Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

How To Make Money in Second Life - Part 1

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I've been running a small rental business for several months now in Second Life. This month is the first where the inflow of money was greater than the outflow, so I thought it would be a good time to write this. Because if you hang around the newbie areas, you know you'll be asked how you can make money in Second Life. This week, I'll be covering how I started doing so.

A couple quick notes -

  • I don't make much money in SL; I mostly cover expenses. These steps still make sense if you want a larger profit margin.

  • I am typically not interested in partnering or doing deals with people. It better be exceptional.

  • From what I understand, these are generally good tips for starting ANY business. In SL, however, it's easy to quickly invest a lot of money in something... and then lose it all.

  • If your computer is underpowered, try this mix of the Rainbow Viewer. METAbolt is a good text-only way to interact with SL. I recommend the Emerald Viewer for your general SL experience, though.

Step One: Identify a market. I had lived in four different rentals in four months in SL - three skyboxes and a cabin. One of them was overpriced and underprimmed, the others all closed up shop under me. As I went apartment hunting, they were all overpriced, underprimmed, or laggy as anything. I didn't want to pay extra for a sex bed, TV, or radio that I didn't use. This was unacceptable. I wanted a place to put my stuff, after all. So I created a the product (or rental property in this case) that I wanted.

If you're a builder or designer, this step is doubly important for you. There's still some degree of scarcity when it comes to land - but not to items. What will make your designs or builds different? Steampunk, for example, is cool... but there are so many other steampunk builders out there that if you want to make a business at it, you had better be priced lower or have outstanding products.

If you're making and designing things ANYWAY for fun and just selling them after-the-fact, this whole guide does not apply to you. So if you just want to see that platypus-only re-enactment of "Two Girls, One Cup"... well, don't tell me about it. But if you're expecting to MAKE MONEY from it... that's different.

Mind you, the recent news about freebies and the coming rate changes for XStreetSL make hobbyist businesses even less possible. Raising the rates there is going to put a price floor under the whole marketplace and drive inflation... but there's hope. There are alternatives to XStreetSL where free and low-cost items will still be commercially viable (and not just inworld). I'm currently looking at both Meta-Life and as alternatives.

That's it for today, tomorrow we'll look at the math.

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Impact - A 100 Word Story

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This was again part of the 100 Word Stories Weekly Challenge. Voting's back, so you can vote for it and listen (and read) the rest of the stories over at the 100 Word Stories site. If you just want to listen to mine alone, you can do so using the player below. (If the player's borked - like in some feed readers - try this link.

In 2012, the whales told us they were intelligent.

Then they told us they were causing global warming.

My roommate giggled as the whale songs were translated into the details of the libertarian Federation of Ceteceans. He laughed harder as the whales revealed their ongoing plan.

Carbon dioxide was the first step. Next, they would free methane trapped at the ocean floor, spiking the temperature and turning the Earth into... well, the Water.

"That's horrible," I said.

"Don't you see the irony?" he asked. "They're libertarians. They don't believe in environmental impact statements!"

I thought I could smell salt water.

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Tis the Season to be...

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I submitted my story "Tis the Season to be..." into the Spec the Halls contest. Spec the Halls is a contest for speculative winter holiday-themed fiction, artwork, and poetry. You may find guidelines and links to other entries at Part of the spirit of the contest is to share the holiday spirit, so works must be publicly accessible. A small teaser of my story is below; you can read the whole thing here.

I saw the note under the tree late in the afternoon. Mike was cleaning up after brunch. The kids had already toted the loot to their rooms and were busy discovering every adventure the molded plastic and their imaginations could devise. The note was near the empty cup and crumby plate where we'd left the traditional yearly offering. The parchment was stiff and dry on my fingers as I began to read the small cramped handwriting.

I have only a little time before my errands (it said). The cat, the collective misunderstanding of millions of high school physics students, twines about my legs while lying dead on the hearth, mewling softly. I don't count for him - or he for me - no matter how much we look at each other. He meows again, and I pour a saucer of milk for him. I'm sick of milk and cookies - a hot coffee and muhallebi would suit me better - but I keep the stuff around for the cat.

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Bye bye XStreet Freebies

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If you haven't heard yet - and apparently quite a few other active people in SL haven't - XStreet is going to start charging for freebies, with the specific intent of getting rid of most of them.

I just posted my reaction - because that means I'll be pulling my products from XStreet as of five minutes ago. I sell a few items, but not enough to cover the listing fee they will start charging. This pretty clearly signals (again) that Linden Labs is more interested in making money than user experience.

I've been told about as an alternative, but haven't had a chance to check it out yet.

If you want to post your reaction, do so here.

I'm yet another Resident who has pulled my items from XStreet. I had a few t-shirts I created, but the main thing I sold? A notecard to help new residents get started. Oh, sure, there's that spanking nice PDF, but that doesn't include LMs, or URLs to other helpful resources, or the USEFUL freebies already separated out from the crap. But it's not worth even L$10 a week for me to list it.

