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Cold and rainy today, here in Providence.

I awoke to this. I'm assuming the shootings actually have nothing to do, directly, with all the idiotic Batman Rising internet kerfuffle. More likely, the movie simply served as the inevitable catalyst and a handy, high-profile resource for the shooter's "captive" audience.

Yesterday, I wrote 1,105 words on "One Tree Hill (The World As Cataclysm)," a new story, which occurred to me just as I was beginning to get very nervous about having no ideas for Sirenia Digest #80.

Have you heard Chelsea Wolfe? Neither had I, until last week. Now, I have both her CDs and am utterly amazed. Check it out.

---

I don't have time, just now, to write this. What follows. I'm writing it anyway. So, well, I hope someone reads it. Sounds a little like a message in a bottle, that. Never mind. One year ago today I wrote in this LJ: You know, I am aware that if this blog were more – what's the word? Political? Controversial? Confrontational? None of those are the right words. Let's say, more like catvalente's. If it were more like that, there would likely be many more comments. Well, perhaps. And were I a much younger beast, I might still have the energy to write those sorts of entries. But I'm not, and I don't.

And yesterday, on Twitter, I "learned" that Silk is a "racist" novel*, which I suppose would make me, by extension, a racist. Were it true. Actually, the person (no names will be named) who started this didn't come right out and say that Silk was racist. They said "...which reminds me that the one novel of hers I did read was racist, lol." Yeah. The "lol" was there. Following that was some banter between this individual and another about my "racefail" and so forth. I asked the person who'd made the original comment to please tell me which novel they'd deemed racist, and received no response. A fourth and friendly party informed me, "It was Silk. [blank] gave you racefail for 'exotic stamps' and saying Niki still looked exotic in Cure t-shirt." Oh, and yet another person called me a "troll" for being angry at having been called a racist (and having said so on Twitter).

So...it's as if I requested the worst sort of case in point, and it was then summarily served up to me. The novel is labeled racist because a Caucasian girl looks at a Vietnamese girl and envies her, thinking of her as exotic, and because that same Vietnamese girl, who's never been to her home country, thinks of stamps from Vietnam as "exotic." Here are the two passages in question**:

1: "Caught there in the last glory of the day, Niki's skin seemed to radiate its own light, perfect silken complexion, balanced somewhere lustrous between almond and ginger. Daria knew her own skin was as unremarkable as her face, not pale enough for goth, despite her vampire's hours, but certainly no color to speak of. A few poorly place freckles scattered beneath her eyes, and she got zits on the days before her periods. Niki was wearing a ratty Cure T-shirt she'd pulled out of her bubble-gum colored gym bag, frayed sleeves cut off at the shoulders and the color stretched shapeless and she still looked exotic."

(Don't ask me why the words ginger and silken didn't also hit the "racefail" buttons. I don't know. Maybe they did.)

2: "Neither of Niki's parents had ever made a habit of talking about their lives before New Orleans. They kept themselves apart from the city's tight-knit Vietnamese community. Always seemed to struggle to answer any questions Niki asked about their lives before America in as few words as possible, as if bad memories, bad times, had ears and could be summoned like demons. There had been letters, exotic stamps and picture postcards from halfway around the world, messages from faceless relatives written in the mysterious, beautiful alphabet that she had never learned to read. Her mother had kept these someplace secret, or maybe she'd just thrown them away. Niki had treasured her rare glimpses of this correspondence, would sometimes hold an envelope to her nose and lips, hoping for some whiff or faint taste of a world that must have been so much more marvelous than their boxy white and avocado-green house in the Metairie suburbs."

(Also, no idea why mysterious didn't "trigger." Whatever.)

So, we have 1) the subjective view of Niki from a white girl with very low self esteem, and 2) we have Niki's longing for a homeland she's never seen, which she could certainly view as exotic, in comparison to her life. And, for what it's worth, here's a dictionary definition of exotic: Intriguingly unusual or different; excitingly strange.*** Like Daria and Niki's perceptions, the definition is relative to one's point of view. A Vietnamese, for example, can easily find American stamps "exotic."

