29 November 2008

When shopping is sexist

To get an idea of how embedded sexist and classist ideas are in our culture, take a look at yesterday.

Black Friday.

We get up really early, and spend all day shopping! There's lots of amazing bargains and deals for all the shoppers, and it does great things for our economy, right?

Consider the assumptions.


  1. Someone isn't shopping. The retail force (who probably need those sales just as much as anyone else) is instead required to be there. Everyone I've talked to who has worked retail on Black Friday (regardless of where - from upscale clothing stores to WalMart) has said that it and the day after Christmas leave them completely exhausted.

  2. It assumes that one member of your household isn't working. In the 60's sitcom family, this wasn't a problem. The "woman of the house" could get up early and shop. Single income households are extremely rare these days, and largely due to economic pressures.

  3. It assumes you can take time off work. My wife went shopping with a friend who did exactly this. I, also, could have called in and had a paid day off. Even if it was an unpaid day off, I'm not living literally paycheck to paycheck (yet - give the recession some more time), and could survive. I also remember when I was living paycheck to paycheck, and a cut in hours, let alone a day off, meant the difference between making rent or not. And that's assuming you work in a job where an unscheduled absence won't get you fired.



I don't think anybody - retailers, shoppers, media - is *consciously* going about being sexist and classist when they talk about Black Friday. But the fact remains that the habit was formed in an openly classist and sexist time in our history - and the effects of that persist today. We must look at the routine assumptions of our habits to see these subtle institutionalized discriminations.

And once we have seen them, then we must act to remove them.

28 November 2008

Islam is not out to get you.

First, let's get one thing clearly out of the way: The terrorist actions in Mumbai are horrible. The terrorists should be captured (if necessary). Massive police work must be done to find the cells and eliminate them with extreme prejudice. They have quite clearly demarcated themselves as varelse by their actions.

Secondly, thanks to @tomzer1 for forcing me to actually articulate this stuff. Seriously.

Earlier today, one of my twitter-compadres tweeted: “The Islamic terrorist attacks have killed some Americans in Mumbai, it turns out. The fruits of Islam.”

To which I replied: “Why is it when self-labeled Christians do bad things, they aren't seen as a referendum on all Christians like you do with Muslims?”

And this just started a crapstorm of commenting back and forth. Let me save you the link-following; I think it’s a horrible idea to blame Islam for terrorism, and there’s three big reasons why.

1) It is a logical fallacy to hold all of Islam responsible for the acts of a few people. Islam is a huge religion, with multiple disagreeing sects, and large variations in beliefs within those sects. It is, in this respect, very similar to Christianity. There are three large branches of Christianity (Roman Catholics, the Orthodox faiths, and Protestants), and there are sub-sects within each of those. And even within each sect there can be a large variation of philosophies, beliefs, and political orientations. Or as Emo Phillips put it:
I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. So I ran over and said "Stop! don't do it!" "Why shouldn't I?" he said. I said, "Well, there's so much to live for!" He said, "Like what?" I said, "Well...are you religious or atheist?" He said, "Religious." I said, "Me too! Are you christian or buddhist?" He said, "Christian." I said, "Me too! Are you catholic or protestant?" He said, "Protestant." I said, "Me too! Are you episcopalian or baptist?" He said, "Baptist!" I said,"Wow! Me too! Are you baptist church of god or baptist church of the lord?" He said, "Baptist church of god!" I said, "Me too! Are you original baptist church of god, or are you reformed baptist church of god?" He said,"Reformed Baptist church of god!" I said, "Me too! Are you reformed baptist church of god, reformation of 1879, or reformed baptist church of god, reformation of 1915?" He said, "Reformed baptist church of god, reformation of 1915!" I said, "Die, heretic scum", and pushed him off. -- Emo Phillips


And take these two images:




Since both of these folks fall under the banner of "Christianity", I think we can start to realize that maybe not all Muslims feel that everyone should be blown up, the same way most Christians don’t agree with both (or either) of those two. And then you’ve got the very real Christian terrorist groups out there. If we are going to claim that religiously-motivated wackos smears the whole religion, Christianity is just as bad. If holding a religion responsible for its extremists is starting to look like a weak argument, just wait - it’s a dangerous one too.

(By the by, if anyone somehow finds this under “Gay Christians” and needs a supportive community, christiangays.com might be a good start.)

2) Assuming a whole religion is to blame is a horrible security policy. Not only does assuming all Muslims are "out to get you" immediately increase your number of false leads, but it also alienates those who might be on the borderline. Killing someone's parents as “collateral damage” by overbroad targeting might just cause some feelings of revenge.

[graphic of bruce wayne]

We might have some cultural recieved knowledge about that kind of thing. Just maybe.

And it also ignores the very real groups of Christian terrorists out there, who are just as real a security threat. It’s the same reason that profiling is a bad move; it means you get lazy and assumes the bad guys are stupid and all dress the same.

They’re not, and they don’t.

So why do we only hear about the “bad” Muslims? Where are the moderate Muslims that denounce these crimes? Fair question, and point number ...

3) We hear what fits with our preconceptions because people tend to self-select their news. Just as liberals might read Kos and Huffington, conservatives take in Fox and Limbaugh. (There’s a lot more examples, okay?) The point is, there’s very little “crosstalk”, and that means it’s all too easy for any of them... US... to get sucked into groupthink. Nobody is immune to it. While Tomzer and CrapMariner weren’t seeing Muslims condemning the Mumbai attacks, it was very easy for me to find them, even from a local group. Yet an April 2008 arrest of a Christian terrorist goes nearly unreported.

Soundbites and clean-cut dualities of “bad guys” and “good guys” are almost always faulty. Whenever you’re presented with something like that - especially if you agree with it - challenge yourself to question it, and see how strongly your house of cards is built.

As always, I challenge you to test mine.


The two types of mastering a task

There are two types of mastery - there is rote mastery, and there is understanding mastery.

Rote mastery is when one can emulate the forms of a thing. That is, you can push the buttons in the right sequence, format a document correctly, play the notes on an instrument, and so on. This sort of rote or technical mastery is important, but must be remembered that it is only a beginning. A practical example is someone who can play the right notes in a high school band.

Understanding mastery is when you understand why the buttons are pushed, why the notes go together in the right way, understand the aesthetics of the page. It is reflective and thoughtful, but not mechanical rules. A practical example - to continue with music - is a jazz musician who no longer needs sheet music.

These different types of mastering tasks happens in all areas of your life. I've seen parents mechanically apply good parenting advice - but because they don't understand *why* it's good advice, it is often applied incorrectly. I see co-workers do things more slowly or inefficiently, making things harder on themselves because they don't understand the "how" of the systems they use.

What kind of mastery do you have in the important areas of your life?

27 November 2008

Squanto, or whitewashing history (xpost)

(This is crossposted from uncharted learning, the resource list I run for homeschoolers and educators.)

One of my bigger annoyances about history classes is the way we leave complex emotions and complex people outside of history. Instead, we clean them up into two-dimensional cutouts. I really believe this makes history less interesting for students of all ages, and definitely makes us feel less able to live up to their example.

Squanto is one such example. This Weekly Reader interactive story of his life:

http://www.weeklyreader.com/interactivestories/squanto.html

is cute, but leaves out the big reason why he could speak English. He had been a slave. Censoring important details like that cheapen any respect that might be paid. Here is a more factual history of this very important Native American.

http://www.nativeamericans.com/Squanto.htm

Our job - as parents and teachers - is not to omit parts of history, but to make all of it accessible for our children. That way, when they are thankful for the efforts and sacrifices of those who came before us, they are actually paying respect to reality.

