On elections

Hearing post-election sadness from across the waters. Many people really thought that Labour would have made a difference. I half believe them, but really? What on earth does Labour do that the Tories don’t?

Privatization is a trend that continues regardless of which party is in power. Labour began the process of privatizing the NHS; Labour introduced PFIs; Labour introduced the academy system. Most of the current Conservative policies are continuations of Labour policies.

And neither party has any particular respect for the poor. I was around when Gordon Brown eliminated the 10p tax band and was surprised that this supposed social democrat, who wasn’t like Blair, who really wanted a fairer society for everyone, was trying to squeeze the last penny out of the poor. If he needed more money, why couldn’t he tax the rich?

Of course, there’s the practical problem: You can’t tax rich people because they can afford lawyers and newspapers. But really, the revelation was that for all his son-of-the-manse act, Brown was a neoliberal thinker, just like the rest of us, more or less. And the first tenet of that sort of thinking is that rich people are better than poor people.

You can see that sort of thinking reflected in party members’ statements after Ed Miliband’s resignation:

“The issue of aspiration in people’s lives; we can no longer relate to them as a party of aspiration. And that was one of the big successes that won us three elections.”

“People want a fairer, better Britain, but they also need to have confidence in the ability of a government to manage the economy competently. We need our party and next leader to celebrate our entrepreneurs and wealth creators and not leave the impression they are part of the problem.”

Well, that’s the kind of talk that makes me believe that Labour was going to roll back all those Tory cuts. These are party members reacting against a party manifesto that, on the intro page, highlights that “A Labour government will cut the deficit every year” and mentions benefits mainly in terms of caps and workfare. (There’s a vague promise to reform the Work Capability Assessment, but mainly in terms of how to get the disabled back into work.) It’s not exactly bleeding-heart. Yet it’s still not enough for half of Labour, it concentrates too much on depressing, less worthy people.

Let’s be honest. If you’re poor, or you’re sick, or you’re not aspiring in exactly the correct manner, Labour doesn’t really have time for you. If you’re not, Labour has time for you as a voter; if you’re not and you’re rich, Labour has all the time in the world for you. It’s not wickedness, per se; it’s just the overall neoliberal system that Labour is part and parcel of.

Why would anybody vote for Labour? Is the hope that Labour would be slightly less flagrant about things? Or that the attitude would be different? I guess the Tories really hate the poor and ill, exploiting them with visceral glee: “I’m going to choke one out to my bank statement whilst snorting cocaine through a gold straw!” Whereas the Labour party merely treat them as embarrassing failures, narcissistic wounds in New Labour’s side: “Why couldn’t you have helped me by all becoming stockbroker success stories from the ghetto? I hope you know that this hurts me more than it hurts you.”


(Addendum: I’m still not angry at Ed Miliband, for some reason I like that guy and am glad that he doesn’t have to deal with Ed Balls for years on fucking end. See, politics are not always a rational choice.)

Let’s Read Queen of the Tearling: Chapter 10

I’ve put it off for as long as I can, but let’s get back to the Tearling.

Javel, the gate guard who was hanging out with evil Arlen Thorne earlier, is now doing some more evil conspiracy shit. Unsurprisingly, not everyone is happy with Kelsea’s plan to stop the slave shipments—nobles who run toll roads and made regular money from slave convoys, people who are scared of war with the vastly more powerful Mort. This would be an interesting look at the opposition to Kelsea’s reforms if the people involved weren’t described in sub-David Eddings terms, so everyone is ugly, fat, drunk, and weaselly. I mean, the gang includes an evil priest and a rapist gate guard. Can’t thin, ordinary-looking people be morally wrong? Without being grimdark wrong? Continue reading →

You can get paid for it?

While enjoying Jenny Diski’s post on paying speakers and the accompanying Twitter conversation, I discovered that a Guardian “Comment is Free” post is worth almost exactly two-and-a-half of xoJane‘s “It Happened to Me” articles–that is, about $135 as of today. Of course, this varies with the exchange rate and with the solvency of either publication, but still.