I will also point out that the individual who considers Silk racist also made statements like "goddamn 99% of white people should break their keyboards and their hands period unless they promise only to write about whites." No, truly. I'm not making this up. "jesus white people really can't write China for shit. or Thailand either." And "white people writing fantasy China give me the creeps." Okay, so. If I am of whichever many, many Caucasian lineages (many of which readily qualify as people of color), I should never, ever write Thai or Chinese characters, unless I want my hands and keyboard broken. Because, by this person's estimation, in so doing, I shall inevitably commit "racefail." Does this mean they advocate torture and censorship? I don't know, but it wouldn't be an outlandish conclusion to draw, based on their comments. Should Caucasian Americans never write about any other people in any other country? Or an American member of a race other than one's own?**** Is that forbidden?

Flashback to an old episode of M*A*S*H, and something Hawkeye says about the McCarthy trials ("Are You Now, Margaret"): "Testify before the committee? You've read about the committee. They make it very simple for you. You can either hang yourself or your friends. Or both. Whatever you do, just showing up can cost you your career." To me, these lines are eerily prescient of our current situation with the self-appointed guardians who decry cultural appropriation, "racefail," sexism, homophobia, etc. over...well, for example...one word in a rather long novel. People who would have one race never speak of another. And so forth. Don't agree? You can stay quiet and be branded. Or you can speak out and be branded.

We're not talking about Orson Scott Card or John Wright's evangelical homophobia here, or Dan Simmons and Elizabeth Moon's openly Islamophobic attitudes. We're talking about one word, used positively to describe a character I care for deeply. That's how bad this mess is. We're talking about nitwits who think writers are better off breaking their hands and keyboards. And the truth is that it is those people who have failed, to understand art, to understand the process of art, and even to understand the nature of the struggle for equality in this and all nations, for "whites" and all other races.

I do not want to waste my life fighting these people. I genuinely do not. I do not want to risk my career (such as it is). But I am killing my fear. You will kill yours, or you will not. To quote Peter Gabriel, as I did yesterday on Twitter, Turn up the signal. Wipe out the noise ("Signal to Noise"). This is my fight, too, as a transsexual and a lesbian and someone who struggles daily with mental illness and as an artist. And I will not stand by quietly and watch it made a mockery of by idiots who cannot tell the difference between the "good guys" and the "bad," between literary criticism and shrill screeds (of 142 characters).

I do not want to call these people out. It's the last thing I have the time, patience, or health for. But I have, because response is warranted, and now I deal with the consequences.

Also, I hereby coin a neologism of my own: readerfail.

Tired of This,
Aunt Beast

* By the way, I was not stalking or spying on this person. Assume anything you say on any corner of the internet will be read by the individual of whom you are speaking. It's the nature of the beast.
** Taken from the heavily revised 2008 text.
*** The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
**** In a marvelous Catch 22, I was once accused of "whitewashing" because there were no people of color in The Red Tree.

Comments

( 73 comments — Have your say! )
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mlb194
Jul. 20th, 2012 07:00 pm (UTC)
Wow, some people are so ridiculously stupid it still continues to shock me.

On a brighter note - I am loving Alabaster and hope it continues.
greygirlbeast
Jul. 20th, 2012 07:06 pm (UTC)


On a brighter note - I am loving Alabaster and hope it continues.


Thank you.
joshrupp
Jul. 20th, 2012 07:13 pm (UTC)
Well, there goes "Heart of Darkness" and "The Good Earth."

This isn't just a race issue, but an extension of the argument that writers "should only write what they know." I think it's a fairly toxic argument, since it either obliges writers to be method actors - which is likely to get them killed - or prevents them from writing anything outside of their comfort level. Either way, the entire idea doesn't acknowledge the role of imagination or metaphor.
greygirlbeast
Jul. 20th, 2012 07:23 pm (UTC)

Well, there goes "Heart of Darkness" and "The Good Earth."

Yeah. Yesterday, I began making a list, which I will eventually post.

This isn't just a race issue, but an extension of the argument that writers "should only write what they know." I think it's a fairly toxic argument, since it either obliges writers to be method actors - which is likely to get them killed - or prevents them from writing anything outside of their comfort level. Either way, the entire idea doesn't acknowledge the role of imagination or metaphor.

