Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

The Zen of Lazy

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I am a lazy individual.

This comes as some surprise to my son and co-workers. They see me attempt to be hyper-organized, and wonder how the #%# I could possibly consider myself lazy.

My current laziness started when I was in Basic Training. Every recruit needed to have a chore, some kind of responsibility. I broke the basic rule of being in the military. I volunteered.

I volunteered to write the next day's schedule on the barracks whiteboard. Every evening, while my squadmates would be doing some other kind of chore - say, doing the latrine - I would be smelling the petroleum scent of dry-erase markers.

It was easy to find the Beetle Bailey types - they were either hiding and sleeping, or they were being screamed at by drill sergeants. I, on the other hand, was barely working... but I *was* working, so I was never in trouble.

That is the first Zen of True Laziness.

The second Zen of True Laziness was taught to me at oh-dark-thirty in the morning. My breath rasped into clouds as I ran, trying to keep up with my platoon sergeant. He was running us at a brutal pace in frosty air that burned our lungs.

"Why do you like running so much?" I managed to wheeze at him.

"I don't."

I almost stopped, stumbling over my feet, then falling back into the run.

"I hate running," he continued. "But I know I have to do it, so I'd rather get it done faster and get it out of the way... so I can do something else."

That is the second Zen of True Laziness.

When, nearly a decade later, I heard David Allen say of "Think now so you don't have to think later," it made perfect intuitive sense. An amateur goof-off will trade a bit of leisure (with the anxiety of being discovered) now for having to do the same work - and probably getting some negative repercussions - later.

The smart goof-off figures out exactly what has to be done, gets it done in the most efficient way possible, and so does the minimum of work. That way, they can get back to the rest of their lives.

So, how are you going to be lazy today?

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Because I am the Queasy Shipwrap

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Gladly ganked from Kelly Swails' LJ blog:

The world bursts at the seams with people ready to tell you you're not good enough. On occasion, some may be correct. But do not do their work for them. Seek any job; ask anyone out; pursue any goal. Don't take it personally when they say "no"--they may not be smart enough to say "yes." --Keith Olbermann

Which goes with my favorite demotivational poster:

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Ohio, keeping it classy.

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Comedians have wondered who they will mock if when Sen. Obama wins the Presidency. Bush has been a godsend for them. Who will they mock next? I believe
this man may be the answer to their prayers.

A Warren County judge will decide whether Sen. Barack Obama's name can appear on Ohio election ballots after listening Thursday, Oct. 30, to a Turtlecreek Twp. man's claim that the Democratic candidate is not a U.S. citizen and cannot be elected president. ..Neal wants a court order to remove Obama's name from ballots to be used in the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 4.

Yes, I know we've all heard this before. And that it's been roundly debunked, since Sen Obama's Certification of Live Birth was released and put on the internet.. But wait - what new information does this man have?

In his lawsuit and during the hearing, Neal cited numerous Web sites as sources of information to challenge Obama's birthplace.

Because, as you know, the Internet is never wrong.

Well, at least this man has a reputable business...

Neal said he owns a company that sells products to help users of illegal drugs pass employers' drug screenings.

Comedians have NOTHING to worry about. Nothing.

(Side note: Snopes article - shockingly, on a web site - pointing out how much of an idiot this guy is.)

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Diversity of Food Week

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"And for Diversity Week, we're going to have Lebanese food!"

"Ah," I said. "We'll do that instead of assessing the structural effects that cause housekeeping and food services to be predominately people of color and keep the technological jobs here for white people, right?"

Don't get me wrong. I like Lebanese food - at least, what I've tried so far. I also realize that trying diverse foods can be a useful experience. In my wife's classes, one of the most popular sessions is when everyone brings in some kind of unfamilar "ethnic" food... preferably one from their own self-identified ethnicity.

Those are only beginning steps, a way to acclimatize people to the idea that "different" is not the same as "bad". Ritualizing it, repeating it with the same people over and over again (as might happen in a workplace's Diversity Week instead of a college class the students will only take once) flips the result of the experience.

Instead of being an introduction and familiarization to unfamiliar ways, it compartmentalizes them. A ritual of "ethnic" food definitionally separates it from "normal" - that is, mainstream White culture - food. Unintentionally, these "celebrations" of diversity may cause a further separation, a feeling that people of color are "other" rather than fellow human beings.

It will be a difficult task to reorient diversity initiatives back towards meaningful change and celebration instead of token gestures. My suggestion of examining our lack of integration was met with a half-joking half-slur of being called a socialist.

I laughed, and told him I wasn't a socialist. We went our ways, but I will bring it up again. And again. Every time we become complacent, we must challenge it.

It took nearly six years to get my co-workers to stop asking for "strong men" to help with lifting tasks. Now, people just ask for "help" or "some people". All it took was constantly, consistently, half-jokingly calling them "sexists" or "tools of the patriarchy".

We all laughed when I'd say it. I'd even go out of my way to be silly about it.

But their behavior changed.

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Shifting the Definition of Greed

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Yesterday, Sen. McCain made an interesting comment. He claimed that the definition of "rich keeps creeping down." I don't think someone who owns more houses than he has fingers has any right to complain about being called rich, but that's not the point. The point is that our models of reality are moving targets.

Think about this for a minute. Think back to the way your parents lived, your grandparents, and beyond. The quality of life, the sheer amount of STUFF that people have these days is staggering. I got to see my grandmother's original washing machine with the rollers for a wringer. I got to use it too - and wonder how, exactly, it saved time. My other grandmother still rings off quickly, remembering when a long distance phone call was an expensive luxury.

Entertainment is another great example. I remember when Walkmen - the original, tape deck ones - came out. I remember when movies rarely appeared on network TV, or when VCRs first came on the scene. We are, compared to even thirty years ago, living in a plethora of entertainment. It wasn't all that long ago that people had to literally go somewhere to hear music unless they made it themselves.

Yet we still think we're bored.

My son had gotten used to having dessert a while back. One night we simply didn't prepare one, and he got mad. He *expected* his dessert, and we were wrong and unfair to keep it from him. Perhaps it was part of an evil plot to "redistribute" dessert.

Or perhaps he was spoiled. He was so used to getting a luxury that he believed it was a necessity.

Our entire culture - myself included - lives in fantastic wealth compared to most people on the globe. People very much like you, me. People with hopes and dreams and feelings. People who look at the things we take for granted as fantastic excess.