  • In a world as big as SL, the biggest problem is the search and exposure problem - whether you're in it for profits or not. I could create the most wonderful product ever, but unless other people hear about it and can get to it, then it doesn't matter.

  • Inworld shopping is a pain in the ass, especially if you're looking for something specific. Even vaguely comparing it to searching a website is foolish.

  • LL managed to send me a survey (via e-mail) about my attitudes towards new "enhancements" - but couldn't bother to do so re: freebies? Or to do so to ANNOUNCE the office hours? Some of us have day jobs. Or night jobs. Or both.

  • If free and low-cost items are driving down the sales of high cost items, that's simply called market pressure, and means that the high-cost items are priced above equilibrium.

  • Raising the cost of entry might get rid of "crap", but you'll also get rid of those things that don't have a huge profit margin. (T-shirts, anyone?) It also cuts out smaller businesses and hobbyists.

  • The ratings system is supposed to do the job of weeding out bad products; perhaps that should have been revamped first.

Crack down on people reselling full perm stuff for free? Sure. That makes sense. The rest of this roadmap? Seems to be a quick way for the bigger vendors (and LL, taking a little off the top every time we need more $L) to make more money and shut out competition.

Forget that you have a right to live

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I wrote this sometime during 2000 or 2001. I forget it frequently. Today is a good time to remember it. The original posting of it is here, the reading (recorded today) is below, or you can use this link to get to the MP3 if the player's borked. Several people and organizations have used this; it is under a Creative Commons license. I ask that you let me know if you use it, just for my peace of mind.


Just take a deep breath. Go ahead. No one is watching.

Exhaling, I complete yet another sit up and stop. It’s not the burning muscles or the hard ground that stop me – it’s what I see above the ground. The afternoon sky is awash in watercolor grays, light shimmering over steely clouds layered like oil paint. They don’t resemble anything, no bunnies sculpted in water vapor. It’s just the beauty of the colors that takes my breath away. Something alerts my still-exercising friend that I’ve stopped; she asks me if there’s anything wrong.

“It’s just the clouds. They’re beautiful.”

She glances up, shrugs, and begins another repetition.

I am often distracted by the clouds, by the play of light on the bobbing leaves of a tree, a wheeling majestic bird of prey circling over the highway whose motions are echoed by the twirling of a falling leaf. Sometimes I’ll just stop in my tracks and look around in wonder.

Breathe. Feel the air, feel it flow down your throat and fill your lungs.

He is pouting, even though he just ate pepperoni pizza, his favorite. It’s about dessert – or rather, the lack of it. My son wants ice cream, a candy bar, just SOMETHING for dessert. He can’t comprehend why tonight there simply isn’t any. He reminds me that he’s done eating – that was his part of the bargain, right?

I look down at the magazine I’m reading; the article is about children a year older than he carrying AK-47s in a civil war they did not start. There are no overflowing boxes of toys like the ones his room, there is no pizza place that can deliver to them, let alone in thirty minutes or less. The photographed eyes of a child who has seen combat pierce me, and somehow I cannot work up the appropriate sympathy over the lack of dessert.

Breathe. Use your diaphragm. Feel your stomach swell, your lungs inflate. Stretch your chest, ribs spreading to accommodate all the air. Notice exactly how it feels.

We have one of the highest per capita incomes in the world – and one of the highest rates of clinical depression. A staggering proportion of the population is obese – yet people die due to eating disorders and diet plans every day.

Perhaps it’s our vast dissatisfaction – a gaping hole we try to fill with shopping, eating, drinking, even sex. A dissatisfaction that comes from a lack of appreciation. We are excellent at listing what we don’t have, what we want to gain, what we want to change.

We rarely pay attention to what we have.

Even on Thanksgiving, that day of family reunions and slaughtered birds, we stuff ourselves until we are sick of birdflesh, and loathe the leftovers that would be gratefully eaten, half-rotten, by one who had nothing.


We are told that all men are created equal, even though we know that’s a lie. We hear that we have a right to the pursuit of happiness, and mistake that to mean that we have a right TO happiness. We think that if you just play by the rules, play fair, bend the rules, cheat, maybe even if you pray just right, that you’ll get everything you want and it’ll all be okay.

We say “I need” when we really mean “I want”. We tell ourselves “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” - and forget it five seconds later.

We drive ourselves insane with the wanting, the longing, with the feeling that the grass is always greener, that maybe we’re missing out on the one thing, the vital thing, that we never knew we wanted until we saw it on TV.

My son enters stores and solemnly informs me that he wants to buy something. When I ask him what he wants, he tells me he doesn’t know yet – he hasn’t seen it.


Take your worldview in your hands for a minute, and rotate it just a little. Give up your assumptions. Try it – just for a minute. Stop thinking that you have a “right” to see, a “right” to hear, to feel, to smell.

Forget that you have a “right” to live.

