Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

Kissing for Dummies

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"If you're going to f**k me, you've got to kiss me first." G.W. Bush, 1999

She told me that I was a good kisser. Even though I'm still not sure I believe that, it wasn't the first time I'd been told that - and it wouldn't be the first time that their opinion would change over time. But where, exactly, is kissing in our culture? Where's the how-to books? Where's the kissing spam?

I hadn't really noticed the absence of kissing advice and literature until I read "Unnatural Acts", an excerpt from Sex is an Unnatural Act and Other Essays by Leonore Tiefer. In retrospect, the most explicit mentions of kissing vis a vis love and sex I'm aware of in popular culture are in Heinlein's _Stranger in a Strange Land_ and in the film _Pretty Woman_. The former (despite its flaws) makes a strong effort to shatter taboos and explore sensuality and spirituality simultaneously. Its popularity at the time of its release - with grok even entering the cultural lexicon - is evidence of the repressed desire for this exploration. The blank looks one gets today when mentioning it, however, are stronger evidence of the maintenance of the status quo.

But the status, as Dr. Horrible would say, is not quo. Though _Pretty Woman_ makes it explicit, the kiss has popularly been held up as the significant difference between sex and love; the first step towards that "fusion of bodies" and... yeah, you've read the same overwrought prose too. So, there's a whole lot of importance put on a kiss in our culture that simply doesn't allow for anything other than mind-blowing awesomeness. If, for whatever reason, your kisses, sex acts, or whatever don't feel like the unfolding of a romance novel, our culture tells us it must be crap.

Which brings us back to my kissing technique. I had - and at some level still do - buy into this concept of kissing as a vital signal of being in a romantic relationship. Both implicitly and explicitly, I have believed that a kiss completed an unspoken contract. In a disturbing parallel to the conclusion of Gethsemane, a kiss was the sign that the person I was kissing was "the one".

Despite the examples of numerous movies, this did not always work out well. This explicitly mechanistic view led to awkward attempts to kiss another; rather than being swept off their feet and into a relationship, they instead became offended. (Yet at other times it did work; is it possible that my dating success is directly related to the amount of buy-in the women I was attracted to had with John Hughes (you know, Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles) films of the 80's?)

Ah, yes. But there's the bit where I'm (supposedly) a good kisser. I'm willing to bet that this holds true across cultures and is valid regardless of techniques of kissing. Not so much that *I* am a good kisser - but it's the same skills across cultures, regardless of how you kiss.

It's not really about particular mouth movements, where one kisses, or even how you kiss. It's about focus and attention. As relationships changed and soured - or even as things became more busy or routine - the amount of focus and attention changed. Think about the stereotypical Dagwood kiss out the door - it's obvious that his focus is elsewhere, even though we'd never really blame him for it. Even if the mechanics of the technique remained the same, the person I was kissing would be able to sense the difference. Even more so than the sex act itself, kissing is all about the social process of interaction, and maintaining focus on the other instead of the self.

So if you're not satisfied with the way your partner kisses, then ask what's going on in the relationship. What can you do to change things - not about the kisses themselves, but about the relationship? And try to carve out some time to kiss - time where you're not distracted by other things, other worries.

Thar be boobies (SFW)

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Steve's note: Like most of my essays, the events mentioned in here are slightly fictionized and anonymized. If it seems like I'm talking about you, I probably am not.. but it should make you think about your own situation, huh?

She puts the sign on the breakroom door: "Do not enter." It's her second child, and we know why it's blocked off. I suppose that someone could hear the whirring from outside the door, but the machine is quieter than you might imagine. Regardless, we know why the door is shut, why the door is locked, why the sign is up.

There be boobies in there.

She only works part time so that she can spend more time with her children; I can only presume that she breastfeeds at home. Here, though, she pumps and saves it for her kids. It's a good thing, and she's been surprisingly open about it.

Which is why it's all the more asinine that a male co-worker is pawing at the door and pretending to mew like a kitten. Nobody - well, besides me - will call that sexual harrassment. But I tell him to quit acting like a tool of the patriarchy; maybe sheer annoyance at my ranting will get him to change his behavior.


"I adopted my first child, so I didn't breastfeed her." I'm not sure how it came up, but there it was. The customer wanted to talk about breastfeeding. And helpful me, I had to share all the bits of information I had.

"Oh, it's actually possible to breastfeed if you've adopted a child. I understand it's not fun and it's quite a bit of work, but it is possible. Actually, I even think that guys can breastfeed."

Her incredulous expression ratchets up several notches. I continue, oblivious: "The biology is pretty much the same, though I believe it's even harder than it is to get a woman to start lactating. But it is possible."

As we continue the business transaction, she keeps saying that she wants to hear more, but there isn't more to hear. It can happen, even though we normally don't force it to. But she keeps coming back to it, an itching scab on the surface of her reality.


"Oh, was she one of those breastfeeders?"

I was walking through the common room, but slowed down slightly. The two women continued to talk.

"No, no. She would breastfeed when out places, but she kept herself covered up."

I wanted to stop and ask why. I wanted to stop and ask why any breastfeeding mother was responsible for someone else's purient acts. I wanted to ask how this was different than the craptastic "She was asking for it" excuses rapists keep trying to use to shift the blame away from thier own behavior.

I wanted to ask, but I didn't. How do I bring it up in a conversation I wasn't a part of?


Really, does any more need to be said to illustrate our society's irreconcilable views of breasts? That we try to see them as utterly sexual - but also somehow maternal and outside the realm of sex - simultaneously? Yet, despite all the "problems" being the behavior and expectations of men, the ones who bear the cost of this are women.


Women, (not pornographic, but probably NSFW) here's a site that illustrates what real breasts in a non-pornographic situation look like. Variation and difference are all normal - the real freaks are the people out there who think all women should have the proportions of a Bratz doll.

The sexualizing of breasts and breastfeeding could clearly contribute to incidents of sexual harrassment and discrimination. Should this be more visibly prosecuted? Why or why not?

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Submission tubes still firing...

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Another work out this week (though earlier, I just didn't tell you all about it); a non-fiction work I feel kind of passionately about. Hopefully it'll find a print home here locally so more people can see it.

Clarkesworld respectfully disagreed with me about my story, so I'll be looking to see if I can revise/expand it any. It's short enough that word count restrictions are problematic... though if any editors would be interested in a 1.3K word dark urban fantasy/ magical realism bit... well, let me know.

That and once again I'll be presenting at the North Central Sociological Association's meeting in a few months. Hopefully they'll have powerpoint; I intend to crib from TED talks instead of academic presentations, and I've got a hellacious backdrop that begs to be used in a multimedia format....

