A Public Response to a Private OKC Message

Because, seriously, let this be a lesson to the world in need of such lessons.  The game we’re discussing is Agricola, which is all about how much it sucks to be a farmer, and how much sheer fiddliness people will put up with for a game with really good mechanics.  It’s up there with Age of Steam as one of my favorites.

Hahaha. I think its a pretty complex game, and definitely a gamers game.
So since its usually guys that are into it, i love when girls play!

I hope that doesn’t sound sexist. I”m bacically trying to say I like you simply based on that you play, and you beat up on your knuckle head friends =P

Allow me to catalog the levels of fail contained in this message.

1) There’s a completely unwarranted implication caused by the juxtaposition of the first two sentences.  Yes, Agricola is complex.  Yes, it s a game for people who like games, not one for people who want something to do while they’re hanging out.  No, that does not mean that it’s usually guys who are into it.

Dear clueless dude: If girls aren’t playing Agricola with you, there’s something you should know: It’s not because girls aren’t into Agricola.  It’s because they aren’t into you.  Possibly because you’re a skeevy bastard, but you may conceal that better in person than you do when trawling for women on the internet.

Dear dudes who might have said this but haven’t yet: No, really.  I know more girls fond of Agricola than guys.  Not by much.  But Agricola, in fact, happens to be the game that balanced my coterie of board gaming companions.  As in, when tallying the people I could call upon for board gaming used to have a male:female ratio of about 3:2.  Then I stumbled across a bunch of girls who really like Agricola.  The ratio is now balanced.  You want to talk to me about the gender break down on Twilight Imperium? Maybe you have some grounds there.  Agricola?  You’re doing it wrong.

2) Let me get hung up on the last clause of your second sentence.  “i love when girls play!”

Oh honey, that’s just precious.  How much more patronizing can you possible get in a message meant to solicit in-person interaction from me?  I’m just so tickled that you’re progressive enough to get giddy about girls having an interest in your manly pursuits.  Please, oh please, pat me on the head for overcoming the limitations of my sex to measure up to your standards!

Gag me with a fucking spoon.  Dipshit.

3) First sentence, second paragraph.  When the voice in the back of your head tells you to say that, what you ought to understand it to mean is, “I just said something sexist.”  You should then take the opportunity provided by the fact that this is not an instantaneous form of communication to revise what you just wrote.

4) The last sentence is actually the one that sent me over the edge, due in large parts to personal quirks that leave me harshly judging people who like me too soon and for the wrong reasons.  But, come on now, “knuckle head friends” ?  Have we been transported into some magical land where you pick up girls by addressing them the language sitcoms would have us believe would be used by their fathers?  Because if so, allow me to share this reaction: Ewwwww.

You do not like me based off a profile, single photo, and one eighty-word message.  You like the idea of me.  You are interested in me.  But you do not like me.  And, let’s be honest now, you’re not likely to wind up liking me.

No Seriously, TANSTAAFL

I’ve made it as a food blogger.  I know this, because though I’ve never tried to make it as a food blogger, I have now gotten my first overture from an internet start-up to be one of their founding content providers, in exchange for the exposure I’ll have when they make it big and take off.  They found me because they were looking for food bloggers.  Cool.  Except, not really.

Here’s the thing.  I don’t work for free.  I’m one of the most grasping, crass, mercenary people you are going to meet.  I do a great do of work for “no pay,” but absolutely none for free.  This blog?  Keeps me from driving my roommates batty, feeds my exhibitionist impulses, and is the crux of the platform that is the Anaea Lay publicity machine.  (It’s a very small machine.  And not very ambitious)  I know exactly (sorta) how big my blog audience, but in the depths of my wrinkled psychology I feel like putting things here is the same as personally telling everybody in the whole world, which makes it a lot easier for me to shut-up about thing X which I have blogged.  This is good, since otherwise I repeat myself way too much.

The Strange Horizons podcast?  Many of the same reasons as the blog, plus exposure to a bigger audience about which I care, and, most importantly, there’s now a Strange Horizons fiction podcast.  This is a thing I very much want to exist.  How much do I want it?  I price my time for hourly work at $120, and I spend anywhere from 2-7 hours a week on the podcast.  You do the math.

Seriously.  I price my time for hourly work at $120.  Why?  Because if I go back to the horrible consulting jobs I never ever want to do again, that’s what I make.  If I’m going to make less doing whatever it is I’m doing, there had damn well better be benefits that make up the difference.

Real Estate?  I do not make $120/hr doing real estate.  I do have a hell of a lot of fun.  I would not do it for free (and I am not a cheap Realtor), but as long as I enjoy it as much as I do now, I will do it for bleeding ever.

