Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

False Choices - Schools and Lesbian Mothers

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We simply knew that he couldn't continue in that school any longer.

My son has gone to a "regular" school twice - once briefly to a parochial school, and now for a slightly longer stint to a local public school. This time seemed even worse. He'd run into gay-bashing, rule-bound teachers, newsletters home with numerous spelling and grammatical errors, seen kids pretending to snort cocaine with sugar, and had just been disciplined for telling another student to stop trying to cheat off of my son's work.

"But where do we send him?" my wife asked. Each option available to us - leaving him in public school, going to a parochial school, charter schools, or returning to homeschooling - had a significant downside to it. Whether it be enforced socialization, low standards, a lack of peer group or the like, no option seemed appropriate.

"Separate your goals," I told my wife. "You want him to learn facts. You want him to be able to think critically. You want him to have friends (and so does he). And you want him to have time to pursue karate and step dancing. Trying to find one thing that always meets all those needs is impossible; but by separating out the functions you want, you can try to craft a solution that will work."

This is the redemption of functionalism - and the possible redemption for anyone whose class and status is in conflict. "Negotiating Lesbian Motherhood: The Dialectics of Resistance and Accomodation" by Ellen Lewin poignantly describes the difficulties faced by women forced to choose between the paradigms of lesbianism and motherhood.

Yet, like the choices we had to make about my son's schooling, I think that these choices are a false one. Rather than choosing either absolute, these women could begin to choose ways to meet the functional demands of both roles while compromising as little as possible of either. This is not an easy or heavily populated road, since most people are too busy identifying themselves as being part of a group. Yet this post-modern and need-driven road - the road that actually goes to the desired destination - can become more populated merely by the act of subverting the dominant paradigm. (And yes, I wait for chances to use that term too.)

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Expected Surprises - A Micro (Flash) Fiction

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I have all the books here - the Qu'ran, a Torah, Bibles, the Book of Mormon, an Egyptian Book of the Dead, and dozens more. Water flows under the thick smoke of incense and burnt offerings. My sweat dampens the white robes; a priest rubs the ointment on my head. Priests and priestesses crowd around me. Their chants drown out the monitor's alarms; my last heartbeats and breaths are recorded for posterity. Hundreds of traditions. No-one knows what lies on the other side, but with their help, I am ready. I breathe my last.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster is real? Damn.

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Freedom as Disease

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One of my professors asked this of me: Why are there so many studies on social restrictions? Where are the studies on social freedoms?

Largely, this is because sociology has tried to emulate (and has been influenced by) harder and medical sciences. Psychology and medicine have been overwhelmingly prone to studying disease instead of studying well organisms.

Sociology has done likewise for legitimization reasons - this is what others do and they are legitimate, and so therefore we are as well. However, it also does so for the same reason that medicine looks at disease - It is difficult to define what constitutes health.

What constitutes freedom? Marxists, for an easy example, can - and do - argue that anyone who essentially doesn't agree with them is duped and uninformed of their true needs and desires. Your desires are shaped and prodded by group characteristics; you're not truly free.

Further, individual sociologists (much like psychologists) tend to study that which fascinates them. The things that fascinate them tend to have echoes in their own lives. That is, one who felt held back at some point is likely to study that same thing.

Individual humans - at least, smart ones - are also more likely to presume that other people are as smart as themselves. Therefore, if others have not succeeded, it must be due to repression from other quarters.

Also, the solutions to restrictions are frequently much more palatable than the requirements of freedom. It is easier to find reasons why one was unable to study than to live up to the demands of studying.

Finally, we have been limited by the consciousness of our times. This is where sociology's youth is its primary disadvantage; because the study is so young, its focus has not had time enough to change. Contrast this, for example, with the varying trends in philosophy - Spinoza to Kant to Hegel to [INSERT MODERN PHILOSOPHER OF YOUR CHOICE HERE], with very radically different worldviews. These worldviews are, in part, informed by the times they live in. While there has been rapid technological change in the last hundred years, our society and zeitgeist is just now starting to realize the changes that have occurred. Just as medicine and psychology are starting to study wellness instead of saying that wellness is the absence of disease, so I suspect sociology will begin to examine freedom as more than the absence of repression and restriction.

