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September 23rd, 2010


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02:27 pm - Elizabeth Moon, Wiscon, and the Responsibility of Dissent
ETA: Since people are still hitting this, I want to point out that this post has a followup, Walking Back, in which I retract one of my statements here. I no longer believe it was right for Wiscon to keep Moon as GoH.

Putting this here rather than the problog because frankly, I've got more readers here. And many of my readers on the problog don't follow stuff within the SF/F community.

I'm dealing with a lot of personal stuff right now, which is one of the reasons why I've been kind of quiet lately. I'm not physically disabled, but I'm definitely short on emotional spoons. But I can dredge up a spork, at least, for this.

Many, many people have commented thus far on SF writer Elizabeth Moon's 9/11 post on "Citizenship". Deepa D has a roundup of some of the better posts here, and the WorldSF Blog pointed out some of the choicer bits of Fail in her essay. There was much more commentary on the matter in Moon's blog, but Moon deleted those comments with extremely snarky prejudice. This being the internet, there are screencaps.

Let's be blunt here. Moon is a poorly-informed, malicious, unrepentant bigot. Rather obviously so against Muslims and/or Arabs (as Muslims =/= Arabs, but Moon seems to conflate the two, and prejudice overlaps and intersects for both groups), yes. But she is more broadly bigoted against immigrants and the first-gen children of immigrants; against people of color who are too brown to ever assimilate fully in the eyes of some white Americans, no matter how many centuries we've been here or how hard we've worked in that time; against people of any religious or ethnic minority that dares to make the mainstream uncomfortable by its difference; against American Indians specifically, whom Moon tried to use as a dire warning of the consequences of immigration (ostensibly for white Americans, since that logic doesn't work for anyone else); and even backhandedly against those who are descended from white European immigrants who didn't assimilate quickly, because not all of them did. Hell, most didn't. In this sense she insults her own ancestors, by misrepresenting the truth of their history. So for those who've been saying that her screed just attacked Muslims and Arabs... no. She hurt a lot more people than that. I count myself among those targeted by her words, because by her reasoning I am a poor citizen for my failure to shut up about social injustice, and possibly for my parents' failure to do nothing during the Civil Rights movement, and so on.

But that's irrelevant to me. I deal with bigots like Moon all the time; we all get a daily dose of this crap. There are so many within the SF/F community that I just don't bother engaging with most of them anymore; it's a waste of my time. So while I did feel a little bad for saying nothing while others expressed their anger at her, it was only a minor guilt. I've got other shit to worry about right now, damn it. I'm tired.

Wiscon, though, matters to me. It's probably my favorite SF/F convention for a variety of reasons, but not the least of which is because it's trying to fight the Fail in SF/Fdom. It doesn't always succeed, but it tries, and I love that it does. Wiscon has two Guests of Honor this year -- one of whom is Elizabeth Moon. This is understandably causing some consternation. But it has a second guest: Nisi Shawl, a superb writer who is also a friend and mentor, and who has more than done her part to fight the Fail by writing the most useful workbook on tackling race, gender, etc., in writing that I've ever seen. So it bugs me to hear that some people are planning to boycott Wiscon because of Moon -- because that means they're going to miss Shawl. Moon may not be worth hearing, but Shawl definitely is.

But people are angry -- justifiably. Wiscon has chosen to keep Moon as a Guest of Honor in the hope of facilitating useful dialogue... but what kind of dialogue can there be with a woman who not only unapologetically espouses such bigotry, but refuses to discuss it, and indeed may have held such beliefs unadulterated for years? You can't reason with that kind of hate. And I wouldn't pay money to hear a speech or even a sentence by an unapologetic bigot.

That said. I think Wiscon did the right thing in keeping Moon as GoH.