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Inventing Heterosexuality, Ignoring Obesity

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"The Invention of Heterosexuality" by Jonathan Ned Katz (at least, the excerpt we read) wasn't surprising to me. Not entirely, at least. I'd written about the social construction of homosexuality quite some time ago while defending gay marriage in an online forum (both the original and its reprise a decade later are available on my website). So the concept that sexuality is socially constructed isn't a big one for me. I had - shortly before reading this essay - realized how much of an impact the concept of "courtly love" has had on both my and society's perception of sex, so even that was robbed of some of its shock value. If you're shaking your head, wondering what I mean that homosexuality is socially constructed, or wondering what practices in the Middle Ages have to do with today's social norms... you should go read the book.

However, I thought it was interesting to see the author's own cultural prejudice show up. They neglected obesity. How skinny - or overweight - "attractive people" were has changed even in the last thirty-odd years, let alone over the broad swath of history described here. Take a look at Twiggy dancing in these photos, and then look at Betty Page. It's easy to dismiss other cultures as simply being alien; our change over time here is worth noticing. It's even noticeable in individuals, depending on whom they're around. While I was in the military, I'd look at overweight people and think "fatbody" to myself... much to my (overweight) chagrin now.

But it gets worse.

I remember being in the gifted program while in junior high. Rather, I remember seeing Angela, and crushing over her horribly. She was smart, attractive and self-confident. I didn't think I was any of those things. (In retrospect, I'll cede "smart", but only that one.)

She was presenting a group project about the Renaissance and Victorian ages, and I suddenly realized that I had an "in". She was interested in these topics. She idealized them. And my pudgy self thought that I might be able to redefine Angela's view of my attractiveness.

"They liked fat people back then," I said.


I ignored the silence that descended over the classroom, pushing valiantly on. "Someone who was a little overweight was considered really attractive!" I smiled, and waited for her to realize that she really did like me, despite my chubbiness.

Twenty years later, I cringe in horror at my earlier self. She - a female in USAian society - had to be grappling with body image issues. I, flailing (and oh yes, I was flailing) with my own insecurities, surely sounded like I was apologizing for her shortcomings. As the author points out, our social constructions seem perfectly natural and everpresent, even though we can note them changing.

Still, it's no wonder she never went out with me.

Discussion Questions:
  1. What other trends in sexual desirability have changed in your lifetime? Have the traits you find desireable changed during your life?
  2. In what ways does the assumption of heterosexuality mirror the assumption of "white culture" being an invisible culture? Discuss how these areas of study inform each other.

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Blind E-mails Are Your Friend

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I didn't count on the spam.

I've presented during at least one regional academic conference a year for the last several years now. The topics have ranged a great deal. I've talked about the economic costs of rebuilding Iraq and using co-ops to revitalize inner cities. Last year I spoke about the difficulties adult students have with the college class schedule; I'm presenting some more research on that topic later this year. That wasn't the problem.

What I didn't expect was getting mass e-mails.

Not about the things I wrote about; instead, it has been from conference organizers, asking if I'll be on this panel or that, wondering if I have research that will fill out their topics. Again, not a problem.

The problem was that the senders - actual humans, apparently - sent them to every person who had presented at that conference in the last two years. And each and every one of our e-mail addresses was in the to: line.

I will send messages to groups of five or six people like this. Family, circles of friends or co-workers. People who I know have gotten e-mail from each other. When I send the (rare) Big Announcement to most of my address book, their addresses are in the blind carbon copy field.


Two days after I got the large mass e-mail, I received a message from a deposed Nigerian prince. I wasn't the only one - there were hundreds of recipients on that To: line. And nearly every person on it was from an .edu account.

Many e-mail programs will automatically add recipients to your address book. This isn't a problem until you run into a virus or trojan that captures all the addresses there, and sends them to spammers.

So now, because one or two people couldn't figure out how to use BCC, everyone on that list is getting Nigerian scam spam.

Please, for the love of your keyboard, please practice safe e-mailing.

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Greeting Card Landscapes - A Flash Fiction

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Look, I don't know why I'm here.  Even if you could hear me, the ventilator's too damn loud. You would think that a nice hospital like this one would have a newer model.  Maybe it's because Medicaid's paying for all this.  I dunno.

Robert's doing well.  He's responding to therapy.  You wouldn't like his therapist;  I'm not sure I do.  But it's working.  They tell me it's because he's still young.  He's young enough that we - his therapist and I, not you, of course - can work to undo the damage.  All the crap you did to him while I was overseas.

Still, I wouldn't have known to take him if you hadn't ended up here.

The lines on the monitors always remind me of little mountain ranges.  Up and down, like back home.  Yes, my home, thanks for reminding me again.  I know, I know, you were born out in Kansas, where it's flat.  Right.  You always complained about the mountains, about having to walk up and down those hills. 

Robert asked if he could visit, but they won't let kids on the ICU here.  You had to go and overdose in some backwards place, somewhere that hadn't heard of letting kids get closure.

Then again, maybe he's had enough closure.

Anyway, it's a long drive up here.  I'm not sure I'll be back either.  I need some closure too.

Still, I shouldn't be rude.  Here, let me fix the view for you.

You always preferred flat plains to mountains.

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Unions and CEOs and morale, oh my!

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Most analyses of the failings of the American economy - especially of the auto industry - tend to be ideological, and therefore, flawed. Business is not a one way street; this is the major failing of capitalists and proletariat alike. Unions and CEOs both have tripped over ideological footstools in their insistence to find the viewpoint that gives their position the most power.

A case in point: I was commissioned to survey the morale of employees of a local business. The managers were happy with the survey design, and the survey of employee morale went out. Long story short: It seems like there's a strong correlation between how positively one views oneself and how positively one views one's co-workers.

So the "typical" management take home lesson is that it's all on the workers to get a positive attitude, right? [1]

Well, no.

The survey does have some implications for workers. There is an obligation for the workers to try to view things in the most positive way. There is an obligation here to do the right thing by themselves, their co-workers, and the business. That will improve things not just for themselves, but for all the people there.

But management also has a role. Management's role requires analysis to discern - but that's why they're managers, right? It's difficult, for example, to have a positive view of anything while the workload is so large that it is simply impossible to handle. It's hard to be upbeat when the trainwreck of conflicting rules and priorities was visible from two days away, and everyone denied its existence. It's hard to be happy when the slackers and naysayers get the same smile and pleasant tone as those who are working hard. It's impossible to be optimistic when your best efforts seem like they are never going to be enough.

Management - through scheduling, HR, and a dozen other means - directly affects all of these things.

And it's really impossible to be positive when your boss is denying their responsibility and making it all yours.

Two-way street, folks. The more we view these things as collaborative problems rather than antagonistic ones, the better off we'll be.

[1] Luckily for them, the management at this business seems to agree with me.

