Luc Reid Interviews Me

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a Ticklish Issue

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

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

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

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

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

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

The lesser of two…what, now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I voted in the Democratic primary.

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

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

On Feminists and Assholes

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

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

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

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

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

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

I opt for option 2.

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

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

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

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

Followup on Kelda Helen Roys

So here’s something that doesn’t happen all that often, even in my life: A congressional candidate called me last night.  Apparently Kelda Helen Roys is on the ball in responding to tetchy emails.  Seriously, she read the email, prepared a response, and dug up my number to deliver it in about 30 hours. That’s efficient.

She wanted to address my concerns, most importantly to deny having deliberately excluded men from the mailing.  They didn’t check addresses against property records, so didn’t know they were leaving off an owner, and Nick just never filtered his way into their database.  Now, I did check with other people to make sure it was a pattern before writing the letter, but I’ve seen the inside of campaign contact databses – they’re uniformly a disaster of bad design and crappy maintenance.  Also, my sample size in verifying was small since most people throw things like that away without looking at them.  If she says she only sent the letter to Sylvie and me because we were all she had in the database, I’m inclined to believe her.

Which absolves her of the really damning problem with the letter.  The rest of my points being annoyed nit-picks didn’t stop her from addressing them, too, which was nice.  I went to all the trouble of nit-picking, after all.

Let’s be honest.  She called me, from a non-blocked number, and wrapped the phone call by inviting me to write or call her back any time I had an issue.  That’s a lady who wants to get elected.  At this point, as far as I’m concerned, that’s a lady who deserves to get elected.  Information-oriented campaign letters followed up by personal phone calls to address concerns? Those are campaign tactics that ought to be encouraged, nay, rewarded.

So there it is, internet.  I withdraw my ire for Ms Roys and replace it with a hearty, “I think you just won my vote.  And possibly some support beyond that.”  From somebody who is currently planning to write in “Doomsday Device,” in the presidential election, that’s a big deal.

P.S. Since I know a great many people in her target demographics care, she says she’s not taking corporate money for her campaign, thus the direct outreach for fundraising.  I think refusing corporate money is like shooting yourself in the foot, but her constituency seems to like limping candidates, so it’s probably more clever than I’m crediting.  And now you know.

An Open Letter to Kelda Helen Roys

Dear Ms Roys,

Thank you for the letter you sent to my household last week outlining the major issues relevant to your congressional run, your stances on them, and your qualifications as you see them.  I’m always a fan of receiving information-oriented campaign materials, and approve of your decision to employ this tactic.  Unfortunately, the way you went about it and the actual content of the letter were so offensive that I will not be able to support you.

My biggest problem, frankly, is that the letter was addressed to me and  my tenant-roommate, Sylvie, but not Nick even though he’s my co-owner.  In asking around it seems that you did, in fact, uniformly target women for this letter, excluding male roommates, homeowners, tenants etc.  There are several implications that could be read into this decision by your campaign, the least offensive of which is that you think women need to feel like they’re being targeted as a specific demographic in order to support you.

Unfortunately, it seems to me that he likelier explanations, that you think men as a group will not find your appeals to defend against attacks on women’s rights worth reading, that you think I’d choose to own property and live with a misogynist, or that pointing at a threat to my uterus will make me more likely to blindly fork over money to your campaign, are devastatingly problematic for my perception of you as a worthy candidate.

In addition, while I applaud your attempt to shift the rhetorical discussion by proposing a requirement for men to undergo a “cardiac stress test and rectal exam before receiving a prescription for Viagra,” I should hope you recognize that this is in fact horrifically bad policy.  Proposing the legislation to make a rhetorical point to the opposition is one thing, but using it in your campaign materials as if it’s a good idea inclines me to suspect you don’t see it as a merely rhetorical device.  In short, I should not be your audience when talking about this legislation, the opposition should be.

Finally, I’m rather disturbed by the fact that this letter appears to ignore the fact that you are currently running in a primary against Mark Pocan and does nothing to address why you’re the better candidate in congress than him.  Do you expect me to assume you’ll have the nomination and if so, on what grounds?  Or am I meant to assume that because you are female and he is male, he will not be as effective in protecting my rights as you are?  If that’s the case, I urge you to reconsider your entire perception of gender politics as they appear to be base on fallacies which, if reversed, would be obvious.