Let me try to explain. Wiscon is, despite its democratic principles and all-inclusive philosophy, an organization. It has a top-down structure: the Troika (three leaders) making the bulk of decisions, a ConCom advising and assisting with this process, and then smaller committees undertaking the individual tasks of con management. Wiscon is also a business, albeit a non-profit one (I think). In order for businesses to function, they have to operate professionally -- and IMO, it would be unprofessional to rescind a GoH invitation once it has been made. Yes, even if that guest has made an ass of herself on the internet. I disagree with the con's implication that Moon should be accorded the honor solely on her body of work; I don't think it's possible, in this all-access day and age, for an artist's work to be judged apart from her politics and/or personality. But I do think that once an organization has committed itself to honoring a particular person, it should do so regardless of controversy or attendee rage.

Because here's the thing that keeps worrying me: Nisi Shawl has said some stuff regarded as controversial too, among those who believe -- as Moon does -- that good citizenship means that oppressed groups should shut up and take it when bigotry happens. And we all know that "controversy" is in the eye of the beholder; those who speak against the status quo are often regarded as the problem (rather than the status quo itself), in wider society. So what if people who don't like Shawl -- or some future guest who's spoken against power -- decide to raise a protest? If their voices grow loud enough, could they get Shawl disinvited as a guest? I think that's unlikely given that Shawl's politics and art dovetail with the con's philosophies... but in many ways, so do Moon's. Or they wouldn't have invited her in the first place.

And there's another problem. I do not believe that protest can be effective in a top-down organizational structure. If Wiscon's Concom had decided to disinvite Moon, then Moon's defenders would rightly be able to claim that only a small group of people were opposed to her presence at the con. That's not true -- at this point I haven't seen a single prior Wiscon attendee saying in public that they're happy about her being there. I'm pretty sure that several hundred of Wiscon's regulars don't want this woman there. But if the decision to disinvite -- to dissent with Moon's bigotry, in other words -- came from the ConCom, then the dissent's power would be diminished by the ConCom's small size.

That leaves the responsibility for dissent in the hands of two groups: Wiscon's attendees, and Moon herself.

Again I will be blunt: I think the biggest reason this whole affair has blown up is because Moon has not apologized for her hurtful, offensive statements. Indeed, she cut off dialogue in her own journal, which sends a clear message that she's not interested in listening to what dissenters have to say. In this respect MoonFail (somebody had to say it) is turning out to be just like every other instance of RaceFail in the past few years -- it's gotten worse because the perpetrator has made it worse. Being wrong on the internet has never been a problem in and of itself. Being stubbornly wedded to the wrongness even in the face of reasonable counterarguments, is.

I doubt she'll care, but I believe Moon should disinvite herself. She has no business at a convention committed to social justice if she holds these sorts of bigoted views, and isn't willing to listen to opposing views. She's put the Wiscon Con Committee in a terrible position, as well as her fellow Guest of Honor, and her very presence will send an unwelcoming message to all those attendees who have been hurt by her words. The professional, responsible thing to do on her part would be to withdraw herself from the whole mess. But if she hasn't done so thus far, I doubt she will.

So it falls to Wiscon's attendees to express dissension with Moon's bigoted statements -- and frankly, I think Wiscon's attendees are the best people to do so. Not just the Muslim/Arab attendees, note. All Wiscon attendees. Wiscon is a feminist convention, and intersectionality is one of feminism's most important principles. To allow one form of injustice to stand unremarked is to encourage them all.

What will send the most powerful anti-bigotry message? Maybe if several hundred people stand and turn their backs on Moon during her GoH speech. Maybe if there's a walkout at same. Maybe if many attendees choose to wear hijab, etc., throughout the con to show solidarity with Muslims whom Moon thinks are poor citizens for their religious expression... though something about this idea bugs me. Appropriation, maybe. Need to think about that one some more. Anyway, maybe it'll help if attendee after attendee simply challenges Moon, on any panel she sits, to explain her bigoted statements -- right there, in person, where she cannot control or silence the discussion. I doubt they'll get any valuable answers, but sometimes the value in protest is the protest itself.

Perhaps Wiscon can facilitate this protest somehow. That is the kind of top-down gesture I think might be effective.

So I want to make clear who I think holds the responsibility to "do the right thing" in this case: Moon herself. Failing that, I think it's Wiscon's responsibility to provide a forum where Wiscon's attendees can safely express their anger and comfort each others' hurt -- without silencing the protesters, and without tokenizing the targets of the attack. And without, I pray, taking any more of the spotlight away from their more deserving Guest of Honor, Nisi Shawl.
Current Mood: tiredtired

(110 comments | WTF?!)

