Heroism is contextual

Recently, a Texan politician conducted a filibuster in order to prevent a piece of legislation they considered morally reprehensible from being passed.  Lots of attention was paid to it, with supporters lauding their noble efforts even though, ultimately, the legislation or something very similar was destined to pass anyway.  Detractors were quick to point out that it was pointless, a waste of time, (because the legislation, or something very like it, was destined to pass).  At the end, supporters talked about how at least there’d been discussion, delay, time for people to talk about the issues.  There’s talk of the politician being poised to run for, say, a position in the Executive branch.

You think I’m talking about Ted Cruz? No, I meant Wendy Davis.

Look, I think Ted Cruz is a grandstanding jackass and have mad respect for Wendy Davis, but really now, this? This is an article that basically makes a fantastic case for why Ted Cruz deserves respect for what he did even while it’s trying to do the opposite.  The fact that he didn’t have widespread support, that the consequences of his success are huge and dramatic, and that he’s taking all the heat for that when he’s got very little chance of actually meeting his goals?  Dress that up in packaging that isn’t made of bad policy and narrow thinking, you’ve got a plot I can get behind in a major way. And that’s probably true for you, too.

Doing what he did is also stupid.  But, frankly, most heroism is.

That Kerry Speech from Monday

I’m a sucker for good rhetoric and hot damn is it chock full of it.  So full of it that I’m going to pull it apart just to point at the pretty bits and nit-pick some.  If you don’t care – and if you’re interested writing, or politics, or rhetoric then I think you might – go ahead and skip this.  There will be pretty pictures of food tomorrow.

I’m going to quote the whole speech here, in chunks, with commentary interspersed.  I’m lifting the transcript from here.

Well, for the last several days, President Obama and his entire national security team have been reviewing the situation in Syria. And today, I want to provide an update on our efforts as we consider our response to the use of chemical weapons.

I like the Well…And construction going on here.  It’s a little casual without being dismissive.  We’re throwing down a bit of context, then diving right into the point.  It’s not a particularly graceful opening.  It certainly isn’t dramatic.  But it’s approachable and it’s direct.  Given what follows, it serves.

What we saw in Syria last week should shock the conscience of the world. It defies any code of morality.

And here we launch the first of our dramatic punches for the speech.  We’ve dropped “conscience” and “morality” into the field.  Watch these words; they’re thematic.  It also takes an extreme, uncompromising stance while staking that ground as the ground of the just and the good.  These two sentences are the foundation of the speech.

Let me be clear: The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity.

This was the line that caught my ear originally and had me wanting to respond to the speech.  I’m really, really tired of the victimization of women in particular being a marked thing.  Women are not equivalent to children.  Violence against women is not the moral equivalent of violence against children.  Not in the world I’ve decided I live in.  Women have the same agency, responsibility, and consequent risk in day to day life as men.  This speech would have been much better if instead it were “the killing of children and innocent bystanders.”  Dropping women in there is a cheap rhetorical punch resting on the foundations of cultural baggage which is easily invoked, but not significantly more powerful than the alternative of saying what you actually mean, i.e. people who do not deserve to be victims are being victimized.

By any standard, it is inexcusable and — despite the excuses and equivocations that some have manufactured — it is undeniable.

 

The meaning of this attack goes beyond the conflict in Syria itself, and that conflict has already brought so much terrible suffering. This is about the large-scale, indiscriminate use of weapons that the civilized world long ago decided must never be used at all, a conviction shared even by countries that agree on little else.

There’s some fantastic us vs them and othering going on here.  “Civilized world” indeed.  This is a thematic throwback to the earlier invocation of morality, and draws a fantastically clear line in the sand.  Now it’s not just a vague good people vs bad people, but there’s imagery attached.  We’re playing off the fact that all most Americans know about Syria is that it’s in the Middle East, and therefore functionally third world (except for the very rich people who jack up our oil prices).  He doesn’t have to say it, it’s lurking lusciously in the subtext – there are barbarians at the gates.  Even the Russians have to agree with the sentiment, the last line there says.

There is a clear reason that the world has banned entirely the use of chemical weapons. There is a reason the international community has set a clear standard and why many countries have taken major steps to eradicate these weapons. There is a reason why President Obama has made it such a priority to stop the proliferation of these weapons and lock them down where they do exist. There is a reason why President Obama has made clear to the Assad regime that this international norm cannot be violated without consequences.