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Two Types of People

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In "Bisexuality in an Essentialist World: Toward an Understanding of Biphobia" (it appears in Bisexuality: A Reader and Sourcebook; unfortunately I don't have a direct link to the text)- one of the more personally challenging essays in my sociology of sex course- Amanda Udis-Kessler challenges us to rethink our sexual dichotomies. It reminded me of Alan, and it reminded me of LUGs.

And it changed my mind about both.

The concept of people being on a spectrum of sexuality didn't bother me. The changeability, however, did. And it's bothered me for a long time.

Alan was a friend while I was in college. He was somewhat effeminate in nature - moreso than the openly gay friend I had - but had a girlfriend who was, as the kids say today, hawt. But because of his effeminate nature, he routinely was teased about his sexuality. Less than a year after I left town, I heard that he had "decided that since everyone was teasing him about being gay, he might as well be gay," and was happy since. I figured this to be so much bullshit, and a capitulation of will under social pressure.

Recently I heard about the "LUGs" phenomenon - Lesbian Until Graduation. It didn't matter why the sexual status changed, just the mere fact of its changing was a signal that they weren't serious. Again, perhaps it was kowtowing to social pressures (though heteronormative ones), or graduation signaling an end to an experimental phase. Regardless, they weren't "really" gay. Just bisexual.

"Just". Hm.

The conflation of conscious choice and change is a dangerous one, and even though this essay challenges exactly that, I still find it difficult to keep them separate in my mind. I didn't choose to be heterosexual, and the gay friends I've known have unanimously reported "just knowing" that they were gay.

And this suggests that it's not as easy as all that.

Over time, my taste in women has changed - quite a bit. We don't think anything about that kind of dramatic transition - but if it happens to cross a gender line, then we somehow think that it's qualitatively different. I don't think I can buy that anymore.

I do feel that the analysis of heteronormist attacks is overly naive and trusting; while separating change in behavior and choice might seem natural to one who is used to constructionist tendencies, it is difficult for the average person. (Or in other words - we shouldn't be bothering to argue whether sexual orientation is inborn, we should instead be arguing that it's not for others to dictate to you.)

It is difficult to separate out these actions from the labels. The social consequences of divorcing ourselves from easily categorizable groups is a higher degree of chaos and confusion ("Hi, I think you're hot... oh, are you not responding because you're into guys this week, or is it me?") that our society simply doesn't have the tools or tolerance to deal with yet.

There are two people in the world - those who categorize people into groups, and those who don't. Discuss.

Action Movie - A Flash Fiction

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"Dear god, haven't you seen the movies?"

The private swallowed nervously in his pressed greens. "Excuse me, Sargent?"

"You're here to call me back out of retirement for some emergency that only I could possibly handle. But it's all wrong. First of all, you're supposed to be at least a colonel. An old buddy of mine from back in the day, unless you got killed off in a sequel. Not some damned private."

Francis turned from the bird feeder. The private, head still shaved in a forest of hair stumps, was not doing a bad job. The kid was mostly steady, even if he couldn't keep the waver out of his voice.

"You are Sergeant First Class Francis... Drake, right sergeant?"

"Call me Frank. I'm retired. And yes, my parents had a horrible and educated sense of humor. What's the emergency?"

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The Individual Family

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What if there isn't a single accurate model of human behavior because we're looking at the wrong level?

Until relatively recently, the concept of an atom was that it... well, was indivisible. It was the smallest unit. Yet things didn't work out quite right that way, and we ended up discovering that there were smaller interacting bits.

Likewise, we have lots of models of human behavior - all of which seem to fit... sometimes. It's here that modern neuroscience might point to a solution. There are lots of processes - perhaps a preponderance - that are acting subconsciously in our minds. Purely sociobiological solutions might discount entirely the influence of the conscious mind, but that's another error of oversimplification. Yet social sciences concentrate (nearly entirely) upon the conscious levels.

What if they're both right?

Consider that the organism... well, me... is not just my conscious mind. That there are nearly independent sub-processes that work in concert with my conscious mind. (Note - not in a subject/master relationship; more like a collaboration.) The subconscious data influences my conscious mind, my conscious mind influences the subconscious areas... and we've got a dialectic process that is "Steve". Throw in the rest of biology (hormones, physical structure, etc), and you've suddenly got a fairly complex triumvate that work independently, but work together and mutually influence each other.

Trying to model all three levels as a single "person" and talk about behavior at that level alone is like talking about the behavior of "families" without acknowleding that there are indivdiuals in that family.

