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Activist/protester Brian Willson stops in WC to discuss new memoir

By Paul Thissen with contributions from Lou Fancher
Contra Costa Times

July 9th, 2011

WALNUT CREEK —In 1987, peace activist Brian Willson came to the Concord Naval Weapons Station to try to stop a munitions train—by lying on the tracks.

He thought the train would stop. It didn't, and Willson lost his legs.
But he got people's attention. For the next 28 months, no trains got through. There were so many people on the tracks that trains were blocked the entire time, Willson said.

He will return Wednesday to speak about his new book, Blood on the Tracks, at the Peace and Justice Center in Walnut Creek.

The stop is part of his West Coast book tour, which he is making on a hand-powered tricycle at a pace of 40 miles per day, ending at the Veterans For Peace convention in Portland in August.

His activism is inspired by his time as an Air Force officer in the Vietnam War, where he witnessed the aftermath of bombing runs.

"I discovered we were bombing small villages," Willson said. "I couldn't believe what I saw. I couldn't walk any further; there were too many bodies immediately at my feet.—
He hopes to inspire more people to protest and disrupt business as usual."

"I believe in disobedience and uprisings," he said. "When will 500,000 people in this country feel it's necessary to go out in the streets to protest?"

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Generation V: A Reno Gazette Review

By Mark Robison
Reno Gazette Journal
June 29th, 2011

excerpt from blog series Vegan Wednesday

Book for teens wanting to go vegan

Speaking of books about going vegan, a new one came out this month called Generation V: The Complete Guide to Going, Being and Staying Vegan as a Teenager by 21-year-old Claire Askew. (It’s by PM Press, my favorite publisher, of whom I’m a “friend”, meaning I give them a set amount of money every month to support its efforts and in exchange, they send me a copy of everything they publish.)

Generation V is short and superb. It’s exactly the book I wish I’d had in my teens—and it’s the kind of book I’d write now. It’s conversational yet packs a ton of information with everything you’d want to know: how to deal with parents and friends (with responses to most questions you’ll get hit with), what you need to know healthwise, books to check out, companies that make vegan beauty products, vegan musicians and songs (including the music video below), resource websites, websites to meet other vegan teens, recipes (including the one below), how to leaflet and do other outreach activities, quotes (including the one from Matt Ball above), and much more.

Here’s an excerpt responding to the common statement “I could never give up cheese!”:

Cheese is tough for a lot of people to give up. Even when you've phased all other animal products out of your diet, cheese can be the one thing holding you back. But there’s actual reason for this—cheese is a drug! Mmhmm. Cheese’s main protein, casein (found irritatingly often in some nondairy cheeses), breaks down during digestion to form compounds similar to morphine called casomorphins. The reason for this, class, is that milk is supposed to be given to calves from their moms. The casomorphins are intended to draw that calf back to the mother’s udders so the calf will keep drinking the milk and grow up. Instead, casomorphins give your stomach and brain a relaxed, slightly drowsy feeling (it’s called “comfort food” for a reason) and draw you back to the fridge.

So what can you do to break the addiction? What I think is most effective is thinking of how that cheese got to you. Don’t think that you’re a horrible person for eating cheese, just think about how that cheese came to your plate. Think about a cow on her way to be artificially impregnated against her will. Think about that same cow moaning and wailing months later when her child is taken away from her. Think about that calf chained in a crate in the dark [male calves become veal], and ask yourself, is it really worth it? . . .

Look for brands [of cheese] that specifically say vegan on the package, such as Daiya (my favorite), Cheezly, or Follow Your Heart. The world of vegan cheese is a fast-paced one. When I first started writing this book in 2007, vegan cheese was either readily available but kind of odd-tasting, or delicious and hard to find (like, only-in-Europe hard). Now, though, that isn’t the case. Daiya, for example, really tastes like dairy cheese (even my omnivorous family likes it), melts and gets stringy like dairy cheese, and is sold in every Whole Foods store (and other places as well) throughout the nation. There are all different kinds of vegan cheese from shreds to slices to spreads in every flavor from bacon (really) to Monterey Jack, and trying different brands to find out which you like best is no longer treacherous, plastic-tasting labyrinth. It only takes about three weeks for you to grow new tastebuds (and thus for new tastes to become normal to you), too.