I was shocked and appalled–well, no, really, but I was slightly surprised. I always assumed that someone who was published in the online arm of a broadsheet would receive a fee much larger than someone who was published in an online-only mag like xoJane. Why? Because it’s easy enough to make up some nonsense about your vag, slap a fake name on it if you’re feeling particularly shy, and make $50, but presumably someone who moves in the rarefied circles of the Guardian wants the only finest writing, vagina-themed or otherwise. Or maybe because one publication is aimed towards women alone, and therefore it’s supposed to be cheap and exploitative, but anything with university-educated men involved must have money involved as well. But–I was wrong! Oh, the horrors of the world.

Most of my life I’ve worked on salary, so this must be the equivalent of a 40-year-old figuring out that the earth is round and the sun shines to anyone who’s worked freelance. I do wonder if there are differences in who gets paid what outside of standardized “piecework” blogging, though, and who’s pressured to do things for free because they’re supposed to be grateful just to be seen or heard.

Postscript: If anyone stumbles on this page and wants to take the time to explain–why would the Guardian pay in “expenses” rather than in fees? The obvious reason is so that they can shift the cost upwards or downwards depending on the speaker (and get out of paying altogether in a lot of cases), but perhaps I’m missing something.

Happy Chakra Vibes Graphic Novel Roundup #1: The Love Circle

Without going into the gory details, it’s been a negative time both in Book World and Life World in a lot of ways, so instead of bringing the sadness today, I’ll bring the smiles and rainbows and white light beams of positive healing energy and whatnot instead. I’ll get back to hating on various things, I promise. But for now, graphic novel recommends! Share the love and the oms and all that shit. Really.

Megahex—Simon Hanselmann’s chronicle of the (mostly housebound) adventures of Megg, a stoner witch; Mogg, her cat familiar/boyfriend; Owl, their roommate, who is always attempting to defuck his life and always manages to refuck it again; and Werewolf Jones, who is a werewolf and who will stick his dick in your ear. A lot of Megahex involves really stupid, mean, stoned antics—characters falling over, characters throwing shit at each other, characters pulling dumb pranks with their genitalia or asses or nasty feet—but I laughed stone sober, which is no mean feat. And the book takes a turn for the deeper at the end with the “Silver Sequin Miniskirt” story and the death of Megg’s mom. Hanselmann doesn’t draw Megg as the victim of sexy depression that can totally be fixed with a pep talk/dick/sunshine, but as the real deal, and for that I thank him.

These are super fucked up, seedy characters, but I feel for them, I want them to stay exactly as they are and yet make it out alive, two contradictory goals. I always want them to be seeing that dick-slash-ice cream cone in the sky, you know?

Other recommendations: Life Zone, the “Megg’s Coven” strips online (trigger warning: harsh)

Beauty—Coddie is a poor servant in an inn. She’s plain, and it doesn’t help that she smells like, well, cod from scaling fish all day. The village children tease her. The innkeeper’s son would be her sweetheart, but the innkeeper tells Coddie in no uncertain terms that an ugly girl like her isn’t good enough for her precious son… Unhappy and alone, Coddie runs off to the woods, where her tears accidentally free a powerful fairy. Coddie wishes for beauty, and the fairy grants her the appearance of beauty. In spades. Nothing can mar this enchantment—not injury, not illness, not age. Is it really for the best when your wishes come true?

Beauty is truly an epic fantasy story, but not from the point of view of the usual epic hero. Coddie (now Beauty) drives men mad—they see her as a prize, attack her, and attack each other for her. Women are less immediately dangerous, but they fear her and turn on her. A lesser story might end with Beauty “properly” punished for daring to want more for herself, but Beauty evolves from possession to schemer to powerful wielder of glamour. Beauty herself isn’t a saint, thank god—at first, she behaves just like you probably would, if your most naive wish came true at the age of 14 or so, but the story allows her to learn from her mistakes. The art is beautiful from the first page to the last, and there’s even a coda at the end that shows that beauty is really in the eye of the beholder.

