This is a Very Silly Post

You might all recall that last March, I cut my hair.  It was waist length and straight.  It had gotten thin and ratty looking, so I hacked it off to just above my shoulders.

Four-year-old Anaea knew she wanted super long Princess Leia hair, but she also wanted hair that wasn’t flat, limp, and lifeless.  She had the latter, and set to acquiring the former.  It was still flat, limp, and lifeless two years later, and she still really wanted curly hair.  So her grandmother, always indulgent when it comes to personal vanity, took her to get a perm.  The next two years feature six perms, each with a more aggressive hair cut/layering.  The perms just wouldn’t stay.  Then came the point where the shortest layers were so short they were functionally bangs, and fell into eight-year-old Anaea’s eyes.  Child Anaea wasn’t having it (she’d taken over decisions about her hair precisely to exorcise the tyrrany of bangs from her life) and vowed she’d rather have straight hair, if it could be long and compliant, than curly hair if it meant all this constant work and annoyance.  And that was the end of the perming.

Not, however, of the curls.  That last perm fell almost immediately into a relaxed wave.  A relaxed wave that never went away.  Even when the whole head of hair went properly waist length again, it wasn’t quite perfectly straight.  And the short pieces, oh dear.  Yup.  Two years of perming had somehow granted Anaea’s childhood wish – she had curly hair.

Which brings us to March, when I’ve got to face the fact of curly hair as it applies to me for the very first time.  Twenty-four years after taking charge of my hair, and I haven’t got the first clue how to deal with it.  It’s short.  If I brush it, I look like the “Before” image from an early nineties hair gel commercial.  If I don’t brush it, or comb it, or do something, I look like got out of bed, shrugged, and gave up.  (Because I did)  I’ve had more bad hair days since March than I had in my entire life up to that point.  I used to love my hair.  Now?  We hates it, precious.

It’s very weird for me to hate my hair.  Not just because it’s a change of state, but because it’s weird for me to think about my hair more than “Oh look, the hallway is covered in my shedding again.”  My hair has gone from a thing I spent maybe two minutes of total thought on in a given day to something constantly coming to my attention.  Which days are the ones I need it to look best, and how can I time washing it to make those days line up with it?  If it’ll be too soon to wash it, do I need to get up early enough that fumbling my way into learning a French Twist or other short-hair-up-do is going to be beyond me?  Why does that guy have long, gorgeous hair like mine was when I can’t is there no justice in the world I hate everything and am going to stare like a creep now!

Something else I’ve learned?  I’m not the only person to feel persecuted by their curly hair.  In fact, as far as I can tell, it’s normal for curly-haired people to struggle this way. At WisCon I was doing the, “I’m obsessively in hate with my hair, and disturbed that I’m hung up on something as shallow as my hair to be in obsessive hate with,” and people were coming out of the woodwork to be supportive, give advice, teach me how to navigate the world as a curly-headed individual.

I own product, now.  Six years ago I didn’t even condition my hair.  I now own three kinds of conditioner.  And a special towel. And have been told that if I want my hair to look good, I need to not let people touch it anymore, ever, no matter how much I like getting head scritches.  My future life is going to be a constant balancing act between my desire to look like a put-together grown up, and to let people I like touch my head.  A constant worry that riding in the car with the windows down means I’ll have unmanageable frizz, that if the weather turns I’ll need to do my hair again part way through the day, and that people now ask me stupid, inane questions about my hair all the fricken time because they don’t have better topics for small talk and now it’s attention-grabby and prominent.

I’ve had a revelation, people.  A revelation that I, through all my years of long straight hair, have been appropriating straight privilege, closeting my true curly self, and blindly ignoring the struggles of people from other hair types.  Me, the hater of closets, a closet case so deep she didn’t even realize closeting was occurring. And, like all great, classic hypocrites, I would crawl right back into my closet in a second if it were feasible.

I’m learning some lessons here.

Like I said, this is a silly post.

It’s still true.

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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.

Oh, how cute! Not

I’ve noticed a thing recently and I’m going to ramble about it for a bit.  It is this: My relationship with cute is a little bit broken.

I mean specifically with cute as applied to me more than the more general cuteness – having a broken relationship with cute things in the world at large is normal enough for misanthropic people like me as to be cliche.  I’m thinking more specifically about my response when somebody calls me cute.  This is a thing that happens, and it throws me off a bit every time, even when it’s from somebody I’ve known for a long time.

When it’s a stranger, say somebody messaging me on OKC, my immediate response is to judge the person harshly.  Very harshly.  If the first comment-worthy thing you notice about me is my alleged cuteness, you’re paying attention to the wrong things on such a fundamental level I really, really have no interest in continuing to interact with you.  You’ve functionally ceased to be a worthwhile person to me.  Depending on circumstances, I might notify you that you’ve failed.

“You’re cute.  Want to get drinks some time?”

“No.”

“…that was…direct.”