Suddenly, life is precious again. Your boss’ annoying voice becomes music. The child incessantly pelting you with questions, demanding your complete attention, is now an angelic creature from heaven. The feel of your muscles aching after a hard run is sweet bliss. The smell of your spouse’s hair, long ignored, floods your senses with joy.

Remove the idea that you have a “right” to live, and every instant becomes a precious gift. Every moment is a treasure, every touch exquisite, every smell is perfume, every sight a beautiful painting.

Every breath a blessing.


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Thanksgiving Burden

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The cool November wind touches me, whipping the cigarette smoke around me. Inside, like in so many other rooms, a bird is sacrificed to a legend of cooperation.

A myth.
A lie.

There is no way to make things better now. There is no "fix" for a situation centuries old. No way to right the wrongs done to other humans whose skin happened to be a different color than ours.

We cannot undo things done long ago.

I used to ask why I was responsible for things I - and even my ancestors - had not themselves done.
It was the wrong question.

The question is "What are you going to do about it now?". There is a simple answer to that.

We can work to make tomorrow better than today.

This is our responsibility. To cede power whenever possible. To let others be heard, even if their words make us feel uneasy. To speak up against oppression and intolerance, no matter how small.

To do these things without wanting or expecting a reward. There will be no kudos, no compliments, save one.
We will know that we are more human than before.

This is our burden.
This is my burden.

And as I put out the cigarette and step back inside, I am thankful for it.

As you digest your food this year, I urge you to take a look at this post from Resist Racism. Maybe, with your help, all of us can be a little more thankful next year.

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Expecting The Fail

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I am a bit of a computer geek. (I know, this is a crushing disappointment for many of you.) One of the positive aspects is that when out-of-the-box vendor software doesn't do exactly what a company wants it to, they can call on me (or someone like me) to fix it for them.

One such program is GE's Xeleris program. It runs "Aladdin" user scripts that are a derivative of Virtual Basic. I taught myself some rudimentary VB, created a series of Xeleris Aladdin scripts for a local hospital, and put them online under a Creative Commons license. I just updated a few of them today.

The idea with the updates was to automatically label images. If it's an anterior image, the right side of the patient will be on the left of the image; the reverse if it's posterior. So far, it seems to be working pretty well. I asked a few of the technologists there to try to "break it" so I can make sure I haven't forgotten anything.

But what puzzles me the most was one employee's reaction: "But that will make people screw up."

I asked for clarification, and that employee said that if someone did not name a study correctly, and wasn't paying attention, then the automatic matching could mis-label the left and the right.

"Well," I told the employee, "if someone's making that big of mistakes with patients, then maybe they shouldn't be working in a hospital."

That wasn't enough for this employee. They kept insisting that these programs would "cause" errors. I think that if an employee isn't performing the study correctly and isn't paying enough attention to realize their error, that's the fault of the employee, not the program. The error, I believe, will happen anyway.

So I need your help. There really isn't more to the conversation that what I've relayed above. I tried to come to some common ground with this employee, but couldn't. I don't understand their point of view, and was having trouble communicating mine. Can any of you help? Comment here, or e-mail me at .


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Hospitality - A 100 Word Story

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This was again part of the 100 Word Stories Weekly Challenge. Voting's back, so you can vote for it and listen (and read) the rest of the stories over at the 100 Word Stories site. If you just want to listen to mine alone, you can do so using the player below. (If the player's borked - like in some feed readers - try this link.

"There, grandpa," Mike said, his young hand releasing the wood tile. "I spelled PIT. How many points is that?"

Grandfather looked at the board. "I think it's ten."

"Did you play this game a lot with grandma before she died?"

"Yes. We played most nights." Grandfather put his tiles down on the board. "Hospital."

The boy frowned and hummed, then his face lit up as he put down his letters. "Hospitality," he said.

"Congratulations," Grandfather said. "You win!"

As they left the room, they left behind the game board. There, for a little while, hospitality was spelled with two e's.

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Palin in 2012 - The GOP's Big Plan

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Look, you know the GOP wants Sarah Palin to run in 2012, right?

Let's be clear: The thought of Palin as president quite frankly terrifies me - even more so than the thought of another term of Dubya. Her lack of coherence (in speech and in thoughts) along with a knee-jerk reactionary streak would be disastrous. But I seriously think that the "powers that be" in the GOP want her to run. At the very least, they're going to do nothing to dissuade her.

They want her to lose.

While Mrs. Palin has very ferverent supporters, they are a small sliver of the populace. Those supporters have a huge overlap with the most immoderate portions of the GOP - a group that has been effectively embarrassing the Republican party for the last 11 months. She is a woman. And perhaps most importantly, she will be running against a foreseeably well-liked incumbent.

If she wins, then great. They've got another Dubya (and probably have a naescent new Karl Rove and Cheney waiting in the wings to be the real power players). But all this adds up to a better-than-average chance that she'll lose in a presidential contest against Obama. If she loses, the GOP still wins. Mrs. Palin - like the other "wedge" issues like abortion, GLBT rights, and immigration that the GOP has used in the past - will increase turnout and give the congressional and state candidates a boost. At the same time, they will have effectively neutralized both the most radical elements of their own party (and Mrs. Palin herself) as well as getting another bit of "evidence" that women make non-viable candidates. [1]

So brace yourself. And for the love of your liver, do NOT play a drinking game where you drink every time she says a sentence that doesn't make sense.