Comments:


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From:kate_schaefer
Date:September 23rd, 2010 06:39 pm (UTC)
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Thank you. I have been flailing toward something like this, and having a hard time internally with it. If you will allow me to stand with you, I do so.
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From:emilytheslayer
Date:September 23rd, 2010 06:44 pm (UTC)
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I'm sorry you're so tired lately. Thank you for writing this, though. Right now, I'm definitely leaning towards still going, for pretty much all of the reasons you say. I want to honor Nisi (possibly with watermelon seed jewelry, which was all I wanted after my first reading of Filter House), and I want to stand in support of everyone who was insulted and hurt by Moon's words. Which, as you say, could very much include my family and myself.

ARGH. FRUSTRATING.
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From:pantryslut
Date:September 23rd, 2010 06:45 pm (UTC)
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I agree that the responsible, professional, and classy thing for Moon to do would be to step down.

I also agree that sometimes the value in protest is the protest itself.

I have mixed feelings about the rest of the issues that I am still resolving. I have no mixed feelings about what you write here, though. I appreciate its clarity and precision of thought, even if I may eventually reach different conclusions. Thank you for writing this.
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From:nojojojo
Date:September 23rd, 2010 07:12 pm (UTC)
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Agreed with your agreement, and also with your mixed feelings. I'm willing to have my mind changed about this; I'm aware that I may not be thinking as deeply as I should be about this. The one thing I feel certain of is that I don't like Nisi's honor being overshadowed by Moon's dishonor. I'm just trying to come up with some way to prevent that.
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From:kalmn
Date:September 23rd, 2010 06:46 pm (UTC)
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i also thought about hijab, but i agree that it's not right somehow. i am thinking about bringing a whole huge bunch of headscarves, though, and having them available for people to wear if they want in some non-hijab manner.
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From:sairaali
Date:September 23rd, 2010 07:07 pm (UTC)
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What would wearing headscarves in a non-hijab manner look like?


I plan to bring a big pile of of green crescent armbands, and to wear my family's traditional dress. I will probably wear hijab, but might end up deciding not to since it's been more than a decade since I actually practiced Islam.
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From:icecreamempress
Date:September 23rd, 2010 06:59 pm (UTC)
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I can think of nothing that would be more repulsively appropriationist than for me, a white, European-descended, practicing-Christian woman to wear a hijab anywhere in the US that was not a mosque. It's not a costume, after all.
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From:icecreamempress
Date:September 23rd, 2010 07:01 pm (UTC)
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Also, the "right thing" would be for Moon to apologize for her offensive remarks and withdraw from the con. She's not going to do it, though, which leaves the con organizers in a difficult place.

I would have appreciated a lot more outrage in their statement, though, and a lot less "thanks for the learning opportunity" bullshit.
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From:onceupon
Date:September 23rd, 2010 07:02 pm (UTC)
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Your argument re: the top-down nature of uninviting or otherwise revoking her Honor status makes so much sense.

I've posted to both the LJ and DW communities to brainstorm so ideas for what non-Muslim fans can do to change the atmosphere of the con on this one - since it explicitly should not be the responsibility of the Muslim attendees to offer the education referenced in the concom response.

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From:alexandraerin
Date:September 23rd, 2010 10:37 pm (UTC)
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I'm planning on a few things, one of which is making wearable signs that have information about the kinds of contributions to civilization that the West would be utterly fucked without. I'll rotate them throughout the weekend and have copies for others who want them.

And obviously wearing religious or cultural garb is problematic for many reasons, but what if we got some very visible crescent moon and star stickers? I believe... and I have no personal or expert standing when I say this, so anybody please feel free to correct me... that these could stand as a show of solidarity rather than an appropriation of identity.
From:orbitalmechanic
Date:September 23rd, 2010 07:06 pm (UTC)
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Thank you! This is so helpful in figuring out how to break down the pieces of this mess.
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From:trinker
Date:September 23rd, 2010 07:12 pm (UTC)
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Thank you for taking the time to write this.