One correction to the book. It says the great Peaceful Prairie is the only abolitionist farm animal sanctuary in the world, meaning it doesn’t promote bigger cages and longer chains but seeks only the end of animal exploitation. There is one other, although it doesn’t advertise itself as such: CockadoodleMoo Farm Animal Sanctuary right here in Reno.


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Sensation: A Review

By John H. Stevens 
SF Signal
June 14th, 2011

REVIEW SUMMARY: Perspective-altering, surreal hybrid offspring of a political thriller, an SF epic, and weird dystopia.

MY RATING: 4/5 stars

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A woman is stung by an anarchist wasp and is pulled into a side-reality created by an intelligent spider collective who have been influencing humanity's progress. Socio-political insanity, hilarity, and complications ensue.


PROS: Funny, perceptive, disorienting writing; entertaining and thought-provoking; well-rendered characters are strongly realized within an unreliable narrative.

CONS: A few confusing moments towards the end, and an occasional conundrum arises about how the narrators know what they know.

Read this book; it will make you laugh, worry, and wonder about human nature and our often insane society.

There comes a point in Nick Mamatas' Sensation where you find yourself a bit lost. Not adrift, not confused, but led off of the path. It's a seductive moment, when you realize that the weirdness of the narrative, the ideas that Mamatas threads through the story, have made you start asking questions, not just about the novel but also about the world around you. This happens a few times while reading the novel, and becomes one of the strengths of the book, because in those moments you feel a bit of what the characters do as they are manipulated and dislocated by forces that, even when they discover and try to understand them, continue to exert influence on them. The world that Mamatas creates in this novel is not just strange, but so true to life in the actions of its characters in response to that strangeness that you are compelled to keep reading and thinking, even when those actions seem ridiculous or the story seems headed in a random direction.

It is that constant unbalancing, the slipperiness of the story, the unreliability of every element, that creates the novel's texture. It reads smoothly on the page, even when the text is altered, but what you take in as you read is often perplexing, almost counter-intuitive, yet necessary and familiar. Insight and idiocy careen off of one another through the actions of the characters, making the story feel genuine even in its most outrageous moments.

The story (and I will say that there are mild spoilers ahead, although I don't think this novel can be "spoiled") is simple: Julia Ott Hernandez leaves her husband, the hapless Raymond, after being stung by a mutated wasp and becomes a random force in the world that is so potentially destabilizing that she must be opposed by those who truly run the world, an intelligent collective of spiders fighting a eternal war with these wasps, who thrive by using those spiders as hosts for their offspring. Her actions, and the reactions of the spiders in their efforts to control her, create political and social ripples that profoundly, if perhaps temporarily, upset the way the world works. Despite their efforts to trap her in a parallel reality called the Simulacrum, Julia becomes a nexus of uncertainty and change in the web of society that the spiders try to keep strong and even. We learn about this conflict through their eyes, and the story progresses as an extended narrative of an alien (not from outer space, but from outside human experience) intelligence trying to understand why, for all of its capabilities and vision, it cannot keep a species of generally dull, obedient apes in line.

Those apes are, to mess with Clifford Geertz, suspended in webs of signification they themselves have not spun. although they act as if they have made the world they live in. And in some ways they have; while the spiders tell us this story, their control over the events in it is not just imperfect, but sometimes profoundly ambiguous, contingent on coincidence and circumstance, and often productive not of domination but of opportunities for humans to resist them. If that sounds like a political allegory, well, it is, but one that does not browbeat the reader. The assured, yet sometimes confused, tone of the spiders' narration sounds as much like propaganda as it does a retelling of facts, and that is part of the point.

The workings of power and the meaning of agency are primary themes in this novel. What is control, really? How do you know what the effects of your actions will be, whether you are trying to manipulate someone, or resist manipulation? The novel posits many troubling but necessary questions as it unravels, as careful plans constantly go awry, and the allure of restraint and the comfort of both habit and delusion do more to constrain action and frame perception than the machinations of unseen arachnid overlords. Even these machinations are fraught with ossification and ambiguity; those who seek to control us, it seems, have as much trouble dealing with the vicissitudes of life as humans do.

The tension between intentionality and entropy provides much of the novel's propulsive energy.