Robo-calling my cell phone did not help endear you to me.

You clearly mean well and I applaud you for your intentions.  Your actual execution, however, is unacceptable to me.  I hope you learn and do better next time.



My Presidential Election Predictions

We’re months out from the Presidential election which means it’s time to make predictions that I can point back to later and go, “Look at me!  I was right!” or “Look at what wacky unpredictable things happened since that was the obvious conclusion!”

My prediction is this: It’ll be close, but Mitt Romney will win.  The world will not end.

Also, if Romney picks Walker as his running mate (something that will not happen), he’ll have me cheering for him to win.  Not voting for him, but cheering.  And, of course, once Walker resigns to take office, I’ll be giving Mitt Romney $1,000.

A Bounty-ful Birthday

Today is my birthday.  I’ve been in a bad mood for a couple weeks, and have decided that for my birthday, I will give myself the means to cure it.  That’s what this is.

I am, as of this moment, putting a bounty on Scott Walker’s governorship.  Anybody who can demonstrate that they are the proximal cause of Scott Walker resigning as governor of Wisconsin will receive a bounty of not less than $1,000.  That’s what I’m putting into the pot, though if other people are willing to contribute, I will organize it and post the updated totals.

If you offer Scott Walker a job that is so good, he resigns to take it, I will give you $1,000.

If you dig up a scandal so egregious that Scott Walker resigns in shame, I will give you $1,000 (and mad props, because I can’t imagine what would actually shame him into resigning)

If you do something illegal that causes Scott Walker to resign, I will first consult a lawyer, then if I’m told it won’t get me sent to jail, I will give you $1,000.

I am not soliciting anything illegal.  If your plot for getting Walker to resign requires illegal action and you go through with it, that is up to you and done on your own responsibility.

I’m also willing to pay out the bounty in goods of equal value if, for some reason, you’d prefer that.

This is not a joke.  I am dead serious.  If you want to help, or have an idea, contact me.  This is plan B, and I’m ready to work just as hard on it as I did on plan A.

Fuck democracy.

I say Vagina. You say…?

Like a distressing number of other places in the country, Michigan has some ridiculous anti-abortion laws working their way through their legislature.  There was an incident where one lawmaker, a woman, dared to use that crude, offensive, highly inflammatory word sometimes deployed by the perverse to refer to her own genitalia.  I am, of course, referring to the word “vagina.”

This is not a rant about that.  Rather, I want you to read this.

I am a little bit in love with that blog post, and in large part because it does a really good job of ranting about something horrible, something unquestionably bad and stupid, of skewering and insulting the enemy, but does it with some sense of understanding about where the other side is coming from.  Specifically, read this paragraph:

Bruce Rendon is not an evil man, just a simple one. He has an associates degree in how to draw a straight line. He’s in the construction business just like his daddy used to be, and his idea of a god-fearing good time is judging dairy cows at county fairs. That’s fine. The world needs men who pin prize ribbons on cattle, but those men should not be given the power to legislate complex bioethical issues, because that’s how wars on women get started.

I’m won at the first sentence.  But the rhetoric from there is just gorgeous.  Look at the contrasting placement of “god-fearing” in the description of Rendon with “bioethical” in the description of the task at hand.  The connotative imagery each one summons clashes beautifully to make the point, i.e. that this guy is way out of his league.

Yet despite the invective, despite the fantastic skewering, there’s a way out for Rendon, a way to still see him as human.  There’s a reference to his father which, even while it makes it easy to write him off, (it’s loaded with the implication that he had no ambition of his own) it reminds you that he has a father.  Somebody doing this rant poorly would have opted for something generically “bad” as the fill-in for his idea of a good time.  Instead, the Coquette gives us cattle and county fairs, things her audience is likely to consider lowly and insulting, but not remotely the moral equivalent of kicking kittens.

This rant is fair.  This rant is appropriate.  This, this is ranting like a grown-up.  Do this, not the other thing.

h/t @wilw for link that led me to this

Election Day

In case you missed the memo, today is election day in Wisconsin.  If you’re going to vote for Barrett, go vote!