The one thing I've been glad of in all this is that there *are* lots of voices speaking out, and so the absence of one particular voice is simply that.

I cannot imagine what's going on in Elizabeth Moon's mind. Does she imagine that Wiscon will be a safe space for her bigotry?
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From:naomikritzer
Date:September 23rd, 2010 07:12 pm (UTC)
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I do not understand what Elizabeth Moon is thinking at this point.

She's currently scheduled to be a GoH at a con where vast numbers of attendees are (at best!) dismayed that she's coming; where people are planning to challenge her face to face on panels and in hallway conversations; where people are planning to publicly walk out when she delivers her GoH speech.

I would rather have a root canal than go to a con under these circumstances (if I were her, I mean).
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From:icecreamempress
Date:September 23rd, 2010 07:19 pm (UTC)
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My guess, as someone who used to do PR for non-profit organizations, including "emergency reputation management" consulting, is that--based on the specific actions she has taken, and the language she has used to describe those actions--she is likely to be in a mode of "What I said was what everyone thinks, but I am being pilloried by the PC police, so it would be wrong for me to back down. When I appear at WisCon, it will be apparent that all right-thinking people support me, and that my opposition is just a handful of troublemakers on the Internets."

This attitude was always the hardest one to work with; "Oh, my heavens, I screwed up horribly and really need to mend fences" is the easiest.
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From:naomikritzer
Date:September 23rd, 2010 07:13 pm (UTC)
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Also, thank you very much for writing this. It's a much more satisfying analysis of the "disinvite her? or what?" decision than we got from the con chairs.
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From:stormsdotter
Date:September 23rd, 2010 07:14 pm (UTC)
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If I were attending WisCon, I would join the protest. Sadly, I do not have the money to go; I'm just managing to get myself to NYCC from Boston.

Thank you for the Writing the Other book recommendation. I've been thinking a lot about what you and jimhines have said about non-white characters, and my current heroine is half Polynesian.
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From:nojojojo
Date:September 23rd, 2010 07:16 pm (UTC)
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Frankly, I may not be going to Wiscon either -- one of the things that's stressing me out right now is that I am underemployed and having financial trouble. But I'm holding out hope that I'll find a job soon.
[User Picture]
From:pingback_bot
Date:September 23rd, 2010 07:18 pm (UTC)

a good MoonFail post

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User lanning referenced to your post from a good MoonFail post saying: [...] I agree with 's excellent post [...]
[User Picture]
From:yarram
Date:September 24th, 2010 12:50 am (UTC)

Re: a good MoonFail post

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"MoonFail (somebody had to say it)"

...am I a bad person for being unable to get "Failor Moon" (a la Sailor Moon) out of my head?
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From:bondgwendabond
Date:September 23rd, 2010 07:21 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for this post -- I completely agree, and am dismayed to have this cloud hanging over Wiscon.
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From:whumpdotcom
Date:September 23rd, 2010 07:24 pm (UTC)
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The thing I'm not understanding here is how it's unprofessional to rescind Moon's invitation?
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From:nojojojo
Date:September 23rd, 2010 07:44 pm (UTC)
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My thinking on this is still forming, and is separate from my belief that disinviting her as a top-down decision would be a bad move from a social justice standpoint. But basically, I think that once a guest has been invited to one's home, so to speak, the onus is on the invitee to show the greater manners. Maybe it's my Southern upbringing, but I was raised to believe that one must always treat a guest with the greatest respect, even when that guest has been an ass. Everyone around will see that this guest is being an ass, and react accordingly, but what they should not see is the host being an ass. The host should kick a guest out only if and when that guest has broken the house rules or otherwise violated the sanctity of the home.