 

And there is a reason why, no matter what you believe about Syria, all peoples and all nations who believe in the cause of our common humanity must stand up to assure that there is accountability for the use of chemical weapons so that it never happens again.

I’m partial to constructions that use repetition to built to a point, and this is a well executed example of that technique.  A lot of ground gets developed here.  We invoke “international community” to underline and support the us vs them “civilized world” imagery carved out earlier.  We use that foundation to point at “us” as having a strong leader in a morally unassailable position.  And we end on a fabulously disingenuous “we all agree the perpetrators must be punished.”  Disingenuous because after building up the just now explicitly stated chemical weapons as unquestionably reprehensible, it handwaves past the “there are allegedly rational parties who disagree with us about the facts of the situation,” to assert an unassailable truth, that the people who did the very bad thing must be punished.

There are two audiences for this speech: the American people who couldn’t really care less about some people in a country they know nothing about having some fatal breathing problems, and the international community, significant chunks of whom are looking at American’s pointing at the Middle East and shrieking, “Bad weapons, must war!” and feeling deja vu.  This is the first part of the speech that seems to explicitly acknowledge the second audience.  The disagreements are gently referenced earlier, but this is a rhetorical somersault done to say, basically, that even if you don’t agree with us you have to be on our side because the facts of crime and criminal are indisputable.  We’ll figure out where the apply to labels of those facts later.

Last night, after speaking with foreign ministers from around the world

“I’m coalition building.”

about the gravity of this situation, I went back and I watched the videos, the videos that anybody can watch in the social media, and I watched them one more gut-wrenching time.

This is transparent and if you want to see the evidence that I’m right, go check out your friendly youtube.  Unlike the last time we were asking the world for a war in the Middle East when we just claimed, “Intelligence,” and told you to trust us.  Also, I am a moral and upright figure because I have deep emotional responses to the horrible things I’m responding to.  There’s a lot to unpack in the fact that Kerry can use that rhetorical technique – not everybody can without damaging their own credibility instead.

It is really hard to express in words the human suffering that they lay out before us.

 

As a father, I can’t get the image out of my head of a man who held up his dead child, wailing, while chaos swirled around him, the images of entire families dead in their beds without a drop of blood or even a visible wound, bodies contorting in spasms, human suffering that we can never ignore or forget.

I don’t see a woman in his position using this technique at all.  For one, since women are supposed to be protective of children, a woman’s response to this doesn’t carry the same weight as that of a presumably more objective man.  And on the second hand, she’d be inviting accusations that she’s letting her woman-ness lead her to an emotional response and invite the question of whether she’s overreacting or jumping to conclusions.  Yet, this is an extremely powerful bit of rhetoric.  It might be a net advantage even with the baggage of a female speaker, but that baggage is definitely something to think about.  You might have to completely reconstruct the speech to make it work without resting on this bit of imagery.

Anyone who could claim that an attack of this staggering scale could be contrived or fabricated needs to check their conscience and their own moral compass. What is before us today is real, and it is compelling.

This was where I completely lost it decided that I definitely had to dissect the speech.  Because this is such empty, crass, manipulative rhetoric that even though I’m inclined to agree with Kerry on the facts of the situation, it made me question whether I should.  (I’m a contrarian.  The best way to get me to change my mind is have somebody I don’t like agree with me)  But seriously.  He just said that this is so bad that any explanation of the facts not his is morally reprehensible.  No facts.  No evidence.  Just a, “How can you question my interpretation now that I’ve pointed out that there are barbarians and bad things?  Barbarians and bad things go together, duh.”  It’s an assertion that he’s right because the stakes are too high for him to be wrong.  It’s a demand for faith.  It’s icky, and it diminishes his entire case.

So I also want to underscore that while investigators are gathering additional evidence on the ground, our understanding of what has already happened in Syria is grounded in facts, informed by conscience, and guided by common sense.

And here I start breaking out in hives a bit.  We breeze right past an admission that there are still facts to be gathered, and then cite conscience and common sense as the source of our certainty.  It’s rhetorically gorgeous, and substantively equivalent to Bush’s “gut” feelings.

The reported number of victims, the reported symptoms of those who were killed or injured, the firsthand accounts from humanitarian organizations on the ground, like Doctors Without Borders and the Syria Human Rights Commission, these all strongly indicate that everything these images are already screaming at us is real, that chemical weapons were used in Syria. Moreover, we know that the Syrian regime maintains custody of these chemical weapons. We know that the Syrian regime has the capacity to do this with rockets. We know that the regime has been determined to clear the opposition from those very places where the attacks took place. And with our own eyes, we have all of us become witnesses.