We adapt our perceptions to what's around us. Our *idea* of poverty and wealth shifts and flows. We do not consider ourselves "richer" than the generation before, though we have access to entertainments they could not obtain. We have more things, more electronics, and better communications than anyone could buy decades ago. But yet we consider these things commonplace, not part of being rich.

But unlike being "rich", there is a baseline for poverty, an absolute zero.

That actual zero of poverty - that point where someone cannot survive - that zero cannot be shifted by a concept, an idea, or a bit of paper.

We - almost by definition anyone who is reading these words on a computer screen - are rich in comparison to the unshifting line of global poverty.

In our homes of excess, how dare we complain about helping others who have less than us? How greedy must we be?

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One note wonder

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As I read through another survey of sociological theories, I'm struck by the repetition of a single theme: That all actions have a single theme.

Things are more complicated and multifaceted than that. It's pretty obvious in our experienced lives; power relationships explain some things well, psychological theory explains others, biological urges and social grouping pressures others. Work, perhaps, is an excellent example.

Yesterday I mentioned the power struggle and power differentials between workers (collectivized or not) and capitalists - whether the petty bourguoise of middle management or the full-on capitalists of CEOs and executives. That power structure exists in any traditionally organized structure. It might be denied, but underlying every aspect of that relationship is the realization that the manager has power over the worker. This inherently skews the relationship and information that management gets. This always exists in corporate relationships - unless we actively work to eliminate it.

In The Seven-Day Weekend: Changing the Way Work Works, (you WANT to read this book) Ricardo Semler explains how a flattened heirarchial structure and shared goals lead his company to work together. There, management explicitly shares power, decision making authority, and full information with all of the workers. By acknowledging the power structure, it can then be actively dismantled. In Semler's organization, he can be rather sure that he's getting 100% from all of his workers - and accurate information about what's going on. How does he know this? When Brazil underwent its own financial problems in the 90's, Semler's employees collaborated on how to divide up work and layoffs to best benefit (or at least, do the minimum of harm) to both the company and the other employees! When power structures and relationships are open and visible they can be worked with, and seemingly intractable problems suddenly disappear.

It's this way with any of the differential structures - racism, sexism, ableism, hetero-ism, and the like. When those realities are ignored, they simply cannot be dealt with.

It is uncomfortable to talk about and deal with. But for there to be any hope of resolving these issues so that we can move towards common goals - at work or in our society in general - we must discuss them openly, honestly, and continously.

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This was a trial

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There are few things that I can really claim from my home state of West Virginia. I prefer valleys and hills to plains. I like forests. Because of my hometown, I like the idea of an eclectic downtown. And, perhaps most importantly, I understand the need for uniions.

It really wasn't all that long ago that mining companies would hire unsuspecting immigrants, placing them in company towns and paying them in company scrip. It took strikes and violence to expose the greed of companies.

Nevermind that unions eventually became too powerful and corrupt. They - along with the realization that Marx *would* be right unless they changed ways - forced capitalism to alter its course somewhat.

I'm reminded of that when I hear a co-worker tick off the places that unions don't belong. "Hospitals, police, fire, sanitation, schools, power, heat" he says, listing the most vital needs of a society. But I have to disagree, passionately. The very argument that they are vital is the reason *why* they should be allowed to be unionized.

Take nurses, for example. It is far too easy to find examples of overworked nurses, responsible for so many patients that it is infeasible for anyone to competently finish their job. They are held to an impossible standard, and so find themselves negatively reviewed for doing the best that anyone could do.

Why shouldn't teachers be paid more? Or police officers, or firemen?

If they are so important that there can be no interruption of services, then perhaps they should be paid more, have more resources, or have better hours.

Instead, by even advancing the *idea* that they should be forced to work for lower wages and benefits, in worse conditions than they could bargain for collectively, we are condoning a real kind of wage-slavery. If we really value these jobs, these services, these *people* then it follows that they should see similar benefits in wages. That they aren't demonstrates the real values of our society.

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Slaughtering the Great Pumpkin

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You missed it.

The fourth annual Pumpkin Massacre went off quite well, despite forecasts earlier in the week of rain and nastiness. It's a great party theme - you actually DO something. Adults get to be kids again, kids get to... well, be kids, and my wife makes wonderful chili.

So here are the Flickr sets for the last three years:

And if that doesn't get your Halloween goodness going, hearken on over to Escape Pod and listen to The Great Old Pumpkin. It does contain, after all, "dark imagery and terrifying fruit."

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Asylum - A 100 Word Story

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The current weekly challenge is on the topic "Asylum". As always, you can read my entry below, and hear it alone here. You can read the rest of the entries (and hear them) at 100 Word Stories and vote for your favorites!

I slam against the gate of the American embassy. The Marines watch, ordered to keep the gate closed. I plead, beg, but they raise their M16s at me... and at the policemen chasing me. One pursuer, groaning, loses a rotting finger.

I recognize the female Marine. I had begged her for safety for my merely political crimes, back when the police just wanted to torture my flesh.

She slides a revolver with a single bullet through the bars. A tear slips down her dusty, expressionless face. The hungry police shamble down the street. I salute her and raise the pistol.

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Uncomfortable Correctness

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I've often told people that political correctness is a reaction to people being impolite, little more. But it's still worthwhile, I'd say, and being done for all the right reasons.

I think I was wrong. Political correctness has shifted, and become overoppressive for all the wrong reasons.

Language is power. The ways you label someone, the ways you call someone have a deep and direct effect on their lives. Originally, this was the point of political correctness. It was to explicitly call out the demeaning language, the slurs and ethnopaulisms. By naming the behaviors, by outlawing the behaviors, the hope was that the behaviors would go away.

This is not what happened.

Instead, it became impolite to even discuss the subject at all. The moment that happened, the moment that those with privelege began to claim outrage for themselves, the moment that injustices became silenced to avoid ruffling feathers, political correctness became a tool of oppression. We feel that we cannot talk about race, gender, or class without being branded as impolite.

No, really. White people don't like talking about race.

White people – including children as young as 10 -- may avoid talking about race so as not to appear prejudiced, according to new research. But that approach often backfires as blacks tend to view this "colorblind" approach as evidence of prejudice, especially when race is clearly relevant.

We cannot examine the realities that crimes of hate might just exist, even if they are never labeled hate crimes. We have nod-and-wink racist dogwhistles in campaigns (though, of course, everyone claims innocence). We have a Vice-Presidential candidate being subjected to ugly smears just because of her gender. We have Sen. McCain getting booed at his own rally for defending Sen. Obama. And we still have black people getting killed by white people when nobody's looking, almost like it was a decade ago. (That not enough? Read further down in the same story where the same town "was in the news last year after a black girl was sentenced to up to seven years in a juvenile prison hundreds of miles from her home for shoving a teacher's aide at school, while a white girl was sentenced by the same judge to probation for burning down her parents' house.")