This hypothesis would explain both the strengths and weaknesses of various threads of the social sciences, biology, and medical regarding human behavior.

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Sex and Status

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Once every seven minutes.

This probably has as little to do with reality as the myth about males and every seven seconds, but there it is. That's how often a middle-school child will hear a homophobic slur - a sexopaulism, to coin a word.

But is it really about homosexuality? That's the question raised in the essay (and later book) "Dude, You're a Fag" by CJ Pasco. She strongly implies that at least a good portion of these slurs are not really about sexual orientation. How else to explain how a computer or object can be a "fag" (or for that matter, a movie "gay"), or that a student's refusal to use the term with actual homosexual people? The researcher also notes that there is gender component - where terms for male homosexuals are bandied about as slures, but those for female homosexuals are not.

That's because this is all about power, not sex. It's about heirarchies, and unreflective group politics. It's reminiscent of chimp heirarchies - though I rush to point out that it's immaterial for this analysis whether the driving force of that heirarchy is learned or biological; if it's the latter, there's so much socially created cruft on top that the chimp model is only useful as a framework with which to understand group dynamics.

As these adolescents are going through a process of self-discovery, they are also going through a process of determining thier "rank" in society. All sorts of social markers - and they vary from group to group, as the researcher found - serve to signal status. Ms. Pasco found herself treated differently because of her introduction as a weightlifter, or when she responded to the adolescent males as a "grownup" female rather than a peer.

In the same way, the epithet "fag" (or "gay", but with a less harsh connotation) is not a permanent category, but a brief status marker for social control in Ms. Pasco's observations. While the adolescents may not be able to articulate this in so many words, this explains why they refuse to use it with a "real" homosexual person, especially one who is older. It also explains the genderness of the epithets - in many ways, this is more of a feminist issue, than a queer issue. The temporary status of "fag" or "gay" in this context is demeaning masculinity - and simultaneoulsy reinforcing the concept of maleness being higher status than femaleness. The odd people out - at least in this study - are lesbians, but as the researcher notes, this has more to do with male fantasies of a menage-a-trois rather than lesbians per se.

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Hubris and Catholic Schools (crossposted)

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[Crossposted to my dayton-specific blog, Polishing the Gem City with a Dirty T-shirt.]

I've been trying to find a way to share this with you for the last week. It is a perfect example of how our assumptions can become so embedded that we utterly fail to recognize them.

I'm not fond of the public schools around here - not after my son's latest set of experiences with Eastmont, and a teacher who wanted to punish my son for refusing to let another kid cheat off of him. (Or when he was kept at the school there, and the principal had yet to apologize, or they double-booked him for classes and were failing him in one...the list goes on.) For most people, the alternatives are charter schools (and I hear mixed things about those) or private schools.

And in many places, private schools roughly equate to Catholic schools. I went to a Catholic school for much of my junior high and half my high school time. I don't have anything explicitly *against* Catholic schools. I want to make that clear up front.

During my time working with a local parish, getting more kids into Catholic schools was a preeminent concern. There are a whole host of reasons why people do not send their kids to these schools - though the parish I was working with actively refused to examine that. Sometimes it's the teachers or principal. Sometimes it's the age of the building. Sometimes it's the monoculture, or the religious aspect itself. And sometimes it's the money.

One of these - the cost - puts the responsibility for change outside of the parish. Guess which one is considered the biggest reason for not attending a Catholic school?

We got a letter a little more than a week ago from "Partnerships 4 Success". They're targeting people who may not be sending their child to a Catholic school for monetary reasons. They have a solution for you.

They will help you find a part-time job.

After extolling the importance of a strong family life, they recommend having a parent be out of the home *more*, not less. They presume that those without work simply can't find the jobs. They are presuming that those who don't have enough money for Catholic school are just barely short of the amount needed... and that they can't conceptualize the idea of working more for more money.

The statistics cited are also insultingly misrepresented - "Working 16 hours a week at $8 an hour, for example, translates into more than $6,400 income per year." Well, yes. If the job's hours hold steady for fifty weeks. And if they don't withhold any taxes. And if that doesn't bump you up a tax bracket. And if that's not enough money to disqualify you from any other aid you might be getting, most of which has steep if not absolute cut-off points. They ignore selection bias in reporting how many Catholic school grads are in college, and make some huge assumptions about pay raises when trying to extoll how great a performance boost they're going to give you.