[1] That last bit is a true shame. Every time someone says that she's a good candidate because she's a woman, it makes my inner feminist flinch. Anyone espousing that inherently is saying that she's the best example of HALF the population... and that all other women are less qualified. Were I a woman, I'd be dreadfully insulted by that.

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Court Case - a flash fiction

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[tape begins]

Thank you for letting me defend myself. Your honor, it's silly that anyone would file domestic violence charges against me. I mean, I love her.

[muffled voice of judge and prosecutor]

Sure, your honor. I told her that I wanted to hurt her, but it was because I loved her so much. I didn't actually do it, so that makes it okay, right?

[muffled voice of judge]

Your honor, she needs someone to protect her from all the bad things out there.

[muffled voice of prosecutor, then judge]

Yes, I broke into her house and spied on her. No, your honor, I don't call that voyeurism. I call it love.

[muffled voice of judge and prosecutor]

Of course I stopped her from talking to other boys. You know what all boys want. She doesn't need to be around people like that. And sometimes she just doesn't get it, so I have to scare her a little. But it's for her own good.

[muffled voice of judge, bang of gavel]

Guilty? How can I be guilty? I sparkle in the sunlight!

[pause in recording]

Why is your bailiff named Buffy?

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The problem is...

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The problem is "X".

It doesn't matter what "X" really is. It doesn't matter what the problem is, either. It's a formula you'll see all over the place when you start looking more carefully. You'll see it in relationship advice, in business advice, in debates over social and economic problems. The whole genesis of the problem gets boiled down to a specific cause. "X".

That's interesting enough, but there's more. When you get two different people, with two different values of "X", talking to each other... well, sparks fly. Each will produce evidence and supporting logic. To an outside observer, it quickly becomes clear that they're not just saying "The problem is X". What they're really saying is:

The problem is only my version of "X"."

I've seen [1] so many meetings, debates, and just plain arguments where nobody was able to say:

The problem is" X" and "Y".

Too frequently, it gets to the point where everyone argues whether X or Y is "right" - even though they might both be - and nobody actually addresses the problem at hand.

The next time you get caught in this, why don't you try making it go away?

Be the person who says "and".

Then we can actually start to focus on the problem.

[1] And when you think about it, you may have as well

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Freud and the Zombie Apocalypse

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[Some vague spoilery elements follow, though nothing too surprising. Also, you really want to embiggen the pictures - they're a LEGO zombie apocalypse! Awesome!]

"Something need not have happened to be true. Tales and dreams are the shadow truths that will endure long after mere fact is but dust and ashes, and forgot." - The Sandman, by Neil Gaiman

Zombieland is a very different movie than Shaun of the Dead, even though both comedies involve huge mobs of zombies. The difference is not simply USAian versus British humor; the difference is Freudian.

Shaun of the Dead involves two friends and the people they know and care about slowly being torn apart. As the movie continues, the group is slowly torn apart by animated thanatos - a shambling death eating everyone. Zombieland, in contrast, shows a group slowly being formed in the face of the zombie horde.

Freud, judging by Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, would approve of these themes.

The text of Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego itself appears to be in plain language, but the thoughts presented are convoluted. He spends a great deal of time setting up other people's arguments in order to knock them down. Discussions of mobs are insufficient. Simple organization to counteract the dehumanizing and uncivilizing effect of a group is insufficient. Throughout, he posits that a leader is necessary for a group - whether a temporary mob or a persistent, organized group like an army - to form.

But really, it's not about the leader. The leader is just a focus. Really, it's about eros. It's about love.

Freud's basic argument can be summed up much more simply than he does in the text. As individuals, we are driven by libido - a biological urge for sex. When this urge is met, we no longer need to look elsewhere for connection. But when the urge is not met, things move from the biological to the social realm.

When our desire for sex is obstructed - whether it's from a hundred other fans all loving the same musician, the impropriety of doing it in the road (no matter what John Lennon said) or social taboos about dating our parents - that desire can't just go away. Instead, it is re-channeled into other emotions. He calls it sublimation; I call it transformation. Instead of mere biological sex, it becomes affection. Love. When we cannot possess (sexually, of course, this is Freud) what we desire, it becomes important to us. More important, eventually, than our own self.

This is why leaders are important. They are someone we can hang our hopes, our ideals, our love on. When our drives are focused on a group - and therefore, on the leader of the group - it shuts out other avenues for this drive, this libido, to manifest itself.