Writing?  This is a little complicated since I’m going to write whether or not I publish.  But do note, when I publish, it’s never for less than $.05/word, which is the industry concept of professional rates.  If I send something to a semi-pro that doesn’t pay that much, the thing I send is short.  Or a reprint.

Between all of this, my social life, my penchant for playing with my cat and reading books and consuming other media, etc. etc., my schedule is very full.  Not unbearably full, because I’m getting aggressive about avoiding that, but as full as I’m comfortable with.  Anybody proposing a new project to me had better have a really good case for why it’s worth throwing my delicate balance out of whack.  Really good.  I recently got invited to do a small bit of a project by the people who wound up doing it several months after I started to, then had to let drop because I was indulging in my penchant for defiantly sleeping on marble floors.  I really wanted to do that project.  I would have done it all myself, for no pay, if circumstances hadn’t readjusted my priorities.  Getting a stab at it was awesome!

I turned them down.  I angsted a bit, but I turned them down.

I’ve turned down friends on their start-ups several times at this point, too.  And in their cases, they were offering “hopefully money someday,” plus helping my friend achieve their goals.

“Exposure” is marketing talk for, “and after you believe that, there’s this bridge in Brooklyn I’ve got for sale.”  I can get exposure by running naked through the streets.  If I want a lot of exposure, all I have to do is pick big-ish author or editor X and say something calculated-ly horrible about them.  Exposure is easy.  Exposure is not valuable.  Connections are.

No, stranger I’ve never met or heard of, I do not want to provide all the content you need for your start-up to succeed.  I don’t even want to provide a fraction of it.  If you’d like to republish things I’m already doing, we can talk rates.  Otherwise?  See the headline.

Step up or Shut up

As of today, I’ve heard this line just one too many times.

Yes, if you see a thing you don’t like, it is a good thing to step up and try to change it.  Fixing an organization or group by joining the people in charge of it is dandy and direct.  People who do nothing but sit in a corner and complain are obnoxious twits.  These are all true things.

“Step up or shut up” is still crap.  I’m a constituent of at least five different political categories, four professional organizations, and three volunteer groups.  I’m also opinionated, contrary, and vocal.  I literally cannot “Step up” for everything I think could be improved or which needs to be changed in all of these things.  There are not enough hours in the week, and I say this as somebody who is intimately familiar with exactly how many working hours I have in a week.  In fact, at this point, it would be flatly irresponsible for me to do anymore stepping up because while I can manage the workload I have right now, I’m running at exactly my capacity, and if anything takes an uptick or goes wrong I am very, very screwed.

I’m a constituent of x, y, and z things because it’s not possible for everybody to take personal charge of everything that has an effect on their lives.  This is why we create bodies with representation instead of making everything happen directly.  And when I say, “Hey, this thing is a problem,” or “Wouldn’t it be better if we did things this way,” the correct response from my representatives is not, “Fix it yourself.”

My flawless brilliance notwithstanding, I don’t expect the world to jump and give me what I want every time I speak up.  I might not have all the facts.  My concerns, even if valid, may not be a reasonable priority.  What I want might be diametrically opposed to the interests of my fellow constituents.  That’s okay.  In those cases, the responsibility of my representatives is to educate me about what I’m missing or why I can’t have what I want.  Or they can explore the issue and find out if I really am the only one, or just the first one to speak up.  Or they can accept that I’m always right and do as I say.  These are all acceptable things.

But you know what?  If I had the time to step up and fix things myself, I’d bloody well be doing it already.  I’m not exactly shy about volunteering for things.  Taking charge of a thing isn’t the only way to try fixing it, and the people who insist that only the people who do this have opinions that matter aren’t just jerks, they’re bad leaders, and they’re wrong.

It’s my duty as a constituent to understand how the structure above me in whatever thing I’m a constituent of works.  It’s my duty as a constituent to interact productively with that structure.  It’s my duty as a constituent to recognize that I’m one constituent among many and nobody has infinite time and a resources.  But it is not my duty to be content or upgrade myself from constituent to representative.

My question to the next representative who says otherwise is this: What the hell do you think your job is?

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.

On Guns and the Control Thereof

I am, at this point, completely out of patience for everybody talking about guns, gun control, mass shootings, and everything tying those things together.    You’re all being shallow, vapid, and dumb, so stop it.  Or at least stop self-righteously prancing all over the internet with it where I can see you.