This isn't some subtle matter of perception - there are real damn reasons for people of color, women, gblt, and the differently abled to think they're being persecuted. But talking about it makes people uncomfortable, which leads to the discussions being stifled (wrongly) in the name of political correctness.

You see, political correctness isn't about everyone being comfortable. Facing up to the privelege that we have, facing the real challenges and difficulties is inherently not comfortable.

But it damn well might be correct.

[Edit: My wife opines that this might be self-censorship; because of specific experiences I think that the self-censorship is based in suppresion from those higher up on the social ladder.]

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Agnostic Ghost

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"I don't believe in ghosts," I told her, "even though I want to."

That was different enough from either of my co-worker's opinions for them to stop and look at me. I took another breath and jumped further into the breach.

"After our cat died," I said, "I saw him for the next few months." One co-worker scoffed, while the other started to agree with me... but I cut her off. "But I don't know that I *did* see him. I wanted to, sure. I want to believe that our cat is in a better place, or watching over us, but that's not proof."

"But you *saw* him," the believer protested.

"That's not proof, though. People love to see things and patterns that aren't really there. I can't tell you whether or not my brain was simply fooling me."

This is the dilemma that Descartes found himself up against a few hundred years ago. (I'm writing this (and these other papers) so you don't have to read it; Descartes may have been a genius, but he could have used a good editor.)

He realized that a demon could hypothetically alter his perceptions. How could he know that reality existed? How could he know what was real?

It is from this dilemma that his most famous statement comes: "I think, therefore I am." Because no matter what alters the sensory perceptions, the act of reflecting on them implies a real actor being able to reflect.

This, in turn, opens the road to dualism and the idea that the body and senses are not the same thing as the intellect, It's this dualism that leaves the way open to rationally consider in a separate spirit from the biology of the body... and therefore, ghosts.

I would love to see evidence - preferably through Randi's challenge - of the paranormal. But until there's evidence outside my own head, *outside* my own senses, it seems that all I have is this untrustworthy narrator of a brain.

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Fleeing the room

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It's interesting to see what happens when I talk about privilege at work. Not just with the people I'm talking to, but the other people in the room. Their reaction can be easily summarized: the darker their skin, the faster they leave the room. Women are usually next, unless they're the ones bringing the argument up (for example, today's assertion that Oprah "blames the white man"). This leaves me as the one arguing equal rights, arguing against racism, arguing against privilege.

I'm not entirely comfortable with this. It feels like I'm usurping a role, fighting a fight that isn't mine. Do women, minorities, and people inhabiting the lower class (social and economic) really WANT me to be picking these fights? And yet, I know I've got the privilege to burn... and they don't. I think I know why they don't take part in these conversations, why they avoid any discussion about the forces that have directly affected them in their lives. Privately, they'll agree with me, and say they support what I'm doing... but it's still hard to shake the feeling when they leave the room.

I hope and try I come off as a teaspooner, but I'm never entirely sure.

It's also puzzling how people will see - clearly - one form of privilege but actively deny others. Today, I had conversations about class, gender, and racial privilege with people at work. Usually, they'd accept any one of the three... but deny the other two (even when one of those other two worked against them). For example, they'd gladly admit that racism was real, but sexism and classism weren't valid. "Those are completely different," they'd say, or claim that they were historical forces that weren't relevant now. "I didn't live when people acted like that," they said, not realizing that it was their privilege that hid modern examples from them.

Once, while trying to reduce things back to principles ("So, while we disagree on how bad things are, we both agree that people get oppressed for their gender or race"), I was actually interrupted for the other person to restate their original talking point.

"I thought we were about to agree," I said, "but you interrupted to restate your original position. That's not really cool."

Naming the behavior stopped them for a moment, but the agreement was as forced as Sarah Palin's non-agreement with Joe Biden on gay marriage.

Ah, well. I'm mostly venting, but any tactics and techniques you might have that help bring awareness of the systemic effects would be greatly appreciated.

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Humor - a little teaspoon of equality at a time

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Things have changed for women in my lifetime. You just have to look at the humor.

When I was growing up, blonde jokes were everywhere. Let's be clear - *DUMB* blonde jokes. Of course, these were never dumb blonde *men*. They were ethnopaulisms, except about women instead of a race. It's only with the perspective I have now that I can see that this was a reaction to the growing strength of feminism in the world around me.

But I haven't heard a blonde joke in years. I'm sure they're told - but they're not nearly as ubiquitous as they used to be.

I think it's because a tipping point has been reached. Remember, humor and laughter can commonly be an in-group vs. out-group marker. Sometimes the relationship there is complicated - and the people getting out-grouped aren't the same people it appears to be. Spamalot's song about needing Jewish people to have a successful Broadway show appears to be such a thing - it's self-referential nature is obviously satire at the people who would take the words at face value.

Blonde jokes don't have that level of sophistication, though. Perhaps a few that "turned the tables" - in fact, I believe those might be the last few of the genre I've seen - fit that category. But by and large, they're obviously sexist and simply No Longer Acceptable (and therefore No Longer Funny).

And I really noticed it at the RenFair.

We went to the Renaissance Festival last weekend for our 5th anniversary. The opening ceremony/opening act involved the mayor, his wife, and a local dim-witted lord. The "mayor", after learning the lord had given his money to pirates to invest, shouted out, "Why, you're almost as stupid as SHE is!"

The crowd, which had been laughing throughout, was silent. The joke bombed. Completely.

Yes, there's a long way to go. Shakespeare's Sister has excellent sexism watches and racism watches. The sheer amount of sexist vitriol both Sen. Clinton and Gov. Palin have had to endure - not because of policy, but because of *gender* - demonstrate we're not done with this struggle.

But the bombing of a sexist joke at a Renfair is a volley of teaspoons towards winning this fight.

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Principles of Politics

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I had a political discussion at work today.

I didn't want to. I tend to be overbearing and info-dumpy when it comes to politics, and I didn't think the client wanted that. In addition, I'm pretty sure that the client and I were not going to vote for the same candidates.

But our political discussion was civil, polite - and full of agreements.

Even though I still think we're voting for different people, we spent the entire conversation agreeing on almost everything... because we weren't actually talking about the candidates.
We weren't even talking about specific issues, either - and I think that was largely why were always agreeing.