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Tripping the Folkway Fantastic

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Yup. This was a breaching assignment - so I decided to have fun with it. Fair warning to students trying to harvest this essay: I know that spiders my work. Still, I think the writeup has a couple points that aren't normally covered in breaching experiments. That and @definethis brought up this excellent question vis a vis new social networks. Maybe the new technocratic extroverts can translate that into a more human reality.

We do not "come into" this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean "waves," the universe "peoples." Every individual is an expression of the realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe. - Alan Watts

I first noticed the fast food workers in DC. They were resigned to dealing with the hordes of teenagers on class trips. They were resigned to dealing with my classmates. They were resigned to dealing with me. I do not think anyone else really noticed it, though I could not ask. I barely had the vocabulary to discuss it at the time. However, I could notice it: Everyone on one side of the counter was white; everyone on the other was black.

That pattern does not always hold - sometimes the people on the other side are some shade of brown, rarely are they white. However, as I traveled across the country, skin color was not the most common factor. Instead, it was their body language. You can see it in janitors, maids, in busboys and fast-food workers. They are our modern servants, stripped even of the miserly honor of serving the same people. Instead, they are meant to be invisible and interchangeable, with dark desexing uniforms.

Well, fuck that.

I spent most of a week greeting these service workers. I did so as loudly, flamboyantly, and happily as I could. I projected my voice as I asked how their days were in an almost-unbelievably cheerful tone. Rather than continue with the normal mumbled "You toos" and "Have a nice days", I forced a startlingly direct conversation. "Ha - HA!" I'd laugh. "No, really, how was your day? I would like to know!"

Eye contact.

That's what sold it. The eye contact told them that it was not just another person with just another routine greeting. I asked, maintained eye contact, and waited for their reply. I laughed loudly, and often. Everything was "excellent", "awesome", and "splendid".

Because of the variety of locales I cycle through, the socioeconomic status of the recipients of my experiment was unusually large. Regardless, four instances were representative. As I passed a black, middle-aged janitor in the halls of a local college, I greeted him with a hearty "Hello, sir! And how does today find you?" He looked up at me briefly, then looked back down and continued down the hallway. At the Panera near a local college, I ordered in the hearty, jovial voice, and continued to engage the staff in that manner, discussing the pleasures of a hot mocha and the near-heresy of iced coffee during the winter months. Of the two staff members - both presenting as young female college students of middle to upper middle class, one white and one black - the black barista smiled, quickly finished her transaction with me and went to the back room. The white barista volunteered to finish my drink and actively participated in the discussion. Customers nearby looked askance (and oh how I have waited for an opportunity to use that word!) and gave the two of us about double normal personal space.

At a local hospital, I engaged the youthful workers at one of the fast food eateries in this manner over the course of several days. On all days (with a notable exception), the customers reacted as above. The staff here continually strove to maintain their composure while still laughing and participating in conversation. They also greeted me heartily on the remaining days. One of my proximate co-workers saw me engaged in this behavior, and half-jokingly confronted me, saying, "That's not real! You don't talk like that!"

At the gift shop at that hospital, I again greeted the cashier in a hearty manner. After an initial moment of astonishment, this elderly black volunteer smiled and accepted the conversation at face value. Her co-volunteers, however, glared at me both that first day and in the days to follow.

There were several instances where I did not engage in this behavior; because either my family was with me and I did not wish to make them uncomfortable, or because the person I approached had such a negative demeanor that it seemed inconceivable to act happy in their presence.

In most of the cases, the person(s) whom I addressed directly quickly took the behavior at face value. They smiled, engaged in conversation, and generally appeared to regain some degree of humanity. Those whom I have opportunity to see repeatedly still greet me both in the eatery and in the halls of the hospital. Older people seemed to be less receptive to this kind of positive deviation, and those belonging to minority groups marginally less receptive - though age far outweighed race as a predictor of response. Most negative reaction was from those not directly addressed, whose attention was taken for a few moments from whatever non-significant pattern they were in. While not all persons who saw this display were troubled by it, the vast majority of witnesses seemed to be. Unfortunately, opportunities to debrief subjects were limited, as doing so would undermine the ulterior motive I had in choosing this deviant behavior: Both encouraging those forced into faceless roles to interact with the privileged, and to extravagantly present a positive new normative behavior.

The one co-worker who objected to my display ("That's not how you really talk!") was the exception. She stated that her objection was not so much the behavior per se, but that she viewed it as a deviation from my own prior behavior. In one sense, this demonstrates a substantive subtlety as her normative "other" was not a generalized or stereotypical other, but customized for individuals that she had worked with for less than a week.

The positive responses of the food service workers that I saw for most of the week indicate that such norms are not seamlessly self-healing. Despite the unconscious and non-significant nature of most such social handshaking protocols, a conscious actor can disrupt them in a positive way. Knowing this, it is imperative for those of us who reflect consciously to disrupt the status quo in order to bootstrap others into consciousness.

And get a smile with your coffee.

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When your degree loses value...

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There is a coming crisis in the world of postsecondary education. I'm not talking about lowering endowments or fiscal crisis; I'm talking about too many students. Our degree system is flooded with unqualified students, and more and more they're not being held to a meritocratic standard. The degrees that people are "awarded" are being valued less and less over time.

The explicit function of a degree is to signal merit; implicitly (as Foucault pointed out) it also serves as a class marker. Because of government initiatives and the sensibility that anybody could complete a degree and adjusting standards to make it happen (see yesterday's post ), degrees are failing to serve either purpose.

I claim some authority in making this prediction simply because I have a bad tendency of being right with these kinds of things. I was warning friends and family about the housing market in 2005; I also predicted the tech bubble's bursting (though not as publicly or strongly) before the turn of the century. I've not always been right on the how - I thought our current fiscal crisis would be more deliberate on the part of overseas investors - but I have an annoying track record on pessimism. So I'm warning people now - the way that degrees are valued are going to change, and sometime in the next five to ten years.

I'm not certain what the outcome of this will be. I don't think standards are going to suddenly increase; there simply hasn't been the prepatory work at the grade school and secondary school level. One possible trend is an increased spread in the value of where one goes to school. This is definitely a class-based trend, due partly to income and partly because it runs counter to what older and non-traditional students do (see my research from last year, "Wearing Work Clothes").

Conversely, we see technorati concentrating on the explicit skills as a screening method. Google has used complex math problems on billboards to screen applicants, and productivity and work gurus (I think it was Seth Godwin, but I could be wrong here) have explained how to sell yourself as having the skills of an MBA without actually taking an MBA. This is easier in some professions than others, so it might not be viable everywhere.

Regardless, the status is not quo. It might be that whuffie (as conceptualized by Cory Doctorow) or something very much like it, will end up replacing not money, but degrees and credentials. Maybe we can leverage this breakdown in information signaling to our advantage, rather than be caught in a morass of chaos. I've been advocating that my wife write a book on teaching for a couple of years now. She's got excellent ideas, and proven implementations. But more importantly, once she's written that book (or released it online, or whatever), she is no longer a professor in a small Midwestern college - she will be a professor who has written a well-received book on how to teach. (And yes, I really think it'll be well-received. I'm rather impressed with her pedagogical methods; in case you couldn't tell, I'm a bit of a pedant, which doesn't always go over well with students.)