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

That’s some pretty clear wording that, read on it its own, makes it pretty clear that any sort of gun control at all is a constitutional violation.  That is, in fact, what those words in that order mean.  It’s not craziness to read these words and walk away with that interpretation, it’s literacy.

The problem comes, as with so many things when talking legal matters, with the context.  The second amendment is my second favorite amendment.  Let’s take a look at my absolute favorite.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.


Are we living in a world that follows this as it is literally written?  We are NOT.  Everything from prohibitions against yelling fire in a movie theater to the IRS treating churches as anything different from small businesses or corporations is, in fact, a direct violation of the literal wording.

In other words, the argument is subtle and complicated.  If you think you’ve skewered the people who disagree with you in 140 characters, what you’ve actually communicated is that you think you’re witty and aren’t actually listening to anybody else.  Which is sorta okay, I guess, because they aren’t listening to you, or even really talking to you.  But as somebody who’s chronically pissed off at everybody for being narrow-minded ideologues who are more interested in marking their moral high ground than actually having conversations about problems and issues, I find this extremely frustrating.

Here are the things I think everybody (more or less) agrees on.

1) It’s bad when people go places and start shooting strangers.

2) Gun crimes require the presence of, at a minimum, a gun and a person.

3) An absolute ban of all gun ownership for civilians does not fly without amending the Constitution.

4) The current situation needs to be fiddled with.

Are we all with me so far?  I think this is a fair summary of the common ground.  Feel free to tell me if I’ve made an incorrect assumption or missed an important element.

Now, here are my thoughts on the issue.  I invite you to disagree, tell me I’m wrong, or make counter points.  But if I’ve already seen what you have to say on Twitter a billion times, I reserve the right to yawn at you.

First off, I’m really not afraid of getting shot by a random gunman.  The odds of this happening, even in the wake of all the recent incidents, are still so very low that I’m much likelier to get myself killed with my propensity for doing 90 in a 55mph zone.  (Want to hear my rant about American speed limits?  No, no you don’t)  When I hear about a mass shooting on the news, my response is not to suddenly feel less safe in public, but to steel myself for everybody getting boringly foamy.  I’m told this makes me insensitive.  Fine.  It also makes me rational.  When we’re talking about fiddling with the social contract, I think rational is much more important than sensitive.

That said, I’m rather bothered by people not me, or personally known to me, owning guns.  I’ve met people.  On the whole they’re stupid, prone to panic, and have lousy aim.  This is true for everybody ranging from cops and soldiers to the neighbors across the street who have a weird tendency to climb onto their icy roof with a shovel.  I don’t know the actual stats, but viscerally, I’m much more worried about getting shot by a cop than I am by a random stranger.

Castle doctrine style legislation, where I don’t have to justify why the person who broke into my house is dead, strikes me as perfectly fine.  It doesn’t say I have to shoot people who break into my house, it just says that if I panic and do something extreme in a stressful situation that I didn’t ask for, there’s a limitation on the legal consequences.  My problem with these laws is that they almost always say, “Unless the person you dropped was a cop.”  Between the War on Drugs and the War on Terror, the cops are entirely too entitled to come barging into my house without clearly identifying themselves, and if it’s not my fault for panicking when a burglar, who probably just wants my stuff, breaks in, then panic when people who want to drag me off to jail and prosecute me seems all the more warranted.  At the very least, there should be a “was the police entry lawful, necessary, and appropriate,” question involved.  But then again, I also thing if I resist an arrest that gets thrown out, I should be rewarded, not punished. (This latter stance has problematic potential consequences.)

I don’t think we should have a standing military.  In fact, I think the wording of the second amendment makes it pretty clear we weren’t meant to.  And we didn’t for a very long time.  We also had a really good track record of winning wars we got involved in, despite not having a standing military before the war started.  We’ve gotten less good at winning things since that changed.  This is a shallow rendering of the history, but it’s one I think is worth ruminating on.

On the other hand, I think we ought to beef up the National Guard in a huge way.  Having an organization whose mission is to defend the homeland and its citizens against disasters of the man made and natural varieties strikes me as a brilliant idea.  I’d even get behind a societal expectation that most people will spend a year or two signed up for it, especially if it cuts down on the “You have to go to college to get any kind of worthwhile job, whether or not college actually helps you for it,” we have going on currently.  Also, anybody who deploys the National Guard for a war not occurring on American soil should be prosecuted for treason.

