Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

Contraception, Abortion, and Power Politics in the Family

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There was a thrill of excitement as I read the excerpt of "Motherhood and Morality in America". This frames the morality debate in a completely different light than it is normally viewed - rather than as a view on the morality of the act itself, than as a power differential between men and women. This reframing of the debate explains why such positions as "reducing abortions" can be seen not as positive steps, but instead as insidious evils. This explains why the anti-contraception and the anti-abortion crowd run together.

The discussion of natural family planning is right in sync with that, and part of the reason I espoused it strongly to Catholic families during my time on a Catholic homeschooling group. I do not, however, agree with Ms. Luker in her somewhat negative view of the relationship structure of those who use Natural Family Planning (or NFP). NFP is no longer the simplistic and very fallible "rhythm method" that was available when the pill was first developed; instead, it relies on a woman's knowledge and observation of her own body and cycles. Done properly, its efficacy rates rival those of other methods of birth control.

Luker states - and I'm grossly oversimplifying here - that in the traditionally conservative families NFP provides a monthly Lysistrata effect. That the wife then becomes more powerful as the holder of sexual favor, but with the corrosive effect of her self-worth being based solely around her reproductive merits. While this is a possible - and perhaps even likely - outcome, I do not believe this is an effect of NFP itself.

On the contrary, to properly and successfully use modern methods of NFP requires an intimate knowledge of one's own body, and a relationship where there is already a degree of equality. One family of my acquaintance - who was using NFP - ended up having multiple children because the husband did not abide by what his wife told him about her fertility. The power differential there existed regardless of the method of birth control. Imagine if the conversation was about his refusal to wear a condom instead?

Especially for those concerned about reported and experienced side effects from oral contraceptives can provide a return to a more "natural" state. The experience and ritual can provide a routine that is bonding, rather than burdensome. And despite the experiences Ms. Luker reported, it can also lead to couples being "more creative" during a woman's fertile time.

Like all things, it is a tool. It can be a tool of fear and power-differential withholding, or it can be a thing of respect. But those uses will happen without NFP - not because of it.

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Not Merely Lame: Ghost Tweeting

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"Your product tweets?" I was somewhat incredulous at the claim.

"Is it for customer service?" another person asked.

"Nope, just for press releases and announcements. Things like that."

It was only a few hours after I first heard about "Ghost Tweeting".

One of these days, I hope that we'll figure it out. That the internet is not just another place to advertise and push out press releases and advertisements. That presence on the internets is not merely having an account, not mere name recognition - but merit through being interesting.

If you haven't heard of the Cluetrain Manifesto, maybe this is your chance to enlighten yourself (you can read the book for free). The key quotation here is this:

Markets do not want to talk to flacks and hucksters. They want to participate in the conversations going on behind the corporate firewall. De-cloaking, getting personal: We are those markets. We want to talk to you.

Do I want to talk to a product? Hell, no. Do I want to talk to the people who use it? The people who made it? The people who design it? Hell, yes.

At Millenicon, John Scalzi was asked if an internet presence was necessary for an author. "No," he said, clarifying that if you were already blogging and tweeting, then go right ahead. But setting up a site, a blog, a Twitter account, a Facebook profile, or whatever to just sell yourself or your product? Don't bother.

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Beauty on the Outside

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Why do people care about looking beautiful?

That's really at the heart of Ms. Kaw's essay about plastic surgery to attempt to look more Caucasian and Ms. Mernissi's comparison of the hajib with the strictures of Western size prejudices.

It's not just a human question. The same thing happens in the animal kingdom. Huge expenditures of time, resources, and effort go into the effort to present oneself as attractive. There, in the primarily biological world, it is a straightforward matrix. In order to preserve species viability, it's important for the more superfluous gender to be healthy, free of parasites, and well able to provide for the young. A peacock's tail, the flashy mating dances of mammals and birds alike - all thesee things are signals of fitness and health.

A common sociobiological explanation for the behaviors noted by Kaw and Mernissi would compare human alterations of appearance to the reproductive signals of a parrot. While equally appealing and repellent in its simplicity, such an explanation is fundamentally flawed on the face of it. Courtship and status displays are used in the animal world as a symbolic proxy for other values - health, caring, fitness. We are not limited to such limited symbolism.