We were talking about principles.

This kind of discussion has been largely lacking from the public sphere. I'm highly supportive of attempts to bring it back as well. The basic idea goes like this:

You and I disagree on a policy point. Why is that disagreement there? What are you trying to achieve with that policy? What am I trying to achieve? Bringing the discussion back to this level - rather than specific policies or implementations - allows us to start over without the ideology.

Welfare (or TANF, I believe it's called now) is a wonderful example. Why do I support wealth-distribution programs? Because people in bad situations need money to help them get out of them... and sometimes, they simply need that money to survive. Why do some people (my mom among them) oppose such programs? Because they don't want to give someone a free ride.

Thing is - the former group doesn't want to give anyone a free ride either. And the latter group is rarely opposed to helping those who need it. The existent policy debate obscures this fundamental agreement of principles and ideals.

At the level of discourse now, it feels like a disagreement on policy *is* a disagreement on principles, when it's nothing of the sort. By backing up a philosophical step, we can remove that emotional trigger from the policy debate, and perhaps actually get back to doing the things we're arguing about.

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Showing your (writing) hand...

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I've physically met a few of the people whose blogs I read regularly. Pat Rothfuss is one of them. I mention him specifically, because I was sharing his political post with my wife and ended up saying: "The way he writes? He's exactly like that in real life, too. It is the awesome."

Which, aside from relating my levels of geekery in actually saying "the awesome" (and I would've said 'teh awesums!!1!' if it was possible), got me to thinking about the rest of the people I know who blog. Which led to a bit of a self-evident revelation: You're all like your writing.

Or, rather, we're all like our writing. Sure, I've said this blog is me thinking out loud to myself a few times, but, well, it *is*. I really do careen between discussing Mead's implications for political candidates to ... well, ninjas. Or dinosaurs. Maybe this doesn't hold for intermittent blogs - ones where occassional posts are obviously given time to be thought out... but for anyone who updates nearly daily (or more), there simply isn't time to filter the underlying sensibilities of the person. While this seems self-evident once said (or written), we seem to carry around these contradictory opinions about it in our head. That perhaps writers aren't like what they... well, write... and then the opposite. That is, that we are like what we write.

It's our own damn fault, really. While we're quick to point out that our characters aren't ourselves (strengthening point A), we definitely infuse a lot of bits from ourselves into our characters (strengthening point B). But when we're no longer talking about straight fiction - when we're talking about people blogging on a nearly daily basis - we aren't pulling a Locke and Demosthenes.

I think this is generally a good thing. Too often, fans "know" an artist only through their work... and that can lead to a really, really skewed picture of someone. Having them essentially writing fireside chats - in their real persona - still leaves the problem of fandom knowing far more about an artist than the artist knows about fandom, but at least it gives us a real idea of the real person there.

Of course, if you're trying to disguise your political leanings... well, not so much there. ;P

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And then you put it in the blender... A 100 Word Story

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Once again, I have a 100 word story in the Weekly Challenge. This week's challenge was "And then you put it in the blender". Please stop by the 100 Word Story site to vote for mine... er, your favorites. You can read my story alone below, or hear it by itself here. You can, as always, read and hear the rest of the stories at the 100 Word Story site. Be sure to vote for your favorite!

It wasn't supposed to be like this. The guests praise the drinks, my bartending skills. It is part of why Vinnie's parties are popular.

I used to be the bad child, "not gonna amount to nothing"; a stark contrast to my sister's channeled angel... until Vinnie took me in. A foot soldier, then lieutenant, now barkeep and "cleaner". I'd straightened up even as gambling devoured my sister's bank account, house, marriage. Her debts got out of hand. Her assets were...liquidated.

"Howdja get your Bloody Marys so good?" a mobster calls at me.

"Family secret," I say, heading towards the kitchen.

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Emotionality Sucks Ass

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I've noticed a weird tendency over the last four years.

I cry more.

I get choked up, too. I still don't like tear-jerkers, either. I mean things like Dr. Horrible and Iron Man, or TED talks about XRTB. Stuff that might be emotional... but, c'mon!~

I am enough of a sociologist to note that this is because I no longer have to "keep it together" 24/7 all the time. My norming community - such as it is - is changing to one more accepting of such gestures and expressions of emotion. This also happens a lot to guys when they retire; it's the force of the male gender role breaking down.

Guys are supposed to be emotionless - at least, as far as sadness goes. Rage is okay, but not much else. That kind of crappy stereotype sinks into your head - whether you consciously buy into it or not. How do I know? I never consciously bought into it. But apparently I did. So now I'm experiencing a level of emotionality I'm not used to, a frequency of emotionality I'm not used to. This is supposed to be liberating, empowering, and being a full human being.

I have one question.

How do I make it stop again?

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Pro-Choice and Anti-Abortion: A Manifesto

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It is difficult to get a simple issue to fit into a soundbite. Even Jesus' two greatest commandments required some commentary when another asked "Who's my neighbor?" So we shouldn't be surprised that an issue like abortion utterly fails to fit into a brief blurb.

But yet, we're expected to adhere to these simplified black and white paradigms. People keep getting reduced to being either for or against abortion, in all situations or not. And that is a load of crap.

Extremists on BOTH sides of this issue have demanded that politicians, churchgoers, and regular folks adhere to their oversimplistic views of the world. The slogans and jargon of both camps of extremists leaves out large groups of real people wrestling with the real effects of this issue. For all their posturing, "life chains" and protests, neither group has really done much except piss the other off. And both forget real people and complicated situations along the way - or that the other side has real (and even good) arguments for holding their position.

So, enough with them. I say we find a way to actually do something. The first step is to find some axioms about reality. So I suggest these:

  1. Making something illegal is not the same as stopping it from happening. I don't believe I need to explain that difference to you all. I don't like it, but it's so.

  2. We are not all going to agree when life starts during pregnancy. I think my definition is wonderful, logical, and consistent; I have very smart people tell me I'm full of crap and their definition is better, at which point I return the favor.

  3. Some children are not wanted by their biological parent(s). I am sure that afterschool special moments occur where a parent realizes that they did really want to child after all. But it doesn't seem to happen often enough to make it a tenent of our proposal here. Some children aren't wanted by the people who bear them. I don't like this either, by the by.

  4. Nobody - outside of these kooks likes abortion. 'Nuff said.

  5. I do not have the right to dictate choices for your body. Because barring a solid agreement for #2, this one is completely up for grabs.