Humorous moments collide with profound ones, and a growing sense of inevitability is frequently derailed by chance and unintended consequences. What pulls you into the story is not merely a desire to see what crazy thing happens next, but to see how the craziness is created by the ideas and responses of the characters to a growing series of personal and social crises. Mamatas builds anticipation even as he continues to unsettle the reader, subverting the desire for closure even as he builds the story to, not a climax, so much as a weary epiphany. It is a wild ride, but also a thoughtful one.

There are a few points where the novel loses some momentum. A few epistolary chapters that seem to be there to give the reader a different view of the proceedings did not, for me, add to the novel. They could be moments where the reader catches their breath and can process what is going on, but they dulled the sharpness of the narrative and took away from power of the spiders' voice to ensnare you. In the last few chapters I felt a few instances of confusion from what appear to be a few typos (characters' names switched, it seems) that make you stop to wonder who's really talking and disrupt the narrative. I briefly considered that it might be a metatextual trick, but that is not in line with the combination of fine writing and carefully-constructed narrative that characterizes this book. Mamatas is an excellent writer who takes chances with his work, but takes them thoughtfully and delivers them for maximum effect, to deliver his ideas with precision and strength, so that his novel leaves a lasting impression not just of pleasure, but of a reflective questioning about what we think we are capable of, and what really constrains and directs us though our daily lives.

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Nick Mamatas’s sensational Sensation

By Lily Hoang 
HTML Giant
July 2011

A webbed suspension. A stinging. A stunning. It’s stunning. I’m stunned and stung. It’s possible I’ve been infected.

Nick Mamatas’s Sensation is stunning. It’s sensational.

Ok, imagine a world with men of indeterminate ethnicity. Easy enough, right? Now, imagine these men are not made of flesh–like you and I are–but are mere veneers, flexible shells. Inside, thousands of spiders. Inside, these intelligent, mutant spiders control men. They are out to control the world. Or, to help the world. Or, at least, to prevent the wasps from taking over. No, not WASPs, but literally, wasps. From South America.

Ok, now imagine one of these South American wasps who intend to take over the world stings a woman. She’s a nobody, really, just a woman. But the wasps sting her, attack her brain, and all of a sudden, she’s performing acts of vigilante justice, shooting building developers in the head and giving money to terrorists and New Yorkers alike.

Welcome to the world of Nick Mamatas’s Sensation.

The title is not misleading. Everything in this book is sensational, in the best way. Reading Mamatas’s book, I was reminded of Cesar Aira, but unlike Aira, who often employs unlikely deus ex machina, Mamatas sustains his god-machines through the entire course of the novel. Every page brings about a scenario that is even more unlikely and unpredictable than the page before, and yet, I was sold. He transported me into his simulacra, and I was fine with it. I welcomed it.

Because Sensation is funny. No, it’s hilarious. It’s politically savvy and offers a smart critique of activists and the state alike. There is no generosity here. Sensation, in many ways, does what all good science fiction aims to do: it offers a critique of the status quo. It depicts an alternative in order to highlight the problems in our reality.

Yesterday, Sensation received a good beating over at Publisher’s Weekly. They said:
"The endless catalogue of modern annoyances, from attention-hogging real estate developers to Indian call-center workers, makes this novel not so much timely as instantly obsolete."

I could agree with PW that Sensation calls attention to many “modern annoyances,” if real estate developers can really be called an “annoyance.” [Note: for the sake of brevity, I’ve just deleted a long rant about real estate developers and the obvious flaw in simplifying them as “annoyances.”] But rather than tear apart PW’s review, I’ll simply say: they’re wrong. Whereas Mamatas’s novel does employ a lot of contemporary colloquialisms, which time-stamp it in a way that could–many years from now–deem it “obsolete,” the fantastical world of Sensation critiques and mocks us, today, right now. It crushes our ennui and our malaise. In that way, sure, maybe in fifty years, any text or film that utilizes text messaging as a primary mode of communication or a language that is steeped in the contemporaneous (like, I dunno, The Wire?) may be rendered obsolete, right now, I would argue these films and texts are vital.

