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.

Modern Surprises

Last Thursday was a little weird for me.  It was the day I went down to Chicago for WorldCon.  I took the bus, because I hate driving for road trips, and Sylvie was bringing her car down later that day.  I had a nice time, revised a bit of a thing to send off for critique, then started reading War for the Oaks.

I’ve done the trip down to Chicago enough since leaving there that I’m intimately familiar with how it’ll go.  I’m bored and focused all the way through Wisconsin and northern Illinois, and then I get the first glimpse of skyscrapers and turn into a distracted thing.  It’s all impatience and cussing traffic from there, because I’m going home and I want to be there and have tons of strangers to ignore while I’m surrounded by tall buildings and loud streets.  I adore cities, and Chicago is mine.

It went exactly as it always does, except this was the first time I had a smartphone and Twitter so there was a bonus “Traffic, I am in you!” during the frustrated stage.  The bus stops at Union station at Jackson and Canal, and I always, always wind up sniggering at myself the first time I tried getting there from Hyde Park, nigh unto a decade ago.  That was the day I figured out that Chicago is gridded, and one navigates it like one plays battleship.  I should, perhaps, have figured that out before leaving to catch a train.

The bus stop at union station is ugly, dingy, and full of white-person-sketch. (By which I mean, things sheltered why people find sketchy beyond their actual qualities)  I’m fond of it – there’s something to like about the unabashed utilitarianism in how they’ve deployed concrete barriers there.  It’s ugly, but it’s cheap and functional and nobody wants to spend money to make bus passengers feel cozy and welcome.  It’s honest.

Under other circumstances, I’d have been stupid enough to walk from Union Station to the Hyatt, even with my too-many bags full of baked goods and the weather aggressively sucking, but I knew I was tight on time for making it to my first panel, so I opted to catch a bus over to Wacker instead.  And that’s when I did a double-take.

The thing I’d been revising on my way down is set in Chicago.  It’s semi-post-apocalyptic, and I don’t give a year for when the big diverging events occur, but I’ve been seeing the divergence point as being a rolling “today” with the story happening twenty-five years from now, whenever now happens to be.  The CTA’s still around, because one should never kill things one can torture better by letting live, and it’s used in the bit I was revising.  Except there, in front of me, is a bus stop with a digital sign scrolling through which buses are coming and their ETAs.  This is new since the last time I saw a bus stop in Chicago.  This detail isn’t in my story.  I was gobsmacked.  Home, you’re changing when I’m not looking.

Things are changing all the time.  Little things.  In retrospect, the signs were obvious.  It’s the sort of thing that’s made trains more convenient for years and we have the technology now to do the same effectively for buses quite easily.  If I’d thought about it, in my world building, I’d have predicted that and included it on my own.  But I didn’t think of it.  I’m in love with a Chicago from three years ago and today’s Chicago is still mostly that place, but not entirely.

I’m prone to get hung up on the giant meaningful impact of a small detail nobody else cares about; power lines in Iceland, closing the Capitol during the protests, the fantastically powerful stories buried inside Objectivist fiction.  You don’t want me to get started on the details that have been fascinating me about phone numbers of late, because even I know the gushing is long and boring.  But here I am, a week later, still gobsmacked.  There are new signs on the bus stops.  Things inched forward without me.  They caught me by surprise.  This was a change I adapted to quickly, which was only remarkable because I had so much invested in remarking it.  Someday it’ll be a change that fuddles and confuses me, that I can’t adapt to immediately.  And then I’ll know I’ve grown old.

Welcome to the future.

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.

The Marriage Equality Fight, and Who’s More Equal

I am about to shock precisely nobody by mentioning that I’m a big supporter of legalizing same-sex marriage.  The way I came around to it is a bit unconventional, though, so I’ll share.

Way, way back in the day, when first Anaea pondered the question of marriage equality, she felt about marriage about the same way she feels about it now, i.e. I’m okay with other people shooting heroine in the privacy of their own home, so I suppose they can get married if that’s what they want.  If we were going to mix up the legal framework for marriage, though, I was in the “get the government out of marriage entirely,” school.  Turn marriage into a strictly religious and cultural event, get rid of the legal protections for marriage, this all sounded great to me.  I’d spent maybe a whopping forty seconds thinking about this, but the position felt consistent and coherent and I didn’t really care.

Then one cheery afternoon I happen to be listening to a radio interview with an anti-same-sex marriage guy.  He’s going off on a tear, enjoying the sound of his voice, and says something along the lines of, “If we let gay people get married, what next?  Plural marriage?”

Wait one hot minute Mr. Slippery Slope Man, you’ve just made this conversation about me.  And so I spent an additional five minutes thinking about the subject and concluded this: My original position was correct, valid, and worthy of an ideal world designed along Anaea’s utopian principals.  It also makes me an asshole.  We are never going to live in a utopia designed by me, so making real world decisions that affect real world people based on an impossibility when I’m practical in plenty of other positions is neither fair, nor reasonable.  Legalizing same sex marriage could feasibly happen (see the evidence of the intervening years) whereas abolishing the legal institution of marriage is as likely as me getting a mainstream presidential candidate who doesn’t make me gag.  Furthermore, there’s an element of dickery involved in saying, “I’d rather get rid of this thing than let you have it.”  Not intentional in the original position, but it’s there, and must be acknowledged.

So it was that my position evolved, I flipped my flop, and came out in support of same sex marriage way back before Ellen made it cool.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is why this article has me rolling on the floor laughing.  I’m not even offended, just amused beyond belief.  Or breathing, really.  Oh, Overton Window, how we shift thee.

h/t to Noah for the link.


