ideatrash

Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

Connotations - A Flash Fiction

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It's interesting how we can use the same word in so many ways, don't you think?

Right, right. But I don't really mean homonyms or things like that.

Oh. Really? I thought those were called homonyms.

Okay, I get it. Right. But I mean other words. Like, friends. We use friend in such a cavalier way, but also as such a serious term, don't you think?

...but real friends help you move bodies! Oh, that's good! Exactly like that, exactly. Or love.

Don't be shy, my dear. Don't try to get up. I wouldn't want you to get your suit messed up. I know it's soon, and it's sudden, but it's okay. Look, we use love in lots of ways. Remember when we were children? "Well, if you love it, why don't you marry it?" Exactly like your joke when you picked me up...

... well, okay, it's kind of harsh. But that's part of what I mean. Love can be that blissful thing, that first time that you melt in someone's eyes, love can be the long-term affection between an old couple. Love can be the thing that tempts and the thing that keeps you from being tempted at the same time. Love is blind, but it's in the eye of the -

Yes, I think there is something in common with all of those. Every time, it's about getting inside someone else's skin, you know? It's about knowing the other person, feeling that connection between them. Even the affectionate kinds of love are described that way, like a connection between two bodies. And - and you're special to me.

I know, it's sudden, please don't struggle. The ropes are too tight. You'll hurt yourself. You're special, and I've always wanted to feel that connection, that *love*. See, I'll start on myself. But don't worry. We'll be connected soon enough.

Soon. We'll truly be one.

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Three Jobs

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I've held five jobs in my life. The two in food service - working as a waiter and at Taco Bell - were simply because I was a warm body at the right place and at the right time. The other three - a Boy Scout camp counselor, my time in the Army, and my current job - all had some kind of relationship with the social factors around my life.

The weakest of these relationships was my time in the military. Perhaps moreso than other environments, enlisted troops in the military are not particularly interested in one's social ties outside of the service. The support of my family - financially during times of marital crisis or with childcare during temporary duty assignments - made things easier and smoother than they would have otherwise. The greatest factor there, however, was my aptitude. The ability to score well on the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) meant that I was desirable to recruiters, and was largely related to the enriched environment that I grew up in.

I do not know the other people who applied for my current position back in 2002. It was not social networks; I had passed through Dayton only once before. (Though it is my understanding that social networking is a primary method of finding a job in my profession, especially here.) However, I know one thing for certain. The manager who hired me had done military service himself. For several years, every male in my department had served in some branch of the military. That perception of common values and social class due to our shared experience in "green-collar" work overruled the otherwise dominant social networking paradigm.

I spent three summers as a Boy Scout camp counselor during my teenage years. The pay was minimal, but it was fun work. I enjoyed myself greatly; moments there count among some of my most memorable ones from my early teens. The last summer was different. There were four of us who were close friends. We assembled two A-frame tents into a giant single one. We all worked at the same area, and hung out together afterwards. Towards the end of that summer, I also discovered that we were viewed as delinquents. It was the last week of camp, and one boy was suspected of doing drugs. The other three of us were questioned individually behind closed doors. One of the questioners - an adult I had long disliked as a pompous self-righteous jerk - told me: "If your father had not done so much for this [Boy Scout] council, you would never have been hired here."

It had never occurred to me that my father had anything to do with my presence there. I wasn't the best Boy Scout ever - largely because my troop engaged in hazing rituals and thought camping should always be accompanied by shooting animals. But I had always considered my achievements (or lack thereof) as being my own. I had fought bitterly with my mother about our family's social status, and how I did not think my actions should reflect on them. I believed the opposite as well, even though I had never bothered to articulate it. The shock of that statement stayed with me for the remainder of that week, and for years to come.

I never went back to that camp. Not as a counselor, not as a resident. Being at the camp was the only thing keeping me in Boy Scouts, so my participation essentially ended then.

My moment for schadenfrude came later. The next year that man, the one who said I never would have been hired, was charged with encouraging the teenage boys at camp to watch pornographic movies with him. I laughed darkly to myself, though my parents never quite understood why.

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Busting Sexual Categories

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The Michigan's Womyn's Festival (though, amusingly, it's spelled "Women's" in many mainstream news outlets, despite it being a proper noun) began admitting openly transgendered people in 2006.

For fifteen years before that, there was a policy of excluding those who had not "lived their entire lives as womyn" - though in 2001, they stopped interrogating attendees to prevent a climate of harassment against transgendered people in an attempt to search out transsexuals. The rationales for excluding male-appearing (or later, any transsexual) persons are exhaustively listed at this webpage, and are also handily debunked.

This is a perfect example of how transpeople - moreso than bisexuals - bring the entire sexual categorization scheme into question. They are the proverbial black swans that show that our societal model of sexuality is flawed.

While researching an annotated bibliography, I discovered that over 38% of transgendered people identify as heterosexual - but what does that mean? Are they talking about heterosexual experiences from the point of view of their birth sex, or the gender they identify with? I understand now what was meant [1], but as my first real run-in with this kind of thing, I found it all confusing, disturbing, and unsettling.

But it's good.

Once we question, once we don't know what has meaning anymore... well, then, all that' s left are the meanings and relationships we make for ourselves. Maybe it's time we focus on those, instead of categories.

[1] For those that don't know, it's most commonly the relationship between the target gender and the significant other that's meant with sexual orientation. So a male-to-female transperson who is attracted to men can be considered heterosexual. As with most things regarding transpeople though, you will almost certainly find exceptions.

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Honoring the Dead: Memorial Day

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Originally posted June 02, 2005. Reprinted (with permission) in the Dayton Daily News on June 15, 2005. This work is under a Creative Commons license. You can also find it on my website.