Obviously, the biggest sticking point - the one we always get to when actually discussing this - is the second. When does life start? I say, screw it. Let's make that little philosophical pea under the mattress irrelevant. What we can agree on, then, is to reduce the number of abortions while still preserving the rights and liberties of women. It's a big task, but here's some ways we can start - while stil acknowledging the axioms above.

  • Maintain a focus on the welfare of already living men, women, and especially children.
  • Provide substantial support for adoption instead of fertility treatments. Yes, every pro-lifer should not only be protesting fertility treatment due to the wasting of zygotes, but because each one of those children takes away from the pool of people who could adopt a child.

  • Advocate a change in our language and conception of family: Adopted kids are YOUR kids, period. No modifiers, no hedges.

  • Promote comprehensive birth control and sex ed to all people. These programs do not change the number of kids having sex - but they do change the number of kids that get pregnant. See axiom #1 as well.

  • Progressive, gradiated government assistance to families - especially those who adopt. Too often, those getting government assistance have an "all or nothing" choice. Make a dollar too much, and you lose it all. That's a good reason to not try. And struggling families do need help - with rising costs of daycare, education (for themselves and their children), and medical attention.

  • Probably the most difficult one is this: Available morning after pills and safe abortions - perhaps with some kind of counseling afterward. It's not because anyone's condoning or encouraging it - it's because we already accepted axiom #1 as true. I'd rather that a woman who felt forced to get an abortion be able to do so safely than be in a back alley. That the abortion would happen in such a case is, IMHO, a foregone conclusion. Therefore, the best way to preserve the most life is to make sure the mother is safe.

  • The counseling bit is a difficult call. It's too hard to accurately tell why women (in aggregate) feel the need to get an abortion. There's lots of social pressure to give appropriate answers, and many people have an agenda to push. In my experience, I've known women who had abortions because they were essentially forced to by their families and significant others, women who knew their child would die shortly after birth... but I've never actually heard of someone using an expensive medical procedure as a replacement for a cheap condom. Maybe there are, and maybe we can find counselors who can be interested in helping women choose better choices - without preaching or condeming. I suspect it would be hard.

    These aren't perfect suggestions, I know. They won't solve the problem by themselves - and I can already think of ways they could be abused. But they are the beginning of a path away from here, away from a divisiveness that simply doesn't even address the problem.

    Talk about it. Here. Elsewhere. Just don't keep doing the same old crap.

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Tired (not) Stalker Goodness

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It's a tiring sort of day, and though I have a few topics I'd like to cover, I simply don't have the energy for it. So, a few brief observations:

  • After overhearing a few twentysomethings talk among themselves at a local cafe, I realize that dialogue simply CANNOT be written the way people actually talk. The letters L-I-K-E would either seize up on a keyboard, or someone'd make a macro.

    Which actually gets vaguely deep vaguely quickly - because dialogue in fiction must sound the way we think conversations go... while not actually reproducing them. Which suggests a lot about how we shoehorn conversations in everyday life, doesn't it?

  • Before I get more serious, Jim Hines is running a charitable auction to support the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Check it out:

  • Jim Hines mentioned being stalked in the past - something I worried about for a while, then stopped caring about. Even before I became more "real-name" friendly online, it would have been a relatively trivial thing for a determined antagonist to find me IRL.

  • I don't want to take away from Jim's emotion - I understand it better than a casual observer might expect. Being stalked - or even vaguely threatened - is a low-grade drain on oneself. Even if - especially if - the threat never materializes, the "always on" state of stress is horrible.

    This is, by the by, why I'm firmly in favor of a person's right to defend thier home, their loved ones, and themselves. You may choose different tactics than I, or choose a non-violent route, but some creepy guy hanging out on my porch is liable to hear the sound of police cars and ambulances right quickly. Stalker beware.

    (The fact that I live with several large dogs, all rescued from abusive situations and tend to be distrustful of strangers - bearing food or not - helps as well.)

  • Which leads right into this: Now I realize why most of the authors haven't written me back. Each year, after GenCon, I've sent thank-you cards to various author types. Why? Because they seem like genuinely neat people, and I want to be friendly. Only a few have actually responded, and I didn't really understand why. It simply did not cross my mind that there were freakin' weirdos out there bothering them as well.

    (Yes, I'm a weirdo, but a mostly harmless one. Unless you're stalking me. Then I unleash the were-jaguar. Grrr.)

  • Which goes back to the Meadian stuff from the last several days. The authors and I shared a lot of characteristics, so I made the mistaken presumption that their experience and point of view *were* mine. Whoops. And on the way home, I catch up on podcasts enough to find out that I've managed to (at least vaguely) creep Christiana Ellis out. Double whoops.

Okay, that's enough for now. Go vote for me at 100 word stories, why don'tcha?

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Hacking Mead

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The Meadian concept of oneself (and how we model others goes a long way towards explaining conversational strategies. The two that most obviously lend themselves towards this analysis are mirroring and "assuming agreement".

Mirroring - that is, assuming the same breathing pattern, posture, and body movements as the other person - is a well-proven way to build a sense of rapport. This seems facepalm obvious from a Meadian perspective. Mirroring the other's body language sends cues that you *are* just a different skin on another instance of them. We rely a lot on nonverbal communication, so these cues shortcut past the bits of our brain that are concerrned with speech, and hit all the "just like us" buttons.

Assuming agreement is a somewhat longer leap - but it holds consistent. The tactic is to simply not pause for feedback - to keep acting as if the other person is in complete agreement with you. Frequently, this can result in the other person being more favorable towards your statements. This can also be explained if we take the Meadian approach of the I and me, where we are constantly updating our models of each other - AND OURSELVES - based on observable data.. When things don't add up, we re-evaluate our assumptions. (This is the basis of every "I was a bigot until they saved my life" story, ,FWIW). An internal monologue might be: "Why, Bob's still acting as if I agree. Huh. How strange. Maybe I *do* agree! That would explain his actions! So I agree with Bob!"

There are several collections of conversation (or people) hacks - all of which make sense from a Meadian view of people.

This also provides an odd bit of support for Meadian concepts - from sociobiology. It appears that part of what we call "consciousness" and "self-awareness" is a pattern-recognition algorhythm recognizing its own patterns. This bit also can be woefully - up to ten seconds - behind the body in responding to stimuli. It's even possible (hearkening back to William James) that our emotions are an after-the-fact response to our endocrine system.

Don't despair, though. Sociobiology tends to be very deterministic, but forgets that our bodies are dialectic between external and internal forces. Our thoughts *literally change our brain structure*, thus making a simple deterministic model unweildy if not outright impossible.