26 November 2008

That word, you keep using it...

I've noticed a disturbing trend among conservatives over the last several years. When faced with evidence or arguments opposite to their own beliefs, they claim that they are "offended".

Not upset. Not that they disagree. That they are offended.

I've had this put forward on everything from a political cartoon about the causes and costs second Iraq war, to the reality of white male privilege (PDF link), to the lie of the Horatio Alger myth, to a study suggesting abstinence programs reduce one type of sexual activity - but leads to teens interpreting other sexual activities as "not really sex" (or not being effective at all).

I think I know why this is; all of the above statements are *uncomfortable* for true-red conservatives. They do not fit neatly into their world view; in fact, they challenge large parts of it.

Those who have regularly been offended - subjected to ethnopaulisms, discriminated against, and marginalized - have used their feelings as a potent social norming mechanism. By stating that sexist language, for example, is offensive, it is a powerful tool for eliminating that language.

But now the conservatives have lost enough power that the Archie Bunkers are more and more marginalized. (When they're not elected GOP officials, of course.) So they now have to deal with challenges to thier worldview... and "uncomfortable" is a weak word.

"Offended", on the other hand, has power. And now the conservatives are learning to use it - inappropriately, perhaps, but use it - to silence those who are still working for equality and justice. It is, in many ways, like when bigots and racists appropriate progressive language; they're using the tools that levered them out of power to try to maintain their current privilege.

I understand that this is a really, really broad brush I'm using. Many conservatives I know - some of whom I'm messaging specifically to look at this entry - truly do understand the difference between offense and uncomfortableness. They can deal with challenges to their worldview in a coherent, intelligent, and powerful logical manner. Disagreement and debate are absolutely *necessary* in continuing this country's well-being. When I say "conservative" here, I don't mean people who tend to lean right, or even most right wingers. I'm talking the type who think Hannity, Limbaugh, and O'Reilley are actually balanced ethical journalists.

Those who use "offense" to simply silence ideas instead of slurs... well, not so much.

Like I said, I've seen it myself. Do you think this is a bigger trend, or just a few last holdouts? Or just some people who are jerks?

25 November 2008

Zombie! - A Flash Fiction

(Because this post demanded it...)


We huddled in the shack, shotguns and shovel blades held ready.

"What next, man?" Bobby's voice wavered across the silent room.

He was the most shaken. I kept waiting for him to start yelling "Game over, man!", but that was a different genre and different generation. Bobby was maybe fifteen, and had liked the AvP franchise instead. A totally different kind of horror, I'd told him, but he didn't get that joke either.

"I don't know, Bobby." I tried to sound reassuring and caring, but mostly I sounded annoyed.

"Bobby's right." Joan, the physician's assistant. She managed the soothing tones I couldn't muster. "We've all faced a lot in the last month, and things have been getting worse. The slow zombies were bad enough, but then they got faster." The others were nodding at the edges of the lantern's light. "And then when they started talking..."

"...my sister, man!" I'd had to knock Bobby down when the decayed corpse of his sister kept begging to be let in.

I held my hand up. "You're all right. Things have gotten bad and..."

"I see 'em!" Zach burst in. He'd been on lookout; he had a good eye, and wouldn't hesistate to interrupt if it was important. "They're coming up over the ridge, and they're saying something... wierd."

I went and looked, and listened.

"We're screwed," I told them. "Listen."

They all listened to the undead mouthing the words: "I think, therefore I am." "Religion is the opiate of the masses." "Ambition is the immoderate desire for power." "And if you gaze for long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you." "Nothing is divine but what is agreeable to reason."

"What's that mean?" I think Bobby might have wet himself. "What are they?"

I loaded my shotgun.

"Philosophical zombies, Bobby. God-damned philosophical zombies."

The Thinking Person's Guide to Fighting Zombies

It's simple: You think in order to fight zombies.

Philosophical zombies, perhaps, but zombies nonetheless.

I first learned about philosophical zombies from Peter Watts' blog (Law of Internet Invocation, I invoke thee!) shortly after reading his book Blindsight. The idea of a nonconscious creature that acts as if it were conscious to try to fit in... well, that fit with my experience of most of humanity. Anyway, it's a year later, and I've absorbed a lot of sociobiology and a lot of sociology in that time. And, in case you somehow couldn't figure it out, Mead really sticks out as either tying it together or anticipating movements years in advance. Especially when it comes to consciousness. Consciousness is considered - in Watt's words - the pointy haired boss of the brain. Not really functional, and just acting like the worst of middle management.

Not so for Mead. Mead's conception of consciousness implicitly and explicitly requires compassion and empathy for others, or at least the ability to determine the motivations of others. For him, this is exemplified through the saints and (interestingly) capitalism, since to form a better communal society with increased benefits for all, one must be able to empathize with the other. (Capitalists who don't figure out what other people need and want don't sell a lot of stuff.) Except that, as with any communal situation, you run into the free rider problem (see here for an exhaustive description). This is where pattern recognition becomes important - because a philosophical zombie (also, almost implicitly, a sociopath) can mimic social reprocity, but not truly *have* it. By Mead's definition, one who does not have a conscious experience (a p-zombie), cannot truly empathize with another. Therefore, sooner or later they will slip up, and you'll be able to either exterminate them or teach them empathy. Your pick.

Pattern recognition then becomes a very worthwhile skill to have - because you can detect zombies. :) So where's the problem? Eventually, pattern recognition spawns off other things - like religions (again, Peter Watts has a good, if irreverent, dissection of this). Religions - like most any social structure - have a tendency to become calcified over time. It's exactly that calcification that Jesus was so famously kvetching about when he reduced the Law of the Hebrews to a couple of pithy sayings. So when religions - based originally on pattern recognition and empathy - become calcified rituals, they lead to predictable patterns which are things that zombies can mimic more easily.

Which brings us back to thinking people. Most modern society - as noted earlier - is made up of handshaking protocols. These are essentially low-level defenses against free riders. However, introspection and conscious thought - something not common in everyday society - is needed to deal with zombies. (Postmodernism, then, becomes the latest iteration; its fractitious nature is a feature, not a bug.)

So you have antibodies - those people who are more prone to introspection - around. They then (effectively) alert the population when zombies have become too powerful, leading to more introspection and either awakening the zombies or effectively castigating them (or at least not letting them be free riders). It's arguable, then, that Jesus is a zombie repellent... though not for the D&D reason.

Add to this: Zombie movies have been most popular during times of social upheaval and war.

Compassion - the anti-zombie.

24 November 2008

Selfish Christmas

(Something a little more rant-y to set off the intellectual bits from earlier...)

The Christmas carols over loudspeakers and "Merry Christmas" wishes have already started, despite the fact that Thanksgiving hasn't happened yet. More time to buy stuff in, I suppose. Regardless, I think that the constant assumptions that Christmas carols and "Merry Christmas" are appropriate for public - and especially business - spaces are selfish assumptions.

Yes, selfish.

It is utterly and completely presuming that everyone else is the same as you, that everyone celebrates Christmas the same way, or that they celebrate Christmas at all. It ultimately ends up being a self-serving gesture, a selfish gesture.

And one that communicates how little value everyone else has.

Perhaps it would be different if other religion's holidays (and atheist ones as well) were celebrated as openly and publicly. Instead, it demonstrates what "normal" is supposed to be, which actively devalues everyone else. Imagine, for a second, that you were the only meat-eater around, and you kept getting served tofurkey? At what point would you start to think that maybe they just didn't give a damn about you?