Honoring the Dead: Memorial Day

The name stumbles from my tongue. Mashed consonants slide into a string of vowels - my mouth is confused. It is an Iraqi name, someone killed in the war.

A woman stands across from me. She has read the name of a dead Ohio soldier. Seven Iraqi names to each Ohioan - an attempt to give some perspective to the kill ratio. She is waiting as I fumble through the first of seven. Finally, I get to the age of death: 45.

A bit old for a soldier, I muse. Still, six more strange names to go. It is Memorial Day, and we are honoring the dead.

The second name is more familiar - Hassan Mohammed something. I breeze through it, cruising easily until I stop short at the age: seven.

Seven?

Glance down the list quickly, check the rest of the ages. Five. Nine. Six. Eleven. Two.

My youngest son sits with his mother, bored but patient. She is praying, but he sees me looking and smiles at me. It's a goofy grin under his tousled blond hair.

He, too, is seven.

I struggle through the rest of the names and ages. I wonder how alien, how strange my son's name of "Christopher" would sound to them.

Later, I hug him, my little seven-year-old boy, and pray for the parents who can never hold their child again.

On Memorial Day, I remember, and pray never to forget.

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Resistance

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A male co-worker of mine called a breast-feeding co-worker a "heifer" today. To be fair, he maintains that he said "Bessie" instead; I don't think that makes a difference. When I confronted him about it, I said that I didn't think he actively meant for it to be sexist - but it came off that way, and wasn't appropriate.
"Is she offended, or are you?" he asked.
"I am."
"Then you need to grow a thicker skin," he said.
One of my favorite blogs is Resist Racism. Not because it's comfortable, or because I agree with them all the time - look in the archive, I don't. But they do a wonderful job of forcing these issues out into the open. They will not let us be comfortable and complacent. No soma for them, thanks.
And none for me.
The posts "Racism101" and "We've Heard It Before" should be required reading. The principles - and unacceptable excuses for racist behavior - also apply to heterosexist and sexist behaviors as well. Some of the ones that are most relevant (IMHO) to my experiences today are:

  • Defensive responses to issues voiced by people of color are invocations of privilege.

  • A claim to anti-racism cannot be made based on any variation of the “black friend defense” (Mexican boyfriend, Asian wife, children of color, etc.).

  • Celebrations of “multiculturalism” do not address racism.

  • An experience you have as a white person that you think is similar to an experience related by a person of color is not a valid proof that racism doesn’t exist.


It's a challenge reading that blog sometimes. It is distinctly uncomfortable to realize that I have said some of those excuses, or done some of the behaviors they are talking about. But those challenges, that questioning of our assumptions and our behavior, are the only ways we can truly begin to repair the damage society has done to our psyches.

And it's the only hope we have of ever being able to repair the damage we caused in turn.

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Social Roles

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Comte and Durkheim thought that society's basic unit was not the individual, but the family - a small group. There is plenty of evidence for their assertion, and the essay "Girls, media, and the negotiation of sexuality: A study of race, class, and gender in adolescent peer groups" is but one more piece.

As the authors interviewed girls in both an inner city and a suburban school, they noticed that there were quite a few differences... but that those differences were overshadowed by similarities. The students in both facilities were overwhelmingly influenced by popular media and clique norms, with gross conformity to the expectations of their peers even as they protested their uniqueness.

This division - private resistance and public conformity - illustrates the siren pull of normative culture and the economic cost of independent thought. This is highly on my mind of late, spurred most recently by a cartoon that extolls joining the herd and being an alpha male... because that's the way people are, and if you want to succeed, that's what you have to do. Such a mindset requires a subscription to the normative culture - something that's hard to resist without others on your side.

There are plenty of studies where people will conform to even the slightest peer pressure, even when the facts in front of them are plain. How much harder is it, then, for these children shown "normal" mass media, reinforced continually by their peer group?

To resist that is difficult, costly both in terms of the informal (but all too real) reputation economy of teenage years, and cognitively costly in the effort of self-reflection rather than conformity. This cost is evident in the repeated pattern of children making pop-culture centred choices despite their protestations.

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Where the straight white guy tries to answer questions on race, sexuality, and gender.

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My wife teaches Sociology, and today I had the pleasure of sitting on a panel discussion about gender, sexual orientation, and race. The students were asked to submit questions for us to answer - all the questions you wanted to know the answers to, but were afraid to ask.

And we didn't even get to a third of them.

Nearly all the questions are below - a few I omitted simply because I don't have anything to say to them. For example, I can't describe what it feels like to come out of the closet, and don't know of anything particularly relevant to add. The questions are in italics, my answers in regular type. In some places I do link to other texts or videos - which are kind of important to the point I'm making. :)

I do not pretend to be an expert, nor are my answers definitive. I am probably wrong at least once in here. But I hope that maybe they can start a dialogue - either here, or in my wife's class, or in your own home. Please feel free to send me any more questions, or if you have a different answer (especially when I'm talking about groups I'm not a part of), leave a comment.

Why do people think that if you do certain things that aren't normal you have to or must be gay?

In general, I think this has a lot to do with stereotyped gender norms. The street preacher I spoke to today, for example, thought that long hair on a man meant that you were gay - which would surprise the heck out of my wife.

What does it mean if you see a dude with all girls all the time?

They have a lot of girls who are friends. Personally, I tend to have an easier time making friends with women than men.

Can you know if someone likes you or not like you because of your race or ethnicity?

No.

What does bisexuality mean and why do some people label themselves as that?