But that's only one route - and much like I could see the implosion of the housing market (or to a lesser extent the internet bubble) - I can see it coming, but might be very very off on how things end up working out.

Regardless, the actions we can take as individuals are obvious. Sure, continue with a degree program if you're in one. Make sure that you work your informational whuffie. Take classes for more than just a check mark; actually learning the skills and synthesizing them all together is key.

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Sick - A Flash Fiction

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We broke up long distance. She crushed my heart by e-mail.

It wasn't her fault. Not really. We were just separated temporarily for her job. Six months, then she'd be back. We'd be back, together. It was a trial separation, for fiscal reasons.

She e-mailed because she was too sick to be understood over the phone. I wanted to drive there, to simmer the chicken soup and boil the tea, to wrap the blanket around her. She always needed me to take care of her.

Even though I have the uber bug from hell, she wrote, I finally realized I can make my own damn soup.

The next paragraph told me she was going overseas, teaching English to willing Vietnamese children. Her flight left in a week, and she wouldn't be coming back to our home. I couldn't fill the hole in my stomach with rum, whisky, vodka. I couldn't pretend that she was just around the corner when she was in a different day.

When I started sneezing and my temperature spiked, I smiled. I left the windows open and kept my hair wet. I threw the chicken noodle soup out for the insane tree-rat squirrels, and walked around without my shoes.

The fever ripped through me, hot and cold waves of sweat soaking the couch, and I cried with the joy of having a little something of hers back with me again.

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Permission to Fail

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Let's face it - some people just aren't smart enough for college.  They won't be able to hack it, no matter how much help you throw at them.

I'm guessing - from the gasp of horror I'm imagining in my head - that I'm right about the unspoken American mythos that everyone - everyone - is able to make it through college if they just try hard enough.

This is a dangerous thought.

Don't mistake this as some kind of "you're on your own, America is a pure meritocracy" kind of argument.  There are lots of Very Big Obstacles in the way of people succeeding in postsecondary education. Cultural capital, physical access, monetary access, poor preparation during elementary and secondary schooling.  Discrimination due to race, gender, religion, lifestyle, sexual orientation, whatever and all of the above.  Family of origin issues, life circumstances, and work obligations also limit the ability of those who could succeed.  That is NOT what I'm talking about. 

The danger is in presuming that all people could succeed if only all the barriers come down. And that is patently false. The reason this is so dangerous is twofold:
  1. There's an asymptotic cost. As the final last few students are failing, more and more resources (time, money, capital, etc) are poured into getting them to succeed. This "spending" quickly becomes wasteful. The flip side of this problem is degree inflation and dropping standards for degrees

  2. It makes failure a personal failure of will

The latter, I think, is more damaging to society. It gives additional (and false) prestige and rewards to a particular type of skill and learning. There is a huge amount of skill and knowledge embedded in any job - even so-called "menial" jobs - and the myth of passing college as a reflection of personal will and moral character intrinsically devalues everything else.  This leads to pay inequalities, status inequalities, and in places and organizations where they overlap, it leads to rank stupidity as the people with degrees ignore the information from those on the ground.

It leads to treating people by position, rather than by knowledge.  Degrees lead to undermining the actual meritocracy we claim to desire.

We must be able to hold two thoughts in our head at once
:  That there are real barriers to education, and that some people will not be able to succeed at postsecondary education.

And then, most importantly, we must be able to remember that those people are worth just as much as a Nobel Prize winner.

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Passing the Post-Racial Final

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It's nice that Jonah Goldberg, George Will, and many other conservatives are publicly supporting President Obama. It is, really. They've apparently just noticed the stuff I've seen all along - and agree that it's reasonable. That Michelle Malkin is apparently spazzing out over even grudging respect is amusing, but irrelevant. I just have one small thing to point out, and correct about the commentary around President Obama.

The race fairy didn't suddenly make the United States a "post-racial" society yesterday. The schools that serve different populations are separate but unequal. Housing conditions aren't the same, quality of life conditions aren't the same... the list goes on and on. The Aryan Nation didn't suddenly have an attack of reality and shut their doors; the KKK has not lost their membership to the SPLC. We are not in a post-racial age, and Obama is not a post-racial president.

Otherwise, why would anyone care that he's the first Black president?

What has changed - and what Obama signaled so eloquently in his speech yesterday - is that we are definitely in a postmodern and utilitarian age.

The concept of "race" - like so many other things - can be affected and de-emphasized by a postmodern standpoint. In a postmodern world, it is possible to view Obama as Obama, to view Steve as Steve, to view Michelle as Michelle. A postmodern, utilitarian view realizes that the labels we hang on people are arbitrary and have no meaning of their own.

It's what is behind the meaning that is important.

A postmodern perspective lets us question those meanings. It lets us examine whether the labels are useful or useless. It gives us the opportunity to view things differently.

But it doesn't make those things happen on their own.

Yes, Obama and the viewpoints he brings may very well lead us towards a post-racial (or even post-gender, post-orientation, post-whatever) state. It will allow us to question things that exist simply to persist.

We have finally, painfully, been allowed to enroll in the course. But we are just now getting the syllabus.

It's a little too early to congratulating ourselves on passing the final.

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Netizen, research thyself.

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Yes, Netizen. As in "The Netizen traveled the tubes of the intarweb's information superhighway".

I'd like to offer a couple of quick research ideas that I haven't seen before. If you've seen them elsewhere, I'd be interested in it. If you can use it, great!

  • Relationship of gender of avatar to gender of human - I tend to like female avatars in video games, but only in games. I've never even considered having a female avatar in anything like SL, or "posing" as a different gender on a forum or social networking site. What's the frequency of choosing an avatar of another gender? Does the frequency vary depending on the type of online (or not online) forum that one's on? Do the motivations differ? Is real-time team chat killing this tendency (if one existed)?

  • Portraying oneself as a different gender online - why?

  • Frequency of keeping up with updates, blogs, tweets, etc and percieved strength of relationships - do most people care? If they do care, is frequency of reading (or commenting) important in general?


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Firing submission tube #2...

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The boggart story - those of you who've seen it, know it - is on it's way to Clarkesworld. I'm kind of hopeful for this one; the story's good and powerful, and after reading Gift of the Kites there, I think this story would fit well.

Of course, I spent two hours tweaking manuscript format and cover letter and all the things I could think of to stall. For a freaking electronic submission.

(If any of the slush readers ever wander by and sees this post, I would have added you to the greeting line, but it got super-silly long.)