And this is where he starts making me feel better.  We cite actual sources of evidence.  We cite means and motive for the people we’re accusing. And we wrap it up with a reaffirmation of the “us” built earlier, and an assertion of responsibility.  We’re not just “us” but involved, because we’ve seen what “them” did.

We have additional information about this attack, and that information is being compiled and reviewed together with our partners, and we will provide that information in the days ahead. Our sense of basic humanity is offended not only by this cowardly crime, but also by the cynical attempt to cover it up.

I always treat “more facts coming later,” from anything too large for me to offend it with a spitball as something I’ll believe when I see because, as rhetoric, it’s tact fantastic for getting your buy-in before it’s been earned.  The second sentence is just more affirmation of the rhetorical imagery we’ve already established.  Though as a cynic, I’d argue that the attempt to cover it up was more optimistic than cynical – it was such a futile effort that much cleverer misdirection or a serious hope about the incompetence of the third parties nearby has to be driving it.

At every turn, the Syrian regime has failed to cooperate with the U.N. investigation, using it only to stall and to stymie the important effort to bring to light what happened in Damascus in the dead of night. And as Ban Ki-moon said last week, the U.N. investigation will not determine who used these chemical weapons, only whether such weapons were used, a judgment that is already clear to the world.

Maybe it’s the fledgling dictator buried not so deep inside me, but I’d probably refuse to cooperate with a U.N. investigation, too.  That makes it hard for me to look at refusals to cooperate as signs of bad behavior.  This paragraph winds up boiling down to a nice dig at the U.N. and not much else.  It’s a preliminary thrust toward justifying action without U.N. approval.

I spoke on Thursday with Syrian Foreign Minister Muallem, and I made it very clear to him that if the regime, as he argued, had nothing to hide, then their response should be immediate, immediate transparency, immediate access, not shelling. Their response needed to be unrestricted and immediate access. Failure to permit that, I told him, would tell its own story.

Instead, for five days, the Syrian regime refused to allow the U.N. investigators access to the site of the attack that would allegedly exonerate them. Instead, it attacked the area further, shelling it and systemically destroying evidence. That is not the behavior of a government that has nothing to hide. That is not the action of a regime eager to prove to the world that it had not used chemical weapons.

In fact, the regime’s belated decision to allow access is too late, and it’s too late to be credible. Today’s reports of an attack on the U.N. investigators — together with the continued shelling of these very neighborhoods — only further weakens the regime’s credibility.

Again, we get into dropping reassuring facts after staking out rhetorical ground that leaves me skeptical.  We’re also establishing the “Hey, we tried to work with them, but they just wouldn’t,” defense while undermining Syria’s potential attempts to do the same.

At President Obama’s direction, I’ve spent many hours over the last few days on the phone with foreign ministers and other leaders. The administration is actively consulting with members of Congress, and we will continue to have these conversations in the days ahead. President Obama has also been in close touch with leaders of our key allies, and the president will be making an informed decision about how to respond to this indiscriminate use of chemical weapons.

Look out, we’re coalition building.

But make no mistake: President Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world’s most heinous weapons against the world’s most vulnerable people. Nothing today is more serious, and nothing is receiving more serious scrutiny.

We don’t know what we’re doing yet, but we’re definitely doing something, and it’s definitely not going to be weak, so watch out.  Also, we’re shining knights against unquestionably bad people.

Thank you.

No, thank you.  I don’t often stop in my tracks while cooking dinner to make a note that rhetoric was worth commentating upon.  I need more good rhetoric in my life.

A Year Later: Different Room, Same Story

If you think you know what set this off, you’re probably right.

There are rooms I don’t go into.

People live in rooms.  Sometimes they step from one to another to go see other parts of the world, but they’ll always be back to their own rooms, the four walls that hide most of them from most of everything else.  We wander around the world with these rooms.  Sometimes the walls are permeable, and we bump into each other and for a while, we’re in the same room.  Or we bump into each other and fall into the wrong room for a bit.  We might back out and go home.  We might stay.  For a while, it might even be okay that we stay.  The owner of the room might want that. They might not. Sometimes, the people can say, “Hey, get out of my room,” and that’s enough.  Sometimes they can’t, maybe because they’d stepped out of the room for a moment and now they have dozens of unexpected guests.  Or maybe a guest won’t take the hint and go.  Or won’t leave even when asked.