When speaking to people at your church, or people that you *know* are Christians, then saying "Merry Christmas" is wishing *them* well. Wishing a Merry Christmas upon everyone - thinking it unimportant what their faith or lack thereof is - is serving only yourself.

Happy holidays, everyone.


(Oh, and the season that starts next week? That's ADVENT. The Christmas season is from 25 December until 6 January - the twelve days of Christmas. If you insist on wishing your religion's holidays on other people, at least get it right.)

Expand your mind...

One of the more interesting things about Mead's concept of mind is that it suddenly makes true artificial intelligence a lot more feasible... or at least, possible.

In case you haven't skimmed your copy of Mind, Self, and Society yet (available free at the Mead Project), Mead basically points out that our mind - our consciousness - is a process, not a thing. And as a process, it exists in relationship to other things. That includes our internal dialogue, but is not limited to it. Therefore, what we consider mind is interactions and relationships with other things, which means that mind cannot be limited to just our bodies.

Read that last sentence again.

Our mind is, according to Mead, not limited to our physical bodies. Yes, the biological brain impacts it - the meat is part of the process - but it is also in the symbols that you and I share (like these words). In a very real sense, my writing this blog is literally part of my mind; your reading this is literally part of yours. [The pertinent quotation is below]

What is important to Mead, in the concept of mind, is the self-organizing symbol usage. Language is the key way that humans manipulate symbols like this; it's the ability to pack so much meaning and knowledge into the process that distinguishes the human mind.

Mead wrote in the early 20th century (or, rather, lectured and his students wrote it down). As a result, he has the rather predictable human-centric viewpoint of that time period. Since, we've learned that other species have, even with the most skeptic interpretation, been able to learn signs and symbols from us, and self-organize concepts. I think it's fair to indicate that these other species are capable of mind (even if you're willing to argue whether or not they develop it in the wild).

So let's take this a step further. We're creating near-autonomous computers already (the Phoenix lander essentially had to land itself due to lightspeed delays; this resulted in several "judgement calls" on its part). What Mead's theory of mind suggests is that while biology (or the "hardware" running the mind) matters, it is not limited to our brains per se. If we can teach computers to learn - efforts at which are still continuing - and interact with others in a social environment, then it is a very real possiblity that they could develop "mind" in exactly the same way you have one.

This is in direct opposition to Searle, who argued in Minds, Brains and Science that the specific biology of our brains is neccessary for our minds. While Mead acknowledges the influences of biology, he also recognizes that social forces can exist, evolve, and change outside of a biological matrix.



The key paragraph I'm interpreting comes from here:

It is absurd to look at the mind simply from the standpoint of the individual human organism; for, although it has its focus there, it is essentially a social phenomenon; even its biological functions are primarily social. The subjective experience of the individual must be brought into relation with the natural, sociobiological activities of the brain in order to render an acceptable account of mind possible at all; and this can be done only if the social nature of mind is recognized. The meagerness of individual experience in isolation from the processes of social experience --in isolation from its social environment-should, moreover, be apparent. We must regard mind, then, as arising and developing within the social process, within the empirical matrix of social interactions. We must, that is, get an inner individual experience from the standpoint of social acts which include the experiences of separate individuals in a social context wherein those individuals interact. The processes of experience which the human brain makes possible are made possible only for a group of interacting individuals: only for individual organisms which are members of a society; not for the individual organism in isolation from other individual organisms.

22 November 2008

Displaying Twitter with Miranda IM

I run a jalopy of a system, and it simply can't handle XP, let alone Vista. I don't have the time for the learning curve of linux (the PC I'm writing this on is old enough that only older distros work well with it). So the IM client of choice is Miranda IM. It's extremely low-resource and versatile... And that worked GREAT with Twitter... until IM support went away.

There are some command line sending methods, which are fine... but no automatically refreshing windows. There's supposedly a plugin that is in the works, but until then, you can use RSS News to read your timeline. Since it supports authentication, you're golden. No avatars or sending capability through it, but that's at least *something* for your IM client...

[edit] I was having trouble finding the IMified bots; while you can sign up at thier main page, the bots themselves are at the (improperly linked) old site. Their twitter bot is exactly the opposite; it will send but not receive.
Using TabSRMM makes it not too painful.

Ah, kludginess.

21 November 2008

The more things stay the same, the more they change

I have to take a little bit of issue with something John Scalzi said over on his AMC column and expanded on at Whatever. I'll agree that technology doesn't change people, but I think that people - and societies - change over time. It is relatively easy, when reviewing historical thought, to see where emergent concepts and ideas literally changed people's ideas of what was possible. For example, the telelogical framework about society so predominant throughout the modern age have weakened in the evolutionary postmodern day. Our concept of children and adolescents is radically different than the concepts of only 150 years ago. Our ideas of marriage, women, and race are hugely different.

Different people (or different societies) today hold some fundamentally different ideas from one another; there is no reason that should be possible spatially but not temporally.

Under all of that sociological stuff, yes, there is still the same meat - but that "same meat" also produces all the variety of the world and viewpoints today. You are a human animal - but you are also shaped by the society you are in. I don't adhere to the idea that societies are inherently progressing towards an endpoint - but they do change.

A modern child, transported to an older period of time and raised there, would still have the tendencies from biology. However, even from a strict sociobiological view, the dialectic of societal and environmental influences and an organism creates physical change in a developing organism. (i.e. your experiences literally change you.) Therefore, that child would not be guaranteed to have anything like the same temperment, outlook, or values that they do today. It's kind of hubristic to think otherwise.

Again, I agree that technology doesn't *cause* that change. Sometimes technology facilitates that change, and makes it easier and more rapid. That rate of change is the biggest way that technology effects society these days. But mostly it's a correlation of change, not a causative agent.

(If intrigued or unsure of what I mean, the comment I left there is a completely different version of the same thing.)

20 November 2008

Ownership means decisions

The "tragedy of the commons" - the idea that if something is a communal resource, then everyone will abuse it - is not a big deal in today's society. Instead, there are two other problems: The someone else's problem syndrome and ownership apathy.

The first is easily seen: Look for litter. Usually, it is easier to find litter in a parking lot than someone's yard. I still see people throw cigarettes out of windows (or dump entire ashtrays and bags of trash) at stoplights. Why? The area is seen as privately owned (someone will clean it up), but not owned by themselves. In a very real way, this is a special case of the tragedy of the commons, because the individual in question doesn't feel they'll be reprimanded, and that they don't own the area in question.

What about the employees of the company? That's our second tragedy: The employees of the city or store *also* feel that they don't "own" the area, and don't feel the social pressure to keep the area up. Despite wearing a uniform and recieving a paycheck, there is no sense of ownership and responsibility. I believe this is directly tied to a feeling of disposableness. While the employees are claimed to be in an ownership relationship, they do not actively *participate* in ownership of it. They have no decision making authority. They may not even get heard, or have their concerns addressed. Without those things, you can call it ownership all you want, but you'll never, ever reap the results of it.

This second principle extends into all business (and social) relationships. To really evoke the feelings of ownership, a person must be able to participate with - and even to some extent control - the thing they are supposed to own. Managers, read the next line carefully:

An ownership society is a participatory society.

Trying to evoke one without the other leads to disgruntled people, disheartened advocates, and a situation worse than when it started.

19 November 2008

Surveying power

I'm in the middle of a third iteration studying college students and thier class schedules (you can see the results of the second iteration here). There's a marked difference this time, though.

They're writing more on the surveys.

