Seeking a parity of authors

Sunday, 23 February 2014

I like the idea of the year of reading women. I’d been thinking a bit differently though. The aim of that project is to highlight the unconscious bias of readers (and the literary support network that guide readers’ choices). And reading female authors for a year sounds great: everyone should have read some Angelou, Atwood, Carter and Waters. But what happens at the end of 2014? Will people have trained their unconscious out of its bias?

So instead, for me, this year is going to be about reading parity. I’ve taken this from the panel parity movement in fandom. There the idea is that all-male panels should be actively challenged. In my view, all female panels should also be challenged. I’ve had enough of attending panels along the lines of “women in comics” or “women in SFF” or “women in Doctor Who” as if our gender is the only thing we can discuss.

So I’m going to bring in author parity: I’m going to try to get a balance of authors. I’m also going to run it from Christmas 2013 to Christmas 2014 as, in reading terms, the holiday always marks my new year. If the ultimate aim is to overcome unconscious sexism, then the result should be equality not bias towards any gender.

I also think it’s important to audit your unconscious bias: if you primarily read romances, for example, you’re unconsciously biased away from male authors. (Unsurprisingly, the list that kicked #readwomen2014 is genre-biased towards literary fiction.) So this first year is as much about seeing where my bias lies, so the choices I make lead towards a permanent shift of that bias.

How am I doing so far?
Books by female authors: 2
Books by male authors: 3

Broken down further…
Female-authored fiction: 1
Female-authored non-fiction: 1
Male-authored fiction: 0
Male-authored non-fiction: 3

I’ll review the split near my birthday, and irregularly after that.

Moranthology, by Caitlin Moran

Sunday, 26 January 2014

It’s taken me a while to pin this one down: why did I enjoy Moranthology, a set of essays by Caitlin Moran?

Was it the fangirly glee about Sherlock, the righteous ire about politics, or the alarmingly plausible late night conversations with her husband. In the end, the best way to illuminate why this book is worth reading is that Caitlin Moran loves libraries.

On a cold, rainy island, they are the only sheltered public spaces where you are not a consumer, but a citizen instead. A human with a brain and a heart and a desire to be uplifted, rather than a customer with a credit card and an inchoate ‘need’ for ‘stuff’.

The whole essay resonates so strongly. The idea that, as a teenager, you might come to believe you’ve read every book on the shelves of your local library. That you can order up some dream of a book through inter-library loan. For free. Well, for a minor fee for the inter library loan but still…

Unlike Caitlin, on her Midlands estate, I grew up surrounded by books. I tried to mentally count the number of bookcases we had at home the other day, and failed because I’d keep remembering another one. But once a week, I’d head down to my local library and max out my card with books. Ones I wanted to read again, ones I wanted to take a risk on, ones we didn’t have in the house and I couldn’t afford to buy. You can imagine my delight at discovering my card actually let me take out eight books at once rather than the four I thought I was allowed.

As an art student in a freezing bedsit, the heaters you could sit on in Exeter Central Library were an added bonus, as were their huge collection of vinyl and plays and screenplays and heavy books on modernist art…

There are essays in this collection I disagree with, or that made me snort with laughter, or whatever. But I’d recommend reading it for the essay on libraries alone.

You can always borrow it from one…

Kitchener isn’t just a kitsch image

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Lord Kitchener, the soldier not the calypso star, is on the new £2 coin to mark the start of five years commemorating the First World War. You’ll recognise the image: a well-moustachioed man pointing out at you with the exhortation “Britain needs YOU”.

I do not want to use coins with Kitchener on, so I’ll be donating any I get to the Royal British Legion which is a charity set up to support the people whose lives were ruined by Kitchener’s call to action. Other people I know plan to give them to the Peace Union.

Why am I complaining about the use of Kitchener?
When war was declared in 1914, Kitchener was made Secretary of State for War and tasked with recruiting a volunteer army. In August and September 1914, 750,000 men volunteered. Eventually, over 8 million people fought for Britain from across the Empire, and over 995,000 of them died, in the First World War. Only 53 English villages, out of over 10,000 parishes, didn’t lose young men. Every village in Wales or Scotland lost at least one person. Over 1,663,000 people were wounded: maimed, gassed, or traumatised so badly the new term “shell shock” was created for them.

The image of Kitchener, now on our coins, first appeared on a magazine cover at the start of September 1914, in the peak of that initial recruitment. Kitchener supported the formation of “pals” units, where all the recruits from a village, factory or social organisation, were kept together. This led to horrors such as the fate of the Accrington Pals. Around 700 men from the Accrington (or neighbouring parishes) went into action act the first day of the Somme. Within half an hour 235 were killed and 350 were wounded.

Kitchener’s recruitment drive, as symbolised by that iconic image, fed over a million people into the killing machines.

Except the coin, when it rattles into your change at the supermarket or at the pub, won’t be in context. It’ll just be an image, divorced of meaning. Unless you read up on him, he’ll just be winner of the best ‘tashe contest. Unless your family’s more info

oral history includes not only the trauma people went through on the front but the consequences when they came home, he’s just a bloke in a hat. So you may not see how utterly inappropriate it is to put that image – the image that beckoned a million men to vile deaths – on a coin to commemorate the dead.