Other recommendations: anything by Kerascoet because their art is beautiful and inspiring. The Miss Don’t Touch Me books are from the Hubert/Kerascoet team that did Beauty and they are great if you like 30’s Paris/mysteries/kink, and who doesn’t like at least one of those things?

Shoplifter—The story of Corinna Park, a twenty-something woman who works in advertising to pay the bills while yearning for/avoiding making human connections and art. To add interest to her life holding pattern, she shoplifts magazines for fun. Park really gets across that feeling of professional and personal exhaustion—wanting more out of life, yet so disengaged that nothing seems like a worthwhile attempt. This is a short story and pretty simple, plot-wise, but it’s still affecting. Shoplifter is also remarkable for having a female protagonist who wants romance—but gets a genuinely happy ending without the traditional “happily ever after.”

Other recommendations: You know, I haven’t read anything else from Cho. I’m not sure if he’s done anything else book-length? So I’ll throw this open to all-author recommendations, if anyone wants to give one.

Game of Nice and Fire: Time for a New Sansa Chapter!

Oh my god, you guys, there’s a new Song of Ice and Fire scene out! Which means that I have to work out my sick obsession for midgrade fantasy writing all over it. This time it’s a Alayne viewpoint scene, which is… oh man. I like the Sansa/Alayne character. Maybe I’m the only one, but I do I like that she’s not overpowered (Arya) or a dimbulb (Arianne) or a once-interesting character turned into a boring evil-queen stereotype (Cersei–why did the Cersei viewpoint have to happen at all? Why?) There are still some cool things that can happen with Sansa/Alayne, as long as the character is allowed to grow. Which… well, it’s George R.R. Martin. So yeah.

Warning: There are a lot of Petyr Baelish-related digressions up ahead. If you can’t handle the Baelish and his smoove moves, you might want to skip this one. Continue reading →

“Illness doesn’t need to be like that”

After writing my previous post, the good folks behind Gert Loveday asked if I had heard about another Australian health blogger, Belle Gibson. Yes, I had… Gibson was famous for having terminal brain cancer (not true) and running a wellness site (true). Her app, The Whole Pantry, was included on the Apple Watch, and it seems like Gibson was just about to hit the big time when it turned out that the money from her charity fundraisers was going to the charity of Belle Gibson. Then it turned out that Gibson didn’t really have cancer, just an appointment with “Dr Phil.” (He didn’t have a last name. No, it wasn’t that Dr. Phil.)

Understandably, the shit has hit the fan. Gibson has failed to make her promised explanation, the app has been pulled from the Apple store, and Gibson’s book has been pulled from sale in Australia and a planned American release cancelled. It’s sweet justice for those who’ve been used by Gibson–but why were people conned in the first place?

Continue reading →

An illness story

I’m fascinated by this story of cancer treatment and death because, well, I love crazy alternative therapy stories and I love reading sick lady stories. Specifically, I’m fascinated by how women’s tales of illness are almost like advice stories–they show you how to behave correctly, on every occasion, and how to be a “winner,” even if you die. (Poor Susan Sontag, she utterly failed to stop people from using metaphors to talk about illness. Especially the violent ones!)

A quick rundown of the story: Jess Ainscough was diagnosed with a rare cancer, epithelioid sarcoma, at age 22. The cancer was located in her arm. Instead of undergoing the usual therapy–amputation–Ainscough decided to start Gerson therapy, which involves a bunch of supplements, juices, and coffee enemas. She seems to have blamed her pre-diagnosis lifestyle for her illness–she partied and ate frozen food–and thought that by changing her behavior, she could reverse the cancer. She lived for seven years after diagnosis, and started a wellness blog that seems to have disappeared entirely after her death, but was popular in her native Australia during her life.