Bisexuality means having romantic or sexual relationships with both men and women. People label themselves that way because, well, that's what they do.

What makes a person come out of the closet?

Individual reasons vary... but commonly it's out of a desire to be true to themselves. Turn that question around, and it might be understandable. Imagine you're in a relationship you don't want to be in - whether with someone of the same or different gender. How hard would it be to stay in that relationship?

Why do gay men talk with lisps?

Not all do. It's a stereotype, and one that's been largely internalized by gay men. One of my gay friends in college (the first time) had a deeper voice than mine, and was much more butch. You would have never guessed he was gay unless he told you. Or you saw him kissing another guy.

Do all women in American society really think body hair on men is unattractive?

Nope. Our media is currently holding up what my wife calls "nakey-little-boy chests" as attractive. That both leads to the impression that all women think that way - and also helps forms perceptions of attractiveness.

Why do white students neglect the fact that even though they have struggles, they are still more privileged than minority students because of their race?

It's easy to do. White privilege is largely unrecognized by our society. Unpacking the knapsack of white privilege is a really eye-opening exercise for many white people. It's so hard - and counter to what we've learned all our lives - that it's often easier to ignore it than acknowledge it. You can also check out this essay that does the same thing for straight privelege.

There is a ghetto-thug mentality today that is present in many cultures, but is identified with black culture. How does this mentality help or hurt black culture? Is this seen as a positive or negative thing?

Speaking as an outsider, I think it's often a negative thing. I do recognize that gangs often provide a sense of belonging and support that may otherwise be absent from some people's lives... but the violence is so detrimental that I think it outweighs the positive.

Do gay people feel like they’re going to heaven?

The gay Christians I know believe so. In general, there's lots of parts of the Bible that people choose how to interpret or decide how much importance to give.

Why do black women have so many children by different men?

Part of this image goes to the stereotype of Black people as being hypersexualized. Black women were seen as always being sexually accessible and Black men as being insatiable. The essay The Mind That Burns in Each Body talks about that a lot.

Really, though, the answer to that is: "It's complicated." Blacks and Hispanics in the US have more children born out of wedlock. But many several countries - Iceland, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark for examples - have a higher percentage of children born out of wedlock, but very small Black populations. So it can't be race - it's other factors in our societies.

How did you go about “coming out of the closet,” and how did you know you were ready to do so? Did you get treated differently afterwards?

This is a link to Robert relating how he came out as a transsexual to his parents. (Since I'm not gay, I can only relate other people's stories.)

Why is that black males prefer white women?

I don't know that the stereotype is true. My nephew's father is Black, but I don't know that my sister's whiteness had anything to do with her relationship with his father. At the same time, I'm sure you can find Black men who think that having a white girlfriend/wife/whatever is some kind of status symbol - but if that was a predominant factor, you would expect to have the same mythology about Black women wanting white men... and that's not part of our mythology.

What motivates you to like the same sex, being that you would feel different being gay?

Same thing that would motivate you to like anyone. As far as social stigmas go, imagine that you like someone who is culturally unlike you. For example, if you fell for a prostitute, a snooty blue-blooded scion of a wealthy family, someone of a different race, or different religion. We make movies (romantic movies, no less) about those kinds of things celebrating the power of love to overcome those obstacles. Why don't we do the same with homosexuals?

Why is racism (blacks racist towards whites) never talked about or even considered? Because I feel as if this campus is slightly biased towards whites.

Blacks (and other minorities) can be prejudiced towards other races. What distinguishes racism is the structural and societal dominance that whites have.

The campus comment seems to refer to the tendency to have Black associations, Black history month, and the like. Take all of the organizations, events, and such that are NOT specifically designated. The default in our society - the "norm" - is for them to be focused on whites. Maybe someday we can have a balance where specific designations aren't needed, but we aren't there yet.

Do black people feel the need to live up to their stereotypes?
Do African Americans hold a grudge from what whites have done to them over the years?


I can't answer either of these - but I can point out that they also are heavy on the large group designations. Substitute "whites" for the first question, and you'll probably see what I mean.

How did you realize that you may be gay or lesbian? Have you ever tried the opposite sex? Do you feel that you were born like that or that it was a choice?

I'd like to comment here that changes in whom you're attracted to are not the same thing as a choice. My preferences in women - both appearance and temperment - have changed throughout my life, but I never consciously made a choice there.

Why do people who find themselves attracted to the same gender as themselves sometimes make their appearance resemble the opposite gender? (For example: Lesbians who wear their hair really short and wear baggy guy clothes.)

Because we strongly associate gendered behaviors - like clothing - to sexual orientation.

Do you think it is still fair for minorities to receive scholarships just for being a minority, while dominant cultures have to work hard to achieve high enough grades to even be considered for one?

I'm applying for a scholarship for veterans and descendants of Hungarians. There was one I recieved for being a non-traditional (older) college student. There's lots of scholarships (often bequested by a specific individual) that have very diverse requirements.

Or in other words - I don't think that it's as big of a problem as suggested.

Do you think that homosexual African Americans are looked at differently by society than white homosexuals?

Yes. There's an intersection between race and sexuality there that makes things MUCH more difficult for Blacks who do not fit the heterosexual norm.

How does it feel to know that in the inside you know you are a male/female but your body is different on the outside?

Explain your thoughts on the gender conflicts of the mind. In your mind you know what gender you are, but you were born in the opposite body.

I linked to part of it earlier (and will again) - but do yourself a favor and watch Southern Comfort. It's 90 minutes well spent.

When you are at the YMCA, is that equal to a straight guy being at a strip club?