The format of the survey is only mildly tweaked; a few questions added about when they're taking the survey. So it's not a difference in what - or how - I'm asking questions.The changes seem to be external in nature. First, college enrollment in this area has jumped, straining all the systems. Secondly, this time I actually (by accident) managed to get the survey to students just as they were scheduling for the next term. There are apologies from students who scheduled easily: "I'm an honors student" or "Atheletes schedule earlier, sorry!". There are a lot more people complaining in the margins, or underlining areas that highlight scheduling difficulties.

And there are the thanks.

Written at the end, under my boilerplate thank you for taking the survey, are the surprisingly common and heartfelt remarks. "Thank you for asking about this." "Maybe this will help get something done." "Thanks."

I'm reminded - almost uncomfortably - of my letter to Barack - the other day. I do not know what influence I have with those who make the schedules. But I can feel thier discomfort, and know where that thanks comes from.

Marxists are wrong to concentrate on money (keep with me for just a second). Marx himself talked about alienation, that idea of being without respect or acclaim for yourself and your work. This is key to both why Marx's predictions are wrong - and why I was so moved by Change.gov, and why these students are so thankful for my study. It's not money - that's just an abstract representation of care and acclaim. But that abstraction is just that - abstract. It's not viscerally the same. At the beginning of the 20th century, nearly *as soon as* workers had unions and felt heard - the rage stopped. Greenwashing (and all of the other PR efforts) play on this same idea - that it's the idea of feeling heard and acknowledged that is key. That we are effecting as well as being effected, that we have control, that we *matter*.

That is the key to balanced and productive power relationships. It cannot be faked - not for very long. With that kind of relationship, change is mostly smooth. Without it, change still happens... but much more tumuluously. We do not have a choice as to whether or not change comes; we have a choice as to *how* it comes.

18 November 2008

Accusations: A Personal History

There may be triggers, I hope that you'll find it worth reading anyway. Here's a unicorn spacer, since blogger doesn't do "under the fold" stuff.




I was sixteen when she accused me of sexual assault. It was not in a court of law, it was never brought to the police.

It wasn't true.

I had tried to kiss her - that is true. It was the kind of kiss you see in countless "geek gets the girl" movies that were so popular back then (and still are today). I was sixteen and stupid enough to think the movies told the truth, so while we were talking, I leaned over on the couch we were both on, and kissed her.

For all of a second. I think. I'm pretty sure lips touched, but I can't swear to that.

It was a dumbass thing to do. You see, the thing that doesn't happen in movies - the much more likely thing - is that she'll pull back, ask you what the hell you were doing, and you'll blush like the time you did when your mother walked in on you taking a bath even though you're fourteen. In my case, she didn't slap me - we were friends at the time - and we went home. It was during the cleanup part of a haunted house, and I thought that was the exceedingly lame and exceedingly embarrassing end of it.

Until I found out she had told people that she'd been shoved up against the wall, her hand shoved on my crotch, and my tongue down her throat. None of that had happened. The thought of me being that violent nauseated me. Still does. People who knew me well didn't believe it for a second. I've had the concept of "no means no" embedded so far into my skull that I've often been told I'm *too* gentle, and *too* meek in too many relationships throughout a lot of years. To put it in perspective, when I heard of Antioch's sexual consent rules, I thought they were a good idea. If you don't remember, most people at the time thought they were ridiculous.) Anyhow, those who knew me knew there was no way in hell I'd done anything like she claimed.

I found out that year who my real friends were, and I'm glad to have had them.

There were other effects over the next two years. I got my ass kicked because of it - one of the only two real fights I've ever been in. (My wrist got broken in the other.) One girl I'd been going out with for a few weeks heard the story from her friends, and broke up with me right then. Another wouldn't go out with me at all, expressly because of this story. It seems minor now, but for a teenaged loser geek, it was a huge deal. Finally, I moved away to college.

Years later, the girl I'd kissed for all of a second apologized. She told me she didn't even remember why she'd told people that story, and I believe her. I accepted her apology, and went on with my life.

I was twenty-one when I was sexually harassed in the military. It was minor, but I brought it up to my supervisor, but the MPs were never involved.

It was true.

He kept playing grab-ass - literally - as I'd walk out of one room into the common area. It started like those stupid football "slap each other on the ass" things, but they got more invasive when I asked him to stop. I got a lot of crap about it, too, especially since I was still a private in training - and he wasn't.

In 1995, sexual harassment in the Army was yet to be a hot topic; the Aberdeen scandal and biannual mandatory seminars were yet in the future. Reports of men experiencing violent spousal abuse were (literally) met with guffaws and whispered denigrations of manhood by others in my company. You can imagine how seriously a private complaining about his ass being grabbed was taken. He stopped - after my supervisor reluctantly "talked" to him - but it was a difficult several months for me after that until I finally left for Korea.

I was about thirty when my older son hurt himself and claimed that his injuries were from child abuse. He repeated the claim more than once over the course of several years.

It was never true.

No charges were ever pressed, no case ever had any evidence. A few of the times he actually admitted to making it up in front of others. Most of the times, he didn't. One of those times, I was forced to spend a week in a hotel based solely on his verbal accusation. During that time, he continually threatened my wife. If she didn't do what he wanted, he threatened to have her sent away too. Eventually, he went too far with his threats and violence and was arrested - but we still deal with both the mental and legal effects of that trauma. The accusations are still in a file somewhere, waiting to be a "pattern" of some kind. Not a pattern of his baseless accusations - but a pattern to provide circumstantial evidence against me. I understand that's also the case with sexual harassment charges, too.

Regardless of all those things, I still advocate that sexual harassment measures be strong, that child and elder abuse laws be enforced, and that accusers and whistle blowers not face repercussions for coming forward. We must always make sure that we hear all sides of a story, that we take all things into account before jumping to a conclusion - but this is still a sexist, racist, ablest, and ageist world. Harassment and abuse accusations are blunt instruments, but they are a powerful one.

Having been on the wrong side of these things - being falsely accused more than once, and ignored as a victim - it's all too easy to give up. It's easy to blame it on a class of people - or even to blame yourself for something you haven't done. Any accusation, especially one so counter to your ideals and the way you live your life, is fundamentally upsetting.

I wish there was a better way. As I know all too well, it is easy for an unscrupulous person to fabricate complaints. If you know someone who has made up accusations, please speak out. The accused - almost always a person with power and privilege, whether they abuse it or not - cannot really fight back against those attacks. What I ask of you, all you who need the laws against discrimination, who need the sexual harassment lawsuits, who need protection from abuse, is to keep in mind that each false complaint, each person who gets revenge or personal gain by slandering another, weakens one of the few effective tools that those without privilege have.

Those who make a false complaint make it harder for every one of your brothers or sisters - or yourself - who has real problems and faces real harassment.

But until a better way can be devised, it's the best system we have, and it's the system we have to stand by.

Your suggestions for improvements are, as always, appreciated.

17 November 2008

Protest - A Flash Fiction

"Oh, hi," he said, moving his sign to the side so he could see her a little bit better. "It's been a while, yeah?"

She flushed, and smiled so widely that his heart was lifted up with the corners of her mouth. "Too long," she said. "Are you here for the demonstration?"

Even if he could have helped it, he wouldn't have stopped his mind from skipping over the fights, the arguments, the breakup. It skipped and danced right back to the fun times, the nights spent together laughing, naked or clothed. His memories kept skipping to the days where he could be held enraptured by the soft color of her hair, by its surprising robustness. The days where the sighs were contentment, not exasperation. The days, he realized, he wanted back again.