Sometimes, you see somebody in their room, trying to ask all the overstaying guests to go, and you step in to help.  Sometimes, you’re overwhelmed, too, so you try to combine efforts.  Sometimes you get an entire complex of rooms belonging to people held up past their bedtime.  They’re cranky and tired and would really like to be polite, generous hosts, but that’s just past their capacity anymore because they’re already past their limits.  You’re still only asking for five minutes, but it’s not about just you anymore.  Five minutes and five minutes and five minutes.  Lost sleep and stressed patience and your five minutes now carries the weight of hours upon hours of imposition.  They get cranky.  They throw you out.  They ask you not to come back.

Even though it was just five minutes.

Sometimes you look at the tired, cranky people, and you decide to help.  Maybe you’re one of them, but have enough energy to chip in anyway.  Maybe you just feel bad for them.  So you take it on.  You join the fight.  They whine, and complain, backbite and get distracted by little side issues or things that don’t help or don’t really matter, but you let it go.  You’re in their rooms, you’re there to help, they need your help, and, ultimately, this helps you, too.  You have a later bedtime, but it’s not like you never have inconsiderate house guests from time to time.  Your room is nice.  It’s bound to happen.  Helping them, really, it helps you, too.

Except, it doesn’t work.  You work hard, you do everything right.  You work harder than some of the people in the rooms, you take on the nastier jobs, and you let them slide because hey, they’re tired, you aren’t.  Not yet.

You lose.

You lose because the people you were trying to help didn’t do what they should have in order to win.  You lose because they were so busy whining and complaining that they didn’t really ever get into the fight.  You lose because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how much five minutes after five minutes adds up, it’s Just Five Minutes.  You lose because you weren’t ever going to win.

Now you’re tired.  And you’re cranky.  And you’re surrounded by tired, cranky people who still can’t get the house guests to leave, and aren’t really even trying anymore.  They’re just talking about how much they’d like them to.  Repeating slogans from the fight.

You pass old graffiti that says, “Support early bedtime,” and where it used to make you smile and feel like you had support, like you were getting somewhere, now you just want to tear it apart and set it on fire.  What the hell were they doing, wasting time on graffiti, when they could have been helping?  And why is some of it fresh, new, when it’s been a year since you lost?  Don’t they understand that now you’re worn out and tired and you’ve locked your room because you don’t want to deal with anybody and it’s their fault for needing help and failing to use it?

And why is it that, here we are, a year later, and there’s no retrospective, no analysis of what went wrong where and what’s going to be done about it.  No apologies.  No blame.  It’s like the fight didn’t happen, and the people still playing soldier are happy to move on to something else while everybody else just shrugs and says, “Oh well.  Let’s bitch about five minute some more.”  Or worse, they’re acting like the fight is still happening and blithely ignoring the part where THEY LOST.

Fuck your five minutes.  Fuck your righteous indignation and your platitudes about this and that.  Fuck your stupid early bed time and your utterly pathetic weakness about enforcing it.  You could have had it better and you dropped the ball so just shut the ever loving fuck up and get the hell out of my room.

There’s another fight brewing.  Different people.  Different rooms.  Same structure.  Same pattern.  Same options open to everybody.  Same potential for things to get better, for people to finally get some rest, for the well-intentioned guests to learn and the malicious ones to accept their exile.

There are rooms I don’t go into.

Right now, that’s all of them.

Women in Combat and the Glass Floor

So, this cool thing happened last week.  Allowing women into combat and requiring them to register for the draft have been on my list of things that have to happen before we can say society actually treats men and women equally though, admittedly, not particularly high on my list.  But in listening to the coverage of this over the last week, I’m going to have to admit that I’ve been wrong to brush this off as a low priority item, because it’s clear that the current status of women in the military very elegantly illustrates what I consider to be the biggest problem for female empowerment: the glass floor.