Being homosexual doesn't imply that they find everyone of the opposite gender attractive. I'm straight - but there are lots of women I don't find attractive, and would never want to be in a locker room with them.

Why do some black people feel the need to be loud and sound uneducated?

Why do some white people feel the need to be quiet, reserved, and emotionless?

Do you use the word nigger, and are you offended by someone else using that word? White people?

I do not use that word.

As an African American, do you believe that the lighter your skin tone the better off you are in today’s society?

Speaking as a white person, I think that's still pretty true - though not always. One of my classmates in the Army told us that he got flak from everyone. When growing up he wasn't Black enough, nor white enough. So it's a mixed bag.

As a woman in today’s society, do you feel as if you are treated differently in the work place compared to men? Do you feel the respect factor is close to equal?

My supervisor had a complaint dismissed with the statement "Oh, you're just on the rag, aren't you?" It didn't raise any eyebrows in that meeting. I think that answers your question.

I am asking this question to the gays/lesbians. How do you feel about the Bible? Being told that you could be “going to hell” for being gay/lesbian? How does this make you feel about religion and God when people get angry at you for making the sexual choices you have made?

I don't think we can talk about "choices" in this context (refer to the above). I can only imagine that it's hurtful, though. The street preachers out on campus today really turned a lot of people against Christianity by preaching hellfire and brimstone instead of love and kindness.

To the transgendered person: Do you have feelings for both genders?

Transgender does not have anything to do with sexual orientation. One can be a gay transperson or straight transperson - but the orientation is in respect to the target gender. That is, if someone is transitioning from female to male and likes women, then they're straight.

Are black men really that much bigger than white men?

This is - I presume - in respect to penis size. A few points:


  • This goes back to the hypersexualized stereotype of Blacks in American culture.

  • There's no scientific evidence that this is the case.

  • Flaccid size has no relationship to erect size.

  • There is a proportional correlation to overall body size, foot size, and erect size.

  • When researchers asked prostitutes (figuring they wouldn't have any emotional connotations to performance), they hated customers with large members. They rated average sized as the best. (5-6.5 inches long erect, 3-4.5 inches in circumference).

  • Girth matters more than length.

  • Too long HURTS.



Why can some people say things and others can’t? Like why can black people say nigger but if a white person does, it is offensive? It is offensive, but why do black people say it to each other now?

The short answer: I can say "Hey, jerkwad, what's up!" to a good friend - but not to a stranger.
The longer answer: Would things be different when your boss says them? Whites are the dominant culture, and there's a power differential there whether we like it or not.

To the transgendered person: What is sex like after sex change surgery?

Skip to about 5'30" in this clip from Southern Comfort.

Why do you choose to be gay then try so hard to have children?

See the note above about choice. And I think the reasons people want children are pretty much the same regardless of sexual orientation.

Do you think that affirmative action has “dumbed” the black population? They have to score less on a placement test than a white person to get a job. Jobs are not given to the most qualified people – but filled by whatever color is needed.

Affirmative action is the last place we should look. Before even addressing that question, we need to ensure that our school systems are actually equally funded and staffed from preschool on. There's huge disparities in educational opportunities. Consider the difference in school systems between Dayton (with its large Black population) to Beavercreek or Centerville (with their very white populations). My kids have been in school systems all around this area - and the differences in buildings and supplies alone have been startling.

Why do people have a problem with other people who have darker skin?

Dunno. Answer that, and you might change the world.

Why do Indians wear the jewel in the middle of their head?

It's a Hindu religious symbol called a bindi. Both religious men and many women wear one. There is a lot of symbolism behind the different shapes and colors.

Do you think affirmative action is still needed today or has it become a form of reverse racism?

Reverse racism can only happen when white privilege doesn't exist. I don't think I'll get to live to see that day, but I hope we get there. And yeah, we still need it - see the above about school systems.

To an African American: What is the source or inspiration for the names of many African Americans--because the names are so unique?

They're largely derived from Africa in some way. There's actually a similar trend with obviously Hebrew names for some Jewish populations in American right now.

To the transgendered person: How do you know that you are a transgender, and not a homosexual or a lesbian?

Gender identity is something distinct from sexual orientation - you can be a very masculine gay man, for example. In some ways, transpeople are even more invested in gender norms than everyone else - they just identify with one different than the one they were born with.

Why do homosexuals feel they have a right to marriage? To me, from a religious viewpoint, they do not. Would they, as a whole (if they can answer for the entire group) be content with a civil union, basically for tax and health care reasons?

Civil unions aren't the same thing as a civil marriage. The latter has a LOT of special privileges in our society that civil unions don't.

I don't think religions should be forced to recognize a gay marriage, by the way. My church did not recognize my first marriage because it was performed by a Justice of the Peace. But religion is something very, very different than religion, and both are stronger when they stay that way.

I've written pretty comprehensive rebuttals to most of the arguments against gay marriage - they're here and here.

Why is it that people will frequently watch “girl on girl” or gay porn all of the time, but when they see two gay women or men in public, they think it is disgusting or inappropriate? Why is it different? Is it a fantasy issue?

In short - yes. Most porn is marketed for straight males, and the fantasy is that the two women will turn and pleasure any man that walks in.

Why do white people think they are more superior or smarter than black people?

This is a bit overgeneralizing - just like the "why do Black people" questions. Still, it's a racist society, and it's hard for us to break out of it.

Why can't we all just be "Americans"? Why do we have to be African-Americans and all these other groups?

We are all Americans. That's part of why the "-Americans" construction was made, to try to reinforce that we're all part of the same group, even though we're distinct as well.