These kinds of embedded cultural assumptions are a galling example of hubris.

I understand that the local Catholic schools are having a very hard time lately. That part is true. They've got some real big problems.

Assuming that parents just aren't looking hard enough for a job isn't the answer.

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Pencil Richard

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"You're holding your dick in your hand."

At least, I think that's what the bullies said to my son. His recollection is a little fragmented, a little embarrassed. Even though we encourage him to use "penis" and "vagina", even though he's not too familiar with the slang terms, he knows the other boys were not saying anything good.

"You've got a pencil dick. You're a pencil dick, and it's only two inches long."

My wife had tried to talk to him about it. She offered the standard line about how everyone's the same, about how you should just ignore bullies.

Which is why I got involved.

I told him that people are different - but that it doesn't matter... though they'd act like it did. I told him about the power struggles of the pecking order. I tell him how young boys seem to think that penis size has something to do with how important they are. How they pretend that whom they like - or what gender of people they like - reflects on the quality of the person. He's already heard "fag" a few times, though "gay" seems to be the more popular epithet here. No matter what we tell him, status will become important - at least, having enough status to not be on the bottom most rung of the rank structure. If we left him alone, left him to his own devices, maybe he'd find himself in a fight. Maybe there'd be another way he ended up asserting his place in the power structure - some other group to bash, some people to demean.

"Tell them you don't have to brag about your size," I tell him.

It undermines the whole system, I'll later tell my wife. It's a refusal to participate, while still implying that he's so far above the rest that it'd be too easy to beat them all. Maybe I can save him from having to bash gay people to show his strength.

"And if that doesn't work," I tell him, hating myself for saying it, "ask them why they're looking at your penis."

I tell myself it's better than him getting beat up, and hope that it will all be okay.

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End of Night - A Flash Fiction

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You stand outside, watching the sun rise. It's early enough that the neighborhood hasn't started to wake; only a few birds sing welcome. I join you, coming through the patio door in time to see you shiver, slightly, in the cool air. From behind I wrap a blanket around your shoulders, my arms around your sides. Our breath steams in intricate clouds as we watch the light spread.

The clouds will come soon. The cars, the smog. Cell phones and business appointments. Perhaps we will fight - today, another day. It will come. Arguments and recriminations, changing lives and differing goals. One day, we will look back and wonder how we became so far apart when we were so close.

But now. Now, you shiver, and I hold you close. Now, it is just you and I, and the morning sun.

And for now, it is enough.

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A Class Divided

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This is one of the most requested programs in FRONTLINE's history. It is about an Iowa schoolteacher who, the day after Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered in 1968, gave her third-grade students a first-hand experience in the meaning of discrimination. This is the story of what she taught the children, and the impact that lesson had on their lives.

[This text taken from the website]

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Scented Letters in the Sand - A Flash Fiction

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He remembered her taste. Vanilla, mostly, with a little hint of cinnamon. It was in - no, it was her lips, her tongue, her skin.

At Basic training, the drill sergeants yelled at him, arms burning from the repeated pushups, but he could taste a hint of vanilla, and smiled. The road marches were long, burning calves and turning thigh muscles into water, but he could smell the cinnamon from her letters. The C-130 was crowded, kevlars rolling back and forth between their feet as they flew, but over the stench of soldiers, he remembered the feel of her lips, the dessert smells of vanilla and cinnamon, and relaxed back into his seat.

The last letter, his first one incountry, was unscented, from her parents. They were very sorry, but felt it important that he know. E-mails and calls would have been faster, but a letter seemed more appropriate. It was strange, roasting in the desert heat and hearing that cold had killed her. It had been quick; the semi had lost control on the ice, and her car had crumpled.

The sand stunk, made worse by the diesel fumes and gun oil stench. The door bust in under his boot, opening out rooms that reeked of incense and spices. His squad leader screamed for him to get down, but the sulfur gunpowder smell hit him seconds after the bullets. They ripped through blood vessels not covered by the massive bullk of the vest. He crashed to the ground while his squad took out the gunman.

As they tried to staunch his bleeding (hot iron hemoglobin stink overlaying the sulfur), he grabbed his squad leader's arm.

"Sarge," he said, as he closed his eyes, "can you smell it? It smells so beautiful."

For a brief moment, the sergeant caught a whiff of vanilla, with just a hint of cinnamon.