She repeated the question, louder over the gathering crowd of people. "Are you here for the demonstration?"

Smiling, he held out the big "YES" sign. "Yeah, would you like to get coffee after...?"

His tongue dried in his mouth as she slowly held out the "NO" sign from behind her back.

It ain't over...

August Pollack (often a very funny guy), has a kind of clue-free cartoon up today:



In many ways, this election was like a political rally - like the one I went to this weekend. We get to see that hey, we're not alone after all. That there are other people out there who will stand up and do the right thing - even if it's not socially acceptable. (That, by the way, is why a protest for gay equality is qualitatively different than a protest against abortion. How many people cheer when an abortion is performed again? Right. Being anti-abortion and being Christian are not exactly radical ideas in this country. Saying that you support equal rights for gay people, sadly, is.)

(Arguably, living a truly Christian lifestyle is radical, but that's another day.)

Anyway, this election was a starting point. It was more than a rally - because real change occurred, and will continue to occur because of it - but it didn't change everything. It was just the beginning of change. There was a lot of hate going into the elections, and obody serious about race relations really expected things to change completely overnight - and the AP reports demonstrate that there is quite a bit of craptastic stuff still going on. (h/t to Richard Florida on that)

I don't think focusing on Gov Palin's (current) popularity, Ted Stevens (who may have lost after all), and Leiberman are necessarily the best indicators of the level of change out there. And, sorry, but John Scalzi already did the Leiberman joke... and he was a hell of a lot funnier about it.

15 November 2008

Equality Rally (crossposted)

[Crossposted to polishing the gem city]

My son was only able to stand the cold and wet for an hour, but we went:

Gay rights supporters in the Miami Valley joined others across the nation Sunday in a unified protest against California's Proposition 8, which restricted marriage to same-sex couples

Those who gathered at Courthouse Square on Saturday, Nov. 15, had to brave miserably cold, wet weather to take their stand.

"It shows how strongly we feel about it, that we'd stand out here on day like today," Quinn Gibson, of Fairborn, said.


Aside from my own pictures on flickr, the Dayton Daily News has a nice gallery online. Here's a few of my favorites:



14 November 2008

Hypocrisy makes me all frothy....

...and religious hypocrisy is worst of all.

Of course, never mind that the Pope told Bush to not go to war in Iraq. THAT, of course, is conveniently not a damn problem.

Hypocritical bastards.

From the site:
"A South Carolina Roman Catholic priest has told his parishioners that they should refrain from receiving Holy Communion if they voted for Barack Obama because the Democratic president-elect supports abortion, and supporting him "constitutes material cooperation with intrinsic evil."

The Rev. Jay Scott Newman said in a letter distributed Sunday to parishioners at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Greenville that they are putting their souls at risk if they take Holy Communion before doing penance for their vote."


I could simply disagree - and not be mad - if there was consistent and comprehensive "culture of life" philosophy being followed and advocated here. No death penalty, no war, support other people who need aid - the whole thing. But this cherrypicking crap just annoys me to no end. Rather like how Dubya would go on about "big government", yet he made it huge over the last eight years.


God help anyone who quotes Leviticus at me tomorrow who is wearing a cotton/poly blend (Lev 19:19), trimmed their beard or shaved (Lev 11:6-7) or had lobster (Lev 11:10-12).

Perhaps they'll wear this Lev 1:8 cotton/poly blend hoodie.

*sigh*

h/t to @blogesque

13 November 2008

The Values of Prop 8

Whenever you look at a controversial issue, it's important to determine what is really going on. Take gun control (please!). There are a lot of "facts" and LOTS of heated statements - but very little statements of purpose. You can find ideology pretty easily ("pry it from my cold, dead hands"), but the question of WHY is rarely asked loud enough in the public sphere.

Why regulate guns? Why keep the right to bear arms as wide as possible? Both positions actually have some good points, and both are ultimately (IMHO) generated by extremely good values: Keeping people safe and keeping people free, respectively. Both of those can be taken to extremes, and both can be abused. But it's only once we uncover the actual values at play, rather than the specific manifestation of those values, that progress can be made towards a fair and equitable resolution.

Objections to gay marriage - something I've been writing about since 1998 - are a bit of a puzzler for me. [caveat - I'm talking about civil and legal marriages, not forcing a church to recognize them.] In this particular case, the values for those who support it - equality, access to the marriage-specific rights granted by society at large for partners, recognition of a long-term relationship - are pretty straightforward. What I don't understand are the motivations of those who actively oppose it. Most of the proffered rationales - especially the "it's for teh childrens!" one - simply don't hold up with a bit of examination. (We can go through them again if you like, or you can look at my prior writings on the topic). Since I can't find anything that holds up under examination, that kind of indicates that the actual value under question isn't anything empirical. (Yes, I could be missing something - keep reading.)

The only thing left that I can see, and that I get told is "I don't think gays should get married because I don't think it's right." There may or may not be an appeal to a religion or religious text at this point as well.

Which is, y'know, a great reason for the person objecting to not get married to someone of the same sex... but a really, really crappy reason for anybody else.

Christianity (in the US, this is the religion most commonly appealed to) has a potentially charitable (sort of) rationale. One could claim that they're just trying to save teh gays from hellfire and damnation. Except, of course, that one need not be married to have sex, and that Christianity has a built-in notation that it's not any "sinful" act that is the problem, but the desire to do the sinful act. (As far as Jesus himself is concerned, "sinful" seems to equate with greed and selfish motives rather than breaking someone else's rules.) So even that argument - which is a crappy one, anyway - falls flat.

I'm really having trouble discerning what the real values and motivations are of those who are so violently opposed to gays getting married. I hope - I really hope - that it's not just a slavish addiction to dogma to avoid the uncertainty of not *knowing*. That kind of devotion to dogma tends to lead to erratic and disproportionate behavior when the dogma is no longer sustainable.

Do you know what the underlying values of the pro-prop8 folks are? Can you share?

If you don't want to comment publicly, please feel free to e-mail me and let me know what's really driving this thing. Maybe just for you, maybe it's something I've overlooked. Whatever. Let me know, please.

12 November 2008

Reading Poetry Aloud

I have - on Sunday - to read a poem. Out loud. In front of people.

Even worse: It's one of mine.

I entered, on a whim, a poetry contest held by the local library system. I happened to have two sitting about - a rare enough thing - so why not?

And then I placed.

I don't know yet where - anywhere from first to honorable mention. They'll tell us on Sunday, during the awards ceremony. We're also asked to read our poem aloud.

Except... well, mine sounds silly read aloud. At least as a poem. It started out as a paragraph of prose, an arty slice-of-life sample fictionalized. There's an implied story and arc, but it's not explicit. I didn't have the skill (or will) to expand this one paragraph more, so I turned it into a poem for the contest.

And here's my problem.

It has dialogue. Dialogue from completely different characters, *emoting* dialogue... female dialogue.

I've heard people complain about men doing women's voices before. Trust me, they do a better job than I.

I don't know if there's a "right" way to read poetry. I'm not much of a poetry person - other than my own teenage emo angsty stuff.

Ah, well. I think I'm going to let this one return to its roots. I'll read it as text, as prose, and we'll see what happens.

Any tips on reading poetry out loud? Anyone?

Religion Ain't Values

I've had a long and stormy relationship with religion, Christianity in particular. Often, the biggest problems I've had are when people and organizations that identify themselves with Christianity act...well, unChristian.

My first real objection was over a sweatshirt. We were going to Saturday evening services, and I had been playing outside. It was dusty, but not nasty. My mother insisted that I change before church.