We cannot afford to forget that our society is predominantly white, though. Nearly everything is constructed around the "mainstream" white Christian male viewpoint; until that changes, we have to explicitly remember

Why do white people like to take risks and do crazy thrill seeking events like Jackass?

I don't think most white people do. Media does a good job of taking unusual people and showing them to us ALL THE TIME, so we end up mistaking what we see on TV as being the norm.

Why are white people afraid to walk up to a group of black people by themselves?

Dunno. I don't like walking up to any random group of people.

Do you believe that homosexuality is a chosen lifestyle or one predetermined by biology? OF you believe it is a chosen lifestyle, why did you choose a lifestyle that is constantly discriminated against and sometimes looked down upon?

And I think this question points out exactly why I don't think (aside from the evidence) that homosexuality is a choice. Why WOULD you choose that kind of discrimination? The only answer I can think of is that they're being true to themselves.

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New Ones - A Flash Fiction

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This continues Jasmine's story - previous installments are here, here, and here.

When Beatrice slipped out the window, Jasmine was a minute behind her. When her sneakers hit the soft ground - and Beatrice hadn't heard her - Jasmine knew she had guessed correctly. The older girl had to sneak out somehow to get cigarettes, and knew the adult's routines.

Beatrice slipped out of sight as Jasmine ducked under the dewey leaves of the bushes. A stake, a cross, a small flimsy vial of holy water. That would be enough for tonight. She was simply going to follow Beatrice. How did she get back in, anyway? Jasmine started to pad her way across the darkened lawn.

The edge of the school grounds was marked in fluorescent tape, a sickly green in the moonlight. Jasmine could just hear the older girl ahead of her, outside the treatyline. She probably had someone else drop the cigarettes off, and she just retrieved them from the side of the road -

Beatrice's scream echoed through the damp air. The cool mist made it hard to see, but even the crickets had stopped making noise. There was only soft inarticulate sobs from up ahead.

Jasmine did not think; she would not rationalize her way out of this. She ran towards where she had heard Beatrice scream.

The vampire took flight as she approached, flapping rustling sounding like a flag in a windstorm. Beatrice lay twisted and facedown, her neck ripped open and skin pale. A cigarette lay near her mouth, the smoke twisting upward. It rose, not distorted by any breath.

Jasmine had not realized how fast it could happen. It had been fast, so fast. She sank to her knees, the moistness wicking through her pants and feeling sick on her legs. Beatrice swam in and out of focus as the tears flooded into Jasmine's eyes.

And then Beatrice started to move.

The fear struck Jasmine in the gut, her bladder emptying itself. She knew - knew - that Beatrice had been dead. For her to move meant that she had been Chosen. That she was a new one.

That she was not bound by the treaty.

Jasmine scrambled to her feet, stumbling backwards. The truceline was nearby, but safety was not. She turned and ran.

Mrs. Heydnshot's voice rang in Jasmine's head. "The new vampires are in shock for the first few moments. There is a struggle betweeen the vampire and the human selves. But then the vampire essence takes over, leaving the human consciousness trapped screaming as the vampire destroys everything they love."

Jasmine glanced backward in time to see Beatrice - the thing that had been Beatrice - launch itself towards her. Jasmine spun, taking the impact on her left shoulder. Her cross skipped off a bit of sandstone, and Jasmine's breath whoomphed out as she hit the ground.

Beatrice - it still looked like Beatrice - already had fangs. Fast. This was all too fast, and then she was flying backwards from the vampire's throw. Jasmine's body felt distant, sensations mere dispatches from a distant outpost. Jasmine felt her left arm twist and crack against a branch, her back slam into the tree trunk, her body flop against the ground. The cool grass tickled her cheek, moved as she gasped for breath. Beatrice bared her fangs again and walked, slowly, deliberately towards Jasmine.

Jasmine's right hand fumbled upon the holy water, seized it, and threw. The bottle smashed on Beatrice's skull and... did nothing. Even the vampire seemed surprised, but not as much as when Jasmine shoved herself forward, stake-first, at Beatrice.

Jasmine was surprised at the smoothness of the motion, how slickly the stake slid into Beatrice's body. Her hand stopped at the vampire's skin, still wrapped around the rough stake. The two toppled over, then Jasmine scrambled off the vampire's immobilized body. She grimaced, and wiped her hands down her sides.

The stake hadn't been enough. She didn't know why, but it had not killed Beatrice, just paralyzed her. The flag-rustling sound came again. Jasmine looked up to see the vampire on the other side - his side - of the truceline, laughing.

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Street Preacher

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I apparently missed the street preacher on Wright State's campus today. He was (according to my wife, who he called a "loose woman") ranting about Freddie the Fornicating Frat boy, among other things. I would have really enjoyed talking to him.

It was only coincidence that I am wearing my "Cthulhu Cola" t-shirt today. I swear.

Thing is, I don't heckle street preachers. (I'll heckle people who don't have common sense in their t-shirt choices, which I recognize is perhaps ironic given my T-shirt today.)

Instead, I like to approach these people and talk to them. It's definitely a lot more interesting for me, and unlike straight heckling, doesn't make me look like a jerk. So for your benefit, the questions I would have liked to ask (and have answered):

  • You called my wife a loose woman earlier today. Jesus asked for those without sin to throw the first stone, and to pluck the log out of our eyes before getting the splinter from another's. How do you reconcile that with your behavior?

  • Jesus tended to hang around with the lowest of the low - prostitutes, the poor, lepers, criminals, and tax collectors (who would have been traitors from a Jewish perspective at the time). He did not condemn them, but instead talked about a different way. How does that mesh with what you are doing?