Instead, there are numerous proxies for suitability of a mate, status, and most any ranking measure that can be devised for humans. These symbolic measures are legion; further, each symbol can have multiple meanings. The functions are retained, but the forms are varied. It's this ambiguity that makes discerning the differences between forms so difficult.

In Ms. Kaw's essay, she illustrates this ambiguity through the subject's ambiguity towards the surgery. They will state that they are undergoing surgery to look "their best as women". However, they clearly ascribe status and personality traits to the same racialized traits they find unattractive. This relationship - with the causational elements reversed from the biological world - is noted explicitly in noting that altering features is seen to alter perception of behavioral characteristics.

The routinization of these standards is through the exclusion of everything outside those standards; even in attempts to be sensitive can still result in the exclusion of types outside of the primary "norm".

Ms. Mernissi experiences this with the store clerk's bewilderment, stating that "Deviant sizes...can be bought in special stores". Aside from the (convenient) narration of social norms by the clerk, there is the genuine shock and horror at the questioning of the status quo.
The status is kept quo (insert Dr. Horrible laugh here!) both by the enumerated media pressures, but also through the medical literature. As Ms. Kaw notes, even articles attempting to be sensitive to racialized bias retain the watermark of prejudice. We also see this in the medical literature that still refuses to acknowledge the possibility of someone being both "clinically overweight" and healthy. The prejudice - both in the literature and among medical workers themselves - is that "obesity" as measured by a height and weight chart must always be correlated with diabetes, coronary artery disease, and arthritis.

Yet, despite the pressure from the media and from our authorities, the strictures are artificial. Ms. Mernissi experiences this with the clerk's fascination with stores not having clothes sizes. We can experience it any time that we not only negate the dominant paradigm, but assert that a workable alternative is not only viable, but natural.

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Second Life, Golden Apples, and Adult Ghettos

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It was hanging out of his pants, and was bigger than he was.

I was in Second Life, and actually back at Help Island, where I'd done some observations for class. It's very definitely a PG area, since it's one of the first areas that a new resident of SL will see. Yet here was a guy walking around thrusting his pelvis (and member) at people. He'd been there for a while when I first showed up, and it was five minutes before Minerva Linden showed up herself to kick him off the grid.

The irony? I was wearing an *I* am Adult Content hoodie.

Recently, Linden Labs - the people who run Second Life - decided that they would segregate "adult" content away from everyone else. The definition of what constitutes "adult" content is contentious (to say the least) in the real world, but gets extraordinarily worse when one is dealing with virtual realities. In interviews, the Lindens have suggested that "kidnap" roleplay, "capture" roleplay, and even possibly B & D would not be considered "adult".

Which begs the question - what, then, is adult? Speculation runs amuck - do "furries" count? What about people like myself who just think anthropomorphic bears (for example) are just kind of cool, and don't look at it as a kink? BDSM? Homosexuality? Are we only talking about out-of-doors public activity? If so, then why would anyone have to move? LL says there's four guiding principles:

We have four key guiding principles to work from, and we’d like you to consider them and share your thoughts:
1) We will create clear and consistent definitions of what constitutes adult content, in line with our Community Standards,
2) We will enable easy, reliable, and consistent ways to be able to access content by type - the goal being to ensure that Residents can choose what they want to see, purchase and experience.
3) We will implement effective Resident services and dialog to ensure that those who provide Adult goods or services can continue their activities without long-term disruption or loss of business.
4) We will implement account verification systems that provide an additional level of assurance for providers of Adult content that only adults are able to access their content. Such a system might be tied, for instance, to a verified payment method like a credit card, a validation by our age verification provider, or another credible method of validation.

While I understand the impulse - who wants their first view of SL to be a griefer waving naughty bits at them? - this seems unworkable as a general plan. As it stands, everyone on SL's main grid is supposed to be over 18 (and using age verification to ensure that sounds like a good plan). But there are already PG areas where any and all "adult" content is not allowable. The "Mature" parcels of land are an already existant distinction that serves the same purpose. "Typing" or "categorizing" adult content is a losing proposition in the real world, and even more so in virtual ones. I'm still baffled to find people fine with heterosexual couples in public (for example), but horrified to see gay people doing the same thing. Does the Transsexual Resource Center count as "adult" content?