Now, in my opinion, Moon has violated Wiscon's sanctity/rules. Probably in the opinions of a lot of other Wiscon regulars, too. But I don't have the right to make that decision -- I'm not actively working on the ConCom this year, though I'm still on the mailing list in an advisory capacity. The people whose labor is making this con happen are the ones who have the right to dictate hosting policy, IMO. And I wasn't privy to the conversation between the ConCom and Moon, so I can't say what caused them to decide that she hasn't violated those rules. Maybe she apologized or expressed remorse; maybe she just said "bring it on" re the idea of protest and they were OK with that; I don't know. Maybe the ConCom decided to eat this problem because they didn't fully vet Moon before inviting her; apparently her views on Islam have been well-known in the community for some time.

Regardless, they've decided she's a worthy guest... at which point I think it would be poor hosting, or unprofessional rather, to disinvite her.
[User Picture]
From:kayjayoh
Date:September 23rd, 2010 07:26 pm (UTC)
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Another thank you for this post. You stated it very well.
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From:kateelliott
Date:September 23rd, 2010 07:33 pm (UTC)
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Thank you for writing this.

I'm still processing the cognitive dissonance between Moon being a writer I have read and respected for some years and That Post, which I saw before all the commentary, and which I stopped reading partway through when my head exploded from dismay, frustration, and anger.

(Also, I'm deep in other things at the moment that are necessarily consuming the bulk of my energy.)
[User Picture]
From:_stranger_here
Date:September 23rd, 2010 08:18 pm (UTC)
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Thank you, so much. For all of it.
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From:tbonejenkins
Date:September 23rd, 2010 08:40 pm (UTC)
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Here, here.

Out of curiosity, has Wiscon ever rescinded GOH status? Just wondering since I'm new to it.
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From:fjm
Date:September 23rd, 2010 08:53 pm (UTC)
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ICFA disinvited William Sanders.

The deciding question to the Board was "Who wants to sit next to him at dinner?"

In the absence of any affirmatives, I could see no reason to ask our constituency to do what we would not.


[Just to note my own absence next year will be because I have a speaking engagement. I have let Nisi know. I would not have dreamt of non-attendance.]
[User Picture]
From:nojojojo
Date:September 24th, 2010 02:43 am (UTC)
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Hmm. That's a valid question to ask. Knowing that ICFA disinvited Sanders doesn't make much of a difference to me -- different cons have different standards of acceptable behavior, and ICFA's is not quite the same as Wiscon's. But hosting a guest should be done sincerely, and if the host can't stand to have the guest at table, then the host should ask the guest to leave.
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From:zizi_west
Date:September 23rd, 2010 09:02 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for addressing this with so much insight and clarity.
From:delux_vivens
Date:September 23rd, 2010 09:23 pm (UTC)
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I'll comment more in depth later, but as far as wearing hijab? I'm very bothered by the idea. Its very easy to show "solidarity" with Muslims wearing hijab in the safe confines of the con. Wearing it in everyday downtown Madison? Might be an experience that lots of people are seriously not ready for. And I say this based on my experiences of wearing hijab to and from my local mosque this past Ramadan.

[User Picture]
From:brynndragon
Date:September 24th, 2010 02:17 pm (UTC)
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You know, if a bunch of people in Madison see a sudden influx of Muslims (which it wouldn't be, but that's what they'd see) there could be a backlash against the Madison Muslim community. One more reason that using someone else's symbol of faith as a symbol of protest is a Bad Idea(tm).
[User Picture]
From:firecat
Date:September 23rd, 2010 09:24 pm (UTC)
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I don't think it's always unprofessional to disinvite a speaker or a guest of honor. But it creates a precedent that is difficult to manage, and yours is the first post I've seen addressing that part of the issue. Thank you.
[User Picture]
From:cynthia1960
Date:September 23rd, 2010 10:03 pm (UTC)
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You rock.
[User Picture]
From:cynthia1960
Date:September 23rd, 2010 10:04 pm (UTC)
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You rock.

edited to note that you rock so hard I ended up posting twice.

Edited at 2010-09-23 10:05 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
From:maevele
Date:September 23rd, 2010 10:13 pm (UTC)
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Awesome post. I really really hope you make it to wiscon this year. Maybe con_or_bust?
Nora, World. World, Nora. - Elizabeth Moon, Wiscon, and the Responsibility of Dissent

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