Yup. But, too, when whoever first said "Write what you know" (Twain, Faulkner, Hemingway; it's been attributed to many people, I don't think this is what they had in mind).
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David Szydloski
Jul. 20th, 2012 07:15 pm (UTC)
I can't help but thinking these kinds of bullshit freak-outs are due to incredible political naivete or, to put it another way, an ignorance of history. Once they latch on to a perceived slight they have no tools to consider it with other than outrage. This is the downside of a multiculturalism that preaches "We are all the same"--ignorant of the importance of difference and incomprehensibility (of someone else's experiences).

Bottom line: this vapid white liberal bullshit makes everyone else on the left facepalm. Fuck those honkeys!
greygirlbeast
Jul. 20th, 2012 07:24 pm (UTC)

Bottom line: this vapid white liberal bullshit makes everyone else on the left facepalm. Fuck those honkeys!

Frankly, I think the race of the people making such comments is irrelevant (though it often seems to be white women). It's dangerous and foolish, regardless.
(no subject) - David Szydloski - Jul. 20th, 2012 07:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Jacquelin Rostad
Jul. 20th, 2012 07:23 pm (UTC)
I just hear about Chelsea Wolfe for the first time from a stranger on Pinterest a few days ago... really haunting stuff.
greygirlbeast
Jul. 20th, 2012 07:25 pm (UTC)

Indeed. A bit P. J. Harvey. A bit Siouxsie Sioux. A lot something I've never heard before.
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greygirlbeast
Jul. 20th, 2012 07:58 pm (UTC)

I used to say that life does not favor the stupid, but now I'm not so sure of that.

We have brought natural selection to an end.

Edited at 2012-07-20 07:58 pm (UTC)
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sfmarty
Jul. 20th, 2012 07:47 pm (UTC)
The most racist book I ever read (actuallyI couldn't finish it) was Dr. Doolittle. I understand it was rewritten but the original was unspeakable.
greygirlbeast
Jul. 20th, 2012 07:59 pm (UTC)

The most racist book I ever read (actuallyI couldn't finish it) was Dr. Doolittle. I understand it was rewritten but the original was unspeakable.

Yes. It was. Obviously. But viewed in it's historical context, it remains a valuable piece of children's literature.
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dipsomaniac
Jul. 20th, 2012 07:50 pm (UTC)
Ok, this is ridiculous. Use of the word "exotic" does not make someone a racist, but hey what do I know, I'm white. People are freakin' clueless. This entry came at an odd time for me because I actually just started reading Silk for the first time yesterday.
greygirlbeast
Jul. 20th, 2012 08:00 pm (UTC)

This entry came at an odd time for me because I actually just started reading Silk for the first time yesterday.

Stop now! Before it's too late!
(no subject) - whiskeychick - Jul. 21st, 2012 12:13 am (UTC) - Expand
whiskeychick
Jul. 20th, 2012 08:07 pm (UTC)
exotic is exotic, black is black, a stick is a stick...
As I revise SECOND THOUGHT, which is probably my most transgressive work ever, which was written from a white hot spot of hate for humanity's ignorance base, I am struggling with editing myself (in the wrong way). I worried that describing a black preacher as a black preacher -- not derogatory, but here is what he looks like, will be viewed as racist. That the character happens to be one of the ne'rdowells in the story doesn't help, but it is what it is. Because of our history there is never ever any person of color that suffers from the negative side of the human condition? That my protagonist is Bisexual and her daughter a Lesbian will bring ire, as well. I know it. That it will put America's dirty laundry out for the world to see will also bring out the literary bullies. That there is a scene that the likes of "Those People" Romneys of the world show up and create more oppression and chaos, will likely have another segment of the populace screaming at my work.

But you know what? I don't give a fuck. I'm writing it anyway, because it's my story, my words, my perspective and the rest of the racefail idiots, cyber bully reviewers, et al can break my keyboard and my fingers. I'll get a new one and write with my tongue.

greygirlbeast
Jul. 20th, 2012 08:11 pm (UTC)
Re: exotic is exotic, black is black, a stick is a stick...