Kitchener isn’t just a kitschy image. The campaign he led was what Wilfred Own called “the old lie”:

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Kitchener also continued the use of concentration camps during the Boer War. He led the Battle of Omdurman where 10,000 Sudanese were killed compared to 47 British. He was, at least, a realist in that he predicted a long war in 1914. But he is not someone we should be celebrating.

Why donate to charity?

Initially, I planned to refuse the coins. Then I thought about the practicalities of that. Aside from holding up queues by demanding only £1 coins in my change, what would I do if an automatic till gave me one? I like £2 coins, too, because they are reassuringly chunky. So how could I rid myself of any Kitchener ones I get without spending them?

As a teen, I knew someone who had served in the Falklands. I saw the impact of shell shock on him, and on his family. The Legion was there to support them, as they have been there to support so many others over the decades. So this, then, is my response: to donate every Kitchener coin I get to them so they can provide support for current veterans of current wars.

Scott Pilgrim and the passive Princess?

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

On Saturday we got around to watching Scott Pilgrim vrs the World. Towards the end, my enjoyment started to be tempered with uncertainty.

Spoilers follow, so here’s a cut…

The benefits of the system

Monday, 4 October 2010

One of the more surprising things about the proposed cuts on Child Benefit is finding someone saying that, and I’ll paraphrase to save blushes, “we should stop paying girls to have kids that don’t contribute to society”.

Child Benefit, for your first child, works out as just under £1100 a year. So let’s see how much that ‘pays’, once you factor in the basic needs. I’ve used Argos for prices, picking the most basic option.

Somewhere to sleep: £124.96
Apparently, you can’t just let them sleep in a drawer any more, so…
A cot: £49.99
A cot mattress: £25
A set of cot sheets: £9.99
Two baby sleeping bags: £39.98

Transport: £99.98
Carseats are an issue. You need one before they let you leave hospital now. You can borrow one, obviously, or buy one second hand. Although all advice is against second hand as you don’t know what kind of damage it may already have gone through. But let’s assume our hypothetical mum borrows one and not include it in the costs. Still…
Stroller suitable from birth: £89.99
Sun parasol: £9.95

Clothes: £92.40
We’ve gone to Babies R Us for this, and are just doing the basics. Better hope this mum doesn’t want to dress the kid in anything other than white sleepsuits.
Pack of 7 white short-sleeved vests
0-3 months: £9.49, 3-6 months: £9.49, 6-9 months: £9.49, 9-12 months: £9.49
Pack of 3 white sleepsuits
0-3 months: £9.49, 3-6 months: £9.49, 6-9 months: £9.49, 9-12 months: £9.49
Pack of 2 white hats: £3.49
Snowsuit for winter: £12.99

Food: £480
Our mum breast fed for the first six months, but she buys baby food rather than mash everything herself now the brat is weaned.
High chair: £24.99
Sippy cup: £3.99
weaning bowl and spoon: £4.49
plate and bowl: £4.99
baby cutlery: £3.99
60 packets of baby porridge (6 months’ worth): £150
360 jars of baby food (lunch & dinner): £288

Keeping things clean: £319.96
Baby is bathed in the sink to start with, then the adult bath. And we’ll be harsh and use adult towels. Still…
baby toothbrush and teether set: £4.98
2 bottles baby bath soap: £0.98
2920 nappies (8 a day), own brand: £315

So that’s £1117.30. So Child Benefit of just under £1100 really provides an incentive to have kids. It ‘pays’ by, er, leaving you out of pocket.

Honestly, some people.

(Disclaimer: there are actually many, many variables e.g. using cloth nappies is cheaper, but having to use formula milk is more etc etc. I’ve probably forgotten something key, and this poor kid gets no toys or nice clothes. These prices are based on a rapid search of Argos, Babies R Us and Sainsburys – cheaper options may be available.)

Mrs Miggins’ Coffee Shop

Monday, 9 November 2009

Murdoch has vowed to stop people reading The Times for free.

The website (which I only use sometimes to read Giles Coren’s restaurant reviews) will vanish behind a paywall. Over my breakfast, I tweeted that – given the habit of News International to massage their ABCs through giveaways on First Great Western – I felt I would still manage to read the Times for free. Patrolucus then informed me that the bulk sales may be on the way out as well.

So, essentially, Murdoch wants a return of the C18th coffee house.

The only people who will still pay for the Times – in any meaningful sense – will be readers who can afford it (either online or hardcopy) and cafes who continue to buy it to let customers read it. If the readership dwindles, what of ad revenue? And if readership and ad revenue dwindles, the cover price increases. Leading to a vicious circle, until it’ll be cheaper to buy a double latte and skim the paper in Caffè Nero than it will to buy the paper.

I knew he was regressive, but taking The Times of London back to the C18th seems excessive.

He also objects to the concept of fair use. I hope The Times is therefore planning to pay The Telegraph for all those stories they wrote off the back of the latter’s scoop on MPs’ expenses, and the Grauniad for covering Trafigura. To name but two stories broken by other papers.

Footnote: whilst searching the Times Online to find examples of stories where other papers’ journo’s had done the hard work, I was amused to notice the search URL includes ‘turnOffGoogleAds=false’ i.e. Times Online currently makes money from…er…GoogleAds.

Google have also responded to Murdoch, whilst I was off having my tea, with what amounts to “go ahead, see if we care”.

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