Ghettoizing - and thereby stigmatizing - a legitimate part of the grid is inherently a big deal, probably unworkable in practice (otherwise I wouldn't have seen a giant member on Help Island), and philosophically repugnant.

Realistically, there's only one explanation that fits why the Lindens want to make this change - and Cyn Linden explicitly said it:
According to Cyn, "Because the community has been asking us". However, she acknowledged "[I]t will help businesses and education [groups] to feel more comfortable about what they encounter" when they go in-world.

Second Life has gotten a lot more mainstream press and attention from educators, with multiple conferences both in and out of world. This Is A Good Thing - we're still finding the possibilities available with academia and virtual worlds. Research into people's behaviors in virtual worlds is extremely useful in the social sciences.

But it's the chaotic, messy nature of real people that makes these worlds interesting. We have been sterilizing our real-life environments with fake downtowns; this seems to be more of the same blandness.

I think sex in SL is pretty damn silly. The really kinky and violent sex that's supposedly at the heart of all this is really Not My Cup of Tea. But I'll defend it - especially virtually - to keep yet another area from being just another place where the pinks keep everyone merely content.

Where's my golden apple?

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Submission Tubes Still Going...

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I haven't mentioned it in a while, but I'm still sending out a submission a week to somewhere. Currently, I have things out to (in no particular order) FlashMe, Bent, On Spec, Writer's Journal, Ink Oink Art, The Threepenny Review, Asimov's, and Alien Skin Magazine. I really like Ralan for finding markets, especially for genre work, but over the weekend I was told that Duotrope's search engine allows easy sorting for word counts. Considering that the stuff I have in submissions ranges from 542 words to 2,200 words, that's an important feature.

In case you're wondering how I keep all this straight, I also like Sonar, a free submission tracking tool. I've tried paper-based systems of various types, and spreadsheets, and moving folders around... and basically it all became a crazy mess. This simple freeware program keeps all the information where I need it. Highly recommended.

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Unfading photographs - A Flash Fiction

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The honey reminds me of Brianna, and a night dodging mosquitos in June. Peanut butter reminds me of Sarah, her kisses after lunch tasting sweetly of her sandwich.

I sigh, and the sound is Margaret's amused disapproving tone. I cannot decide between the flickering flourescent (Candy's apartment) or the incadescent bulb (fumbling teenage nights with Haley).

My friend says that his girlfriend is always getting on his case for forgetting. She quizzes him on what she was wearing (on our first date, Tanya was wearing a burgandy sweater that didn't flatter her at all) or when dates were (Karen and I broke up exactly 857 days after we first went out). I tell him to weather it.

The insulation is all in place, and I lie back in the warm water (Mother). Everything triggers a memory of the women I have loved, triggers the heartache of their loss in my perfect, perfect memory.

I pull the sensory deprivation chamber's door shut, hear the brief click before sound is gone.

I relax.

And then I hear the heartbeat, my heartbeat, and I remember each of them.

I remember all of them.

I remember.

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I mostly play girl characters

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"In this grand B movie we call life, there is always a girl." - Tom Robbins

When I play video games - from Street Fighter to Guitar Hero - I tend to have a female avatar. I really noticed it again when my son commented on it while watching me rock out (yes, dammit, rock out) with Guitar Hero.

"Why do you always play as girls?"

It's odd, because when I started in Second Life I did not hesitate to choose a male character, with slightly long hair, a little overweight, and with a goatee... wait... my avatar looks a lot like me. The thought of having a female avatar really bothers me there (though I'll probably eventually have an androgynous one just to visualize a character in a story of mine). Second Life - even more so than other online MMPORGs - allows for people to be whomever they want to be. However they want to be. With a minimum amount of effort, I can already transform myself into anything from a hippo to a Matrix-looking ripped man; a female paralegal imp to a six legged ... thing. Vampires and were-creatures, furries and ghosts all roam the virtual world.