But you know what? I don't give a fuck. I'm writing it anyway, because it's my story, my words, my perspective and the rest of the racefail idiots, cyber bully reviewers, et al can break my keyboard and my fingers. I'll get a new one and write with my tongue.

Then you have killed your fear. You win.
vulpine137
Jul. 20th, 2012 08:19 pm (UTC)
You are many things as a writer, but never in all the stories and books and posts I've read have I ever thought "Ya know, that's racist". About the only thing, in my opinion, you hate is stupidity. Not ignorance, ignorance is curable. Stupidity seems to resist everything.

So please, never stop.
greygirlbeast
Jul. 20th, 2012 08:39 pm (UTC)

About the only thing, in my opinion, you hate is stupidity. Not ignorance, ignorance is curable. Stupidity seems to resist everything.

I will not disagree.

So please, never stop.

If I did, who would pay the bills?
lilith_333
Jul. 20th, 2012 08:31 pm (UTC)
First of all, I NEVER would have come up with that about "Silk." I ADORE that book and would not have ever labeled it racist. Briefly, I think the poster in question has far too much time and wants to snark.

I struggle with this sort too because it also shows up in teaching: who is allowed to teach what or who has the "authenticity" to teach or write a particular piece of literature. For example, can a white person teach a course on African-American literature? Should a heterosexual person teach a text written by a Queer person? This is one of those "fun" (I obviously use the word sarcastically) debates that never quite gets resolved but gets everyone really mad.

Don't get me wrong, I've read some literature where the author does a HORRENDOUS job of depicting characters who are the "Other" in terms of the author's own personal identity. (One of my pet peeves is male authors who *think* they can write women and land up with not only one-dimensional, but also offensive and HARMFUL depictions of women. John Norman's "Gor" series comes immediately to mind.) I've also had profs. who completely dismissed or marginalized an author and her/his work because of prejudices related to their personal identity. (For example, I once had an older white male prof. who basically called Amy Lowell a "b!tch" for fighting back when Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot blackballed her from the Imagism poetic movement, which SHE started.) That really irks me and these authors and professors SHOULD be called out and held accountable for such stupidity.

However, the whole "you should only write/talk about characters and works that reflect your own identity" seriously irks me. So all white authors are only allowed to have white characters in their books? Does this also mean that female authors should never write about male characters? Plus, turn it around. This person on Twitter obviously saw white people writing about non-white people as a "racefail" (real technical term, that!). However, does s/he believe that African-American writers or Asian-American writers are allowed to write about WHITE people? Amy Tan has several white characters in her novels, some of whom are portrayed in stark contrast to her Asian characters, who sometimes point out the cultural differences of these white characters in what might be termed "stereotypical" language. Does that make her a racist? What about someone like Ralph Ellison, who had MANY scathing portraits of white characters in "Invisible Man." Does that make HIM a racist? I am betting that almost no one would say yes, it does. However, a white person writing about an Asian-American person and using the word "exotic" somehow makes THAT person a racist.

I realize I've pretty much written an entire essay here - sorry! This is a sensitive topic for me because I deal with it all the time; it's a major point of discourse in the humanities right now. I feel like I also have an unfortunate tendency to sometimes fall into what is sometimes called "liberal guilt" - yes, a white person representing/discussing a person of any other ethnicity MUST automatically be racist. However, that's my own frustration coming out; such a viewpoint is no more productive than the ignorant person who claims we're living in a "post-racial" society and that we've "transcended racism."

One final (I promise!) thing - over the years I've increasingly been noticing that literary criticism and critical discourse has become increasingly more negative and snarky. When I go to conferences and read current literature it seems like it's basically "taboo" to praise literature or - goddess forbid! - admit that you liked a text and that it has positive merits. It seems like everyone is just involved in a big game of picking holes in everything to say what's wrong with it. This, of course, includes some random Twitter person latching onto ONE WORD to supposedly "discredit" a GREAT novel and its writer! While I love teaching, reading, and writing, I get discouraged sometimes because it seems as if the mission of so many people involved in these practices seem to make it their lives' work to suck all the joy out of them.