Freud structures his argument as a series of logical, theoretical propositions. If X is true, then Y must follow. If X does not account for some observed instance, then there must be another, better explanation. It is almost Aristotelian in deductive structure. Unlike the pure logic of Aristotle and Plato, Freud illustrates his account with case studies and examples from his times. Nearly all of his examples - again, save the army and church - point back towards individual people. He describes the individual psychology of the toddler and pubescent, of the women circling a performer, or of his mythical ur-leader depriving his sons of sexual satisfaction. This is not a contradiction.

We form groups to create something larger than ourselves - and perhaps something immortal. But though Freud nominally talks about groups in this text, it is really about individuals. He takes a reductionist view of groups; that is, a group is not an indivisible entity. Instead it is an agglomeration of individuals who have taken a particular libidinal stance towards a leader. That is why, at the end of the text, he returns to the individual instead of the group. Ultimately, groups are an effect of individual psychology, not a phenomenon unto themselves.

Because, in Freud's view, this group membership is a redirection of the individual libido, we can use personal examples to illustrate the principles of larger collections of people. Smokers - sucking in their own thanatos death wish - spontaneously form groups. The courtly love of the Middle Ages is, to him, no different in principle than a dedicated Obama supporter in 2008 or a fan wearing a Michael Jackson commemorative t-shirt after his death. We can see the same drive that creates groups reflected in couples having sex after a funeral.

Or zombie movies.

Shaun of the Dead leaves us (somewhat - it is a comedy after all) with a bleak ending. Despite the stabilization of the fictional world, the core group we identified with has been largely slaughtered. Zombieland leaves us exultant, even though its universe is far more desperate. In that movie, the group not only forms, but is ultimately strengthened. Regardless of the actual chances of the survivors past the immediate end of the movie, our drives do not know the difference.

Freud's work has largely been discredited. His explanations - the ur-leader depriving his sons of sex - strike modern readers as ludicrous. His openly misogynistic sexism and heterosexism grates the nerves. Freud's explanation for bipolar disorder - now known to be a largely organic brain ailment - is at best misguided.

And yet.

Even in our circles of friends, even in our families, there are leaders. There is someone who holds the group together, and when they leave, the groups find a new leader or fall apart.

When we lay dying, we send for these people. We send for friends, family, and clergy. They are all representatives, members, or even leaders of our groups. As we face thanatos ourselves, we wish for the reminders of love. We wish to be surrounded by the members of our group.

And that is the horror of zombies. Instead of eros - or even a sublimated version in our group ties - these characters find themselves surrounded by its antithesis.

Freud is almost certainly wrong. His explanations don't hold up under empirical evidence. Very few therapists use psychoanalysis the way Freud did. Even at the time, his critics accused him of telling a type of "Just-So Story", and that critique seems true. He told stories to try to describe what he saw, just as the ancients he alludes to told myths to explain thunder, storms, love, and death.

But his conceptualizations have taken hold in the popular psyche. In a somewhat ironic twist, they've hit a Jungian nerve.

Because even though they are stories, and may bear little resemblance to empirical evidence, that doesn't mean they are not true.

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Stuffing - A 100 Word Story

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This was again part of the 100 Word Stories Weekly Challenge. Voting's back, so you can vote for it and listen (and read) the rest of the stories over at the 100 Word Stories site. If you just want to listen to mine alone, you can do so using the player below. (If the player's borked - like in some feed readers - try this link.

[As a side note, this story is a complement to a much earlier flash bit I wrote entitled "A Brief History of Activism".]

Fluffles the Bunny looked over the flesh crowd. A few other clothies were here, but they were more concerned with not being smooshed underfoot than listening.

Snookums Bear studied the crowd over Fluffles' shoulder. "Ugly crowd, boss."

Fluffles narrowed his button eyes. "It's the first anniversary of our struggle, when Dan Bear stood up to the humans." The bunny took the microphone and began his speech.

"Do I not have eyes? If you prick us, do we not bleed?"

Fluffles then noticed polyester fill poking through one of his seams.

The crowd kicked the stuffing out of him.

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Suicide and Screaming

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When I was fifteen, I stopped my girlfriend from committing suicide.

She was a few years older than me. I don't remember much about the relationship, really. I remember hanging out in the Student Union. I remember making awesome chocolate chip cookies with her - they stayed soft because she added mayo. And I remember that she was a recovering alcoholic.

The call was in the evening. I don't remember what she said, exactly. I do remember walking the block and a half to her house and finding the door unlocked. She was upstairs in the bathtub naked.

It wasn't sexy. Some of the wine had been emptied into the tub with her, filling the room with a stale stink. She held the shattered sharp shards of a broken bottle in one hand, gesturing towards her other wrist.

Another friend had called, and I asked them to call the authorities. In the twenty minutes before the ambulance came, I managed to talk her out of the tub. She fought me, wanting to leave and go back to the guy who had given her the alcohol. I wouldn't let her. She screamed and cursed me. She scratched and hit and bit until the EMTs arrived. I felt miserable.

Later, she thanked me for saving her. She kissed me, even though our relationship was effectively over.

Twenty years pass.