This, by the way, also means that self-affirmations not only do work (which they do), but why they work. Don't get me wrong; they tend to be cheesy as anything, but this means, for example, having your children tell themselves they're beautiful will have a positive effect against the negativity of the world.

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Where I slam it in the car door

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Several authors I follow run blogs, and of those, several have been tackling political issues lately. John Scalzi - to nobody's surprise - has been quite balanced and avoiding the frothy, while still making his position (and reasons for it) well known. Pat Rothfuss has an excellent little bit on why some people shouldn't vote (worth the read, IMHO), Jim Hines talks about the nasty us-and-them dualism politics tends to inflict, and Kelly Swails links to (and discusses) why we shouldn't force our political opinion on anyone.

Of all the approaches, I think that John Scalzi's got the best one. (And the person Kelly links to is pretty well wrong.) As Pat says in his post, there are some people who are... well, smart and well-informed. These people may know things that you do not - and you should get all the info you can from them.
And here's the thing that Pat and Kelly and Jim seem to miss: They're pretty smart folks. Really, I met 'em. I was impressed (and yes, beer all around next GenCon if we can talk about the philosophy of magical realism vis a vis werejaguars and GH Mead, with a Kantian twist).

The person Kelly links to argues that how each person's voting is none of anybody else's business. This is true. Nobody should be *forced* to share their opinion, and such an attitude should be respected. That said, those of us who are reasonably smart and informed have an obligation to NOT keep our mouths shut. Because the people who aren't willing to have their reasons for voting tested... probably fall into that category of "not that smart"...and simply don't realize it.

Pat makes some good - and frightening - examples of people who have chosen candidates for really *stupid* reasons. I've run into them myself. One person, seeing my Obama pin, commented "I'd never vote for him." I asked why - since they commented - and they *could not come up with a single reason*. Not. One.

This is unacceptable.

This election cycle, a study came out pointing that arguing with a conservative will simply entrench their talking points...even if the facts were against them. But the people nearby - the audience of undecideds - will get a very different message. So I'd challenge smart folks out there - and Pat's got a great criteria for that, too - to play devil's advocate. Point out where logical arguments fail, or point out good things about the other guy. Because, as you know: Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.

Sure, politics can be a divisive and nasty thing. But it doesn't have to be. Like Kelly points out, it can actually be fun to talk politics - and test your ideas against others. Sometimes you learn something about yourself that you didn't before.

Sometimes, especially when it's uncomfortable, talking about what the other person likes - or doesn't - is the only way to turn them from a cardboard cutout into a real person.

[edit on re-reading Pat's blog (which I again exhort you to read as well): No, Pat's just smarter than me and is telling you to get your own fishing pole. My bad.]

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Light - A 100 Word Story

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This week's Weekly challenge was the topic "Light". My entry is below, and you can hear mine alone here. Be sure to stop by the 100 Word Story podcast site to read and hear the rest, and vote for mine the best!

Harsh morning sunlight woke me in the field. I was beside the gnawed-on corpse of Vinnie. Bits of shredded clothes and shredded Vinnie slid off me when I stood up. Damn. Three weeks of undercover work ruined because I was hungry and couldn't remember wolfsbane.

I gave Vinnie's corpse a once-over, not expecting anything left. Chewed tendon, maybe, but not a... pre-paid cell phone. With an incoming call on it.

My smile scared the desk cop when he traced the call, when he gave me a name. Tonight, I will solve the case. Tonight, I will hunt by moonlight.

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Profiling - the Phenomenological Way

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Mead's ideas about reflection, about empathy, are extremely relevant today. When our concepts of other people are built with our own psyche at the base, then it makes it easy to consider others varelse - the unknowable others - when we are forced to realize that they take actions other than our own. It also makes it easy to make cognitive mistakes like the types Peter Watts talked about the other day - smart people tend to presume other people are smart too, and less intelligent people tend to presume other people are less intelligent than themselves. This breeds its own set of problems, but the first is perhaps more pervasive, and with worse real-world consequences.

When someone else's actions are significantly unlike our own, we are forced to build a new model, not based on ourselves. That model - almost inherently - is based on very little information. We take the most obvious bits and make our models out of that.

Take a child's drawing of their parents. In one of my son's drawings of our family, the main difference between my wife and I is that I have a goatee. Obviously, there's a LOT more differences - and more have shown up in his drawings of us - but this is some anecdotal evidence of the effect in action.

This leads to its own problems. Stereotypes, for example, are a textbook example. While stereotypes are inherently bad (IMHO), it's sometimes hard to quantify why. And that's when you get to security issues - and profiling.

The police point to profiling (racial or otherwise) as being accurate. Yet many innocent people get pulled over for driving while black, or simply speaking Arabic on a plane, or having an unusual name. Both are true - because of a failure of Meadian empathy. By creating a model of "the bad guys" based on a limited amount of highly visible data, there's a loss of accuracy and sensitivity in any police operation.

Put another way - while the DHS folks are patting down someone whose crime is looking Arab, a white terrorist (remember Tim McVeigh?) could get by relatively unexamined. Want to make sure your mule gets across the border? Make sure they look and act like a middle class American.

You don't need to resort to sociobiology, functionalism, or any particular ideology. Through the way we learn about others, through the way we appear to develop empathy is a mental explanation of stereotypes, and a compelling argument that they need to go away. Not just for some fuzzy-squishy reason, but for the very practical reason of our own security and safety.

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Will the GOP denounce extremists?

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Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin:

What's good for the goose is good for the gander. We can agree on this, right?

I understand that your campaign and its proxies have made a big deal of a few of Sen. Obama's associates. The concept of being held accountable for every word of a pastor or the prior actions of a neighbor bother me. I know that pastors of mine have said things I disagreed strongly with; I have no idea what some of my neighbors did ten years ago, let alone twenty.

This is all beside the point.

In case you forgot, Sen. Obama has denounced both the incendiary words of Rev. Wright and the acts of Will Ayers.

Yet your supporters are becoming extremely angry, seemingly racist and violent before and during your rallies. These are not just second hand reports, but video caught by citizen journalists in several places throughout the country. Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin, these people take your words in your interviews and speeches as approval.

I hope that you find these acts as detestable as Sen. Obama found the words of Rev. Wright and the acts of Will Ayers.

Surely, then, you can avoid inflammatory words and acknowledge denouncements in your stump speeches, and make open denouncements of racism, extremists and violence.


I will be waiting for the change in your behavior.

You will denounce them? Won't you?