Jaime
greygirlbeast
Jul. 20th, 2012 08:50 pm (UTC)

John Norman's "Gor" series comes immediately to mind.

Those aren't even books. I don't know what those are.

(For example, I once had an older white male prof. who basically called Amy Lowell a "b!tch" for fighting back when Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot blackballed her from the Imagism poetic movement, which SHE started.) That really irks me and these authors and professors SHOULD be called out and held accountable for such stupidity.

Agreed.

So all white authors are only allowed to have white characters in their books? Does this also mean that female authors should never write about male characters? Plus, turn it around. This person on Twitter obviously saw white people writing about non-white people as a "racefail" (real technical term, that!). However, does s/he believe that African-American writers or Asian-American writers are allowed to write about WHITE people?

This arguments spawns a sort of infinite regression of taboo. Can a woman who works outside the home write about a housewife (a loaded term wit some, I know)? Can computer analyst write about a marine biologist? In the face of these logical consequences of the above restrictions, literature collapses and ceases to exist.

(real technical term, that!).

It causes me physical pain.

Amy Tan has several white characters in her novels, some of whom are portrayed in stark contrast to her Asian characters, who sometimes point out the cultural differences of these white characters in what might be termed "stereotypical" language. Does that make her a racist? What about someone like Ralph Ellison, who had MANY scathing portraits of white characters in "Invisible Man." Does that make HIM a racist? I am betting that almost no one would say yes, it does. However, a white person writing about an Asian-American person and using the word "exotic" somehow makes THAT person a racist.

Am I a sexist for writing male characters? Can I ever write about anyone who is cisgender? these are NOT absurdist questions. They follow from this person's premise.

I realize I've pretty much written an entire essay here - sorry!

No, no. I welcome it.

I've increasingly been noticing that literary criticism and critical discourse has become increasingly more negative and snarky. When I go to conferences and read current literature it seems like it's basically "taboo" to praise literature or - goddess forbid! - admit that you liked a text and that it has positive merits. It seems like everyone is just involved in a big game of picking holes in everything to say what's wrong with it. This, of course, includes some random Twitter person latching onto ONE WORD to supposedly "discredit" a GREAT novel and its writer! While I love teaching, reading, and writing, I get discouraged sometimes because it seems as if the mission of so many people involved in these practices seem to make it their lives' work to suck all the joy out of them.

I've had very little exposure to academic lit conferences, but this is evident even at Readercon. Somewhere, I have a study demonstrating that people who write negative reviews are seen as more intelligent than those who write positive reviews. I need to track it down.
eluneth
Jul. 20th, 2012 08:38 pm (UTC)
That's some scary conflation of character (Daria longing for the "exotic," as people will, often even if they've been educated back and forth about the problems of exoticizing, which Daria probably hasn't...) with author (...who must clearly think that all people of Asian descent are "exotic," even though nowhere in the text does she reduce Niki to mysterious, hyperfeminine, doll-like etc. window-dressing). The insensitivity of that kind of reading - one hot-button word = entirely toxic text?? - makes me very uncomfortable. Similarly, a friend told me recently that at a writing workshop she attended, one of the participants complained about a scene in someone's work in which a man sat on a bench and [stated from his perspective] "watched the beautiful women go by" (or similar), as it was objectifying. Because... straight (or bi) men never sit on benches and look at attractive women, of course, so it's automatically sexist on an author's part to ever represent such a thing, independent of an evaluation of whether the rest of the text suggests underlying sexism.

Maybe that's not a fair comparison, since I don't know whether the tweeter deemed Silk racist on bases other than the appearance of "exotic," etc., but I'll let it stand at least as a particularly frivolous example of art police being over-quick to the draw.

There had been letters, exotic stamps and picture postcards from halfway around the world, messages from faceless relatives written in the mysterious, beautiful alphabet that she had never learned to read.
I remember being startled at how strongly I identified with this passage, as a Chinese-American with a similarly estranged relationship to my family's country of origin (and a consequently wonky and guilty relationship with the "exotic"). So there's one vote against the "authors will inevitably fail at being able to write outside of their own experience" thing. Actually, I'll say right out that I'm habitually, selfishly picky about representation of Asian-American characters, and Niki was one of the most fascinating and satisfyingly complicated I've encountered. I fell in love with most of the characters in Silk, and Niki was no exception.