And there's sex. User only knows how all these different ... bits... work together.

In "How Men Have (A) Sex", John Stoltenberg deconstructs the idea of our sex as group identity. He points out how being male is a collection of behaviors, not necessarily linked to each other - and how trying to tie them all together is problematic at best. He makes the exquisite point that a penis does not the male sex make, and how there's a continuum from end to end of the spectrum. I have to quibble a bit with this - the spectrum of gender cannot be quite as uniform a spectrum as he posits.

Pressures from the environment would keep the less-polarized behaviors from being dominant (even if they're still there, they wouldn't be exclusively exhibited). However, as the pressure comes off, then you'd start to predict an increasing number of people claiming somewhere in the middle. And that's exactly what you see in Second Life, as the social constraints and pressures are removed. It's another layer on top of the socialization layer on top of the biological layer. (I say that because sexual norms and morés are still exhibited in accordance with our society in places - it's just *who* is displaying them that's changed. Still, this is a step in the right direction in moving towards a postmodern sensibility towards gender.

There's also some "nuts and bolts" advice about sex - which is basically good stuff. I'm actually surprised this stuff has to be spelled out (which may, itself, explain a lot): consent, mutuality, and respect are absolutely essential. I've known people where the other person had so many hangups about sex that it required - required - them to be have alcohol to engage in sex. At that point, however, they became extremely sexually aggressive - and the whipsaw shift startled both of us no matter how often it happened.

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Still recovering from Millenicon

I spent a goodly portion of the last weekend at Millenicon in Cincinnati with a lot of great fine people.

Great fine people who managed to remember that they had cameras, or cameras in their phones.

I finally got to meet John Scalzi and learned how to say his name properly (just like it's spelled, and yes, he is as funny in person as he is on the internets) and Tobias Buckell, even though I keep wanting to put a "n" in his name. I met Alethea Kontis, and actually managed to help her out with my mad internets skillz (she's an amazingly cheerful and exuberant person... and manages to do so in a completely awesomely not-annoying way that totally wins one over. I mean, look at the pigtails.). I also met Paul Melko and fed him and Jim Hines cookies from Max & Erma's. (Yes, chocolate chip.) I met and got to talk with Kaza Kingsley (and learned of another YA fantasy series to turn my son onto - paperback versions of the first two Erec Rex books come out in early April!) I got to see Tim Waggoner again as well, and a whole bunch of other interesting, crazy, people.

Y'know. My kind of folks.

Seriously, it was a lot of fun. Other than a (VERY) small con I ran back in 1992, I've only ever been to GenCon. This was very different, being smaller and focused on science fiction rather than gaming, but that was part of what made it good. You could talk to authors without a gaggle of people around or feeling like you were completely monopolizing their time - something that was hard to manage at GenCon, and I imagine is near-impossible at DragonCon or WorldCon. ConText is another smaller regional con in August, and it's definitely making my calendar.

I'm glad I have this week off - that means I get a chance to keep a hold of this feeling of... well, belonging for a little while longer before going back to the routine.

Pictures? Oh, yeah, pictures.

Tobias took several good ones - Jim and his jacket, John and Kaza, and Alethea.

And here are a few of mine:

It looks like a bunch of people behind tables, right?

That's because the fun is ninja fun. You can only see it when it's about to get you.

Seriously, it was a great weekend. If you're in the area, I highly recommend it as a nice way to get away from reality for a few days and be simply yourself, among others like you.


Ignoring the Wheelchair

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I realize my assumption almost as soon as I type it.

"Why do you choose to wear the chair?"

I'm in Second Life, the virtual world that allows you to configure your appearance any way that you want to. I am finishing my observations of Help Island, a starting point in the game. I have seen angels and demons, hypersexualized ideals that put Barbie's measurements to shame, and giant spiders a dozen meters across. Snoopy walked past me just before a vampire and a bear with wings. A child sat on a step, bemoaning being evicted from a nightclub with a giant cat umbrella. Throughout these observations I have been in the most plain of basic male avatars.

Nobody spoke to me. Nobody commented on the extravagant creatures all around us.