This is not to say that Sensation is without flaw. The book has some font changes, which, as a general rule, I dislike. If a student had turned in a manuscript with certain sentences or words highlighted in a different font, I’d tell her it was “cheating” and a bit “cheap.” For instance, the protagonist in Sensation (the wife who was stung by the wasp) spray paints a They Might be Giants lyric (no comment on this choice) on a future development site. Mamatas uses a font that imitates spray painting. This almost immediately turned me off. But this is an issue of formatting and editorial decisions. It takes away from the text, puts some readers off, but when stacked against the sharp writing and hilarious scenes, it’s fine.
In the end, Sensation is sharp, funny, edgy, and philosophical. It is what speculative fiction strives toward. And if I haven’t sold you, maybe I’ll end PW’s review, which maybe ought to turn their readers away, but our readers, well, some of us have a different sensibility:

"Mamatas . . . appears to be more interested in reasserting the primacy of Joyce, Pynchon, and Coover than establishing the voice of Mamatas in his self-consciously po-mo third novel. This accumulation of pop-culture babble, layered with thin insight and metatextual archness, is amusing enough in an epigrammatic way, but there’s little attempt to communicate beyond the level of the individual sentences."

One last thing: Sensation is published by PM Press, which is one of the most exciting political presses I’ve found in a while, especially their Outspoken Authors series. If you’ve got dollars, you should support them.

One more last thing: if you want more of Nick’s words, check out his very popular blog.

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Sensation in Locus (May)

By Tim Pratt 
May 2011

Sensation by Nick Mamatas is a political satire and a meditation on the nature of reality reminiscent of Philip K. Dick, exploring the secret history of an age-old war between a hive-mind of hyperintelligent spiders and their implacable mindless enemies, a species of parasitic wasp. (The entirety of human history is either driven by that war or incidental to it.)

The main character–only occasionally ‘‘heroine’’ –is Julia Ott Hernandez, a typical middleclass New Yorker, reflexively liberal and shallowly intellectual, the kind of person who would ‘‘weave these fantasies of taking on whaling ships with Greenpeace but satisfied herself with $100 checks here and there.’’ The engine of Julia’s transformation into a sort of anarchist prankster/murderess is not a sudden realization about social injustice or a trauma that causes a psychotic break; she just gets stung by a wasp.

Specifically a mutant Hymenoepimecis sp., a parasitic wasp that normally preys on spiders, injecting them with mind-controlling eggs that force the spiders to spin a cozy cocoon for newborn wasplings, before becoming food for those same baby insects. This time, the mind-altering eggs get oviposited into Julia, and her behavior changes in anarchic ways–she becomes a habitual jaywalker, embezzles money from her job, and eventually walks out on her anthropology professor husband to live with a succession of one-night stands.

A chance encounter with a couple of anti-gentrification Brooklyn hipsters (who wouldn’t be there if Brooklyn hadn’t already been intensely gentrified) prompts Julia to first vandalize a new sports stadium and later to shoot the stadium’s developer in the head. Her actions prompt a sort of apolitical political movement–called the ‘‘movement without a name’’ or ‘‘Sans Nom’’–characterized by outrageous acts of public protest, whimsy, and the incitement of chaos. That movement swells sufficiently to threaten the status quo, forcing the secret masters of humanity to step in.

Those masters are none other than the Plesiometa argyra spiders, who, in a clever authorial choice, narrate the novel in the plural first person. The spiders just want to help: but they want to help humankind be stable, unchanging, and non-threatening. After all, humans accidentally eradicate entire species all the time–what’s to stop us from doing that to the spiders themselves? Obviously, constant monitoring and occasional intervention are necessary for the survival of their species.

The spiders are almost everywhere, masquerading as people ‘‘of indeterminate ethnicity’’–fake humans mostly woven from cobwebs, memorably described as ‘‘spiders in a man-suit.’’ They take Julia into the Simulacrum, a sort of shadow reality that lives alongside ours, in the most boring suburbs and socially stagnant small towns and culturally insular city neighborhoods, where the spiders are in complete control. They give her a new life and identity, but Julia’s blood is fizzing with wasp eggs and wild ideas about freedom, and she doesn’t stay hidden for long. She goes on the run, sowing chaos wherever she goes, crossing paths with her husband, his new girlfriend (a behavioral psychologist), those gentrification kids from the beginning of the book, and various members of Sans Nom. Crimes are committed, great revelations are revealed, and love and politics are twisted in the process. The world changes; Julia changes; and the idea of whether anyone can really change the world at all is called into question.

