member out for us all to admire. R U cut or uncut? Can you self-suck? SHOW COCK BB! When people talk about the gay agenda, I gotta say, destroying traditional marriage, undermining the fabric of society... not really priorities. Seeing the cock however. Ass is even better in my book, but hey, I guess Leo was a bottom. To each their own.

So, THE... Sodomite Leonardo da Vinci!! Cock-hungry power bottom. But in a system of segregation, the queer doesn't belong in that seat at the front of the bus, in the role of hero. This is so established, so enforced by our notions of the normative, that when news of Da Vinci's Demons hit, did anyone for a second expect the character not to be straightironed? Not me. Even before clicking through the link to the first trailer, I knew that Leonardo would have his sexuality erased, reset to the default. I expected this.

What I didn't expect--foolishly--was to see the queer snuck back aboard, to the shadowy back seats where the Predatory Pederast sits beside the Castrating Bitch, the Bitter Cripple, the Scheming Jew... and the Gangbanging Nigger, the vile lying spectre of a narrative role into which Zimmerman and the jury thought it was reasonable to place Trayvon Martin. What I didn't expect was for the erasure of Da Vinci's sexuality to have its flipside in the creation of not one but two Evil Predatory Pederasts. In the first ten minutes.

First, after a brief flashforward, in what's basically the opening scene, we get the Duke of Milan, Galeazzo Mario Sforza. A short while later, we get Pope Sixtus the Fourth. If the system of segregation makes it eye-rollingly predictable that the hero would be straightironed, it's interesting to note what's done with these two characters, particularly the first, the Duke of Milan, who... can I put this delicately? No, fuck that shit. Let me put this indelicately. The historical Duke of Milan was a cuntfucker.

I mean this both literally and figuratively. On the one hand as a simple natural analogue to cocksucker--which I'll happily own. On the other hand, figuratively, as a combination of cunt and fucker that combines the force of the two while transferring the contempt from a perfectly lovely piece of female anatomy to the fucker who approaches it with contempt. The point is, if ever a man was fit to be called a cuntfucker, it's Sforza who, according to Wikipedia, was as keen on putting the peepee in the vageegee as Leo was against it. In the figurative sense too, he was as cruel as you could ever want a character to be for narrative purposes. He had a poacher force-fed an intact hare with its fur still on. Another man he nailed alive to his coffin. Actually, he combined the two senses of cuntfucker into the perfect storm of cuntfuckery, in his reputed tendency to rape the noble wives and daughters of Milan. Not a nice man, in short.

So, how do we meet this monster in the opening scene of Da Vinci's Demons? How is his depravity demonstrated? We see him naked at the window of his palatial bedchambers, pissing in a chamberpot, turning back to his canopied bed, to pull aside the curtains...

"Out you go, boy." he says disdainfully, and tosses clothes to the naked young man revealed in his bed. He slaps the pretty youth's ass as the boywhore toddles to the door, tosses a coin or two, and turns away in utter disregard. In an instant, we know that he's a debauched powermonger of debased lusts, an amoral user of people, taking what he wants, throwing scraps of coin in contempt--less in payment than as sign of his ownership of your ass. In the phrasing used later, he's "a pig of epic appetites." A cuntfucker, as I say, and what better way to show this than to signal it with sodomy as subjugation?

If Da Vinci has been straightironed, the historical queer refused a seat at the front of the bus, not belonging there unless and until rendered straight, then Sforza has been gaybent, the historical straight not seated at the back of the bus until put into the blackface of a wholly fabricated queerness. Goyer takes this murderous misogynistic rapist, ignores his crimes, and flips his sexuality in order to render him instead as a stereotype of a vicious sodomite, this sin of subjugating sodomy an offhand narrative shortcut for the character's moral turpitude.

I can only guess that cramming a live hare down a man's throat just wouldn't do to establish Sforza's credentials as a man of vice. I can only surmise that nailing a man to a coffin was inadequate to purpose. To me, an act of brutal torturing cuntfuckery seems a pretty good way to establish brutal torturing cuntfuckery. Surely then, there must be some other narrative purpose an historically accurate Sforza would fail to achieve. Whatever might that be?

Where the historical Sforza fails is simply in advancing the segregationist cause. What the gaybent Sforza achieves is not just the visceral contempt of bigotry invoked in the audience. As an ersatz example of the abject being despicable, the gaybent Sforza offers a double-whammy: the validation of that contempt, justifying the bigotry such that subsequent exploitation is all the more likely and all the more effective.

So, only a few minutes later, we get another Predatory Pederast. In the centre of a large indoor pool, submerged with only their heads and shoulders exposed, are Sixtus and another pretty young naked man. Sixtus is embracing him from behind, a Freudian knife at the lad's throat, poised to penetrate tender flesh. As Sixtus plays rapey power games we get a clear shot of the youth's genitals, shaved to boyish hairlessness, flaccid in his vulnerability. They're off-screen when Sixtus grabs them, but we're left in no doubt that he does so, in no doubt that the evil rape-faggot Sixtus is fluffing that cock, forcing a physical response even as he threatens murder. Which is shortly performed.