  • (After any mention of Leviticus or the kosher laws, including those often cited about homosexuality) Have you eaten a cheeseburger? Lobster? Is your clothing made of blended materials? How do you decide which of these laws to pick and which to ignore?

  • What is your goal here? Do you really think labeling people as being unclean in some way is going to achieve that goal? Have you tried other methods to reach your goal?


It's the same thing I do when I run into anti-abortion protesters. I'm genuinely interested in how someone can see the same information that I have and not come to the same conclusions. Do they have the same information? Do they value something differently than myself? Why?

I have no illusions about this. I don't think I will suddenly convert anyone to my way of thinking, nor do I go to people's places of worship and start debating them. Believe what you like for your own life, really.

But when it's done in public, or it's being used as a justification to control others, that's a different story entirely.

And maybe when we discuss these things publicly, when we talk rationally and in a goal-oriented way about controversial topics like abortion or religion, we might actually get past the rancor and bitterness.

We might actually get to where we accept each other as people.

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...just like everybody else

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I covered the first point two days ago, which had to do with the nature of scientific inquiry. Yesterday's was about Biblical literalism. Today's is a little more philosophical - but don't let that scare you off.

My co-worker said (and I'm paraphrasing, of course): "We are God's special creation. We haven't seen any other planets with life on it, so that makes us special."

Which strikes me as a flimsy way to get your self-esteem.

What happens when we do find evidence of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe? That statement does not allow for any wiggle room - either we are special because we are alone in the universe, or the entire belief structure falls into shards.

We can guess what would happen by looking at history. The "alone in the universe" statement has its roots in the more common objection of: "We're God's special creation, not just descended from monkeys." [1]

And I think that's a big part of the reason that evolutionary theory has met with such resistance. Culturally, humans were used to thinking of themselves as unique - and therefore special and valuable because of it. The last two centuries have been bad for that point of view. Darwin started to point out our commonalities with the rest of nature in the 19th century. Scientists throughout the 20th century have demonstrated that qualities we thought were uniquely human - intelligence, self-awareness, language use, societies, laughter - are not so unique after all.

Culturally, we have been acting like an older sibling, jealous that we have to share the stage with a new baby.

But we are special - in a way that these Creationist arguments miss. We are each unique, just like everyone else.

Yeah, I know, you read that like sarcasm. Go back and read it again - but not sarcastically. You are unique. [2] That combination of DNA, those two particular cells will not exist again. The events that have shaped your life, let alone your individual way of perceiving them, are unique. Even if we were to clone you, and have that clone be with you every moment of your life, it would not be you.

You are special.

And you don't need to ignore any science to believe that.

[1] Yes, I know. Apes. Because if it doesn't have a tail it's not a monkey.
[2] Yes, I'm cribbing from Watchmen. Because it's a good point.

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Literal Literary Belief

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I found myself debating against Creationism earlier this week. There's three points - not the usual ones - that I want to cover. I think they're all imporant ones.

I covered the first point yesterday, which had to do with the nature of scientific inquiry. Today's is about the text itself. The Bible.

There is a lot of fascinating Biblical scholarship that has been done in the last couple of decades. The Documentary Hypothesis in particular goes a long way towards explaining some of the odder things in the Bible. For example, that there are two creation stories - one in Genesis 1, and another separate story in Genesis 2.

But that's not my point here.

Another co-worker, overhearing the discussion, asked how I could pick and choose what parts of the Bible to believe in. In response, I asked her if she was wearing blended clothing, or ate pork. "What about stoning?" I asked.

"Well, those parts aren't important," she said. "Not like how the world was made."

"I think how we live our lives today is far more important than how the world was made," I replied.

There are a lot of contradictions in the Bible. Not just numerical contradictions, but prescriptive contradictions. We are given different commandments at different times.

There are, by the way, good arguments that Judiac kosher laws (the ones I mentioned above) do not apply to Christians. Jesus pointed out the fallacy in stoning others, and in Acts, Peter receives the revelation that cleanliness comes from inside, not what you eat.

Yet capital punishment still exists in this supposedly Christian country. We hear a great outcry about keeping Christ in Christmas. Yet nearly all of those Christians have not given away all of their possessions, as Jesus commanded.

We all pick and choose what to follow from the Bible.

And I still think it's far more important to choose how to live today than how the world was created.

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In the Beginning was...

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I found myself debating against young-Earth creationism again this week. One of my co-workers had recently visited the Creation Museum, and was extolling its virtues as science.

I'm not going to go into the whole debate - you can easily find both sides if you're interested. The talk.origins archive is an excellent place to start. I do want to draw three points from the larger picture - and I think these points are very important. I'll present one today, and one each of the next two days.

The first is the presentation of the literal Biblical text as science. There are many problems with this - that the Christian Bible is a transcription of an oral tradition, that there were multiple authors of the Torah, that translation errors are definitively known to exist - but none so large as the simple fact that it is not science. It was never meant to be. The Christian Bible is a work of faith, and generally succeeds at that level. It fails as a book of science.

Creationists (and I mostly mean young Earth Creationists here) tend to attack scientific thought, or point out holes in theory. They are correct to do so. Our explanatory models are incomplete, and need more evidence and more refinement. Where they are incorrect is the presumption that poking holes in scientific thought means that they win by default.

Let's get this straight: Even if the entire theory of evolution were to be entirely disproved tomorrow, that would not imply that Biblical Creation is correct.

(And remember, we're also ignoring that it doesn't imply that the Christian idea of creation is any better than the Hindu, Zorostran, or Pastafarian ideas.)