I want to submit something to TEoP, but I didn't think this was dark enough. *shrug* I could be wrong.

Anyone know if Analog is still accepting poetry submissions? I couldn't find anything on thier website, and wouldn't you freaking know that I have a hard SF poem on my hands...

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Majority Minority

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It isn't hard to find silly Facebook advocacy groups. Pepperoni Roll awareness groups, Groups refusing to pass along chain letters, "I Secretly Want To Punch Slow Walking People In The Back Of The Head", Citizens against Photoshopped Santa Hats, Hey, Facebook, breastfeeding is not obscene!(Official petition to Facebook), Petitions for and against things, A million for the old Facebook, 1,000,000 for [insert candidate here]... whatever. They're designed as badges of support, camraderie, and occasionally information and action. While some of them are trivial, they're usually things that aren't too obvious or included in your basic profile.

Then I saw that a friend had joined "I bet I CAN find 10,000,000 Christians on Facebook".

Facebook has some 130,000,000 plus unique users. Approximately 80% of US citizens identify themselves as Christian... so even if only a quarter of Facebook's users are in the US, it should be trivial to find ten million Christians. And that's simply people who will join a "group" with no cost to themselves. Out of all the things that have gotten people in trouble on Facebook over the last few years, identifying as a Christian isn't one of them.

Which highlights exactly how meaningless this is. Having met "Christians" who were far less morally sound than the Pastafarians and Discordians I've known, simply identifying yourself as a Christian doesn't mean you actually live by those principles [1]. This isn't a secret - so presumably the people who set up the group knew it as well.

So what's the point? As I hinted above, Facebook groups are frequently used to indicate a measure of support for something that isn't readily obvious... or the level of support for something that is percieved to be in the minority view.

Yet statistically, nominal Christians are the majority in any US dominated group... including Facebook.

I can only extrapolate that this group (and the people in it) believe themselves a minority, even though they aren't. [2] Which is frightening.

It's frightening because they might soon be. It won't be long before the WASP elite are a minorty - and it seems that "traditional" repressive Christianity is on a downward slide. [3] This raises the nasty thought:

If they're already getting defensive, while they're still a vast majority, what's going to happen when they are not the majority any more?

Update In between the time I wrote this and now, when I'm posting it, a status update I'd made got this response:
You could look at that way or as letting the world know there are millions of Christians in the U.S. A country where a minority of people are trying to take God out of everything. When now is the the time our country needs God's help and direction probably more than ever before.

I think I'll just put my whole response to that below:
Wow, [REDACTED] - you know different people than I do. Maybe I'm being defensive 'cause I've been accused of being such a person, but it's not true. I mean, I wouldn't make an evangelical Christian say a decade of the Rosary, and I'd be mighty upset if an atheist told a Muslim they couldn't pray to Allah. Or the reverse of any of those, really. You shouldn't be forced to pray any certain way - and neither should those who are in the minority. And our government should represent *all* of us, right? So I hope they wouldn't force you or I to pray any particular way, and let it leave it to each of us. Matthew 6:5, y'know.

So, like I said... if there's this kind of strong response when they're simply not the only acceptable game in town, what's going to happen when they're a real minority?

[1] Assuming you can agree on what "Christian" principles are. If you think it's easy, try getting a liberation theology Catholic and a Calvinist to agree on moral behavior in regards to money, okay?
[2] Your particular denomination might be a minority, but that's not what the group says. If you want to argue what being a "True Christian" means, go read Living Biblically first, okay?
[3] Repressing OTHERS. You can go be an ascetic monk or nun; you have no right to force me to live by your religious principles, just like I can't make you celebrate Talk Like A Pirate Day.

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Submission... away!

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Submission for this week is away! Expected response time ~ middle of March. Keep me honest, y'all.

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Biology schmi-ology.

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In retrospect, I should have just nodded and said "Yes, the bastard!"

Instead, I said, "Right - and it doesn't work because it doesn't take societal mechanisms into account."

She was quick to cover the frown, but it looked like I'd stepped in it again. What had we been talking about? She had been ranting about someone who had defended rape as a biological strategy... and my response wasn't what she was looking for. [1]

Obviously, I did a horrible job explaining myself then, so I'll try again now. It's important, because we are supposed to be finding the reality of things, not just what we want to see. This example is a perfect one to show the fallacies of purely biologically-driven arguments.

Regardless of how one feels about it, rape exists in nature. Whether it's between ducks (and the configuration wars between the complexity of female and male sexual organs) or other animals, rape and cuckolding occur in nature. Both of these persist, quite probably, because they are one possible reproductive strategy. These things - while distasteful to us - aren't really arguable.

The problem comes when you make that leap to people.

Behaviorists had the same problem; Skinner frequently used experiments with pigeons to extrapolate out to people. We still do it - using animal models in medical testing, or rhesus monkeys for psychological testing. And there's a great big fallacy involved there.

Oh, we're animals, all right. I don't claim any special kind of biological status for us. What's being overlooked is all that messy social science stuff. The things that biologists like to claim isn't "real science". Remember, environment including social factors and society actively alters biology. The thymus literally changes due to stress. Our brains literally re-wire due to things we learn and experience. The concept of "memes" pays some homage to this - but it is real. That is, an idea you get now literally changes your brain... and you can pass that biological change on to others through social interaction.

This is what essentialist, sociobiological, or purely biological models miss. They're right when they say that cuckolding and rape should be a successful reproductive strategy... but they don't make explicit the given condition that it would only work if there were no social element to our species. Our society, our ability to be social has added layer after layer of extrapolation on top of the basic biological "drives". It has done so to the point where they are essentially irrelevant - at least insofar as having explanatory power. Our social forces - societal valuations of women, for example - play so much stronger a role as to make any biological explanation irrelevant. Bob didn't get heart disease because his dad did - he got heart disease because he smoked, ate grease with every meal, didn't exercise, poured salt on everything... you get the idea. Hell, maybe Bob just got heart disease because he had a stressful job.

Our society has a hugely (and appropriate, IMHO) negative view towards rapists and cuckolders. Being hunted down and ... well, let's just say that it's not a viable strategy for survival if I had anything to say about it... and even when I'm not in a vengeful mood, our societies simply make it an unviable strategy for a social species. Further, humans are neither always fertile nor do they openly display when they're fertile, which would make this risky behavior even less likely to pay off.

So we've covered how biological urges aren't proximal reasons, and how, even if it were, it'd be a crappy strategy. The whole excuse is a bankrupt argument. Therefore:

To try to excuse rape via biology tells you far more about the person making the excuse than about the world we live in. Such excuses do a disservice to both sociology and to biology by making each look stupid to the other. Further, as conscious (and therefore empathetic) beings [2], rape becomes a particularly cruel crime, and perhaps a clear indicator of being a non-conscious entity. (or philosophical zombie).