It would be only fair.

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You are my model

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I can't read your mind. But I've got you in my head.

Therapists like to say things like "you can't read someone else's mind" when dealing with their patients. But that's not entirely true. We can guess - and sometimes guess pretty well.

The conceptualization of the other - holding a model in your head of everyone else you interact with - is something practically all humans do. Given limited data, we extrapolate what is really going on inside the other.

Often, the main source of that data is ourself. The concept of "A thief believes everyone steals" is an indication of a poorly developed ability to imagine someone not like themselves. Likewise, a boy who presumes that silence - or the lack of a phone call - means that someone doesn't like you indicates something about the view of themselves. (Sorry about that - and you know who you are, even if you're not reading this blog.)

Still, this model holds within it the possibility that one can build a pretty accurate model of other people. It's just pretty rare.

My son recently decided he wasn't going to do schoolwork. To him, this was simply a matter of personal consequences. My wife, however, took it personally - as an attack on her. This startled and surprised my son. That simply wasn't something he would have thought of, and his "Mom-model" was basically a second instance of himself with a different "skin" on it. (Okay, ew, but you know what kind of skin I mean. Right?)

This kind of behavior - a non-reflective assumption that other people are mostly like oneself - is the norm. This can be dangerous: when presented with someone outside that norm, then it's very easy and tempting to label them as other than human. As completely other, as varalese.

What we need is an ability (and training) to understand and empathize with others. This doesn't mean agree with them - my son still better do his schoolwork - but to at least understand the mind that is behind the words. With that understanding, we can try to work together.

Without that understanding, there can only be pointless pyrrhic "for us or against us" conflict... and we know how well that goes.

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The ToE in SoC

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The search for a Theory of Everything in the social sciences is over. I've got it.

Perhaps you think it inconcievable. Am I deriving from Durkheim? Comte? Parsons? Marx? Morons!

Here's my theory. Which is mine. *cough cough*

People work to get rewards and avoid punishments and does so in a way that makes internal sense to them.

That's my Theory of Everything. It elegantly models and explains all of human behavior, much like E=mc^2 explains (nearly) all of physics. Of course, like E=mc^2, it's practically useless in application. Think about it - even something only marginally less vague than E=mc^2 - like F=mv - still requires some definitions. What is force? What is mass? What is velocity?

Likewise, most of our problems coming up with theories of human behavior trip up on other people deciding what constitutes reward and punishment. My idea of a reward - say, a new electric SmartCar - might not be yours if you want a new SUV. 77 virgins? Not my cup of tea.

There are a lot of commonalities in what constitutes reward and punishment in any society. That makes it easy - and frequently accurate - to generalize those rewards and punishments to all members of that society. But it is also, obviously now, a logical fallacy to do so.

In one sense, my sociological ToE is deeply unsatisfying. It has a lack of real-world practicality. But it is a deep structure, a framework on which all other theories can conveniently hang. By itself, it doesn't explain every detail - but it provides a framework that other, more detailed explanations fit into.

When striving for a ToE, that is perhaps the best goal one can strive for.

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Spybots and Spambots and Viruse... no viruses?

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October is Information Security Month, or Computer Security Month, or something like that. The point is, yesterday on the morning shows were two guys from Homeland Security (!) talking about securing one's personal computer. They started down the list of standard precautions to take: Firewall, anti-spyware, and anti-spam devices.

And then they stopped.

No anti-virus?

Apparently they're not alone - the question has been raised since 2007. In fact, the year before,
Microsoft co-president Jim Allchin stated that Windows Vista's new security features are so strong that anti-virus software is no longer required. In fact, he boldly claimed that he would have no problem letting his seven-year-old son use a Vista computer without any anti-virus software installed.
. Virus prevalence - or at least, the coverage given to it - is a lot lower than it used to be; the days of a single virus toppling world networks is five or more years in the past. But there's still as many virii in the wild. What gives? Is it the lack of prestige for virus writers (since they're now primarily known as "script kiddies")? I don't know... but it's definitely an interesting phenomenon. For example, this article , the "Top Computer Virus Threats in 2008" doesn't mention... well, viruses in the sense of Michelangelo or the old-school viruses. In fact, it's hard to get a real sense of the prevalence of viruses (at least, for me), because the stuff I turned up in searches lumped in spyware and other types of malware.

To be fair, US-CERT's tip of the day for today is "Understanding Anti-Virus Software". And Wikipedia's timeline of notable viruses is interesting reading.

Regardless, the links above (firewall, anti-spyware, anti-spam, and anti-virus) are to the Pricelessware archives, where you can find free (yes, free) PC software to fill all those needs.

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On any given (pro-life) Sunday

I hate the "pro-life" Sundays. There's two or three of them a year, now - though one is "respect life" and another occassions Roe v. Wade. It's not because of my personal opinion on the issue. It's not even because of the priest who compared doctors to Nazis. But he was the one who opened my eyes to what those ceremonies - especially "life chains" - actually are. Take this "Right-to-Life Chain" from this weekend:

Hundreds of abortion opponents took to the street Sunday afternoon, Oct. 5, to participate in the annual Life Chain event, organized locally by the Dayton Right to Life organization.

Most participants stood silently holding signs with such messages as: "Abortion Kills Children," "Abortion Hurts Women," "Lord, Forgive Us and Our Nation."

Attending the event was an expression of faith for Randi Hom, 25, of Centerville. The youth minister at St. Luke the Evangelist Church in Beavercreek, Hom said she couldn't imagine being anywhere else Sunday afternoon.

"It's a powerful experience when you pray with Christians in a cause where you can make a difference," she said.

This isn't an action of change. This is a time for a bunch of people to stand around, and feel good about how they're morally superior to others (though they have apparently not paid attention to Matthew 6:5)

Because, of course, those hundreds of people couldn't do something to help single mothers during a Sunday afternoon. They couldn't be agitating to ensure that all women get complete access to complete healthcare, that all families are paid a living wage so they can support their children, and other causes of real social justice.

Elder sister Emma, 15, said that for her, the pro-life cause is a "social justice" issue.

Please. Standing on a sidewalk is not working for social justice. Helping families in poverty is social justice. When poverty levels in Ohio (my state) are the highest they've been since 1960, and single mothers and their children are the largest group of that population, standing in a line for a couple hours is the best way you could spend your time to "make a difference"?

And again, it's not because I necessarily disagree. "We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country." But actions like these are more about feeling self-important, about feeling superior to us sinners, not changing anything. It doesn't reduce the number of abortions, it doesn't reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, and it sure doesn't help any poor people who chose to not have an abortion.