There isn't evidence for Biblical Creationism that is not better explained by a different model (or at least a different religion's model). Our scientific explanations now, while admittedly not perfect, explain the most facts while still following Occam's Razor. They are the best model we have at this time. (This is not the only philosophy of science, though my writing about this type have appeared elsewhere. You can read more about the philosophies of science, which is really quite interesting in a geeky way.

And what about the Bible as evidence? I will paraphrase Thomas Paine: What God tells me is revelation. When I tell it to another, it becomes nothing more than hearsay.

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Training - A Flash Fiction

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Okay, so this is really a continuation of two other bits - part one and part two. I sometimes have difficulty writing longer works, so I'm playing with this one. Still, I hope you enjoy it.

Jasmine slid backwards from the window. The women training inside the gym spun out of sight as the hand on her right arm spun her around.

Beatrice was staring at her, green eyes bright under her short red hair. Her senior-year vest was unbuttoned, and Jasmine's nose itched at the smell of cigarette smoke. But Beatrice did not let go of her arm.

"What the hell are you doing?"

Jasmine felt her cheeks getting warm. "Can you let go of my arm, please?" Her cheeks got warmer as Jasmine heard her own voice quaver. Behind her, even through the window, she could hear the clank of stake on stake as older girls sparred.

Beatrice's gaze flicked back to the window, then to Jasmine. Jasmine held as still as a statue until the older girl let go. "You were watching them?"

Jasmine nodded. Beatrice let go of her arm and stepped back. "Whatever, then. Stay out of my way."

Beatrice had taken four steps before Jasmine managed to croak a hoarse "wait" from her sandpaper-dry throat. Beatrice turned back around and looked at Jasmine.

"I... I need training. They won't train me. They said I wasn't cut out for it."

Beatrice laughed. "You mean you were too fat."

It was like her shirt shrank, letting Jasmine really notice every jiggle. She shifted her backpack off her back and held it in front of her body. Beatrice sighed. "Jesus. Relax, kid. They're idiots like that. Only one of them that's ever gone hunting is Jeff Brown, and he doesn't select the ones he trains." Beatrice waved toward the gym. "Those girls? Their parents have money."

"My parents are dead," Jasmine said.

"That sucks," Beatrice said.

Occasional muted sounds of sparring from the gym punctuated the silence between them.

Beatrice drew a cigarette and lighter from a pocket. As she lit it, the smoke hung low in the humid air. Her father's voice rang in her head: That means rain's coming, darling.

"Well, kid," Beatrice said, "I gotta get back before they notice I'm not studying in study hall." She turned to leave again.

"Wait -" Jasmine's voice stopped the older girl again. "Since he can't - " she pointed to the gym, " - can you train me?"

Beatrice choked on a lungful of smoke, then laughed as she walked away. Jasmine would not let her lip tremble as she turned back around to watch the other, chosen girls train.

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Keynesian principles - or how I stopped worrying and loved the stimulus

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I originally wrote this for @KevinPorter, but I realized that these were questions (and misunderstandings) that I heard a lot. So this is a (very) brief overview of my understanding of Keynesian thought, along with some of it's problems at the end. It's not meant to be definitive - or a complete excuse for all government spending. It's an attempt to outline the basic ideas in relatively accessible language. I hope you find it interesting.


Keynes is best known for the economic policies that were part of the New Deal. That alone is enough to vilify him for some conservatives, but that is not a criticism of Keynes' theories, much less of the new Keynesians. The latter especially are a diverse lot, and I cannot pretend to speak for all of them. Despite these shortcomings, I am going to take a stab at summarizing the basic ideas and principles of Keynesian thought as well as some of the difficulties this theory faces.

It is sometimes difficult to remember that bank runs and depressions were a relatively common occurrence before the Great Depression. Business cycles staggered between large booms and large busts. Keynes hoped to stabilize this cycle for entire economies, by smoothing out both the booms and the busts. Conservative and Chicago school economists will tell you that government is a drain on the private sector of the economy - and they are not wrong in this. What Keynesians want to do is to utilize that drain in a smart and efficient manner.

Imagine driving along a ridgeline - up and down, up and down. When the hills are steep enough, it can be really tough getting up the far side - especially when you have 4-cylinder cars like my last two! What you have to do is pick up enough speed going downhill so your momentum helps get you up the far side.

Likewise, in a boom time, governments should be more aggressive about cutting spending, and raise taxes. This keeps the boom from getting out of control. In the bust part of the cycle, government spends and lowers taxes. Lowering taxes then allows for more private spending to get out of the bust, and the government spending should prime the private sector pump.

There is controversy among self-styled Keynesians about how government spending should happen. Should it be handouts (such as the cash tax rebates that George W. Bush enacted)? Or should it be in infrastructure development, like the TVA? A mix of the two? Or perhaps in additional incentives for private purchases - like the tax credits for getting a more gas-efficient car? These are highly debated, and you'll get different answers from different economists. Personally, I am a fan of infrastructure development and programs that increase human capital and make the market freer.

For example, providing reliable transportation is one of the best single actions anyone can take to help the poor. Many poor people are geographically isolated. Public transportation to areas with jobs can be extremely time-consuming; it would take an hour on a bus (and that much again in a walk) to get from downtown Dayton to the Greene, for example. Driving, it takes about 15 minutes. It would be worse on weekends - the buses run less frequently. Providing transportation makes that person's ability to get a job much better.

Likewise, training programs, aid for childcare while people work, and making the transition from welfare-to-work much more gradiated would all be useful ways to increase ability for people to work. Likewise, infrastructure developments - high-speed internet, fixing roads, hiring more fire and police officials - can also make an area more productive in the long run.

There are a few problems with this theory when it hits the real world.