Some blogs criticized Ainscough for flinging woo at her followers, saying that her treatment cured her cancer when it didn’t help her at all. I tend to agree with her view, although I can’t say for sure if undergoing conventional treatment would have lengthened her lifespan; it seems as if leaving the cancer untreated led to a particularly painful end, at the very least. Then again, with the recommended course, she would have been a living amputee, with a permanent mark of treatment on her body, and not the “radiant” creature that recently passed away.

And Ainscough was radiant, at least in what is left of her online presence (pictures, mostly; her own words seem to have been erased). She’s described by her followers as so happy and so positive. And that seems to be the important thing, being happy and being good, not being alive. Like I said, I’ve read a lot these stories, and almost all of them prescribe chirpy self-improvement and food restrictions–the same things that women are supposed to do when they don’t have cancer. Apparently doing these things even harder can cure cancer (well, not really, but enough women want to believe that they can cure cancer). And even women undergoing conventional treatment tend to recommend the same things–smiles and dieting and forgiving your enemies, and so on. It’s not a cure, but it can’t hurt, right?*

I don’t know exactly what the link between this happiness and light and cancer treatment is, even though I’ve worked on it, and I’ve read Barbara Ehrenreich and other writers on the subject. I know it’s there, but I can’t articulate it as precisely as I’d like. Maybe there are just too many connections. Perhaps it’s a way to normalize a dreadful disease, make it just another way to self-improvement. Cancer becomes the same as cellulite or acne, something you can read about and work to improve, and just like you’re responsible for doing your own makeup and toning your own thighs, you’re responsible for killing your own cancer cells. If you eat right, exercise, and generally keep yourself looking good, you can “thrive” even if you have a threatening or  incurable illness. All of this “thriving” involves camouflage–hiding body parts with shawls, covering up bald heads with wigs, smearing makeup over one’s face to hide pallor or flushes. All the normal tricks of womanhood, only done with lives on the line.

It’s all that trickery that fascinates and frightens me. I’m probably scared that I’m not a good enough woman when I’m well, and it’s all going to be too much for lazy me when, barring car crashes and gunmen, I inevitably get sick. I’m going to be physically decrepit and emotionally wrecked, and then I’m going to have to put on makeup every damn day and drink dreadful green juice to have the nice, glowing skin I never even had when well. And then what if I die! Probably with my wig crooked and lipstick on my teeth. And in my last moments, I’ll be in a state of utter existential dread, and then I’ll see those offenses against femininity and it will just be too much and I’ll expire of lady regret. Primary cause of death: lazy womanhood.

Of course, that’s flippant. I do remember an encounter with a woman who wasn’t thin and beautiful, who looked sick. Years and years ago, a neighbor was seriously ill with cancer, and I knocked on her family’s door to sell her Girl Scout cookies. She answered the door, to my surprise—I guess I thought that she had already keeled over—and declined to buy, saying that she was trying to eat more healthy foods. Her appearance startled me. She was so thin, and you never saw someone that old and thin in real life, only young models—and I was mystified by her refusal. With my 12-year-old wisdom, I thought, You have only a bit longer to live, eat whatever you want! Looking back, I wonder about her motives. Was she trying to recover, and did it matter if she was? Was she living life to the full by taking care of herself, forgoing “evil” food, or was she denying herself the joy of experience? Does it really matter? Maybe she just hated those cookies. I shouldn’t ascribe motives that weren’t there, even though I naturally do.

I do wonder if looking good is a duty, though, so as not to frighten silly little Girl Scouts or neighbors or loved ones or, most importantly in the United States, employers. How much does it matter? Will I have to find out one day?

* When did positive thinking become a cure, anyhow? People in 19th-century literature seemed to die more often if they were saintly young females with lots of faith and hope, but then again there was that Victorian Heaven to send them to. I may also be confusing Little Women with actual 19th-century medical experience.