"Why?" I asked. "If God can see who we really are, why does it matter how we dress?"

That did not go over well.

It did not take me long to notice that there was a status aspect to attending church. We had two churches (same denomination) literally within a hundred yards of each other. Yet they were divided by social class - and then the people within each group were divided and segregated by clothes, where they lived, and prestige.

It is unsurprising that I became disillusioned.

I came back after a long period of strong agnosticism. It was largely due to _The Last Temptation of Christ_ (the book, thanks) and _Jesus Christ Superstar_. Both articulated many of the questions I had about the whole mythology. Both highlight the fallacy of the simple black/white moral arithmetic, and illustrate a more graduated moral calculus. I also had a son who started asking questions - and found myself unable to articulate the oversimplified building blocks needed to teach him.

I - luckily - encountered a group of people who were both tolerant and ferverent, who exalted community and caring over all. Later, I would find that much like the community I experienced as a wierdo in my youth, this one would fragment shortly after my departure. (Both instances were due to other central figures leaving the area who kept everyone together.)

I tried to bring that same community here. We had problems at first; whether it was through places hung up on visible status or just simply being boring, we couldn't find anywhere. When we thought we had found someplace, the status markers were still there... we just weren't attuned to them. If anything, the internal politics and status were stronger and more viciously defended than I'd encountered before.

This really shook me; within six months I went from religiously (ha!) attending services to avoiding them completely. My problems with faith - with religion - have not been with the generalizable metaphysics, but with the people who claim to represent them. This last disillusionment allowed me to look around, and see exactly how hypocritical most so-called Christians are.

I am *not* talking about stupid issues of dogma. I don't mean saints, or the eucharist, or transubstantiation, or the Pope, or any of those issues. I'm talking about the acutal, espoused morals of both individual Christians, and the official organized groups that Christians hold up as exemplars.

Sure, everyone fails to live up to their morals in their *personal* lives. We are all (including myself, yes) personally hypocritical at some point. Yet when entire organizations not only fail to live up to their ideals, but espouse the opposite of such... well, that's a good reason to run away.

Yes, I'm talking about our myopic view of "pro-life". I'm talking about Proposition 8, and all the anti-gay activists out there. (And I'm not even counting that idiot Phelps and his crew.)

My first marriage - according to my church - never happened. It wasn't a sacrament, because it was a civil wedding. Period. Legal and religious definitions of the same word can be very different.

Yet my church - or at least, many of it's minions like the Knights of Columbus - have made it their mission to keep homosexuals from having civil marriages.

I simply don't understand. Were it a fight to force religions to recognize it, then I would get their point. But as it is, especially in our faith tradition, there is a clear distinction between a civil marriage and the sacrament of marriage.

Somehow, I don't think this would have been Jesus' biggest priority. Somehow, I think he would have been more concerned with helping the sick, feeding the poor, and generally being kind and loving to other people. The people he showed anger to were not the people who were already outside of society - he upset those who already benefitted from the status quo. In the Temple, he raged against those who preyed upon the poor, not against those who sinned. No, really. You had to have blemish-free animals to sacrifice at the Temple, and those who were too poor to have such or to transport them to Jerusalem ended up having to buy them at marked up prices. Sort of lke payday lenders, except religious - and paying a cut to the priests. Hence Jesus' anger.

It's only in the people that come after Jesus - that we start to see intolerance creep back in. The man himself, however, simply showed love and kindess to the weak and powerless. He tried to steer them back to goodness through his example, not his condemnation. Those he condemned, those he upset, were the comfortable people. The people who held power, who helped themselves and forced their rules and laws on others without considering mercy and kindness. (Remember the adulteress? Hm?)

There are exceptions. Jim Wallis and the Sojourners crew are definitely exemplars of what all Christians - regardless of denomination - should be. I know it can happen, and that these people exist "out there".

But the people around me? The churchgoers I see in my neighborhood, at the churches I supposedly belong to? The people I am supposed to tithe to, pay dues to, and worship with? They keep reminding me that they are Christianity's Pharisees and Saducees. They are the ones who would silence "radical" voices calling for tolerance and kindess towards those different than themselves. They would shun someone crying out that caring for others, not rules in any book, holds priority. Those exceptions are just that - they are the kind exceptions to the massively overwhelming surge of

Perhaps they will realize their error - individually or collectively. Perhaps they will find their way back to the values of kindess and empathy. Perhaps they will remember to speak for the marginalized - regardless of the reason for their marginalization - instead of advancing their own agenda. Perhaps they will remember that simply wanting to care for each other's families was the reason they were created, not to make religious dogma into political tenets. (Yes, I'm looking at you, Knights of Columbus.) Until the intolerance is the exception, until the kindness and caring is the norm, I have a huge problem supporting them.

I am a deeply flawed person. I am well aware of this.

But I can recognize intolerance and hatred, even if it claims that it does so in the name of love.

For a long time, my relationship with religion - and especially with Christianity - can be characterized by "Jesus, save me from your followers."

I can't ignore those followers if they won't let me.

When the organized religions - especially the one that I nominally follow - gets its values of compassion, caring, and humanity back in line with its practices, then maybe I'll start listening to them again. Until then, I think I'll ignore their shouting hypocrisy, and listen for a quiet voice on the wind.
[insert HRC symbol here]

11 November 2008

Bipartisanship means nothing left to lose...

If you take some time to consider the TED talk I linked to yesterday (link to talk, not my post)], it should be pretty obvious that no group or way of thought has a monopoly on being correct. It might just be that people are socialized differently, it might be biological. In a very real sense, it doesn't matter: All of the major socio-political systems from the modern era - capitalism and socialism, as well as the USA's modern derivatives of the two, conservativism and liberalism - are flawed. There are people and groups that are exceptions to every rule. Those exceptions are large enough to doom the entire structure. This is especially pointed out in the example of the common pot from Mr. Haidt's talk.

If you still haven't watched it, it basically goes like this: Everyone puts money into a common pot. Everyone gets a share (with, essentially, interest) from that common pot - whether or not they put money in. Very quickly, people stopped contributing because a few people - bad apples, perhaps - realized they didn't have to participate to gain the rewards. It wasn't until a correction mechanism was put in place - a way to punish freeloaders - that people started contributing again. But the economists out there shouldn't be too smug - time and time again people act in ways that aren't in their obvious economic self-interest. That tends to undermine systems based on pure economic though.

Both systems cannot sustainably exist in their pure forms.

Some *like* to believe that everyone will take care of their bit of the world for the good of everyone else. Obviously not so. The converse would like to believe that people need to bear the cost of their actions to change behavior, which implies that altruism isn't real; again something that manifestly isn't so.

These systems and ideologies are models to understand and make sense of the world. They are tools to effect changes in the world. Ideology is NOT our morality. Ideology is NOT our values. Ideology happens when we turn our morality and values into static rules.

It's tempting to think that their survival as systems is due to their usefulness. And they are useful systems. So is a hammer. And trying to unscrew something with a hammer doesn't work well. Trying to drive a nail with a screwdriver doesn't work well either.

It's this realization - that our ideologies are rules of thumb that stand in for our values - that make moral dilemmas so fascinating. Any codified and static rule is inherently inflexible. It's all or nothing, all the time, which inevitably leads to conflict. An old friend of mine once, within the course of an evening, waxed eloquently about the culture of life... and then expressed his desire to nuke Iraq.

Once we realize that our ideologies are not our values themselves, we can harness the good things about each of them. We can get the change we need without losing the values and ideals that brought us here. We can maintain our society without stagnating or perpetuating oppression.