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Measuring - A Flash Fiction

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Every second, every moment, universes peeled away from him.

The meters in the lab measured it. Waveforms oscillated, dials spun as the quantum choices he made created alternate universes. Every either/or choice, every decision, every collapsed waveform created the universe where it went one way... and the universe where it went another.

It was physics. He had been sure that the many worlds interpretation was true. The math had always felt right, but there had been no proof. He and Anne had been trying to prove the theory - and a final connection had made it all come together.

The meters were crude, but accurate, measuring his particular effect on the quantum soup. Anne opened the door, and the universe where he didn't look up at his partner spun off, its departure measured by the spiking of a dozen dials.

"I've done it," he told her. "Finally, after all these months, I've managed to measure the alternate universes we create."

Anne smiled at the gleam in his eyes. The simmering thoughts they had both had - but never shared - raged through them; the sublimated passion finally moving aside for another. Anne stepped forward into his arms, kissing him thoroughly.

For that moment, every meter in the lab lay perfectly still.

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Taste - A Micro Fiction

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"I've never felt like this before - my heart just feels like it's going to burst out of my chest."

"That's not love, dear, that's just the neurotoxins in your soup."

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California Hotel - A Flash Fiction

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The sheet fell across his face, the white cotton cutting a line parallel to the hot sunbeam. Still, it took him a moment - three breaths filtered by the fabric - before he began to stir. He raised up on his elbows, and watched the denim slide up her legs.


She glanced back at him, then pulled the sweat-top over her head. The cellophane crinkled as she picked up the pack of cigarettes, lighting one.

She blew smoke in his face. "Good to know you're such an intellectual genius in the morning."

"You don't have to go yet, babe. Checkout's not until noon."

She took another deep breath, then blew smoke into the cheap light fixture. She stood up, stepped to the dresser. Her purse went onto her shoulder, her ring onto her finger. She looked back at him, and despite the sheets, he felt naked under her eyes.

She rubbed the ring around and around her finger while she spoke. "I have to leave, because if I don't, I will."

He was still trying to understand when she kissed him once more - just on the forehead like a favored child - then turned to go home from her business trip.

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Her Street - A Flash Fiction

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I'm aiming for a flash fiction a day until Valentine's Day - and somewhat thematic ones, too. I hope you enjoy them.

I am on her street.

It has crept up on me. I was just wandering, driving around. I had no grandiose plan - but here I am on her street.

I swear, this isn't planned. If it was planned, I tell myself, even if it was subconsciously planned, I'd have a mariachi band. I would know songs to serenade, or have wacky beat poetry. Hell, I might even have a boom box.

But I am on her street, and it is late at night, and she is heavy on my mind. I pull over to the side. The park is quiet around me, but I pop all the doors and trunk, and blast the singer/songwriter alt rock over across her street.

I lie upon the pavement. I lie where her body was on this street, this street that is now and forever her street. I try to ignore the memory of the way she looked after my car hit her. I listen to the music wash over me, and hope that she can hear.

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The real political divide

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Despite the constant attempts to divide people between "Republicans" and "Democrats", between "blue" and "red", between "liberal" and "conservative", the real division isn't there.

For most of us, we might have a team identification - the way that we might have identified with a local college team, or rooted for someone at the Superbowl. But really, we're interested in the outcomes.

By that, I don't mean who "wins" - though that's nice, too. In football (or any sport) consecutive blowouts aren't that exciting... even if your team is the one that's winning. It's the game that's important there.

In politics, the outcomes are a little more abstract. The theater of the campaign cycle is entertaining, but the real outcomes that we mostly care about is the welfare of our city, state, and country. That is our real goal, not so much which team wins.

Again, for most of us. And that brings us to the real division in our country.

The division is not between red and blue, but between extremes. It is between the people who care about the outcomes - and those who care more that their team wins.

When we talk politics, when we talk about bailouts and stimuli and appointments, check yourself. Check others. Are they supporting (or against) something because of its merits?

Or are they simply concerned about what team wins?

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Duality Is One

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The fundamental mistake is pretending that there is a nature and nurture duality. There is no physical and emotional; there simply is.

The interplay between neurons, the beginnings of Chinese Room language learning, the loving gaze of a mother - all these interact in a dialectic that leaves the other affected.