So go ahead. Make the argument. Try to defend rapists.

It makes it easier for us to identify the zombies.

[1] I have since found that I misread her expression. Still, the argument's worth spelling out.
[2] See my bits about Mead from last year on this. Or better yet, go read Mind, Self, and Society yourself.

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There's gonna be a lot of sex.

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Or at least, I'm going to be talking about it a lot.

I'm taking a course in the sociology of sex - very fascinating, so far - and we're required to write down some reflections and thoughts on what we're reading and how it relates to the world around us.

You know, like I've been doing here for the last year about race, sociological theory, and the like.

The course is using Sex, Self and Society: The Social Context of Sexuality as a textbook... and I'm rather glad. I wish it cost less; the essays (at least so far) really need wider exposure. I've distributed at least one of them to people I work with...

So if some of the things I post - like today's - sound suspiciously like edited reflections on someone else's writings... well, that's because they are. But if I post them, it's because I think - like today's - it's something that needs to be said in our societal conversation. Like here - where, once again, I'm responding to a nature and nurture debate.

I think they're both the same thing.

There is a balance in the process, and taking it too far can be extremely problematic. It doesn't take a lot of comparisons of sexual practices outside of the West to realize that sexual behavior is not universal in the way it would be if it were purely biological. The relativistic nature of all social processes seems self-evident with a modicum of dispassionate examination. However, the relative discounting of the biological component of process seems dangerous - even if it is a discounted with a disclaimer.

There is a vast amount of logical evidence that the way that we "do sex" (echoing Lorber's statements about "doing gender") is a social construct. The discounting of physicality, however, is problematic. As some concentrate on the exceptions that demonstrate social interactions, there are biological examples that seem to undermine and override social factors as well. Two cases involving pedophilia serve as proximate examples; one where a male's pedophilia only manifested with the growth of a brain tumor, a second where it appeared while under a prescribed regimen of a psychoactive medication. When the tumor was excised and the medication stopped, the pedophilia completely stopped in both individuals, and they expressed a great deal of horror and remorse. Tragically, the latter individual only had his medication stopped while he was in prison for his crimes.

These exceptions - along with other case studies where personality, behavior, and even speech have been radically altered by biological change are some of the main evidence for an essentialist point of view. A purely constructionist view cannot explain such changes that happen without social mediation. Yet an essentialist view is also insufficient, as Lorber and Steele correctly point out.

The key is in George Herbert Mead's nearly offhand comment towards William James, who posited a not-wholly wrong biological explanation for emotion, repeated again vis a vis the strongly behaviorist trend in psychology at the time. Neither, he states, is wrong. Neither, however, goes far enough. (Specifically saying "I want to point out, however, that even when we come to the discussion of such "inner" experience, we can approach it from the point of view of the behaviorist, provided that we do not too narrowly conceive this point of view.")

The process of memory, social interaction, and indeed, social construction, is the process - and the elements of the process itself. A fantasy of another, a relationship with an other, a tryst with an other cannot happen without the precedent physical other having existed (or being represented) to a physical self (or representation of self). While these physical selves are not the whole of the act, interaction, or reality, they are both catalyst and product of the process. Even the most essentialist biologist will cede that external forces - including social interactions - literally changes both the chemical nature and physical structure of the brain. In this manner, the social construction becomes the essential; in later interactions, the essential again becomes the social.

It is in this dialectic process that our reality becomes both socially created and empirical; that sex is physical and social.

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Wherefore the Winter Were-Jaguar? - A Flash Fiction

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Okay, explanatory text. First of all, this is rated R, both for language and thematic material. Yeah, yeah, us grownups can deal, but I've been careful to keep it clean to this point, so I'm making the notable exception. And adding a bit of spoiler space.

Secondly, if I've talked about two memorable characters with you before now and not shown you any story - Mark and Sylvia are them.

Thirdly, the were-jaguar bit is all the fault of Anton Strout and Jim Hines. Steven Schend reminded me about it, though, so go punish them by buying their books. If you really hate this little vignette, punish them more by buying more of their books to send to friends and family.

Right. Enough "above the fold" stuff to protect the kiddies?

"Tell me again," I hissed towards Mark, "why we are tramping through these brambles in the middle of a cold winter day."

Mark crashed through a mad, thorny shrubbery, and turned his snout towards me. He at least had his fur to protect him. The smashing taffeta cocktail dress I'd started the evening in was ruined. That and hot pink was shitty camoflauge to begin with, and worse in a grey and white Janurary wood. His breath huffed in hot, welcome clouds on my cheeks.

"We. Are. Hunting. A. Were-Jaguar."

I could feel my eyes roll. Melodrama - it is my significant other. "Yes, dearest, but jaguars live in hot climates. It's colder than the titties of any witches I know, here, so wouldn't we be more likely to find it in a nice hotel in Toledo?"

Nice and warm as he was, feeling the condensation on my neck was a little too close.

"Yes, Sylvia," Mark said, "jaguars live in tropical climates. Then again, bears are usually fucking asleep in the winter, and women usually don't have testicles."

I swallowed, and shifted my panties.

"Touché, dear. Tallyho, then. Were-jaguars migrate, you know."

Still, when we caught that bastard, the cost of this dress was coming out of his jaguar hide.

Ooh. Animal prints!

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Knee-Jerk Morality

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It's been a while since something provoked such a moral reaction so quickly.The class was discussing the possible functions of prostitution. "Create jobs," said one person. "Do sexual things a spouse won't," said another. "So that people will have sex with a prostitute instead of raping someone," said a third.

The red haze came over my eyes. To the prof's credit, she redirected things quickly, before I was unstunned enough to start ranting (and thereby violate all the "safe place" rules we'd already established in the class).

In one sense, the third answer wasn't that different from the second. It wasn't the dehumanizing nature of the answer either - the rest of the answers ignored that as well (which, by the by, is appropriate for a strictly functionalist approach). It was the implied threat.

There were no conditionals attached to the statement. It was presented as a simple either/or choice: Guys get some, or they take some.

And that threat - though I only sensed it as such, and couldn't analyze why until much later - immediately had me wanting to castrate somebody.

We can invoke all kinds of sociobiological rationales for this: I am very definitely a beta male, such a framework would threaten my line's persistence, etc. But really, that's not what I'm thinking about when that kind of statement makes me instantly furious.

I'm thinking that I don't want to be the kind of person who is described by that statement. I don't want to be the kind of person who supports that statement. I don't want to be the kind of person who allows that statement to go unchallenged.

Perhaps that is driven by a basic evolutionary drive - that somewhere the motive force is biological.

But threats like that isn't me, and that is what matters.

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I am not Jim Hines.

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I'm not Jim Hines.