Most people are going to be familiar with the concept of the glass ceiling, the idea that in our current society women or minorities or other marginalized groups can only rise so far before they hit invisible barriers that stop them from going any further.  There’s nothing explicitly stopping them from moving on, no official policy or blatant discrimination, it’s just that he’s more devoted to the job than she is because we notice the time she took off for her kids more than his, or the clients will be more comfortable with somebody they feel like they have something in common with, and you don’t have the right look.  It’s the insidious residue left behind when you’ve solved the big problem of getting everybody to agree that X thing is a problem, but the implications of that haven’t finished trickling through and working their way out.  And sometimes you’ll have people don’t really agree about X thing being problem adding to it, subtly reinforcing the road blocks and barriers.  It’s not something you can easily legislate against, or file a law suit over, or even make people see if they haven’t bumped into it.

The glass floor is the same thing, except in the other direction.  If (for women) the glass ceiling is built out of unexamined assumptions that women aren’t as smart, dedicated, focused, aggressive/ruthless, and innovative as men, the glass floor is built out of the idea that they’re less violent, aggressive, undisciplined, dangerous, threatening, prone to crime, etc. etc.  That women are more likely to behave, be compliant, be virtuous, follow the rules, and so on.  It’s the idea that women are the victims, but not the criminals.  We don’t rob houses, murder strangers, or rape our boyfriends.  And tied up in that perception is an element of assumption that we don’t do it because we can’t, we don’t have the power to do it.

To which my response is: Snrk.  Was I really the only person whose immediate reaction when she heard about viagra was, “Yes! Now women can spike men’s drinks at parties for rapey times!”  If so, that disturbs me, because really, that should have been everybody‘s first thought.  I’m dead serious about that.  We’re not at true gender equality until boys get warned about watching their drinks at parties because predatory women might take advantage of them just as often as girls get warned of the reverse.

I’m used to, when making arguments about the glass floor, having people say, “But shouldn’t we bring men above the glass floor, rather than dragging women below it?”  I will concede that in an ideal world, yes, the things below the glass floor would be out of reach for everybody, rather than available to everybody.  But I’m a practical, cynical creature.  I’m more interested in gender equality than I am in an ideal world free of the icky things women allegedly don’t do, and I’m quite content to ignore the potential ideal world in favor of the achievable goal.

Which is why I was wrong to more or less ignore the women in combat and related draft issue.  The reason women in the military want access to combat positions is because therein lies the path to promotion (glass ceiling) and the reason they haven’t had access to them is because women are allegedly too weak or nice to handle them or because dead female soldiers are somehow worse than dead male ones (glass floor).  The last week has been full of stories of women who are dying, getting wounded, getting captured in combat anyway, they’re falling right through that glass floor, but they aren’t getting the credit for it.  I’ve never served in the military so don’t know whether or not there’s an important but fine distinction getting ignored when telling these stories, but I don’t care.  The point is that right there, in the military, is a perfect, concrete example of the relationship between the glass structures, the way not getting credit for doing the bad things feeds into not getting credit for being able to do the good things.

I should have thought of that before now.  I should have cared more about the problems for equality at large presented by the military structures – especially given the historical relationship between the military and other social changes.  Shame on me, I know better.  I’m not aware of having brushed the issue off in front of a woman who is serving or has served, but I almost certainly have.  So.  Dear people to whom I was an ass: My bad.  I hope you said nasty things about me later and it made you feel better.

Taxes

Things for which I am willing to pay taxes (probably incomplete)
  • Schools/education
  • Libraries
  • Roads (construction, maintenance)
  • Garbage removal
  • Fire prevention/fighting/investigation
  • Investigation, and prosecution of violent crime, fraud, abuse and threats to public safety
  • The National Guard
  • Scientific research where all data, methodology and results are made available to the public
  • Infrastructure development and maintenance (Mainly updates to the power grid, development of a rail system, upgrades to communications networks)
  • A social safety net which feeds, clothes, houses and provides medical care to anybody under 18, over 70, or disabled, and guarantees, at a minimum, health insurance or equivalent to other people who might want to do things like start a small business.

Things for which I am not willing to pay taxes

  • A standing military
  • Investigation and prosecution of victimless crimes, or crimes where all the victims have willingly consented (I’m looking at you, War on Drugs.  Also, some prostitution)
  • Your religion.  Any of it.  Any decisions based on it.  Any whinging about how persecuted you are as a consequence of it.
  • Rescuing companies that thrive on an unfettered free market from bankruptcy
  • Restoration of American Glory/Exceptionalism/Greatness.