Last night, I called the police. The screaming from the downstairs apartment woke me. It was the second time in a week it'd done so, but this time I was awake enough to act. Two women live there, and one of the boyfriends had gone on another tirade.

About a month ago, I'd asked them to calm down during one of these fights. Then, she was apologetic; he was threatening to both me and his girlfriend. While he later apologized, that didn't affect last night.

I couldn't make out many words before I called, just him roaring and things smashing right afterward. Her softer cries after things crashed around.

I called the police, and again, I felt miserable. It wasn't my life, after all. It wasn't my fight. But it sounded bad. Really bad. But it was still hard to do. I felt like I was making a big deal about just a lover's quarrel. In my head, for a second, I had the thought "Why doesn't she just leave?"

But I called.

I didn't stand outside and look, nor did I try to eavesdrop. The heating vents carried the sounds well enough. After I'd called, before the police arrived, I heard her cry out "No, no no!" I heard him roar back "I didn't hurt you, do you want me to hurt you?" I heard her scream at him to leave her alone, to get out of her house, and his shouted denial.

And after the police arrived, after things calmed down, I heard her sobs of sadness. And maybe, just maybe, they were sobs of relief.

I think I'm going to have a chocolate chip cookie today. I hope it will be soft.

Please read Jim Hines' post addressing "Why Doesn't She Just Leave?", which played a role in my getting past that mental roadblock. The Artemis center further addresses that point, and has more resources. The 24 hour hotline for domestic violence is 1-800-799-SAFE, and you can read more at

[Edited to add Artemis Center information]

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Facebook Shows The Real You

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[Steve's note: The text in the picture is a little naughty. Click to embiggen.]

As my friend Misfitina recently discovered (yes, I read your LJ even if I don't comment often), sometimes people don't want to get to know you. Not really.

Our public personas (or other people's interpretation of our public persona) may be very different than our private persona or our own self-conception. In Misfitina's case, the "quiet studious vixen" is revealed as really being "a social critic and doesn't pander to any community". The opposite would be a surprise to me - I've only known the latter woman.

Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and the plethora of other social networking sites have huge potential to start busting up these false public personas. Suddenly our "work friends" run into our "outside work friends". Our work persona runs smack into our outside work persona. (Substitute school, church, group, or whatever categorization you like.) It makes it difficult to manage who gets to see what public mask - and they might not like the results.

I think that's a good thing, in the long run. The illusion of society and normalcy upheld by these false public personas is simply that - an illusion. But it's an illusion that we tend to treat as real, no matter how harmful it may be to someone. In Stigma, the social psychologist Goffman points out that everyone is, in some way, at some point of their life, stigmatized. You'll be too young (or old) to take care of yourself. Sick. Part of a "deviant" group of some kind, whether that's public knowledge or not. And yet, despite the fact that all of us are stigmatized, we accept the negative value judgement of a stigma towards others.

And that's so much bullshit.

As we become more connected and more wired, we'll have less ability to control our public masks. We will, instead, have to be genuine and truthful about ourselves - whether we want to or not. We will see how truly screwed up we are - and that everyone else is just as screwed up as we are.

And on that day we will be a little more free.

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Why Postmodernism is So Fracking Confusing

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Give me a clear definition of postmodernism. Especially one that tells me what it is, instead of what it isn't.

Good luck with that.

One of the biggest frustrations you often get with postmodernism (especially in sociology, literature, or philosophy) is the sheer convoluted contradictory mess of what gets called postmodern. The thing is, anybody who is definitively telling you what postmodernism is about is full of crap.

See, here's the thing. Modernism was all about utility and putting stuff in conceptual boxes. There was order. Postmodernism is a reaction against that - but the very nature of modernism is to subsume everything. Reactions against modernism would simply become another box in the modernist landscape.

Postmodernism says that's crap. If reality is not uniform or universal, then there can be no pigeonholes (because they're illusory). Therefore, if there can be a simple, accessible way to "get" postmodernism, then it simply becomes another pigeonhole. Being contradictory and confusing means that it inherently cannot be pigeonholed.

So the contradictory confusing mess of postmodernism isn't a bug. It's a feature.

(and yes, you want to embiggen the picture and read the text!)

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Mystery Ingredient - A 100 Word Story

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This was again part of the 100 Word Stories Weekly Challenge. Voting's back, so you can vote for it and listen (and read) the rest of the stories over at the 100 Word Stories site. If you just want to listen to mine alone, you can do so using the player below. (If the player's borked - like in some feed readers - try this link.

One. Take one candlestick. Combine with the brain of your ex-lover at high speed. In the library.
Two. Wipe fingerprints from fixtures and door handles for thirty seconds.
Three. Use two cups of the victim's blood to write radical slogans for a religion you do not follow on the walls.
Four. Place body in bathtub filled with sulfuric acid. Allow to steep until soft..
Five. Knead C4 around support pillars of home. Place detonators.
Six. Exit, then detonate. Allow all ingredients to cook until fire and police departments arrive.
Seven. Watch TV anchors speculate about your identity.

Serves one.