Which is probably a good thing, because the world would then implode from such a concentration of awesome. No, really. My copy of The Stepsister Scheme is on my shelf, and I'm eagerly awaiting getting far enough ahead in my schoolwork to spend a day reading it. (Don't believe me? Check out the first chapter here.(PDF link))

But that's not what I mean, not really. Jim's first big break was the Writers of the Future contest - a perfectly legit thing that gets a lot of writers exposure. And it's also the justification I've been using to avoid submitting work.

"What if I get three fiction sales before the contest?" (Yes, go ahead, laugh.) "What if I sell the story that would win the contest and bring me fame, if not fortune?" What if? What if? What if? I don't like rejection letters, and I have submitted works before. I'm not fixated on contests - though I've placed in a few. But I don't want to "waste" my work.

Which is just amorphous enough of a phrase to justify procrastination. As I'm writing this, they're taking the lights off the trees outside my workplace. The bare limbs are... just limbs. And my justifications are... just excuses. And today, seeing Jim's name on four... no, five books on my shelf, I realized that I'm not him. No matter how much I like his books and stories (I do), I can't just sit around and pretend I'm going to do exactly the same things as him.

His wife and mine might get a little upset at that.

So, instead, I'm going to publicly humiliate myself a bit, just to keep me honest. Right now, I've got _The Dubhai Invasion_ submitted to a contest at the Writer's Digest. In Feb. a literary zine (I'll provide a link when I have one) will be carrying a reprint of _Last Dance_. The boggart story will get named and find a place to be sent this weekend; the bird one the week after (the folks at the readings at GenCon know those stories). Then the clerks one (Yes, I need to learn titles better), and maybe _Just A Taste_, depending on the feedback tonight. The mech one... it needs some work, and I hope to shop a rewrite of it for my writing group next month.

It's weird for me - especially since I keep finding myself writing more literary than speculative fiction... even though I *read* speculative fiction far more than literary fiction. So the research burden is going to be a bit rough. But I'm going to keep it public, and you all keep me honest, okay? And in the meantime, I hope you like the flash fiction, too.

And now you should go buy Jim's book. Or I'll ramble on some more. You have been warned.

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IRC - A Flash Fiction

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Lets meet IRL. LOL.
We're both new enough to this to find the acronyms self-consciously cute. You might think they're annoying or transparent or whatever; to us it's a sense of finally learning enough to fit in.
But we've only known each other 4 weeks! :)
I still find it hard to use them, though. I still call things "cool", even though slang has gone through several iterations since. Smiley faces, though, are a natural.
We connect really well. Do you want me to sum up the time we chatted? Remember, I'm good at maths.
I always imagine her with a British accent. The odd "sum up" and other phrase from the UK makes me wonder what time it is for her. I've never asked.
I don't have any days off from work.
I do. Lots. I saved them.
I'm only now realizing that she's serious. That the LOL was only at the use of slang, not at the idea.
I couldn't ask you to
I missed the *typing* prompt; her message appears before I can finish mine.
I"m already usingthem. I flew over alst week.
The screen seems larger than normal. The refridgerator's whirr fills the apartment. My heartbeat pounds in my neck. She keeps typing. She's slowed down; there are no more typos.
My brother showed me how to find out what town you live in.
IP somethings.
But I don't know where in your town.

Still here. My mind isn't. She's here. She came here... for me.
I want to meet you. Do you want to meet at my hotel?
How will we know each other?
We haven't bothered to send pictures to each other. Even we know how easy it is to send someone else's picture on the internet, and we both keep our avatars as cartoon characters. Still, I know what I think she looks like. The way her hair is on her head. The way her lips pout, the soft curves of her torso. I haven't lied about myself, not really. I didn't mention my thinning hair, or that it's obvious I've already broken my New Year's resolution about desserts.
I can tell you what I'm wearing.
Normally we'd be flirting now. But what if I'm not as good as what she's imagining?
Hello? You still there?
What if she's not like I'm imagining?
Eventually, her status goes to Away, then Offline.
I pretend that it's perfect.

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Reading between the words

It seemed like a lame assignment. "Write all the words you can think of for the sex act." It couldn't be too hard, right?

I could only think of ten.

There were more I remembered as the class shared their own responses; some of them evoked silliness or fun (horizontal mambo), a very few evoked romance ("making love"). Some evoked violence ("hit that") or a sense of female submission. Most of mine evoked shame and secrecy.

A lot of other people's words did, but *all* of mine (save the obvious "f" word) had a sense of something hidden and secret; euphemisms and code words. Things that sounded like they were from a bad movies from the early 80's. Words you would never really say to another person.

I firmly grew up in the time period where sex was held up as something transformational - where people would talk about (and write) how people would "become one" in some kind of blissful union. And yet it was simultaneously something dirty, secret, and shameful -- and the words I could think about reflected the latter far far more than the former.

Maybe this was supposed to be an exercise in exposing socialized norms; for me it was even more of an exercise in armchair psychoanalysis. It's startling to find that you have more hangups than you realized; that shadow prejudices and obfuscated assumptions have shaped things far more than you've acknowledged.

Despite the discomfort, I'm glad. I'd rather work through the baggage than simply keep carrying it. I'm not sure what else this kind of activity can uncover... but I think I'll give it a try.


Twelve Goblins Drumming... or something like that

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Today is the last day of Christmas - otherwise known as Epiphany. You know, when the three kings (or magi) showed up from the East bearing gifts that were totally inappropriate for a newborn. Did you get your loved one a dozen drummers? If not, you might want to tell them that you pre-ordered Jim Hines' new book The Stepsister Schemethat just came out today, so you thought of them... but the book just came out today. I've loved everything I've seen of Jim's (which makes me wonder if he's hiding something), so I can heartily recommend this new series. (That and he read a bit from it at GenCon and it was very good.)

Which also brings us to the end of the War on Christmas. It bothers me that the supposedly religious zealots always confuse Advent and the Christmas Season itself, but hey, I have another chance to give my wife something. (Um...honey, I pre-ordered a book...)

But I think this convenient forgetting that Christmas is a season (of twelve days) instead of a single day of celebration really illustrates how much the secular aspects of Christmas have played into its modern popularity. After the gifts are given, trees start coming down, decorations are put away, and we all feel like it's back to normal - regardless of the religious season still going on.

It's even more pronounced when you look at Easter. Sure, there's a bunny, and some eggs (more repurposed pagan holdovers like the Yule log and Christmas tree), but Easter has nowhere near the fuss made over it that Christmas does.... despite Easter being a far more religiously important holiday. There is less commercialization and (perhaps thankfully) nobody claiming that there's a "War on Easter".

There are the presumptions, though - I've had Easter candy handed to me as a work promotion on Good Friday, a fast day - just as much as there is around Christmas. But hardly anyone castigates egg hunts, or the Easter Bunny.