Luc Reid Interviews Me

Since Mondays seem to have turned into interview days around here, now’s a good time to mention that Luc Reid interview me over on his blog about Inclusivity and Exclusivity in Fiction.  It’s part of a series of interviews and articles he’s been doing, and I’m quite pleased he let me blather on about it.  Here, have an excerpt:

LUC: Modern fiction–and some might argue fiction throughout history–seems to have a much more limited cast of characters than real life does, often putting characters who are straight, Caucasian, fully able, neurotypical, relatively young, and otherwise a lot like the typical American CEO or politician center stage. From your point of view, what difference does it make? What, if anything, is there to be gained from having a more diverse range of people in the center of our novels and stories?

ANAEA: I’d specify that modern English-language fiction does that. You get a much broader cast if you branch out into fiction from other parts of the world.

That said, the biggest risk with limiting your cast is that you’ll be boring. There’s nothing wrong with writing about a straight white middle class American male in good health, but you better give me something that’s going to set that work apart from all the other stories about the same character. If you stretch out and write about somebody else, somebody I haven’t read about a thousand times already, you’re starting off on stronger ground.

Check out the whole interview to see what else I said, and the other questions Luc asked me.

It’s a Ticklish Issue

I am not a trained neurosurgeon.  In fact, I have virtually no formal training about how the brain works.  But a background in cognitive linguistics has to count for something, so relax.  Take a deep breath.  I’m strapping you to this table for your own good.  This is just a tiny experiment, I just want to see what’s going to happen, and if you aren’t strapped down you might wiggle and I could slip and that might hurt you.  You don’t want me to hurt you, do you?

That?  Oh, don’t mind that.  That’s just what it feels like to have a saw cutting into your skull.  Nothing to worry about.  I anesthetized your scalp and everybody knows there are no pain receptors in the brain.  Yeah, I hear it feels really weird to have a saw going through your skull.  This will just be a sec, I swear.  There’s just this one part of your brain I really want to poke, and when I do, it’ll all be over.

You’d rather I didn’t poke your brain?  But this is for science!  You can’t really mean that.  You seem perfectly content to me.

There.  That’s the top of your skull off.  My, what a pretty brain you have.  Look at those creases.  Oh, and there’s the spot I want to poke.  Don’t worry; I was once in the room while John Scalzi ate a jell-o brain.  Let me just get my probe and…there.

Oh, it worked!  You’re laughing.  I tickled you by stimulating your brain!  Let me do it again.  You like that, don’t you?  See, this was fun.  I knew those were just token protests and you’d come around to my way of thinking.  Here, I’ll make you laugh some more.  Doesn’t that feel good?

What do you mean you still don’t want me to do this?  You’re laughing.  And, hey, it’s not like you’re going to get pregnant.

The lesser of two…what, now?

Exactly a week ago today I voted in the Wisconsin primaries.  I had a choice: vote for the Republican senatorial nominee I’d most like to see run against Tammy Baldwin – a lady who earned my respect and a fair amount of loyalty for the Executive Branch Accountability Act - or vote in all the local offices where the Democratic primary pretty much decides who gets the office because there is no Republican opposition in Madison.

I am not  Republican.  Nor am I Democrat.  When people ask me for my party affiliation, these days I reply with a simple, “Pissed.”  So there’s a small question of whether I should vote in either of the primaries, since I’m not willing to be a team player on either side.  This question doesn’t bother me at all; I get to vote in one of them and the only question for me is the meta-game one of which one I ought to vote in.

During the 2010 elections, I voted a straight party ticket for the first time ever and felt extremely dirty about it.  I was very much voting against people, rather than for them, and while my traditional response to not having a candidate I approve of has been to write somebody in, the polls looked close enough that I didn’t dare, because one set of candidates was so very much scarier than the other set.

That didn’t work out too well for me.  Or a lot of other people.  We tried to fix it.  That didn’t work out, either.  So there I was last Tuesday, trying to decide which primary to vote in.  A double dip in the recession, or even just Wisconsin lagging in a recovery, could well kill my fledgling Real Estate career of which I am rather fond.  The Republicans are after my uterus, the school system, and have an inexplicable hatred of some projects I rather like (such as trains, and wind turbines).  I have a lot of reasons to engage in strategic meta-game voting to try making them better, or at least keeping them in check.  I have some seriously powerful reasons to hold my nose and do the classic two-party “Lesser of two evils” voting.