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Conclusion - Vignette 10

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[Steve's note - this continues the various short vignettes highlighting parts of Marcuse's One-Dimensional Man Here are links to the introduction, could becoming should, religion, rationalization of brutality, threats that aren't threats, the sometimes subtle structures of power, Fight Club as Social Commentary, Marcuse versus Popular Culture, and a quick analysis of his work's effectiveness.]

When you meet someone, we ask them what they do.
Their answer often has a strong correlation to their self-identity. Our language reflects it: "I am a teacher" or "I am a doctor." But that correlation does not extend to what we want to do. For most of us, the work we do does not reflect anything about who we want to be.
For now.

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I don't need fuzzy idealism - racial profiling is simply craptastic

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There's two big reasons why racial profiling is crap - and I'm not going to bore you by pulling out some ideals about "racial harmony" and how we should all just get along. You don't have to. Racial profiling is a bad policy, and justified by crappy logic.

Racial profiling is bad security and policing policy. There is no reason to think that criminals, terrorists, or drug dealers are stupid. As soon as we concentrate law enforcement towards a specific group, the "bad guys" will change tactics. In fact, the smart and effective bad guys will do this - and the only ones we'll catch are the dumbasses. A large number of the "terrorists" we've caught inside CONUS fall into this category, with barely workable plans (if they even had plans). This makes me worry that while we were chasing these idiots, the competent ones are working off the radar.

Racial profiling is justified by crappy logic. For example, my new mayor talked in May about how "certain groups" [1] tended to be arrested more, and so justified racial profiling as being a necessary evil. [2] But that's a logical tautology. We've known for a while that drug usage in many categories is roughly equivalent among whites and blacks, but arrests and convictions are strongly skewed towards blacks. [3] So think about this for a second. If we're focusing our police efforts towards any group of people, we'll see more arrests and convictions in that group of people. Which then is used to justify concentrating our policing efforts among that group of people... yeah. You see how this is a never-ending cycle that doesn't actually address the real problem of crime.

There's more reasons why profiling is crappy for our society - for example, how it causes profiled groups to distrust and not cooperate with law enforcement - but these two alone show how racial profiling actively undermines our security and produces its own false justification.

[1] I'm paraphrasing. The original is here.
[2] I am strongly simplifying.

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You are the change - even if you don't see it (Vignette Nine)

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[Steve's note - this continues the various short vignettes highlighting parts of Marcuse's One-Dimensional Man Here are links to the introduction, could becoming should, religion, rationalization of brutality, threats that aren't threats, the sometimes subtle structures of power, Fight Club as Social Commentary, and Marcuse versus Popular Culture.]

Marcuse seems unaware of his own place in history. He is part of the antithesis. He - and One-Dimensional Man - are parts of the reaction he fears will not come. At the same time, he seems bent on making his dire prophecy self-fulfilling. His "masterwork" is convoluted and inaccessible - not due to the ideas, but simply due to the convoluted writing style. He is consistently unaware of his elitism. He complains about the impenetrable nature of philosophic speech - while being similarly impenetrable himself. He is routinely naive about the power-hungry nature of people. He spins a tight tautology that requires strict adherence to his own world-view - and anything less is being co-opted by the dominant paradigm.

And yet, despite all its flaws, the ideas in the text are revolutionary.

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Bambi Ain't Priscilla - Movies, Marcuse, and Empathy (Vignette Eight)

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[Steve's note - this continues the various short vignettes highlighting parts of Marcuse's One-Dimensional Man Here are links to the introduction, could becoming should, religion, rationalization of brutality, threats that aren't threats, the sometimes subtle structures of power, and Fight Club as Social Commentary.]

Fight Club QuotesYou know how the movie is going to end. The mouse produced it, after all, and the mouse does not make uncomfortable movies. An eleven-year-old raped Native American is transformed into a magical maiden able to talk to animals. Abuse and confinement is okay, as long as the Beast has a good heart after all. Marcuse is right in one way; empathizing with these characters lessens us.

Sure, Bambi might lose his mother, but that isn't empathy. That's catharsis. Your "connection" to the character does not help you understand another; it simply helps you feel better about yourself.

The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert is a cult hit. It is a powerful, moving story about three genderqueer people going on a road trip. When the corporations in Hollywood realized that they had a ready-made market for this kind of film, they created To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything. Julie Newmar. It, too, is a movie about three genderqueer people going on a road trip. Several of the scenes are lifted wholesale from Priscilla.... But it was never the critical and cult success that Priscilla... still is. Ultimately, To Wong Foo... fails to be the one-dimensional pap it was intended as; it is not a "family friendly" film. But it does not appeal on a multidimensional leve, either.

The characters in To Wong Foo... are always ghettoized. They are always the Other. No empathy can occur between the audience and the characters. In Priscilla..., however, the characters are still fathers, sons, and people. We know fathers. We know sons. We know other people who are kind of like this.

The audience, through empathy, has the walls of their rat maze shifted just a little bit.