My one quibble is that Sensation seems to take place in an implausibly small world, with the same people crossing paths way too often in New York and Ohio and elsewhere. The book’s satirical quality mitigates that somewhat, and the author does make narrative excuses–the spiders complain often about how coincidence seems to conspire against them–but it still seems too neat and convenient at times.
Mamatas is profoundly interested in the political power of fiction, but he’s not so much grinding a particular ideological axe here as he is taking an axe to every ideology in sight. The author has a lot of personal experience with political movements and their efficacy or lack thereof, and he isn’t shy about calling them to account for ineptitude, hypocrisy, and failure of ambition and imagination. Sensation is deeply political without being preachy, and it’s a bracing, original read, quite unlike any other book you’re likely to encounter. Which is just the way the spiders want it.

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Sensation in Locus (July)

By Paul Witcover  
July 2011

Nick Mamatas’s new novel Sensation is a dark satire featuring a cool SFnal premise that is actually just a metaphor for the way things really are, if only we weren’t, by and large, too dumb to see it. But luckily we’ve got Mamatas to point it all out for us, which he does with scathing – if sometimes obvious – wit and gleefully misanthropic snark. The book is as grimly antic as anything by Vonnegut, yet more bitter, and as paranoiac as anything by Dick, though less hopeful. That’s Mamatas for you: he makes Vonnegut look warm and fuzzy, and Dick look like a cockeyed optimist.

The novel is set in 2020 – the year of perfect hindsight – but that’s just a conceit; the actual content of the novel places the action squarely in the present or very near future. It ranges from Manhattan to Brooklyn to Jersey City to Ohio, and from reality as we know it, or thought we knew it, to an ersatz version of that reality, which is even more mundane, though entirely artificial, called the Simulacrum.

Mamatas builds off the fascinating if creepy behavior of a subspecies of wasp, Hymenoepimecis sp., which – this part is all true – preys upon a particular species of spider, Plesiometa argyra. The wasp lays eggs in the spider’s abdomen, after which the larvae hatch out and excrete a chemical that turns the spider into what amounts to a zombie slave whose sole purpose in what little life remains to it is to spin a skewed web that happens to be perfectly suited to sheltering the pupating wasp. Once the web is complete, the larvae eat the spider build a cocoon, go night-night, and finally hatch out ready to carry the majestic cycle forward. This has been going on for millions of years.

In that time – and this part is not true, at least so far as I know – natural selection has gifted or cursed the spiders with a kind of collective consciousness or hive mind; unfortunately, they have not developed a corresponding immunity to the stings of the wasps. Basically, the spiders are smart enough to know they are fucked but not smart enough to do anything about it. Perhaps nothing, short of wasp genocide, could be done. In any case, the spiders’ total vulnerability to the wasps makes that all but impossible.
However, in the desperate struggle against the wasps – who are entirely creatures of instinct – the spiders have fastened onto, in some cases quite literally, the only other intelligent species to evolve on Earth: that is, Homo sapiens. Us.

This is all very up front, by the way. No spoilers involved. Mamatas quickly clues us in to what is going on, or at least the general outlines of it: he keeps a few surprises up his sleeve. But since the novel, as we soon learn, is narrated by a spider – or, rather, by the group consciousness of the spiders, an arachnid ‘‘we’’ – this secret history needs to be communicated early on.

While it’s the nameless narrator who supplies the information about the war between the wasps and the spiders – it’s actually more of an endless culling, with the spiders able to fend off genocide only by dint of sheer numbers – what prompts the story (and Mamatas never really makes clear why the spiders are telling this particular story, or to whom) is a random encounter between a wasp and a young woman, one Julia Ott Hernandez, who, rummaging through a box of blankets stored in the Queens basement of her mother-in-law, is stung by one of a colony of wasps resident there for seven generations, since the box was shipped northward from Central America, ground zero for Hymenoepimecis sp.