It was not until I had my avatar wear a wheelchair in-world that I started to get comments. Sometimes they were friendly. Sometimes they were teasing - though not directed at me personally.

I thought it was strange that something so mundane would gain so much more comment in-world, so I hunted down Wheelies (slurl). It is a club and resource center started in world for differently-abled individuals. The causeway up to the club is lined with informational booths and signs for all sorts of disabilities and groups working with them. Autism, blindness, deafness - you name it, it was mentioned here.

The transsexuals I'd spoken to a week or two earlier in-world did not craft themselves to appear transsexual. Instead, they crafted themselves as their ideal gender. They wore fully female or male avatars - their target gender. This was a place they could "pass" without a second glance.

But here he was, in a wheelchair. He could appear any way that he wanted to. But he was in a wheelchair.

"Identity," he said, after a long pause.

But I'd already heard the assumptions in my own words, and realized what he meant.

In a world where nearly every deviance in appearance is meaningless, my words insisted on making his real life less.

It might seem like the horrid homophobia, ableism, and sexism that Sharon Kowalski and Karen Thompson faced is far less now than a quarter century later. It might even be.

But in my simple, "innocent" question, its echoes still persist.

(Take the time to read another reflection by someone who wears a chair in SL as well.

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Learning Mashups

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My wife asked me to sum up the five most important things to teach in Sociology - and I couldn't.

I couldn't even do a list of twelve, or twenty. It wasn't until later that I realized that it's why my business cards (yes, I have them - and tend to end up using them for notes and bookmarks) have had "random synthesis" on them. It's why my best notes in classes are arranged like a mind-map, and possibly why I'm so freaking infuriating for a lot of people to talk to.

The important thing, I finally managed to tell her, was that they are able to think critically. And then you throw a bunch of information at them and force them to put it together. See what sticks, make it all relate. That informs my resource posts (for homeschoolers, parents, teachers, and just curious folks); it's a bunch of neat and interesting things... but the value is in trying to make them relate to everything else. While I've found certain bits more useful or meaningful than others, that doesn't mean they're the key or most important parts.

It's all related.

Maybe that's why I'm so fond of mashups where I know the source songs. They're frequently quite good of themselves, but it's where they're smashed together to make something distinctly different that really makes my day.

I've been told my whole life that I'm "creative", and I used to resist it. I just put stuff together in weird and different ways, that's all. To find that process actually has a term - and has gained popular acceptance in academia, fiction, and pop culture... well, that makes me feel all kinds of nice.

[Edit: Thank goodness I've gotten some sleep since I wrote this, huh?]

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Butterfly Dreams - A Flash Fiction

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This is a blast from the past, though I still like it. It is also on my personal website.

Butterfly Dreams

They had seen each other across the gallery, the near-simultaneous meeting of eyes a cliched physical shock of recognition, feet carrying them unbidden across the carpeted floor past the hanging art works, toward the other, weaving through the masses of people gawking at acrylic on canvas.

She initiated the hug; he was both relieved and thankful that the decision had not been left to him alone. His skin tingled, remembering the feel of her body against him, remembering the imagined liaisons despite the intervening miles and years.

"It's been a long time."

"Yeah," he replied, inwardly cursing himself for such a lame response.It had almost worked the first time - then, as now, he had lacked the words,the incentive to convince her to stay. He was sure of it.

They made some idle chit-chat, though he could never remember it later,his thoughts preoccupied by thoughts of them, together again, arms around each other the way it had been so briefly. Perhaps he could ask her to dinner first, maybe a movie, something noncommittal so it wouldn't be so sudden this time, anything to buy more time to be with her.

He realized she had said something about the painting beside him, that she waited for a response.


"I said, I like that painting."

The colors were vibrant, a child holding a butterfly gently in it's hands, more butterflies in swirls of color cascading past the child's cherubic face, an expression of bliss firmly entrenched on the youthful visage in oil paint texture.

"It's a beautiful dream," she continued. "Too bad things like that don't happen in real life."

He stayed silent, knowing that otherwise he'd ask why, never satisfied with purely rational answers, like he'd asked her so often, so long ago.