I might also just wrap up the conversation, walk away, and forget about you completely.  You’ll never know I stopped thinking of you as human because, hey, lots of things aren’t human.  I don’t regularly tell my desk lamp it’s just an object to me, either.

But I don’t react well when it’s from friends or people I’ve known for a long time, either.  It’s a compliment, sure, and they mean well, (or they’re teasing me like the malicious bastards my friends tend to be.  It’s my fault for loving malicious bastards) but I still have to go through the, “They said a nice thing to you, you should respond in a gracious and accepting way, no really, stop staring blankly at them like they stopped speaking English.”

The problem, I’ve figure out, is this: Cute is not on my mental list of personal features/qualities.  I’m smart, sure.  Literate.  Efficient.  Prone to unapologetic assholery.  Helpful.  Sarcastic.  Occasionally witty.  Hilarious at karaoke.  And when we get around to listing physical features, I’ve got big tits, a waist, nice fingernails, okay hair, decent facial features, am visibly healthy, and look morbidly obese when on the west coast.  There is no overall assessment of that feature set filed away on in my mental checklist because I don’t care.  It hasn’t occurred to my mental inventory that I should tag that feature set with an evaluation.  So when somebody does apply a tag to it, it triggers a “The field you’re trying to fill in doesn’t exist,” warning.  You’ve caused my mental processes to throw an error.

Realizing this helped me suss out my discomfort with something else, i.e. a couple mentions I’ve seen in places listing me as a “female writer to note” or something similar.  When they’ve popped up my response has been remarkably similar to when friends call me cute, namely, “Hey, that’s a good thing, don’t nit-pick the packaging.  If you aren’t going to be gracious then Shut. Up.”  Making lists of notable female anything is problematic (promotes ghettoization of females, preventing them from becoming unmarked re the thing), but reliably less problematic than the alternative (outright obscurity for the females).  So, sure, I could go off on a tear about how I don’t want to be shoved in a ghetto with the wimmenz, but that’s not actually what’s bugged me about it.

What bugs me as that while “female” does make the list of features in my mental representation of myself, it’s so far down the list, so far below writer, Realtor, geek, bird-lover, misanthrope…hell, it’s below home owner.  I think being female is about as important to my identity as the fact that the first chapter book I ever read by myself was Cam Jansen: The Mystery at the Haunted House.  It’s true.  It has a massive influence on important factors in my life (I have a terrible soft spot for mysteries), I wouldn’t change it, but it’s not exactly relevant to most things, now is it?

I share this mostly because since figuring these things out, they’ve bothered me less.  Instead of a nebulous “I’m having complicated, largely negative, largely inappropriate responses to this thing,” response I can just go, “Yup, you’ve tripped an error.  This error is not one actually indicating a problem I care about.  Move along.”  It’s an improvement.  And it’s saved me a whole lot of ranting that would have gotten complicated and nuanced and then fallen apart into a mess of pointing at things and being unhappy because they weren’t perfect, even though they were trying.  Maybe I’m not the only one this sort of thing is happening to.

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.

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?

The Duotropalypse and Me

Remember the hullabaloo where everybody freaked and and got into a huff because Netflix was splitting up their DVD and streaming services and charging for them separately?  This annoyed me greatly, mostly because people seemed to think they were entitled to free streaming when it had only been free because it started small and limited but Netflix needed to prove to content providers that there was demand for it.  The new Netflix prices were still well below even basic cable, and Netflix had the respect for their customer base to raise the prices up to where they needed to be, rather than slow-cooking them with small hikes the way other companies do.  I was highly, thoroughly irritated with every single person who complained about anything beyond Netflix’s clumsy PR around the change.  (Their PR was very clumsy.)

Well, now here we are, and another previously free service is going paid.  Duotrope, for the non-writers in my audience, is a website that lists magazine markets, with descriptions about what the markets like, what they pay, etc.  Users can report their submissions – I sent a 3,200 word SF story to market X today, got rejected on my submission to market Y after 24 days – and Duotrope uses that data to aggregate statistics about the market response times.  This is how I know, for example, that my submission sitting at market z for over 100 days, despite their usual 60 turn around, is nothing to get excited about: that market hasn’t replied to anybody in months.

Duotrope has, historically, been funded entirely by user donations.  I generally give them about $25 a year, because that’s my basic donation to things I like.  I don’t really need Duotrope tracking my submissions for me.  I’ve been doing that tracking on a spreadsheet since before I turned into a Duotrope junkie, and kept both systems in parallel even after going off the stat-junkie cliff that is staring at Duotrope updates.  But Duotrope organized the data very nicely for me, and being able to see things like, “Clarkesworld has been sitting on this story for ten days, but everybody else is still getting three day rejections!” makes the whole submitting stories thing a lot more fun.

To raise their money, they’ve generally had a bar on the side of the screen showing how far they are from their monthly goals.  They show this, not in actual dollar figures, but in terms of percentage to goal.  I’ve never donated in response to this bar, even when it’s at 14% at the end of the month, because I’ve never had any idea how much money it would take to have an impact.  How much money does Duotrope need to keep offering this service I don’t need but kinda like?  I have no idea.  So, $25 a year it is.