To do all this, we have to think.

Just identifying yourself as a Democrat, Republican, Ron Paul supporter, Constitution Party member, Socialist, or whatever means that you've stopped thinking about the values that led to that choice.

We have to think about - and separate out - the needs and values that lead to our ideologies. We have to listen to our opponents, and try to understand why they support such crazy and wacky things.

We may not be able to reconcile all of them. Some - on all sides - might seriously require large amounts of therapy. But instead of divisive ideological culture wars, we can address the real needs and values of everyone while working towards the common goals of helping each of us, and helping all of us.

10 November 2008

We disagree, right? Right?

It was really bizarre to see a writer I know come out for McCain - especially after the election. I'm glad she's done so - I *did* ask for it, after all. I'm a little surprised by her position. I'd mentally presumed that she - like some of the other authors I knew - felt similarly to me politically. She didn't seem like a wingnut when I met her, and...

...oh, wait. She's not a wingnut. She specificially calls herself just-right-of-center. And I'm suddenly reminded of Jim Hines' column from a while back, talking about how politics can divide us.

It was about then that I realized I'd fallen into the mental trap of ideology.

Since the election, I've gotten even more ferverent about our President-Elect. Zealous, even. You might have noticed. I still think he's a fallible man, and that he doesn't agree with me all the time, and so on and so forth. But those are all things that inspire me even more, not detract from it.

So how can I explain someone - whose opinion I respect - disagreeing with me?

Honestly, I don't think she does disagree - at least, not as much as one might think. I was intrigued by McCain in 2000 as well (though I voted in the Democratic primary). We both think he got pulled away from his ... well, moral center, really ... by radical elements within the GOP. We both think his selection of Palin was a cynical choice to pander to those elements. (Kelly, please put me straight if I'm wrong here.)

And I think we're both truly interested in doing the best thing for this country.

That value - doing the best possible *actual* thing - will be the pragmatic ideal that allows us to succeed. Sometimes we get caught up in our own ideologies - whether it be free markets or social forces or individual responsibility or class solidarity - and forget that ideology ultimately doesn't help anyone.

I look forward to her constructive criticisms of the Obama administration. I believe that such criticisms are absolutely necessary to keep power in check, keep responsibility where it belongs, and keep us true to our ideals.

Jonathan Haidt has a great TED talk about morals, liberals and conservatives - and how each group is necessary for the others. Give it 15-20 minutes of your life. It's worth it.

It is stupid to think that any one of us - janitor or president, conservative or liberal, anarchist or libertarian, religious or athiest - has all the answers for all the people. All of us have our own vantage points, our strengths and weaknesses.

We live in a day when that kind of information, that kind of knowledge, can be shared for the betterment of all. Sharing our stories and knowledge may not always have an obvious effect, but the ripples move outward on the pond. Butterflies in Michigan cause storms in Ohio, which bring cherry blossoms to Washington, D.C.

Or something like that.

09 November 2008

Omission - a 100 Word Story

It's my final Weekly Challenge entry. 33 weeks, and, well, I want to write some other things, send in some things, and see my name in print elsewhere. I'm a finalist in a local poetry contest (I'm not sure how that happened, really), for example. I have several stories I just simply haven't put a final polish on or sent off. And, oh yes, there's school. I may write some drabble here and there, but it may not be exactly 100 words or exactly a week between. I will, of course, post anything that gets published (or at least a link to it) here as well.

So, here's my last (regular, weekly) 100 Word Story. I started back at challenge #100 with a bang and winning result; it'd be awesome if you thought this one deserved to win too. If so, stop by the 100 Word Story site and podcast and cast your vote. You can hear this story as well at this link (MP3).

"Cindy, this is Jason from work and his wife Megan." Dan ushered the two into the kitchen, away from the noises of the party.

"Cindy," Megan said, "I saw your daughter today. She's so adorable!"

"Yes, Dan," Jason said, "She looked wonderful in that dress. Did you say you had a son, too? Where's he?"

Dan and Cindy glanced at each other, at the basement door, then to their guests.

"He's visiting his grandparents," Cindy said quickly. "Let's go join the others back in the den."

Neither Dan nor Cindy glanced at the door for the rest of the evening.

07 November 2008

Your Burger Is Conscious. Yum.

I've been mainlining G.H. Mead lately (because balancing school assignments doesn't seem to be my forté this term), which is an ... interesting experience. One of the things that strikes me as odd, though, is his repeated insistence that humans are the only reflective creatures.

He fully admits intelligence, but not consciousness. Since his lifetime, though, there's been quite a bit of empirical evidence that suggests that many animals (especially primates and other mammals) are self-aware, or plan somewhat abstractly for the future.

Yet you'll see this presumption a lot of times - that animals are *different*. I had one acquaintance react rather violently when I suggested that humans are "animals". (Primates, for some reason, didn't bother him.)

Obviously, the presumption is that "other" is of lower status or importance. You even see this in discussions of welfare or insurance rates; it's a discussion of how someone of lower status (or percieved worth) gets more. The discussion is always, though, that something should be removed from the other... not that more should be added to the self. (e.g. if your garbageperson has better insurance than you, most people complain about the garbageperson's insurance, not their own.)

I suspect that this has something to do with people's abilities to empathize and model the "other" within themselves. I see my dogs act (IMHO) purposefully and intentionally. This indicates some self-awareness to me... but another person's perception might be that it's all reflexive, or that I'm projecting qualities on them.

It's a quandry that Mead (at least, as far as I've read so far) does not even seem to address. He claims that animals cannot learn in the same ways that we do; I respecfully disagree. There are quite a few cases where animals seem to learn - and even teach - with full motivations. But it could still be projection or true learning. Either case may be true; without verbal communication it's impossible to be sure. Given a level of sophistication, it'd be hard even with verbal communication; sociopaths can manage to act as if they care about others, even though this ability is inherently damaged in them.

So I tend to presume that animals - especially those I can discern intentionality for - are just as conscious as I. Whereas people who need to use animals functionally - as objects - tend to not see the intentionality and consciousness that I do.

And that leads us to some uncomfortable conclusions, doesn't it?

Anyone want a hamburger?

06 November 2008

You had me at...

I had a post all ready to go for today (the letter to McCain was originally supposed to go up yesterday), about how people who have hope can get really, really ugly when that hope is betrayed. I meant it mostly in the context of prior GOP voter disenfranchisement, but as some commentators have already pointed, out, Obama isn't really a saint. We should be reasonable in our expectations.

Except then this shows up on the interweb.

It's a nice site. It has all sorts of easy to find information about plans, the transition,. Good stuff, yeah, and then I clicked "American Moment".

I'm not sure I was very coherent, but I'd like to share what I wrote there, in that little box.

Would you believe that this site has me teary-eyed? Too often, I've found myself with skills and knowledge, but no status, no sheepskin, and no voice. It is frustrating, knowing that you can see problems and solutions, and also knowing that you will not be heard and will not be considered.

And I am a white male. I cannot begin to imagine - simply cannot - imagine how much harder it would be for any woman, any person of color.

I heard Richard Florida speak here in Dayton; he told us the creative class consisted of all people, with ideas and solutions for real problems. Yet to hear those people requires admitting that sometimes one's own ideas are not always the best.

I don't know who will end up reading this - probably a staffer, maybe a volunteer. Whoever you are, thank you. Thank you for helping us all be heard, for letting us all give our ideas and solutions.

Thank you.


And y'all thought I was passionate about this man before now?