"It's been nice seeing you again," she said momentarily, and she gave him another hug in farewell.

In her arms, he finally let his butterfly dreams fly out of his cupped hands.

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Marxist Porn

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It is the struggle of utilitarianism and postmodernist in general to comprehend as many overlays on social life as possible, so that the most apt may be chosen at the appropriate time. In Harry Brod's article "Pornography and the Alienation of Male Sexuality", he applies a Marxist overlay with mixed, but generally beneficent results.

Sound academic enough? Really, that's the biggest flaw with this work; it tries very hard to be a rigorous bit of theory, and becomes really difficult to comprehend in doing so. But the basic thrusts (ha!) are relatively easy to comprehend and accept in our daily lives.

  1. Systems of dominance damage the dominating group as surely as they damage the oppressed.

  2. Male sexuality is portrayed in pornography (and elsewhere) as being based in a single organ, "physically nothing more than localized high blood pressure".

  3. These images provide unreasonably high expectations - and also serve to disassociate men from their own experience during sex.

  4. These images ignore other areas of sensuality and connection - and serve to disassociate men from their own experience during sex.

  5. #3 and #4 estrange men from their activities, which is exactly like Marx's concept of economic alienation.

  6. Pornography thus reduces men's individual power while reinforcing the apparatus of patriarchal power.

But the real value in this essay is the best distinction between porn and erotica that I have yet to see: "While the erotic nude presents the more pristine sexual body before the social persona is adopted through donning one's clothing, the pornographic nude portrays a body whose clothing has been more or less forcibly removed, where the absence of that clothing remains the most forceful presence in the image... Erotica, as sexual art, expresses a self, whereas pornography, as sexual commodity, markets one."

This captures the distinction between sex positive activists and exploiters, between mature adults sharing and playing with boundaries and those trampling boundaries in aggression. I've been told that I'm reading my own bias into it, but be that as it may, I think that there's a qualitative difference between cherrypepper (first page is SFW, deeper links are not) and exploitative porn (it's the internet, search for yourself). Sure, there's a great big grey area in there we can still argue about - but defining the extremes gives us somewhere to work from

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Survival - A Flash Fiction

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The sea of bones pounded the gate below. Jonah looked through his helm at the mass of skeletons - all the world's dead, rallied against the kingdom - and fought the urge to piss his pants.

"We are so screwed," he muttered, fingers tightening around his swordhilt.

His shieldmate Boyd shrugged and took another drink from his flask.

"I told ya to f'in drink first." Boyd wobbled a little in bravado or drunkeness, Jonah couldn't tell. "Just gotta get in there and start swingin'."

Jonah shook his head. "How long 'till you become one of them like that?"

"Only about three seconds before you, my friend!" Boyd's smile faltered. "Only three seconds, mate."

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...and there went I.

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"When we opened our windows, they had fans. When we got fans, they had air conditioners. She just keeps popping out kids from different daddies."

Darrin's parents had been trying hard to make a living for themselves and take care of their children. His mom - who said the above somewhere around 1988 - was talking about a person who lived a block up from them, and who was on welfare.

I grew up with a different view of "welfare queens" than people in other areas of the country. Most of the stereotypes were there - but it surprised me to find out that most people also assumed that a so-called "welfare queen" was black. Not so when I was growing up - there simply weren't that many black people around my hometown. Instead, we thought of the hillbillies living in shacks with satellite TV dishes or nice cars. That racialized aspect should be a warning sign in itself that the image of a welfare cheat isn't about a real person.

I began suspecting that our prejudices were just that a few years after hearing Darrin's mom. I knew people who spent their money on a few nice things and others who had a lot of okay things but nothing "nice". I began to suspect that this had a lot to do with our mental image. It's all because of the choices they made. I knew people who had made both types of choices - and understood their reasons for each.

I started to be a lot less judgmental about the places I drove by, realizing that getting joy from one big purchase might be worth it for a family with few options. I really started to clue in to the idea that our judgments of people on welfare aren't based on reality, but on our perceptions of their choices.

And then I found myself on welfare.