No, Prissy is Not the Problem; Sam is

Once I was a staffer at a summer camp for high performing Chicago public school students.  Hanging out with them in the evenings, I just happened to have a copy of Gone With the Wind on DVD and since there was interest, hunkered down with a bunch of them.  One of the kids walked during the long shot of the Depot during the siege.  The one where you start with Scarlett looking for Doctor Meade while dying soldiers moan, and then backs up to reveal a lot of dying soldiers, then backs out more, and then more, until you’ve got an aerial shot of thousands of them.  At this point one of the boys who’d wandered in a few minutes before goes, “Why do you care?  They were Confederates.”  To which a girl answered, “They’re still people.  That’s a lot of people.”  “Meh,” says the boy, “they’re racists.”  This summarizes pretty neatly the loudest, most extensive argument I’m aware of about Gone With the Wind.

I went into it expecting to find an argument for people misreading it or applying modern context to an old book set in an older time.  I was cheering for this argument to be there, and I got a good long ways into the book with my fingers crossed.  I refuse to fault a book for using language that was considered appropriate at the time it was written, and would give decent leeway to anybody using that language when writing about the Civil War South, so the proliferation of racial slurs didn’t cut it for me.  I even gave it a pass on under serving the black characters in terms of development; none of the characters not part of the planter class get good development, black or white. (Slight exception for Belle, but that’s a consequence of using her to flesh out Rhett so I give no credit there)  I was even willing to grant a pass for the various house servants characterizing ex-slaves who embraced freedom as bad people; that happens in a caste system.  Qualifying all praise with a “for a negro” and relentlessly characterizing black actions as African, exotic, or animalistic was annoying, but similar stereotyping got employed for a whole host of things so that could be more lazy than racist.  Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t expect to finish the book and declare, “No problems here.”  I was pulling for a, “Given the context, I’d fault the time, not the individual work.”  But, er, then this happened.

De Cunnel, he a might fine man an’ he unnerstan’ niggers.  But his wife, she sumpin’ else.  His wife, she call me ‘Mister’ fust time sh eseed me.  Yas’m, she do dat an’ Ah lak ter drap in mah tracks w’en she do it. (772)

That’s Big Sam telling Scarlett what he’s been up to since the war.  He’s worked as a body servant, an upgrade from his position as a field hand, traveled all around up north, and after encountering yankee women who call him mister and want him to eat at the table with them, freaks out and runs home.  Nothing bad has happened to him, he’s got a good position and a good start, but he panics and runs back anyway.  And this is where I have to draw the line and call shenanigans.  It’s not that I don’t believe somebody in Sam’s position would do that; we certainly don’t have enough of a character developed for me to find it out of character.  Nope, I’m calling shenanigans because of the plot-engine that puts him in that carriage with Scarlett in the first place.

We didn’t need to see a freed slave running back to the plantation to drive home the point that a lot of abolitionist propaganda was, in fact, propaganda.  The sheer impracticality of beating and physically abusing slaves, or holding on to a massive population champing at the bit to escape is well established at this point.  Sam serves no other purpose after this; we don’t even see him at Tara, so there’s no reason it has to be him.  How much more powerful might it have been for it to be one of county boys, brought low and mean by the war, hanging out in Shanty Town and conveniently placed to rescue Scarlett from the robbers?  No, there was no character reason established for Sam to come back, the plot didn’t necessitate it.  Sam decided to flee the north because inside the framework of the book, that’s what anybody from his background and in his position would do.


He’s been promoted to body servant.  He gets to have a big joke over on the ignorant Yankees who don’t know better and pretend they think he’s as good as they are.  He’s got actual money with which to irresponsibly spoil himself.  Some people might freak out and run home, but the vast majority are going to run with it, either because they’re convinced it’s right or because it’s fun to get away with it or because after a lifetime of being coddled by others they utterly fail at self-care and fall apart or any other of a thousand reasons.  Sam was the one waiting in Shanty Town because the assumptions behind his character consist entirely of, 1) He’s a good negro and 2) Good negros go back to the plantation.  And this was less tragic, less wrenching, and had less tension than any of a dozen alternatives I can think of not operating on those premises.

I’ll forgive failure to develop whole classes of characters, dialog and character rendering that a post-Harlem Renaissance writer should have probably known better than to do, and a plot focus that is aggressively uninterested in the inner lives of a whole class of largely off-screen characters all day long.  This was shabby plotting.  Sam should never have been in that forest, and ten seconds of thinking about it with an understanding that even if we don’t care for this book, black people are human too would have made that obvious.

Of course, after that I remembered that the Irish weren’t white yet in 1936 so all of the various slights against Gerald for is Irishness are not just quaint but actually rather loaded, and most of the forgiving I’d done up to that point gets a bit thorny.  Especially when you consider that all of Scarlett’s less acceptable character traits get attributed to her similarity with Gerald.  So yeah, no good.

That said, I do think this book is mostly just aggressively disinterested in all but one narrow class of people rather than deliberately ignoring the fact that the rest of the world is still comprised of people.  It’s definitely launched from bad premises, but it’s mostly ignoring them and lazily relying on established literary convention.  In other words, yes, book is racist, but by default rather than design.  That’s an assessment, not an excuse.  I care, because paying attention to things like that affects how I analyze and read other aspects of the book.  I’d rank this as more of a sigh inducing level of bigotry than a rage inducing one.  But I’m a white Southerner in love with the book and knowing that, I’m going to side with both kids in the opening paragraph and say, “Yes, they’re still people so don’t be cruel.  But it’s okay if you’ve got better things to care about.”