Yesterday I had a great deal of fun while killing myself with too much canvassing.  During my first turf, I met a lady who claimed she’s a life-long Democrat voting for Walker.  She was horrified by the senators fleeing the state, and thinks the Recall is a waste of time and money, etc.  “I’m a life-long not-Democrat who called my Senator to thank him for leaving, and am so horrified by what the Republicans are doing I’m on your porch and would like to argue with you.  Do you mind?”  She did not mind.  It was awesome.  No minds were changed, but I knew there had to be somebody like her out there in the world, and I got to be the one to find her.

Honestly, I’ve been getting so much awesome sent my way in the last ten days, I’m terrified we’re about to lose big just for cosmic balance.  Yeah, my superstitious tendencies are weirdly paranoid.

On my third turf out yesterday (lesson learned: two turf limit!), I made a woman cry by agreeing with her.  I have no idea whether she was a Barrett supporter or a Walker supporter, though given the targeting of the list I was working probably the former.  She was one of the last doors I hit, and apparently I was the last of the four groups out canvassing to reach her.  She’d also been called several times, and has apparently been watching TV and listening to the radio.  In short, she was very stressed and well past her tolerance for being campaigned at.  I just let her go, venting about how everything has divided the state, how fortunately she still gets along with her neighbors but that’s not the case for many other people, how of course everybody is going to vote and they made up their minds months ago so could we all just go home and stop wasting our time and bothering people?  I did a lot of nodding and making sympathetic noises, and by the time she was done she was crying.  If I were a nicer person, I’d have offered her a hug.  It didn’t even occur to me she might want one until I’d walked away.

Here’s the thing; her facts were wrong, but her sentiments were right.  It’s not a waste of time to canvass, because people are crap at actually going and voting, and this election is going to be all about turnout.  The state was deeply divided before the Recall efforts started, it was just easier for people to ignore.  I mentioned all of that to her, and she nodded and kept going because at this point, for her, the technicalities of the situation don’t matter anymore.  She’s had this huge, ginormous, high-stakes thing thrown at her all out of sync with how it’s supposed to work, and she’s in for five more months of this for the presidential election after today.  It’s overwhelming, and hostile, and unfair and the only way for her to escape it is to cut off her media access to the outside world, and to stop answering her phone and door.

This in a state with a reputation for frustrating pollsters because people don’t talk politics, even to strangers for science.

This election is absurd on so many levels, I have trouble communicating it.  Part of that, for me, is my confusion that locking the capital and violating the open meetings laws not only aren’t such an outrage that those alone are enough to guarantee a successful election, but that I seem to be the only person still talking about them.  It’s really hard for me to disagree with people arguing that the recall is just a bunch of sore losers out for retribution when their campaign looks exactly like that.  But this recall isn’t about rehashing 2010, at least not for me.  The Democrats stayed home, and they got what they deserved.  Maybe they’ll learn their lesson and show up next time, end of story.  I’m okay with that story.

What I’m not okay with is a government which has rules about how it goes about being the government, and doesn’t follow them.  The Republicans saying, “Hey, we’ve got both houses of the legislature and the Governor’s office, we’re doing what we like and you’re going to suck it up,” makes them assholes, but that’s what you get for letting them win.  It’s the Republicans saying, “We have the majorities, so now we’re above the rules,” where the line gets drawn.  This recall is about saying, hey, we’re not anarchists for a reason.  The Game is badly designed, rigged, and full of idiots and jerks and people who don’t play with the same win conditions, but there are rules to the Game, and if they aren’t going to be followed, then I may as well turn anarchist.

I think, in a way, that’s what overwhelmed my crying lady.  Everything is falling apart, nobody is actually talking about it, and she can’t cope.  Losing today means that over a year ago, Scott Walker dissolved the government of Wisconsin, and got away with it.  Winning today means, not that the government got saved, because nobody’s running on saving the government, but that Scott Walker dissolved the government of Wisconsin, and got slapped for it.  Whether we’re still facing anarchy is a whole other question.

I really should have offered that lady a hug.