Sforza was just an opening act to the this full-fledged monster--murderous, manipulative, a sadist who's gone so deep into the heart of Sodom he's found himself in Salo. It's a henchman that does the deed, Count Riario, but just for good measure, just in case we forgot which sexuality belongs in which narrative role, he's a queer predator too. He gazes admiringly upon the lad, no small sincerity in his voice as he draws his sword--"I am truly sorry"--and wades into the pool to slaughter the boywhore. Another sodomite, it seems, favourite of his papal uncle--buttfucked by him, I'll bet, into his black-hearted wickedness.

This is mainstream television. This is a series renewed before it was even aired, written by the man who scripted the fucking Dark Knight movies. This is agitprop being forced down the throat of every single viewer tuning in for some harmless hokum. It would barely be more blatantly so if it were a TV show on the World War Two adventures of Alan Turing which rendered him as a red-blooded womaniser, and opened on a scene of a black Hitler and a Jewish Himmler murdering a blond Aryan rentboy they'd just spit-roasted.

But the point of this is not to accuse David S. Goyer or Da Vinci's Demons of homophobia, as if these bigoted clichés were only spewed out here and there, whenever this writer or that work fell victim to their own prejudice. The point is, the driver and the bus may well be simply going along with the prejudice of the system. It's segregation that sits the straight guy in the front seat as hero, with the driver not even noticing. It's segregation that sits so many queers at the back of the bus that, as the villain takes his seat in the shadows, the driver automatically paints him queer in his imagination. And every time this happens, with every segregated narrative, with every journey we take as readers or viewers along for the ride, we're being taught to apply that segregation to the narrative of reportage or courtroom testimony.

We may have progressed to the point where the fabulousness of all those Gay Best Friends at least undermines the fear loaded into all the Predatory Faggots. The gay panic defense was thrown out of court for Matthew Shepard's killers. Not so with the black panic defense, successful last month, sustained in a court of law by every fictive iteration of the Gangbanging Nigger trope. It's not just a vague and nebulous racism that led to Trayvon Martin being killed and his killer being acquitted. In the culture of narratives that we create and consume, there is a mechanism, a system, nurturing specific paranoid prejudices, sustaining bigoted clichés that filter our vision.

Only by recognising that system for what it is can we deal with it, as we must and as we can. If we can desegregate the buses, we can desegregate narrative. When it comes to fictional representation of the abject, if we can understand what we are striving for as desegregation, articulate it as such, there is no argument against this. Otherwise? Simply demand better treatment for queer characters, and they'll say we're demanding special treatment; they'll call it political correctness. They'll say we want leather armchairs at the back of the bus. Simply demand more queer protagonists, and they'll say we're demanding quotas. They'll say we want seats set aside for us at the front, even at the expense of some poor old white fart called Art.

Demand desegregation, and all this straw man bullshit is exposed for what it is. As citizens of New Sodom, what we are asking for is only the dismantling of the system's constraints. This is not a politically correct demand for quotas. We do not want a queer character in every TV show, only to know that we are as likely to find them there as elsewhere, as likely to find them there as in reality, and not in service to the straight white hero, not as second-class citizens of the imagination, but as equals. We do not want a set number of seats allocated for us at the front of the bus. It is simply that we will no longer tolerate being sent to the back. We will not tolerate segregation.

Segregation. I know that for me this word resounds in my head and heart with a note so deep and loud it rattles the soul. Its toll is that of the heaviest of bells, for its weight is its own history, and all that history echoes in every utterance. In 1963, the Birmingham Campaign formed to fight segregation in Alabama. Fifty years on, and it is long past time that segregation was ended even in its subtlest, most insidious forms, even where it's prescribing narrative roles rather than bus seats. People of colour, queers, whatever, we can no longer countenance the abject being allowed into the gated neighbourhoods of our narratives only in the uniforms of service that segregation demands. We will no longer see our citizens-- siblings or selves--turned away from the water-fountains.

What we're asking for is not special treatment. It is no more and no less than that when we are thirsty for the stories that replenish the soul--because this is what all art does, high or low--that when we are thirsty for a tale that can speak to us as much as to any other, we are not turned away from the water fountains of the normative, forced to walk across the street to special water fountains set aside for us, to quench that thirst. If we will not be sent across the street to drink in silence, then we must gather at those water-fountains where the signs still hang, and call our exclusion and misrepresentation for what it is, and cry out for desgregation until those signs are torn down. We will no longer be turned away from the water-fountains, for this water is the water of life, and it is and must be for all who are thirsty.


Thursday, August 08, 2013

Documentary Evidence on the Existence of Scruffians c. 1771

"Employing a linkboy could be dangerous, as some would lead their clients to dark alleyways, where they could be beset by footpads."

Well, duh! If yer employs a scamp what's clearly a bleeding hellion, a Scruffian as has only gone and tweaked his Stamp to give himself sodding bat wings, what does yer think is like to happen? Oh yes, Mr Reynolds, sir! You just foller me, Mr Reynolds, sir! I'll lead yer right! Lead yer up right Black Boy Alley and right into Clerkenwell Rookery, that is! And then there'd be Flashjack Scarlequin stood in the shadows, sparking his pipe with a flame as he fingersnaps from his thumb! And like as not the rest of Foxtrot's crew'd be behind that poor nob now, so's there ain't no escaping. That's what yer gets for following a Glym Jack with bleeding bat wings, ain't it? Yer twat.