I made some stupid choices and some stupid mistakes. But I also did not have the resources, skills, or credentials to get a decent paying job. I did not know how to write a skills-based resume (and didn't know such a thing existed). I had not graduated from college, and though I had a lot of skills, I had few connections and fewer opportunities. And I had a new family to support.

If you have never been on welfare, it is not fun. The forms and overworked jaded people behind the desks can be mind numbing. The hours spent waiting to sign a form or be grilled about income take away from the opportunity to look for a job - or work at one that you might have. Even WIC - a wonderful idea for a program - has mandatory classes that you have to attend, again problematic if you're trying to work.

And in case you don't know - most employers (especially those in the service industry and blue collar work) aren't fond of one taking time off to sit in a waiting room.

I ended up getting off welfare by joining the Army. Even with the help of welfare, we were not making ends meet with the food-service job I had. Yet that had its own ramifications - I was gone for training for many months, and then after I finally completed training, I had an unaccompanied tour in Korea for a year. These things certainly contributed to the problems in both my relationship with my ex-wife, precipitating the problems that my oldest son later had.

We expect the working poor to simply work more, and ignore the violence that does to our other values of family and childrearing. How much support can someone give to a family if they're working two jobs to make ends meet? How much can a parent participate in their child's development, homework, or extracurricular activities if they're still at their second job? What damage does it do to extended families if we simply demand that workers move to a distant city to find jobs?

We had a long period where there were plenty of jobs for the taking. But that is not now. Currently, the official unemployment rate is over 8% (and unofficial estimates of the real unemployment rate top 13%). I tell my story again here to remind you that most people getting government assistance are like I were - stuck, desperately trying to make it, and finding that they can't.

It's still hard for me sometimes. New jobs have new financial requirements. I still don't always have the credentials to prove what I can do. But I know, from personal experience, that I've got it pretty good - and the odds are that if you're reading this, you do too.

It may not feel like it, and I recognize that each and every one of you reading this has your own difficult challenges in these times. Yet if you are still "making it", remember that those who are not making it, that those who are needing help now are real, largely decent people too.

And someday, no matter what choices you make, you might find yourself one of them.

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Corporate ... incentives

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You might remember that over the last two decades towns, counties, and states have given corporations huge tax breaks and other incentives to relocate to (or even stay in) the area. Now that our towns, counties, and states are all facing huge deficits, I propose a small change to our social order: Let's call those "incentives" what they really were.


Just like bribery in a corrupt developing country, money changes hands for individual profit; though here the money is essentially funneled through the bureaucracy rather than front corporations. Just like bribery, the public loses out in the long run.

So let's call these bribes what they really are... and then give them (and the people who offer and accept them) the treatment they deserve.

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On Men On Rape

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It was 1991. Columbine hadn't happened yet, and I was just a long-haired freak. Sure, I already had my penchant for black trenchcoats, but that was it. I was a meek little fluffy puppy, anticipating emo by a decade.

"I thought you looked intimidating," she told me.

Maybe I'm mixing my memories - my first college years are blurred with too much drama and not enough alcohol - but I think it was someone I was dating who said it. But I clearly remember the statement - that she had thought I looked intimidating. Me.

"I know better now," she continued, "but you really did look mean."

I remember it because of the surprise I felt, the complete shock that someone could see me so differently than I saw myself.

Eighteen years later - another lifetime, really - and I'm shocked again.

I read the excerpt of Men on Rape by Tim Beneke (essentially the same segment is here). It has its flaws; partially due to its datedness (written almost a decade before I was in college), partially due to a few vaguely hyperbolic claims. But one passage echoes for me:

I have asked women repeatedly, "How would your life be different if rape were to end?" (Men may learn a lot by asking this question of women to whom they are close.)

This seems like too easy a setup. So I ask the strongest woman I know how her life would be different if rape didn't exist. I ask her, because I imagine that a typically socialized woman will have been socialized to be a victim. I ask her, because I don't want to fish for the typical "correct" answer. I ask her, because I expect her answer to be muted - but I also know that she'll tell me the truth.

At home, I would not be concerned about working late, or going out alone after dark, or walking back to my car at night. I would not be so hesitant about meeting new people, even in places like bars, so I might be friendlier. I would not be so mistrustful of people in my daughter's life.