Now, these wasps have stung humans before, throughout history, with some pretty notable results, as the neurochemicals released by the subcutaneously inserted larvae turn their human hosts into mad geniuses of sublime art or monstrous criminality. The wasps, recall, are devoid of reason; humans do not act in their service, as their spider victims do, and thus the effect of a wasp sting on a human being is not part of a greater design: the afflicted humans do not go out and build better nests for Hymenoepimecis sp. No, instead their brains are short-circuited in interesting, amusing, and/or horrifying ways, leading to corresponding behaviors. Mamatas does not get into the science of this, and even as a plot device it’s basically an unredeemed McGuffin, though an inspired one.

The spiders, in addition to developing a hive intelligence, have learned to infiltrate human society – or, as they call it, the ‘‘anthroposphere’’ – via ‘‘men of indeterminate ethnicity,’’ artificial bodies spun of ‘‘tubiliform silk’’ that host colonies of spiders and mimic human appearance and behavior so precisely that they are even able to get it on with human females, though no progeny results. Further, they have developed an ersatz anthroposphere of their own – the aforementioned Simulacrum.

‘‘The Simulacrum,’’ explains our helpful narrator, ‘‘is not just a precise copy of the world, it is overlaid on your world, like the other half of a chessboard a particular pawn may never cross.’’ This intriguing conceit, reminiscent of Miéville’s The City & the City, is never fully explored or explained. Mamatas doesn’t lack cool SFnal ideas, but he seldom fleshes them out satisfactorily. One reason is that he doesn’t care to: Sensation isn’t a traditional SF novel in which such inventions require a more robust explanation; instead, he’s using them as metaphors pure and simple, and in that sense he’s not really writing SF at all. He’s writing a satire about the present that mimics a near-future SF novel about as well as the spiders’ ‘‘men of indeterminate ethnicity’’ mimic human males. I would go so far as to say that he’s offering up, along the way, a very harsh critique of SF as it is generally practiced and conceived, and yet also a defense of its possibilities, even though he doesn’t explore those possibilities himself – another reason the novel is, despite its intelligence, energy, and humor, a frustrating read.

The wasp that stings Julia is no ordinary specimen of Hymenoepimecis sp. High levels of radon in her mother-in-law’s basement have, over seven wasp generations, induced a powerful new kick to the neurochemicals released by the larvae. The chemical excretions of the mutated larvae give Julia ‘‘peculiar urges’’ and ‘‘innovative new ideas about life, society, and her role in it.’’ In short, they turn her into a smart-assed but dangerous anarchist, or, as she puts it, a ‘‘horrid murderess and merry prankster.’’ In addition, she gains unusual charisma, giving her the ability to infect other human beings not with the larvae themselves, or the neurochemicals they excrete, but with echoes of the bizarre or antisocial ideas brewed by those neurochemicals in Julia’s rewired brain. She becomes a vector for violent, unpredictable memes.

An act of politically inspired graffiti by Julia, a shout-out to a beloved geek band, triggers a sequence of unlikely events that snowballs into murder and a full-fledged underground revolutionary movement that, for a brief time, will threaten to disrupt Western civilization and, more importantly, at least as far as our narrator is concerned, remove an essential buffer protecting the spiders from the wasps... and setting back for generations or perhaps even more a longstanding plan of the spiders.

Mamatas is playing around with the idea of human civilization and culture being a kind of memetic virus, something expressed through human beings but not necessarily originating in them, at least not consciously. The business of the wasps and the spiders isn’t meant seriously, even in the context of the novel, though the questions about human nature, free will, and so on that it gives rise to are, but Mamatas isn’t really interested in answering those questions.

Instead, he uses this toolkit of SFnal tropes – genetic mutations, conspiracy theories, Internet meltdowns, alternate realities, alien intelligences, etc. – to present modern-day American civilization in a distinctly unflattering light. He then proceeds, via the actions of his main and secondary characters, to skewer this degraded civilization and its discontented, without, as is a satirist’s prerogative, offering any alternatives. But his social targets are so obvious, deserving, and frequently attacked by others that it comes across as jumping on an already overcrowded bandwagon. As for his characters, they are, as I mentioned, hard to like. Julia is a vicious nut job with delusions of revolutionary political agency. Her estranged husband, Raymond, is a bland nebbish. Alysse and Davan, two Brooklyn hipsters opposed to the gentrification of the Atlantic Yards project, are shallow hypocrites in whom irony passes for self-awareness. Liz, a graduate student in psychology who becomes Raymond’s lover, is a cold, vain, intellectually castrating termagant. It is very difficult to care about what happens to any of these unpleasant fish in their barrel, and more than once as Mamatas blasted away at them, scoring hits from point-blank range, I thought of Groucho Marx’s line from A Night at the Opera: ‘‘Hey, you big bully. What’s the idea of hitting that little bully?’’  