The only explanation for the difference that I can think of is that it is the explicitly religious nature of the holiday that keeps it that way. Sure, there's some cards and gifts, but compared to Christmas (or even Halloween), Easter just isn't a big commercial opportunity. Because it's not a big giftgasm, there's no real commercial marketing in it.

Maybe the key to keeping Christmas a religious holiday, then, is to minimize all the commercial aspects of it. Maybe we could give gifts on Epiphany like the Magi did - that's what the tradition is supposed to recollect, anyway. By focusing more on ourselves and our own family - instead of on copious amounts of public decoration, proclamation, and condemnation - Christmas could get back to being a real religious holiday again.

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Playing at Living, Living to Play

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Maybe it's because I've been reading Play This Thing too much, or maybe it's because I'm really enjoying the crap out of Guitar Hero. I don't know. What I do know is that my friend Maura's comment about GH and RockBand contributing to "fake artistry", along with other comments other (offline, and therefore unlinkable artistic types said) really struck a nerve. Are these games causing a problem - not so much for me, but for my son who *is* learning to play an instrument?

I don't think so - but I wanted to make sure the reason why I believe that isn't some knee-jerk justification of my own behavior. (That is, by the way, why I'm posting this; feel free to poke holes in this line of thought.) I started thinking about all the different "simulation" games we have. Guitar Hero and Rock Band, obviously, but there's also flight simulators (complete with a community and people who build realistic cockpits and "fly" multi-hour regular airline routes). There's Spore and the Sims, and SimCity. 4x games like Starships Unlimited and Sid Meier's Civilization series - and then we get into board games. Risk, Settlers, Axis & Allies. Operation.

And then there's playing house and dress up (and their big cousins, role-playing games and LARPS and all the re-enactment societies). All of these are under the same rubric of "simulation" that Guitar Hero falls under, though we wouldn't normally think of them the same way. But we play simulation games of all types to do things we normally can't (whether due to physics or society or age), or to "try out" things that have a steep learning curve. They allow a degree of control that you can't otherwise get

So what's the problem? All of the computer "music" games (including Wii Music, though it provides a bit more flexibility) ultimately constrain choice. You can "play" the songs handed to you, and while Wii Music allows you to "arrange" them differently (and doesn't really penalize you for variation), it's impossible to go off on an improv jazz solo where you decide the notes.

I don't think this is as big of a deal, and lumping all the sim games together kind of explains why. At the most basic, Candyland is a sim of a trip through a strange landscape (despite costik's in-depth analysis) - but the choices therein are extremely constrained. It's fine when you're little, but you quickly become tired of that. So you move to slightly more complicated sims, and so on. Maybe "Life" next, or "Sorry"; things that allow some choice. Eventually you get to things like Talisman, Risk, or Settlers. The same applies to card games - "War" isn't much fun when you're older, but Munchkin and Hold 'Em are.

It's really obvious when you look at flight sims. The most realistic ones aren't much fun for most people: You crash. A lot. But playing Descent (even though one presumes the ship IRL would be more complex than a 747) is something that most people can grok with a relatively low learning curve.

The remaining complaint I can think of is this: That someone would mistake a game for reality. I can grok this idea too; our sims have become more and more realistic, even though the learning curve may not. We can easily design a cockpit that *looks* like a real 747, but that handles like our simple flight sim. That could fool people. (A recent BMX game we rented had a warning that mastering tricks ingame was not the same as mastering them IRL.)

Except, well, that's a sign of mental illness, not game design. This same bugbear was raised about D&D and LARPS decades ago (and thanks again to Mike Stackpole for helping to dismiss it with the Pulling Report). Yes, the games we play might engender a desire to experience the applause and mastery in real life. Either we'll find out pretty quickly that we don't care that much, or we'll be newly inspired and driven to do the things we're able to do in the game... and transcend them.

I never really wanted to play a guitar; I had the opportunity to mess around with some enough as a teenager to realize my aptitude was elsewhere. But maybe my son will want to learn that instrument as well. Perhaps the idea of creating music will more strongly appeal to him - and the frustration of constrained choice will encourage him to pick up the bow to his cello.

Then again, maybe it'll inspire me to borrow his cello as well.

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The Origin Story of FIX IT MAN!

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I spent a good part of New Year's Day hunched over with my hands hurting.

The dishwasher had ground itself to a halt the night before, and the plethora of dirty dishes was keeping us from making a nice breakfast on New Year's Day. Obviously, it was time for me to jump into a phone booth, rip off my glasses, and become FIX-IT MAN!

I thought that maybe there was just something obvious jammed in there; it'd be easy to just take a few covers off and see the problem.

Four hours, a lack of a star-headed screwdriver (note: substituting a regular screwdriver is a pain), and repeated false hope that it was fixed later, I was frustrated to tears. I was supposed to be able to fix it, dammit. That was my *job*.

"Honey," my wife said, "I didn't think dishwasher repair was on your resume."

I'm still not sure where the expectation that I could fix it came from - or worse, the feeling that I was *responsible* for fixing it. My lack of ability with hardware is pretty well known. Who do I pin this feeling on?

Sure, it's easy to say "the patriarchy" or "society" - but what does that mean in a concrete kind of way? When did I get this impression? Who told me I was supposed to be this way, dammit? (And no, "my dad" isn't the right answer either...)

It's left me with an uncomfortable feeling - it's another place where parts of my brain are conspiring against what I consciously know to be true. It's programming that was (is, really) running in the background, set in motion by a user I never authorized.

(sudo patriarchy -b)

Knowing that it is there, that it is running in the background will give me a small chance to counteract it in real time. Disarming and disabling it is going to be longer and harder - but it will be worth it.

In the meantime, I tried one more time to fix the dishwasher, and finally succeeded. Though there seems to be a part "left over"...

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Fussy Eaters - A Flash Fiction

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"These donuts are awesome, Mrs. Sprat," Amanda said through her glaze-covered lips. "I can barely help myself from just eating all of them."

"It's just my way of saying merry Christmas to the office," Mrs. Sprat replied. "Do you think everyone likes them?"

Amanda waved at the nearly-empty boxes. "Of course they do! They're almost all gone! Did your husband take some to his office?"

"Oh, no. Jack's office is all on Atkins or South Beach."

Amanda grinned, waving the partially eaten pastry at her co-worker. "We'll need to here, too, if you keep bringing in so many good things to eat. I'm going to put on five pounds today, I'm sure of it."

Mrs. Sprat smiled. "We'll have quite a feast at the office's holiday party."

Amanda paused, and tilted her head to the side. "I didn't think Mark had decided on a final menu yet."

Mrs. Sprat smiled even wider. "I'm sure it'll be excellent. I hope to see you there."

Amanda smiled again. "Sure! And will Jack be there?"

"No," Mrs. Sprat replied, gazing hungrily at Amanda, "but I'm sure he'll eat just as well at his own office party."

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