We need to dispense with our cultural conditioning toward victimhood post-haste.  There’s hasn’t been a successful plane jacking or terrorist plot involving planes since 911, not because of the TSA, and not just because the people who’ve tried have almost universally been morons, but because civilians were paying attention and thwarted the plot.  (Granted, there have been plots foiled before they got to the airport or on the plane.  Credit to those who’ve earned it.  The TSA, not among them)  The days of passively accepting a plane jacking so we can all make it out alive are over.  This strikes me as a very good thing.  This is the idea behind Stand Your Ground style legislation.  I like the idea.  I find most of the actual implementation of it to be unsubtle and problematically buggy.  Possibly terminally so.  I am very interesting in finding a workable version of it, though, because the fact is that whole swaths of American society can’t trust the cops to protect them.  These are not the swaths often cited as loudly petitioning for this sort of legislation, but that has no bearing on the actual merit of the arguments.

The one point I’m not really willing to be flexible on is this: If a government entity is allowed to own a certain weapon for potential use on civilians, then civilians should be allowed to own that weapon as well.  I’ll entertain arguments for more or less powerful weapons.  But if the government is giving them to people for domestic use, then they will be available on the black market.  Any system that creates or enables a black market availability of things that then cannot be acquired legally is, as far as I’m concerned, fatally flawed.  You want to give the police rocket launchers?  Sure.  But I want to be able to get one too.  You want to cut the police off at hand guns?  I’m not going to squawk about doing the same to me.

And those are pretty much my parameters for what I’m going to consider an acceptable shift in the status quo.  You’ll note, that means I’ll accept shifts both toward more control, and less of it, but with other effects taken into account.  If you’re arguing for a society where everybody is armed, I’m expecting you to also argue for dismantling the TSA and rolling back most of the police empowerment the War on Drugs has sparked.  If we’re self-policing, then let’s self police.  If we’re trusting the government to do our policing, let’s make sure the government can be trusted.

Either way, could we stop sound-biting each other to death?

I’d rather you didn’t say anything, thanks

One bright Saturday morning during my third year of college I dragged my ass out of bed early for a belt test.  It was a pretty important test, the transition from the tier of intro belts to intermediate ones, and my first weapons test.  I was a bit nervous because the prior weekend I’d sent my shoulder into one of its particularly bitchy moods where instead of range of motion, I get spasms down the left side of my back.  So instead of doing extra training for the test, I’d been doing everything I could to be able to use my left side which, when you’re testing with nunchaku, you kinda need.

I got through the test.  I wasn’t as sharp or solid as I’d have liked to be, but I didn’t embarrass myself.  My stances, at least, were good, I knew my forms, I didn’t hit myself in the head, and most importantly for me, I didn’t fumble any of the hand-offs and drop the nunchaku which tends to happen if my muscles are being crabby.  I wasn’t stellar, but given the circumstances, I was pleased.

This particular group did a bit of an oral examination at the end of the test.  Do you know the code of ethics, are you down with the philosophy, are you here for the right reasons, etc.  I got grilled on having taken a year off.  “Well, I had mono.  Really bad mono.  I wasn’t allowed to do contact sports, and couldn’t handle much more than classes and work, anyway.”  When head chief tester man was assured that I’d gotten a bit fanatical about training, (to the point of somewhat regularly sending my back into cranky spasms), I got the stoic nod of approval that meant I wasn’t about to be the first person ever failed at a public test.

Then something weird happened.

The instructor I spent the most time working with, who I kinda liked the best, congratulated me.  Not because I’d pulled through rough circumstances to make it to the test.  Not because I’d bounced back from an enforced medical leave of absence.  Hell, not even because I was showing up to train while pulling good grades double majoring at the University of Chicago and working almost full time.  Any of that, I’d have been all over getting congratulations for.  No, I got congratulated because my nunchaku were regular ash ones instead of plastic and foam.

“Er,” said I, because I was completely baffled.  About two thirds of the class use ash nunchaku.

“Yeah, but most women are too afraid of the full weight and just use foam.”

“I’m not being macho,” I said, because I really didn’t get why I was being congratulated.  “I’m not all that naturally coordinated.  That’s just what it took to have any sense of where the end I’m not holding is.”  Which was absolutely true.  Hand me a pair of foam nunchaku and they’re going to go flying, but not until I’ve thwacked myself in the head several times.  They’re light enough to be functionally invisible to my proprioception.