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What Men Have to Do

By Jeremy Adam Smith
New York Times
July 6th, 2011

Updated July 6, 2011, 06:04 PM

Jeremy Adam Smith is the author of The Daddy Shift, co-editor of the forthcoming anthology Rad Dad: Dispatches from the Frontiers of Fatherhood and a founder of the blog Daddy Dialectic.

Greater gender equality in school and on the job has led to greater equality in housework and childrearing. Today in America, fathers now spend more time with their children and on housework than at any time since researchers started collecting comparable data. I call it “the daddy shift”—the gradual movement away from a definition of fatherhood as pure breadwinning to one that encompasses a capacity of caregiving.

Fathers need to encourage each other to take advantage of leave policies and participate in family life.

Rising inequality and economic instability has meant that families can’t afford specialists anymore. And so they’re moving from a family model that stresses efficiency to one that tries to build resilience in the face of economic shocks. In the ideal resilient family, both women and men are capable of working for pay and working at home.

But families often fall short of this ideal, partially because of lingering structural and interpersonal sexism, and partially because men lack support for their new caregiving roles at both home and work. Studies consistently show that 80 percent to 90 percent of mothers still expect fathers to serve as primary breadwinners (and very few will consider supporting a stay-at-home dad). At work, only 7 percent of American men have access to paid parental leave, among other structural limitations.

How can the daddy shift continue? The to-do list is long. It includes an education campaign to help men of all social classes understand what workplace and public policies can help them be the fathers they want to be—and legal campaigns that will defend their jobs against backward attitudes at work. Men whose mindsets are still shaped by the sole-breadwinner ideal need explicit permission and encouragement from both their female partners and their bosses to take advantage of leave policies and participate in family life.

We also need to shift the language we use to discuss work-family issues in a more inclusive direction, so that it includes fathers as well as mothers. That language should stress resilience and meaning to men instead of the language of equality that has mobilized women. In the end, it's up to guys to tell the stories of our lives and speak up for what we want. No one will do it for us.

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Soccer vs. The State in Freedom

By Christophe Huette
Freedom 72, no. 8
April 23rd, 2011

"I enjoy making revolution! I enjoy going to football!" (Antonio Negri).

The relationship between the "Beautiful Idea" and the "Beautiful Game" is a complex, frustrating and fraught one, but at its intersections are where some of the most interesting dialogues in the anarchist movement are located.

Football and anarchism developed roughly in historical tandem, with the Workers movement formalising around the same time as the British Football Association (FA) was founded in October 1863. By 1871 we have more or less the modern game with the regulations established (no hands in the outfield, no shin kicking), but they are relatively simple and few, leaving loads of room for creative innovation. This is what makes football "beautiful" and unpredictable, and there have been many attempts to stifle that over the years, with the low score rate leaving plenty of scope for sensational surprise outcomes and luck. Football is the sport like no other, where the underdog can flourish.

And here we see possible comparisons with anarchism: "The ball has no attribute of power. The passer does not own the ball; he possesses the ball in the sense of Proudhon. The passer remains the master of the act. As in libertarian society, he is free to do what he wants. However, he cannot exist alone, he cannot progress alone, and he cannot survive alone. Here is where the principle of mutual aid comes into play, as explained by Peter Kropotkin" (Wally Rosell from Albert Camus, the Anarchists and Football).

Not that the anarchist movement embraced the game of two halves with universal love and affection, as this rant from Germany in the 1920s shows: "May God punish England! Not for nationalistic reasons, but because the English people invented football! Football is a counterrevolutionary phenomenon. Proletarians between the age of eighteen and twenty-five, i.e., exactly those who have the strength to break their chains, have no time for the revolution because they play soccer" (Free Workers Union Germany).