A world without rape would make me more independent because I would no longer be so fearful. That threat hangs over me, as it hangs over all women, all the time. Which is why I cannot imagine such a world. Rape is the threat that keeps women "in line." In a world without it, women would be, well, uncontrollable.

I am horrified. That's not what she was supposed to say. She was supposed to tell me that everything was okay, that the threat was exaggerated and things were just fine. Suddenly, my very maleness is a threatening weapon again. Suddenly, those I thought were safe are vulnerable, living their lives with a patina of fear I can barely comprehend, let alone combat. Gratuitous fantasies of slaughtering rapists fill my head; I work to keep my fictional protagonists from becoming avenging Mary Sues.

And I remember another woman, a teenager's lifetime ago, saying that I looked intimidating.

And suddenly I knew what she meant.

Men. Don't take my word for it. Go to a woman - one you trust, one you know will tell you the truth. Go to someone who you think won't give you the textbook answer.

Ask them anyway.

Go ahead.


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Darkwave - A Flash Fiction

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The club stank of clove cigarettes and sweat. I held her tight body as hard as I dared; she began kissing my neck. I couldn't hear her lips over the band, but I could feel them. They traced a path from my earlobe, along some stubble I hadn't shaved well enough, down to the fleshy parts. I moaned, feeling my hardness against her, until the feeling changed.

I pulled back.

"You can't give me a hickey," I shouted lowly.

Her lips pulled in together, one painted eyebrow raised. She put one alabaster arm on my right shoulder, then another on my left. My eyes traced down her pale arms to where the black quasi-victorian quasi-leather dress sloped over her breasts. "Did you want me to stop?"

"Yes. No. no, no." This was the last night before I had to go back. The last night in yet another meaningless business trip in a meaningless job. The last night before I had to put my ring back on. "Look," I said. "I, um..."

She kissed me again, throwing me back against the wall of the soundroom. On the other side of that wall, dozens of pale dark-haired youths danced to rhythmic dark beats. On this side, she and I danced to another rhythm. Her skin nearly glowed pale in the dark room. I thought of the copy of _Interview_ in my case at the hotel. That book brought me here, reminded me of how I'd felt then. How I used to laugh at people on business trips.

She kissed her way back down my neck. I felt her teeth. Maybe, I thought. Maybe.

"I have a secret," she whispered into my throat. I moved with the slow beat of the music, her hot breath on my neck a half-beat behind

"We all have secrets," I said. Maybe now. Maybe I could escape. Just bite. Make me like you, one of the ageless ones.

"I'm sixteen," she said, and I realized her shuddering wasn't passion. The music stopped as the set ended, and she sobbed into my neck on the floor of the storeroom.

The plane was cold and empty the whole flight home, even though every seat was booked.

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Playing the Game

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I'm still waiting to grow up.

In private, my generation will still admit this. There's a feeling that we're fakes, still playing at dress-up, just full time. But we keep playing the game, staying in character, and pretending that the way we act is really how we are.

And then things happen to you.

In my case, it's classes, people, and questioned memories. I can't - and won't - go into the details, but that's not the point: We're not a whole lot better, smarter, or wiser than we were as teenagers. We have more scars - emotional, physical, or both. We have more memories, more baggage, and more sets of experience. But we're still the same teenagers underneath, and just as fucked up as we were then.

Maybe those before us really did have their shit together. I doubt it, though. Instead, I'm betting they just kept playing their roles - and are playing them now. And part of that role is pretending like they're the grownups, and that they're not as fucked up as the rest of us. And that role doesn't help us at all.

We're tired of playing these roles. Maybe that's part of the reason Wil Wheaton's done so well with us now - he's been fighting playing one role for twenty years. I dunno.

I remember all the crap from my teenage years; as an outcast in a relatively small town it wasn't always easy. But I also remember the fun times. I remember the times where uncertainty wasn't fear, but adventure. I remember when we allowed ourselves to feel.

I remember when we didn't have to play "grown up".

Maybe it's time for a new game.

Anyone got some dice? I'll order pizza.