I stayed confused about why I was being congratulated.  It felt an awful lot like compliments I’ve given which basically go, “Good job.  You’ve overcome your crippling idiocy to achieve mediocrity.”  Except he was being sincere.  He really was impressed that I’d shown up to my test with ash nunchaku and felt I deserved to be informed of that.  At some point I made the logical connection that his comment about “most women” was paired with the part where I was female, and I was getting patted on the back for not being like them.  It felt like my back-handed compliment because it was, except instead of overcoming endemic idiocy, I’d beaten my en-uterused status.  Given that flexibility is as important as strength for martial arts, speed isn’t particularly gendered, and women have a higher pain tolerance, I’m not sure why being female was seen as a limitation.  Certainly not why that seemed like a more salient limitation that the bit where my ligaments don’t work.  But it was, so I took my well-intentioned but highly patronizing pat on the head and went on.

I just spent two hours thinking about that incident, because it was happening again, except in a context where it makes even less sense.  “That a young woman like you blah blah blah.”  “For a tech savvy business woman to blah blah blah.”  “And a woman who isn’t just dabbling blah blah blah.”  Over. And Over. Again.  Good job!  You’re an idiot, but you’re breaking into mediocrity.  Now go feel good about yourself.  This time it was special, though, because it wasn’t macho martial artists, but women old enough to be my mother or grandmother, and a sleezebag guy who’s perpetually perplexed that his attempts to be fatherly don’t go over well.

Once again, I’m fuddled, wanting to explain that I’m not trying to overcome anything, I’m just doing what seems optimal.  I haven’t nobly thrown myself into anything; I’ve coldly calculated a way to get what I want with a minimum of effort.  I’m not valiantly volunteering; I’m making sure you morons don’t screw this thing up.  Can we all please just stop complimenting me for things I don’t value?

Clearly, I should have brought the ash nunchaku today, too.

This rant brought to you by me being a week behind on my RSS reader

I’ve about had it with people go on at length about the evils of Islam and the dangers it holds for civilization.  And no, this is not a vent prompted by my grandfather telling me to vote from Romney to prevent Obama from putting us under Sharia law.  I hit my breaking point with atheists blogging about the evils of Islam.

Look, I’m as eager as anybody to smack down attempts to have religion control the public discourse, make policy, or dictate interpersonal interactions. I have to catch myself because my default assumption for people I like is that they aren’t religious, and this sometimes leads to me making an ass of myself to friends.  You’d be hard pressed to find somebody more pro-reality than me.

But here’s a fact of reality: Religion is important to people.  There are countless people who are happier as practitioners of one religion or another.  I’ve met enough people who say, “Yeah, intellectually I know this can’t be true, but it helps me/makes me feel better/gives me something I need,” that I am not going to say all religion needs to disappear off the face of the planet. Am I cheering for the day when religion is a personal quirk akin to watching Torchwood because Captain Jack is hardcore nerd sexy?  Yes I am, amen.  But wanting religion to disappear is somewhat akin to wanting to erase said captain just because Torchwood relentlessly sucks.  They’re allowed, and should be allowed to do it.  They ought to feel deeply shamed, but that’s my religion.  Wait, I’ve mixed my analogies…

My point is this: One cannot be reality oriented and strive for a religion-free humanity.  Even if we get every human on the planet trained into intellectual rationalism – something I find highly unlikely – there will still be people who will be happier with religion than without.  The goal shouldn’t be to obliterate religion, but to de-fang it so that it stops causing problems or trying to make decisions for which it is unqualified.

Which brings me back to the atheists who’ve prompted the rant.  Yes, people are doing reprehensible things and they wouldn’t bother with absent their understanding of their duties as Muslims and the existence of a movie designed to provoke them.  And no, you cannot use analogous provocation with the same effect in other religious groups.  That says a lot of things about a lot of things.  But do you know what it doesn’t say?  That Islam is any more problematic than any other religion.

Do you want me to list the reprehensible things done on a daily basis right here in the U.S. in the name of Christianity?  I hope not, because we’ve all got better things to do with our time than belabor and obvious point.

Religion is an element of culture, no the sum total.  How literally elements of a religion are taken, and which elements are focused on or ignored entirely, has as much to do with the needs, desires, and preferences of the people practicing that religion as with what’s there in it.

I’m not saying that we need to ignore the religious affiliation of the people involved – it’s relevant because it explains motive and needs to be considered for finding a way of dealing with the situation.  But don’t give religion more credit than it’s due.  Islam didn’t make anybody do anything any more than being Christian forces one to be a misogynist or being an atheist leads to amoral psychopathy.  Do you think there’s never been a militant Buddhist?

So let’s stop with the tirades about the evils of Islam, okay?  Hiding behind “I hate all religion,” doesn’t cut it.  People are people, they make the choices they want to make based on where they are at the time.  Their religion and their interpretation of it is as much an expression of that place and time as a contributing factor.

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.