Perhaps the last thing on that list - the real people never mentioned in these debates and protests and speeches - should be first. Then we might be making real progress towards being truly pro-life.


Airplane - A 100 Word Story

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This week's weekly challenge was Airplane. As always, you can read my story below, and hear my story alone. You can also go to the 100 Word Stories site and podcast to read and hear the rest of the stories, and vote for your favorites! (Which could, of course, include mine...)

College-ruled paper had never looked so violent before.

"Rat-a-tat-tat!" Sam maneuvered the folded remains of the notepad into familiar twisting dogfights. "K-pow!" One, then two paper planes went down in imaginary flames.

My old injuries ached, and I shifted against the smooth leather of my chair. Who had told my grandson? Who had let him watch the video?

"Then," the boy narrated, "the bastards snuck up from behind and ... boom!" The last plane - my plane - spiraled to the green carpet. "That's how it happened, right grandpa?"

I rose, balanced on my prosthetic legs, and left the house in silence.

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Brief Thoughts

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I'm not feeling well this morning, so I had the opportunity torture to watch the network news my wife normally watches when she gets up. A few brief observations follow:

  • When talking to voters yesterday (I canvassed neighborhoods for the Obama campaign), there were quite a few voters who seemed confused about both candidates. Why? Because of advertising. The negative ads against each candidate - seemingly regardless of who sponsored and supported them - discouraged voters from participating at all. Let me repeat that: They didn't decide to vote for "the other guy", they decided to simply drop out of the process altogether. Much the same as the Obama campaign shut out lobbyists earlier this year, I have to wonder if advertising should be limited. At the very least, it behooves those who support a candidate to adopt the same tone as the candidate, thus allowing them to keep the high road.

  • Anyone have any suggestions for teaching children principles instead of rules? Kiddo's having a heck of a time this morning because he's simply not used to me being here in the AM and it's throwing his whole routine out of whack...

  • People are all enthusiastic because - as part of the "top story" today - gas is an average of $3.25 a gallon here. Yes, that's lower than it was... but it's just a sign of how adaptable people are... and how fast they'll accept a new norm.
  • Which, speaking of, how is the "normal" temperature calculated for forecasts? As global temperature and climate change continues, isn't the "normal" going to trend closer and closer to the "record" temperatures?

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Reputations aren't for sale.

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I, like many other people, was utterly entranced by Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. Cory Doctorow's breakout book, it posits a post-scarcity world where the economy (and production, and access to things) is determined by "whuffie". Whuffie is tracked by an ubiquitous computer network - and it's an absolutely fascinating idea. Finally, we would see "economic" success determined by merit and acclaim rather than by manipulation and lies. Sure, there would be some problems to fix along the way - how to keep people from scamming the system or simply being negative to everyone they see - but the basic concept couldn't be too bad, right? A system that doesn't hurt anybody, but still requires (and rewards) "useful and creative things".

It's several years since I've read the book, and I'm no longer sure that a reputation economy would actually create the kind of justice that Doctorow - or I - hoped it would. The concept of providing a baseline of sustenance - something also endorsed by Marx, Keynes, and most compassionate people - and then allowing a mechanism to rise above it sounds like a way to escape things... if people were rational.

However, this does not seem to be the case. Constantly, the social "upper class" has distinguished itself from the commoners. Some methods were behavioral, such as the time of day that lunch was eaten (which directly caused the different terms for lunch, dinner, and supper) and the shift of names like Brittany from upper to lower classes. However, the easiest and most consistent method throughout history was through economic surplus. The upper class had more money and more leisure - and therefore, could act and dress and do things that simply were not feasible for most other people.

This changed.

The change - which Marx could not foresee the full impact of - is a large part of why Marx's foretellings of doom never truly came to pass. The massive amounts of surplus generated by the Industrial Revolution started a huge change in the ability of people to ape the upper classes. In turn, the upper classes had to move towards sillier and more expensive pursuits. (Yes, that is the reason for "high" fashion and "high" culture.) But these pursuits have - largely - become behavioral instead of purely economic. The line in the USA has gotten economically blurry - and our prior lack of clear behavioral class distinctions has gotten things very muddled indeed (where members of the upper class openly mock intelligence, for example).

This sort of thing puzzled Keynes - and would have puzzled him far more if he were alive today. He figured that once people got enough to get by, that the intense desire for more would go away. It hasn't - and status is a large part of the answer why. Further, it's pretty obvious that merit is not the same thing as economic compensation. As before, status (and the ability to get unique and rare status symbols for oneself) is a primary drive in these endeavors. The rarity of these symbols is important - because as the symbol increases in frequency, the less status it confers.

So, let's say we get to a truly post-scarcity society. Whuffie would suddenly become a social status marker. Unlike the reputation points on eBay - clearly tied to an actual transaction - thumbs up and thumbs down, neg-repping and pos-repping, and the like appear to be more related to status and reinforcing in-group ideals than any kind of functional transactional economy. Whuffie - and other "reputation economies" measure something, but it sure doesn't seem to be economics in the traditional sense of the word.

That said, you can currently find the Whuffiebot on Twitter (though I'd argue that Favrd is perhaps a bit more like what Whuffie would really end up being), and there's even a book coming out next year (The Whuffie Factor) examining social networks in business.

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Writer's Exercise: Watch a movie

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A de rigeur part of most sociology classes - at least in this region - is to assign The Shawshank Redemption for analysis. I'd forgotten how good of a movie it is (especially good when dealing with insomnia). It's obvious, upon rewatching, why it is assigned. You have anomie, you have functionalism (of Parson's variety), you have conflict theory and deviance and all sorts of good stuff.

But it's an even better exercise as a writer.

For the last two years, I've heard Jean Rabe advise wanna-be writers (like myself) that we should analyze the fiction read. Not only should we read for enjoyment, but we should be able to dissect what works and what doesn't - and why. This has been extremely difficult for me to do. Perhaps it is the way I read, the words flashing by in a blur. I don't know.

As I watched The Shawshank Redemption, I found myself making notes not only of the sociological content, but from a writer's point of view as well. Notes about foreshadowing, environment, the way characters dressed and held themselves - all of the aspects of storytelling that I was unable to dissect well from texts.

The Shawshank Redemption is especially good for this exercise simply because it is good - but I'm sure the process can be applied to any movie, though I'd definitely recommend choosing one you haven't seen before. Get the DVD, pause and make notes as needed. (Best done without a significant other around!)

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