I am not used to feeling anything but anger about politics. Now...



Three sizes.

At least.

An open letter to John McCain

Senator McCain:

On Election Night, I was moved by your concession speech. It was the resurgence of the John McCain we had seen in 2000 during the Republican primaries. It was the man who truly does put country before party and political gain.

I also heard the boos, the reluctance to follow your message of compromise. And that did not stop you from, finally, being the maverick you wanted to be, breaking from the hateful script that characterized the last several months of your campaign.

You said:
These are difficult times for our country. And I pledge to [President-Elect Obama] tonight to do all in my power to help him lead us through the many challenges we face. I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together to find the necessary compromises to bridge our differences and help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world, and leave our children and grandchildren a stronger, better country than we inherited.

Whatever our differences, we are fellow Americans. And please believe me when I say no association has ever meant more to me than that.


Now is your time to make a difference, Senator McCain.

Over the last eight years, since Karl Rove and his push polls smeared your campaign, you have bowed to the Republican party. You have rarely shown the independent fire you claimed. You followed their lead and their tactics. Your dream, your aspiration was moved out of reach because of them, by putting the morals, ethics, and straight-talk aside at their insistence.

Now is the time, Senator McCain, for a real maverick. Now is the time to truly put country first, and focus on fixing the system and the problems ahead of us.

It will be rough to truly and finally separate from the hateful ideologues who booed you during one of the hardests speeches you've had to make. I don't know if it is possible to remake the GOP back into the party of Lincoln, or if you would need to follow the lead of Jim Jeffords or your personal hero, Teddy Roosevelt. It will be hard, and victory is far from assured.

But Senator McCain, there's just one thing I have to tell you.

Yes you can.

05 November 2008

Not giving up

It has been a long night for me.

Not (just) because of the election, but because almost immediately after my ankle pain/restless legs stuff started kicking in. It's the worst it's been in weeks. Perhaps all the walking and driving I've done over the last few days really set me up for this.

Regardless, I was going to be awake now anyway.

I was going to be writing my resignation from several committees at work - committees whose purpose in caring for co-workers and customers I really believed in. At first, everyone seemed to buy in on these programs - both as B2C and internal B2B programs. And then an inevitable incident happened: One of these programs called for constant collaboration regardless of position, and management didn't collaborate when it wasn't convenient. Workers got mad, I was asked to write a memo expressing this. This wasn't the problem.

Resistance to the memo's existence - requested rewrites, objections without clarifications, etc. - followed. Different workers got told different stories, rumors that management wanted the project killed, and requests for clarification via e-mail were ignored. This morning I meet with a manager "to straighten things out that cannot be expressed in e-mail". I figure that this is a bad thing. I may still end up resigning from these committees. I still believe in these ideals, but I won't support a whitewashing organization. That is, you have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. I will not lend my moral authority, my authenticity, or my support to an organization that claims to fill those roles - but does not truly do so. I've left bigger things than a committee because of that before.

But I am not writing my resignation now.

Late last night and early this morning, I heard a man ask for us to keep trying, to work hard and fight the struggles that come. I have supported this man wholeheartedly. I have annoyed friends and co-workers by talking about him, given his campaign money I could not afford, and spent time with them I needed to take care of my house, my job, and my classes. But I believe in this man, and believe he does walk the walk. He is a better man than I in so many ways, and though I do not always agree with his every position, he shows that it is possible to work together despite our differences. He shows that I do not have to be cynical all the time anymore, that sometimes I can trust.

I will probably have my hopes for my workplace crushed in a few hours. I will probably be compelled to leave these committees, to write the letters that are floating in my head.

But I will try once more.

And when that fails, I will keep trying. I will hold to my ideals, and I will do everything I can to live them, even if those around me are not.

Because now I've seen those ideals succeed. Even if I fail, even if I cannot convince others, I know that it can be done. That we can succeed and still treat other people as humans with feelings. That we do not have to give up our hearts or our decency to do well, even as the negativity swirls around us. It is frightening, but no matter what may come in the days and months ahead, we know that doing the right thing and holding to our principles can win out over fear, hatred, and negativity.

Yes. We. Can.


[Edit: The meeting went far better than I hoped for. Hopes and dreams seem to still have a place; decency and intelligence valued traits.]

04 November 2008

Working Towards Tomorrow

I realized it when I was putting the event in my calendar. "Volunteer for Barack."

In 2004 I was active politically as well. I canvassed and donated and helped out. I even ran a small (short-lived) local 'zine. That was all done of a sense of loyalty to the party and dislike of a candidate. (I supported Kerry, I liked Edwards and Dean.)

This is different. I gave money, volunteered time, talked to people, knocked on doors. All this I am doing FOR a candidate.

This feeling of working towards something, of being for something, is amazing.

If you haven't already, get out there and vote.

03 November 2008

Political Positions

My son's den leader sent out an e-mail to the entire den - and apparently everyone they know in the pack.

It was one of those nod-and-a-wink "nonpartisan" messages, the kind that follow the legalistic definition of that term instead of the moral one. The single-issue "We can't support a candidate, but make sure you vote with the people who support divisive issue X!"

Maybe this shouldn't have surprised me. I've worn a bunch of different hats at different times, and while I know when to swap them over, I know how hard it can be.

I don't think it's just that, though.

I have been uneasy about the Scouting program for a while. When I ran a pack, I could mitigate a lot of the exclusivist anti-gay, anti-atheist elements. We could be as inclusive as possible, and provide experiences for my son he could not get elsewhere. (Not here, not that I know of.) As an adult the quasi-Native American ceremonies seem half-mocking instead of respectful... something the YMCA apparently figured out a while ago.
The pack I ran was affiliated with a church, but that didn't mean much. Because I ran it, we made it pretty explicit that we were open to any faith tradition - and weren't going to pry if someone wasn't in one. When I was growing up, my pack was in a ... heck, I don't remember what kind of church. It didn't matter, because it didn't actually influence the programming.

The pack my son is in now, however, has an explicit faith tradition incorporated into the ceremonies. It does not matter that this is the faith tradition that I'm affilliated with (nominally, at least) - that kind of hubristic assumption that the others there are like you is galling.

And so I shouldn't be surprised, I suppose, when the den leader sends a political pro-life e-mail to the den mailing list. Why should they presume that my views would be different than theirs?

But I cannot challenge them. I cannot debate or question or otherwise disagree with their points. They are with my son at times that I am not.

And I'll wonder if they - like the babysitter we won't be using any more - are pumping him full of propaganda as well.

02 November 2008

Clown vs. Ninja - A 100 Word Story

I should point out, perhaps, that this topic is not my fault. It's almost as bad as the one with dragons and Boy Scout handbooks... but more limiting. On the other hand, it was a challenge - not only to write an actual story (beginning, middle, end, with a change in characters), but something neither lame nor exactly like what everyone else was doing. My effort is below, and you can hear it here (mp3 link). The rest of the stories can be read or heard at the 100 Word Stories podcast and site; please vote for your favorite(s).

The antiseptic hospital stink makes it through the red rubber nose. He shuffles faster, seeing her outside his son's room. His ex-wife's distinctive braid swings over a black clad shoulder, a katana across her back.

He yells over the flapping of his oversize shoes. "A ninja? In a hospital?"

"He likes ninjas!"

"That was a year ago! Clowns make everyone happy!"

He realized that wasn't true as she hit him.

Later, the police handcuffed them outside the room. Bobby beamed out, cancer forgotten at the spectacle of clowns fighting ninjas.

His real smile was far bigger than the painted one.