Last week they announced that they’re moving to a subscription model where they’ll be charging $50 for a year’s subscription, or $5 per month for a month-to-month subscription.  Cue the exact same spiral of user discontent you saw with Netflix, except smaller because, hey, niche market.

This time I’m with the users, though, and not just because they’re valuing themselves at twice what I value them for.

Dear Duotrope: You are not providing me content.  You’re providing me structure.  The content you use to provide that structure is not yours, it’s the individual data of the users who kindly give it to you, in exchange for the structure.  There is value to your structure, but only when it has enough content to organize.  Most writers do not make $50 a year on their writing.  Many writers cannot afford to spend $50 a year on their otherwise effectively free hobby.  You’ve destroyed your content pool, rendering your structure no longer valuable to me.

Duotrope has, in response to comments sent to them, claimed that this will actually improve their data pool.  I doubt anybody reading this entry cares about the nitty gritty statistical details of what they claim vs the actual reality of what their data pool looks like, (if you do, let me know and I’ll get pedantic for you) but they’re wrong.  Even without the horde of angry writers going through and nuking their data, or abandoning it incomplete, they’ve destroyed necessary segments of their data pool.

Netflix was giving me everything except the internet connection I needed to do the streaming.  They’d added content and value and proven its worth before raising their prices.  Duotrope has done nothing of the sort.  I don’t expect them to run as a charity.  I do expect them to have a business model that lets them collect enough income to function without gutting what they’re worth.  And, you know, in the age of Kickstarter, how hard can it be to tell people how much money you actually need to keep running?

The Prime Directive – Not a Metaphor for Imperialism

One of the panels I was on at WorldCon was on the Prime Directive and whether or not it was a good idea.  I wasn’t really sure how I felt about it before sitting down on the panel – I can see arguments either way – and planned to hop onto whichever side was getting less love.  The panel more or less turned into a struggles with the Fermi paradox, but I still managed to get my head wrapped around some of the sticky problems surrounding the idea of the Prime Directive.

For those of you out of touch with your Star Trek, the Prime Directive is a rule that says you aren’t allowed to share technology, or even reveal that there’s technology to be shared, with civilizations that haven’t yet independently developed the technology for FTL travel.  The idea is that cultures need to mature and develop on their own to keep from being overwhelmed by the cultures of the technologically advanced societies interacting with them, and that this gives them a chance to “grow up” enough to be ready for the responsibilities of playing with interstellar society.

There’s a lot to be said in favor of a Prime Directive or something of its sort. Human society is rife with examples of cultures and civilizations evaporating in the wake of contact with technological superiority.  We’ve lost languages and folklore and handicrafts, people have been cut off from their sense of community and heritage, it’s altogether a problematic, objectionable thing, especially when you consider that the interaction consisted mostly of the technologically superior group taking what was valuable and generally screwing the already damaged society.

But here’s the thing: enacting a Prime Directive for human-to-human interactions on Earth means telling a group of people, “Sorry, you didn’t invent aviation, so you don’t get to have airplanes.  Nyah, nyah, you’re screwed.”  Or, “Since you’re over in that corner now, you have to stay in that corner, because we’ve decided to protect your cultural purity, even if that means sticking you in a corner without running water or electricity.”  This is just as problematic, because in deciding to value the unique and special aspects of a group, you define them by what they don’t have, and it’s external people making those value judgements and definitions.  This is not okay.

But the reason it’s not okay comes down to the fact that human-to-human interactions on Earth can never be completely isolated – there are no closed systems.  If I dam this river here, that effects you over there.  Hell, if I burn this forest over here, it could very well affect you way over there, on another continent, which I may have never heard of.  We’re bumping against each other all the time, and we don’t even have pretend frontiers anymore (except Antarctica, which is special).  You can’t ask Prime Directive type questions in these situations without being an extraordinary asshole, because it’s impossible to posit denying useful advanced technology to a group of people “for their own good” without at the very least patronizing them.  The problem isn’t the technology, it’s the smallpox, slavery, resource depletion etc., that comes along with it.

As far as I know, however, any alien civilization swinging by Earth on a joy ride is, effectively, from a closed system isolated from the closed system we’re hanging out in.  They really can ignore us without it having any effect. That changes things, opening up a whole other set of questions about ethics, obligations to other sentient races, responsible self-interest etc.  Some of these questions are the same as the ones you ask when looking at the thorny beast that is Imperialism, but the context and circumstances are substantially different – you can’t port the answers from one situation to the other.

I point this out, because mistaking the metaphor for the real thing is how you get stupid plots that make no sense.  Or fumble the ending on Hugo winning books.

In summary, I still want to argue quite a bit about the Prime Directive, but that argument is not the same thing as an argument about Imperialism.  May that knowledge enlighten your future pedantic squabbles.