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An Open Letter to Maine From an Ohioan

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[As a quick note: If you're going to comment and tell me how gay marriage is "wrong", please make sure that you aren't repeating any of the arguments I've already addressed here and here. KTHX.]

At the time I'm writing this, gay marriage in Maine is either "too close to call" or "defeated", depending on the news source you're looking at. So, since this state was an asshat back in 2004 (hell, we screwed up the state constitution to do it), I thought I should share some advice with your GLBT citizens and allies.

Even if it passes (and believe me, I hope "too close to call" becomes "a narrow victory"), the closeness of the measure means you need to hear this now.

  1. Ignore the "WTF, Maine" impulse. Both in yourself and others. Half the people in your state is not equivalent to your whole state. Besides, you've made huge progress to this point. Take a look at the General Social Survey. Even in 2006, nationally, only 36% of the people said they favored letting gay people marry. You've already done better than that. You are having an effect: Keep at it.

  2. If you are GLBT and not out, become so. You don't have to make it a constant issue, but just as much a fact as your friends, co-workers, and peers make their sex and relationship lives part of your daily interactions. If you're an ally, become openly so. Get a bumper sticker - I have a rainbow one that says "Friendly". Get a small button. Why? Because everyday routine interactions with GLBT people and allies is the most effective intervention against homophobia and transphobia. That way you are a co-worker, friend, peer instead of some amorphous "other".

  3. It's not over. Anti-miscegenation laws were not repealed until 1967, and two states didn't get on board until the end of the 20th century. There's still holdouts, too, like that asshat judge who was refusing to marry interracial couples this year. This was never a one-time, one-vote thing.

Even if gay marriage is upheld in Maine, it's such a narrow thing that you cannot sit back and relax. Regardless of the outcome, today is the first day of the rest of the struggle. Someday both Maine and Ohio will get our acts together, and we'll sit back and laugh about how bigoted we used to be.

Maybe not today.

But someday.

Fight Club isn't a failed social commentary - it means you missed the point (Vignette Seven)

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[Steve's note - this continues the various short vignettes highlighting parts of Marcuse's One-Dimensional Man Here are links to the introduction, could becoming should, religion, rationalization of brutality, threats that aren't threats, and the sometimes subtle structures of power.]

Fight Club QuotesOn Wikipedia, there's a summary of the academic discussion of Fight Club, which calls the movie a failed social commentary.

This is because the movie version of Fight Club straddles the societal rat-maze frame, punching it in the gut repeatedly until it pukes. The movie culminates with a plan to take down the credit agencies and the credit rating agencies. And by "take down", I mean "blow up the buildings and records". Erase the underpinnings of societal debt and obligation. Set the score as close to zero as possible.

Instead of focusing on escaping the current worldview by any means - and forcing as many people to do so as possible - the critics comment on it in terms of the current dominant structure. The critics complain about how societal dynamics are ignored. They complain that "democratic notions of political reform" are ignored. They see the violence of the fight clubs as glorifying violence for the sake of violence.

Their one-dimensional thinking misses the point. The character Tyler Durden - both antagonist and protagonist in a dialectic that Marcuse would love - is in the process of smashing those same societal dynamics. Their objections are ultimately irrelevant to Tyler because he's trying [2] to move past them. The fight clubs are not an end; they are a means to breaking from the trap of one-dimensional thinking.

[1] The ending of the book and the movie differ significantly; the book's ending is in many ways far less radical.
[2] Yes, I'm aware Tyler Durden is a flawed character and has his own issues. And again, I'm aware the book (and the author in his own life) have even more flaws. Work with me here.

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Structures of Power (Vignette Six)

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[Steve's note - this continues the various short vignettes highlighting parts of Marcuse's One-Dimensional Man Here are links to the introduction, could becoming should, religion, rationalization of brutality and threats that aren't threats.]

Vignette Six

The employer tells the assembled workers that if someone needs special medical care, they will "work with us on an individual basis".

The wave of relief palpably flows across the auditorium. The low murmurs of discontent quiet with a hundred individuals imagining the exceptions all being for them.

When another worker questions the harsh rules, the others roll their eyes.

"Weren't they listening?" one asks. "They'll make special exceptions."

Vignette Six and a Half
He told me that it wasn't enough for them to just fix his problem.

He transitioned from female to male while in college. Bureaucratic paperwork was one of his biggest problems; a simple change of a letter from M to F seemed to be beyond the capability of an entire university. But simply changing his own record was not his goal, though.

"I made it my mission on campus to run into all the walls I could, so the person behind me didn't have to run into that [sic] and could just go straight on through."

Vignette Six and Three Quarters
When I talk to people about race, I often paraphrase a passage from Privilege, Power, and Difference:

"When I was playing Monopoly with my children, I realized that I was being mean to them. It was not anything personal; it was just the way the game is played. To be nice to someone while playing Monopoly is cheating. You're breaking the rules. But I am not mean to my children. I don't want to be mean to my children.

"So I stopped playing Monopoly."

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