Separately - I didn't have the chance to comment on your Readercon posts previously, but I very much enjoyed getting to see your reflections on the con experience, so thanks for sharing. Also, you looked beautiful in your Aunt Beast regalia - like Patti Smith's changeling sister.

Edited at 2012-07-20 08:41 pm (UTC)
greygirlbeast
Jul. 20th, 2012 08:55 pm (UTC)

she reduce Niki to mysterious, hyperfeminine, doll-like etc. window-dressing).

Rather the opposite. But, that's probably bad, too.

I remember being startled at how strongly I identified with this passage, as a Chinese-American with a similarly estranged relationship to my family's country of origin (and a consequently wonky and guilty relationship with the "exotic"). So there's one vote against the "authors will inevitably fail at being able to write outside of their own experience" thing. Actually, I'll say right out that I'm habitually, selfishly picky about representation of Asian-American characters, and Niki was one of the most fascinating and satisfyingly complicated I've encountered. I fell in love with most of the characters in Silk, and Niki was no exception.

I will say again, for the most part, Silk's characters were drawn from people I knew firsthand, most of whom read the text as it was being written. Niki was no exception. I even learned to play bass to get Daria right.

Also, you looked beautiful in your Aunt Beast regalia - like Patti Smith's changeling sister.

This will make me smile all damn day. Thank you.
ulffriend
Jul. 20th, 2012 08:50 pm (UTC)
My assumption is that there have always been idiots in the human race. Now, however, they can make themselves more visible/audible because of the availability of the internet. The fact that they chose to babble doesn't obligate us to listen. If we do chose to listen, we can mark them as such (as you've done).
greygirlbeast
Jul. 20th, 2012 08:55 pm (UTC)

Now, however, they can make themselves more visible/audible because of the availability of the internet.

Bingo.
briansiano
Jul. 20th, 2012 09:12 pm (UTC)
Ideology is a wonderful means by which people burnish, decorate, and gild the chips on their shoulders.
greygirlbeast
Jul. 20th, 2012 09:32 pm (UTC)

Pretty much.
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(Deleted comment)
greygirlbeast
Jul. 20th, 2012 09:59 pm (UTC)

This sort of thing masks and de-legitimizes authentic critical discussion of texts for their problems and their faults--as well as their successes and pleasures. There is a fuck of a lot more to deep reading than labeling black-and-white (morally) "good!"/"bad!" books.

On the one hand, I cannot disagree. On the other, I'm hearing things about this same sort of behavior/attitude at legitimate, professional conferences and in universities (see some of the comments above). And I saw it in college (the effective ban on Hemingway, for example).
(no subject) - joycemocha - Jul. 21st, 2012 03:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
jessamyg
Jul. 20th, 2012 10:11 pm (UTC)
So, if we deduce from the idiot that says that white people can't write chinese characters, then chinese people CAN write them correctly, then they are saying that the whole of a race can be rendered down to one recognisable stereotype? I see that viewpoint as racist myself.
greygirlbeast
Jul. 20th, 2012 10:18 pm (UTC)

So, if we deduce from the idiot that says that white people can't write chinese characters, then chinese people CAN write them correctly, then they are saying that the whole of a race can be rendered down to one recognisable stereotype? I see that viewpoint as racist myself.

Absolutely. Here is, from Wikipedia, a list of the major ethnic groups within China:

...Zhuang (16.1 million), Manchu (10.6 million), Hui (9.8 million), Miao (8.9 million), Uyghur (8.3 million), Tujia (8 million), Yi (7.7 million), Mongol (5.8 million), Tibetan (5.4 million), Buyei (2.9 million), Dong (2.9 million), Yao (2.6 million), Korean (1.9 million), Bai (1.8 million), Hani (1.4 million), Kazakh (1.2 million), Li (1.2 million), and Dai (1.1 million).

Should each be banned from writing about the others?
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( 73 comments — Have your say! )