Let’s face it: I vote not because I think it does any good, but because nobody in power has any reason to listen to me unless I’m at least willing to show up to the polls and I find bitching more satisfying when somebody has to listen to me.  I have a spectacular record for voting for losers.  Some of my friends have asked me to vote from Romney because they figure it’ll doom him.  But until 2010, I was really comfortable with the idea that I’d never vote for somebody who had a chance.  It’s my little rebellion: I will show up with my vote, but if nobody bothered to be worth getting it, then I’ll burn it right in front of them.  I am not at all ashamed of my streak of petty spitefulness, and it makes this sort of voting extremely satisfying.

Problem is, that sort of voting doesn’t really accomplish much.  Nobody cares about the lone under-30-voter lodging a protest vote.  I’d need a cohort of angry people ready to show up and burn their votes with me and my generation appears to collectively be a sack of lazy fucks who can’t find ten minutes to go draw a few black lines even when they have a two week window to do it in.*  So here I am, burdened with responsibility, staring at polling data, and trying to see all the angles in the political meta-game.

Then I had an epiphany, and it was this: Fuck that.  I’m cynical.  I’m often within a hair’s breadth of nihilism.  Being angry all the time is exhausting, but so is working my ass off on something that isn’t going to work with a bunch of people who aren’t interested in doing the meta-gaming they have to if they actually want to succeed.  At least anger keeps me warm at night.

Given the similarities of the platforms and backgrounds of the Republican senatorial candidates, the strategically correct solution to the problem was to vote for the Republican least likely to win against Baldwin, since any of the likely winners on the other half of the ticket would be adequately acceptable.  The emotionally comforting but less optimized strategy would be to vote for Tommy Thompson because he’s the least scary of the Republican candidates and that limits how bad the outcome of the general election can be.

I voted in the Democratic primary.

To anybody who wants to argue that I need to vote for Obama because a Republican White House would be a scary disaster I say this: From now on, it’s all about me and a book of matches.  Cope.

*This is the nicest thing I’ve said about my generation since June 5.  Seriously.

On Feminists and Assholes

I keep waiting for there to not be something that could be attributed as proximate cause for this post before posting it, but I suspect that’s never going to happen, so just trust me when I say that this is not in response to any particular thing, it just is what it is.

I don’t identify as a feminist.  I don’t just “not identify” as one: I explicitly identify as “Nope, I don’t call myself a feminist.”

I’m female.  I’m firm in my conviction that this doesn’t affect my ability to do anything much past piss gracefully while standing which, outside of very narrow circumstances, is an utterly valueless skill, and that I’m therefore entitled to all the same things as the people possessing those skills.  I’m aware of the fact that this is not, in fact, how the world works and that there are a range of varyingly explicit systematic problems perpetuating the current state.  I don’t get offended if people call me a feminist, and I’ve got some serious respect for the people who are adamant about wanting to reclaim the word from its current associations with radical man-hating boogeycreatures.

Here’s the thing: as far as I’m concerned, I’m an unmarked fully functional adult who goes through life doing pretty much whatever she damn well pleases.  If you’ve got a problem with that I have two options.

1) I could label myself as a feminist to indicate my disagreement with your problem.  Lots of people do, and they accomplish a lot of really good things by doing it.

2) I can point out that your problem with me going about my business as I have every right to reflects on you, not me, and instead of labeling myself, affix an appropriate term to you.  Say, something civil and uncontroversial.  Like, asshole.

I opt for option 2.

Both options have problems.  The first isolates and segments off people who ought to be striving to be mainstream.  The second makes it harder for like-minded people to find each other and have the conversations that need having and generally muddies the waters.  There’s an assumption (valid but hopefully diminishingly so) in the first option that people who are down with equal rights across genders are not the norm.  There’s an assumption in the second option that they are.

I’m not here to say we’ve achieved gender balance utopia.  We haven’t.  I’m not here to say we don’t have systematic problems where women get marginalized, undervalued, ignored, and taken advantage of.  We do.  What I’m saying is this: That shit is unnatural.  I’m calling it out as such, rather than letting it define how I identify myself.  It’s a calculated decision, meant to force reality into compliance with my assertion about how it should work.  For me, this works extremely well.

It’s not enough on its own.  It does nothing to address cultural assumptions that the default is male and the ramifications this has for women for everything from marketing to medical research without any individuals being explicit bad guys.  We need people who spend their time digging into that, identifying problems and their sources, proposing solutions.  We absolutely need a baseline assumption of what’s normal, but we’re not yet at the point where we don’t also need feminists.

Don’t look at me, though.  I’m just a competent human adult, on the lookout for assholes.