But of course we also see the viral rise of capitalism, which wasted no time in taming the game. So whilst the working classes tended to play and embrace the game, it tended to be administered and financed by capitalist industry. (The toffs tended towards rugby, which was non-professional and a suitable recreation for those whose purpose was to administer the empire.) Standardised measuring, bookkeeping and the strict invigilation of time have been cited as examples of the influence of the emergent bourgeois-capitalist culture. But "[w]e don't want to consume football, we want football to be ours! It was ours before capitalism took it away!" (Danilo Cajazeira, founding member of Autonomos FC).

Kuhn's wonderful, accessible and necessary book develops football's beginnings through the tribalism, sexism (women's football was banned by the FA from 1921 to 1971) and bigotry that qualified the game during much of the 20th century. But the bulk of the book concerns the radical responses to this. Full of radical debate and loads of interviews and source material, Soccer vs. the State is fucking good!

"Football has proven time and time again that it contains a magic, immensely powerful element, not unlike the stuff that religions are made of".

Buy book now | Download e-Book now | Back to the Author's Page

Soccer vs. The State in Offside

By Jesper Högström
#3, 2011, p. 134-135
(Translated from Swedish; excerpts)

Gabriel Kuhn, an Austrian author living in Stockholm, is a convinced anarchist and has played in his country's second league; he is the right man to tackle the problem [of football and left-wing politics]. In order to fully appreciate the book, one certainly has to share his premise that both socialism and football are good things, but even for those who disagree, it is a worthwhile read. [...]

One has to be a cynic not to be touched by many of the heart-warming stories in the book. Sometimes football does indeed stand for freedom, equality, and togetherness. For example, when the Algerian professionals refused to play for France in the 1958 World Cup or when the Dutchman John Blankenstein makes himself even more vulnerable as a referee by openly speaking about his homosexuality.
Football cannot be captured in political definitions. Both the sport and "socialism" have too many limitations. But I do agree with Kuhn that football can be a perfect environment "to experience the combination of individual freedom and social responsibility". Personally, I also happily follow his directives for socialist football: "consideration and modesty", no cheating, and respect both for opponents and referees (who should be treated as "comrades"). Alright, good soul of football, now you have your own classic. Ironic, though, that it is a publisher from the U.S., the home of rigorously commercialized sports, that created this forum for alternative football culture. Hardly any of the contested issues in the world's most popular game is missing, not nationalism, chauvinism, or the permeating commercialization. What we are handed is a broad picture of football's political relevance.

In four chapters we can find an international range of authors (including Gerd Dembowski, well-known to a German audience) that examines everything from the myth of the working-class origins of the sport to pressing contemporary issues to examples of a truly alternative football culture - a culture lived by the English football ambassadors of the Easton Cowboys (and Cowgirls) who receive a worthy portrait in Soccer vs. the State. Yes, there are some recycled texts and themes in here too - we do know enough about the FC United of Manchester, Volker Ippig, and Cristiano Lucarelli at this point - but Soccer vs. the State reaches so far beyond the limits of mainstream left-wing football discourse that its purchase is no less than a must - at least for those who want to see further than the limits of the contaminated professional business. In addition, it is an important wake-up call for all who think that football should not be blended with politics.

Buy book now | Download e-Book now | Back to the Author's Page

Football and Politics in 11Freunde

By Mathias Ehlers

April 2011

Alright, good soul of football, now you have your own classic. Ironic, though, that it is a publisher from the U.S., the home of rigorously commercialized sports, that created this forum for alternative football culture. Hardly any of the contested issues in the world's most popular game is missing, not nationalism, chauvinism, or the permeating commercialization. What we are handed is a broad picture of football's political relevance.

In four chapters we can find an international range of authors (including Gerd Dembowski, well-known to a German audience) that examines everything from the myth of the working-class origins of the sport to pressing contemporary issues to examples of a truly alternative football culture - a culture lived by the English football ambassadors of the Easton Cowboys (and Cowgirls) who receive a worthy portrait in Soccer vs. the State. Yes, there are some recycled texts and themes in here too—we do know enough about the FC United of Manchester, Volker Ippig, and Cristiano Lucarelli at this point—but Soccer vs. the State reaches so far beyond the limits of mainstream left-wing football discourse that its purchase is no less than a must—at least for those who want to see further than the limits of the contaminated professional business. In addition, it is an important wake-up call for all who think that football should not be blended with politics.

Buy book now | Download e-Book now | Back to the Author's Page


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