Pretending that the two are separate is a fallacy - and one that creates a large amount of confusion and misunderstood interpretation of data. This is not to say that the techniques that work on either are wrong, just that they're inseperable.

Is this a bad thing? I don't think so; as with so many other things, the problems arise when the interplay is ignored. Pretending that things are "just" one or the other, though, is going to cause problems whether its done on a personal level or a societal level.

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The Defeat of Electrode - A Flash Fiction

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- In fond memory of J. Wright

The robot's head tkask-tkasked across the floor of Electrode's underground lab. Brainstorm squirmed in his restraints, the power-nullifying pad making his mental powers useless in its technological embrace. Electrode looked up from his work, cackling as small arcs of power flitted between his fingers.

"An invisible opponent with a blade?" Electrode cackled again, and looked at Brainstorm. "It must be your dear son Malcom, here to save his father."

Another robot head clattered its way across the room, careening into an equipment-filled cabinet. Electrode blanched, then reached behind him. As he pulled the large switch beside him, Electrode cried "No mere ninja can get past my electric death-trap!". Giant electric arcs swept through the air, their ozone stink as strong as the vast crackling sound. Under the cover of the sound, Electrode spoke to Brainstorm alone: "When your son's sword touches me, he'll be in for a ... shocking surprise!"

Even as he laughed, a human-sized blur dodged between the zotting pulses of power, heading straight for Electrode. The villain stepped back to dodge, but was too slow. The sword reversed mid-strike, metal moving away as the hilt thunked squarely between the evil man's eyes. Electrode dropped to the ground, stunned. Genyosha - Malcom Lennox - stood victorious above him. The hero reached out and turned off the deathtrap and the field that incapacitated his father.

"Your plans should have been more grounded, Electrode," he said. "It is useless to resistor the Sentinels."

As Malcom and his father left the lair, and the government agents swept in to arrest the criminal, Malcom looked over his shoulder one last time.

"And by the way, I'm not a ninja."

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Grok it, don't try to understand it...

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Look, I know I'm rambling. Just go with it, or skip it, or whatever.

I've often been a pessimist. This isn't really due to some kind of inherent personality flaw. It's a defense mechanism. It's a way of taking the sting out of other's words. It takes the pain out of it, because I've already taken the nerves and burnt them.

I'm not the only one like this. I know you feel this way too. Yeah, you. The person reading this.

Sure, you may feel good now. You might feel happy now, or in love, or content, or secure. But at the back of your mind, you're wondering how it's all going to go wrong. You're imagining all the ways it will end badly - if you'll even look that far ahead.

You might try ignoring the future. Don't look at the probabilities, don't look at the consequences, because then it's like some kind of karmic curse. Then the pain will come; you'll have wished it into being in some kind of reverse of "the Secret".

Then, of course, the future becomes the present.

The thoughts you tried to suppress are in front of you, the obstacles you ignored under your feet. The horrible things you envisioned now seem simple and unimaginative; the reality is far, far worse.

But these are things built of our own weaknesses.

The obstacles under our feet were avoidable; banana peels in the middle of a wide empty sidewalk. The new problems are spawned by our obsession over the old ones.

It's easy to forget the lightness, the ease of life. It's easy to break dreams, to break dreamers.

So when the opportunity arises, when you are inspired by a song, a poem, a book, a person, to be lighter, to move away from carrying unnecessary burdens, take it.

Perhaps your situation will still appear the same. Perhaps to an outside observer, you are the same person with unimaginably difficult situations around you.

But inside - oh, inside - you know that isn't the case.

Inside, you know that you will always be free.

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How the economic downturn is good for the environmental movement.

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While listening to the Planet Money podcast, I learned that there's very few places in the world that are unaffected by the ongoing economic crisis.

Ecologically minded folks should welcome this as a Good Thing.

Just to be clear, that's my concept, not theirs. And I'm not exactly saying that our financial crisis is worth it, or necessary. But it's here - and we'd better get what understanding we can out of it... especially before the next big crisis - an environmental one - hits us.

Think about it. The two biggest problems that the environmental movement has had were:

  1. Convincing people that the problems were real

  2. Convincing people that the problems were global, and required a global solution.

The global economic crisis has explicitly and obviously shown that the well-being of one person is tied to the well-being of another half the world away. It has clearly shown that our fates are not separate, but that there are very real (and sometimes unexpected) connections between us all.
That we must all hang together, or hang separately.

In some ways, the economic crisis is more real. It has happened more quickly, it has had a very measurable and dramatic impact on people's lives. Yet... it is just economics. It's all fiat money, just a consensual illusion of worth. Yet the shopping patterns of someone in Middle America has a very real and measurable impact on the lives of people living in Asia.

The environment, on the other hand, gives less than a rat's ass whether or not we think it's worth anything. It will continue, and change - whether it's good for our species or not. But that change is slow, and debatable. It's sometimes difficult to imagine the effect that a person in Middle America has on a person living in Asia.

I wish that the global economic crisis were not here. But since it is, let us use it for as much good as possible.

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Transformative Books

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Here's the ten most transformative books in my life. What are yours?

1. Illuminatus Trilogy - Robert Anton Wilson
2. Another Roadside Attraction - Tom Robbins
3. The Last Temptation of Christ - Niko Kazantzakis
4. Why I am a Catholic - Gary Wills
5. Stranger in a Strange Land - Robert Heinlein
6. Illusions: Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah - Richard Bach
7. Privilege, Power, and Difference - Allan G. Johnson
8. Mind, Self, and Society - George H. Mead
9. Blindsight - Peter Watts
10. Towing Jehovah - James Morrow

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Sunday Submission

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The last nonfiction bit got ... expurgated, but ran in a local college paper. There's a much longer (and older) version here. That said, at least it's in print again. Also, I got a picture credit for The Morning News, which was nice.

And I've submitted my work-a-week. This market tends to respond quickly, so here's hoping. The other short that got rejected will go to my writing group this week (hi, y'all!) to see if I can put some more meat on its bones... or feathers on its wings.

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Prayer Services on Twitter

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Earlier today I conducted a prayer service on Twitter. Obviously, I'd be limited by my speed typing - especially for the kind of introductory and semi-meditative service I wanted to do. So I ended up having to code a solution to remedy the problem. I created a new twitter account (with the hopes of eventually getting other persons of various faiths to conduct their own services), and wrote up a prayer service.

First, without having to go back, you can read the text of the service in one file. You can also follow @140prayer to see any new ones.

The program, TwitterScripter, is on my files page. The source code is in the file (written in C). It's under a Creative Commons license - though it should be noted that the license specifically prohibits using it for spam. You'll also need to get WGET and another public domain program that's on my site.

It's not the prettiest interface, but it means that anybody with a text file and a bare minimum of ability can run their own timed service without triggering carpal tunnel syndrome.

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There's love, and then there's LOVE love...

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"Love can damage more than you can heal with drinking." - Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Once upon a time, there was a reflective man. These days, people might want to capitalize his pronouns, and force conversions. That can get in the way of his message, which very often had little to do with ideology, and a lot to do with people.

This reflective man, in his effort to teach the people the way, realized that we "do love" very differently, that our genders limited us to certain socially approved expressions of caring.

And that these ways did not co-exist gladly.

In the three years before he got himself nailed to a tree for telling everyone to be nice to each other, he spoke to a lot of people. He visited the sisters Mary and Martha often, with their brother Lazarus several times - not to be confused with the other Lazarus, who may or not be the same person, or the other two Marys, or the... oh, screw it. Look, he visited these folks.

This reflective man would often talk to the people, and try to get them to understand the way. Usually, they were dense as rocks. He spoke to them in stories, spoke in allegory, and they didn't get it. Or rather, his followers, who were men, utterly failed to get it. They wanted violence, they wanted action. It was all about taking care of things.

Like Martha did. She was cooking and cleaning, like a lower-class man. While the reflective man's friends sat around, completely misunderstanding something about how to help others, Martha was fulfilling the male role. She was showing affection by taking care of things, by providing. The reflective man saw this opportunity to show his friends how they, also used to showing love only in actions and providing for others, should concentrate on all forms of love. That like Mary, Martha should be able to also cuddle and show affection, and in turn, his male followers should do the same.

They didn't get it.

Later, the one who would later get him nailed to a tree saw Mary (a different one, thus demonstrating the need for last names) using oil on the reflective man's feet. This disciple railed against the waste, wanting instead to sell the oil for... providing for the poor. Again, the reflective man tries to show that both ways of love have equal value.

Again, they don't get it.

And then the reflective man gets nailed to a tree, the philosophical zombies get a hold of his philosophy, and somehow the love gets squeezed right out of the whole thing.

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