First, there is a time-gap problem. We only know where we are in the business cycle after the fact - and then getting legislative solutions passed takes even longer. After that, there's an even further delay before the funds are spent. By that time, it is possible that we would already be recovering from a downward turn and cause the economy to overheat. This problem is lessened somewhat by increased transparency and the speed at which information is collected and disseminated.

Secondly, and perhaps more problematic, is that spending rarely stops during an upward turn. Whether speaking about government programs or even private charities, once a program is begun, it usually stays in place. The March of Dimes, for example, accomplished its original mission decades ago. Similarly, there are government programs which are not accomplishing their mission, or the original mission ended a long time ago. They all may have done positive things for society - but have switched from a stimulus to a drain on the economy.

Finally, I alluded earlier to the method of spending the money. The Keynesian multiplier is a factor economists use when talking about spending money. A simplistic example would be choosing to buy something made by a neighbor instead of by someone in China. That neighbor might then spend that dollar you just paid buying something from you or someone in your region. The person in China cannot - they'll spend it in their own economy. If your stimulus money ends up flying out of your economy, it's done less good than someone buying Kentucky whiskey!

That's a very simple example, but it highlights some of the things that should be considered (and may not be!) when talking about government spending. How effective the programs are, how much bureaucracy is needed, and how much is wasteful are all things we can reasonably debate. We can even discuss CEOs and executives who spend their corporate welfare on creature comforts instead of the corporation. These, however, are arguments about execution, not about the theory itself.

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Language Keeps Us Apart

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We often teach and learn that prejudice and discrimination are overt. And too often, they are. Other times, however, prejudice lives in our unspoken assumptions - and even in our routine phrases.

August Pollack's cartoon from Monday points out a few examples of this from the news media. It's sad that these were on national news... yet even those are relatively obvious.

More subtle is the religious discrimination that pervaded the 2008 Presidential Election. Romney's Mormonism was a topic of debate. False whisper campaigns alleged that Obama was a Muslim. Both of these are contrasted with Huckabee. Unlike Romney, Huckabee explicitly made his religious views part of his platform. Romney's faith was used against him, not his policy positions.

Similarly, why would it be a big deal if a candidate was Muslim? The fact that a whisper campaign was used - that being of a particular faith is seen as a slur (and still apparently has some legs) - shows the prejudice of those individuals.

But it can be even more subtle than that. When describing a particular person to a friend, I characterized that person as "white trash".

"You shouldn't call people that," she told me. "Everyone has value; nobody's trash."

"You haven't met this person," I replied. "They really are that bad."

"Fine," my friend said. "But you also had to specify that they were white."

Think about these hidden normals - and the opposites. We add in descriptors when we have to make a distinction from an assumed common experience. Male nurse. White trash. Female police officer.

When we have to distinguish these things, it reveals our hidden prejudicial assumptions. America spreads a myth of a common "norm" - a norm that is white, middle-class, slightly right-of-center, Protestant Christian nuclear family. That's the "mainstream" culture you hear so much about.

Revealing the assumptions bundled into that mainstream identity reveals hidden problems, and could, if we're brave enough, uncover potential solutions.

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When it hasn't turned out okay...

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A small nuance to the below: Being open to the unexpected and different is good. When one is committed to a specific outcome, however... well, that's not good.

Just because a specific situation resolves itself properly does not mean that's the right - or best - way to go about it. Yet the attitude of "It all worked out okay" seems to be pervasive in our culture. The following fictional example is a lot like many real conversations I've had:

"That's not what the customer's order says."

I was looking at the order slip, which had been printed by my own company. On the admittedly confusing sheet, which had four similar (but different) products close together, only one option was checked.

"I'm sure they wanted those extra options," the floor supervisor said. "That's what most people mean when they check that product."

"But that's not what it says here. Maybe it is what they want, but maybe it's not. Couldn't we change the order sheet to make it less confusing?"

Grudgingly, the floor supervisor called the customer. "Well, they wanted the standard options. See? It all worked out okay."

"But shouldn't we get the form changed?"

"Why? It worked out okay. We gave them what they wanted. You're acting like you're the police today!"


I'm not talking about a Taoist attitude towards changing plans here; this is about people knowing what their role is, failing to do it, and then trying to rationalize the failure away.

It is a versatile excuse as well; it can be used to justify nearly any behavior, no matter how ill-conceived or potentially damaging.

"Mommy, I ran across the street today without looking and everything turned out okay!"

The worst damage is how this tactic obscures and removes the need for change. "Everything turned out okay" makes the extraordinary efforts of those who did extra disappear. It makes the problems disappear. There is no need, then, to change the system.

Not until it catastrophically fails.

Look around at our economy, our foreign policy, our environment. How many of the policies leading to those problems were originally justified by "everything's turned out okay."

Because someday, some time, it won't.

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Novel & Movie Titles as Academic Papers

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While in class, @raanve remarked that academic papers can have some pretty lame titles. "Can you imagine if some of your favorite novels had titles like that?" she said. And then, when she saw me scribbling eagerly, said "You can use that for a blog entry."

If you have any of your own, I'd love to see them in the comments. Here's my list (though I cheated and drew from movies as well):


  • King Kong: Anthropomorphizing Fear of the Other as Legitimation

  • Gone With the Wind: Frequency and Variance of Romantic Involvement During Arson Events.

  • Star Wars: The Effect of Violent Oppression on the Development of Class Consciousness

  • The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Examining Hospitality in Rural Populations, A Quantitative Approach

  • Star Trek (the first movie): Probabalistic Estimation of Spontaneous AI Development in Deep Space Robotic Craft.

  • Dawn of the Dead: Assessing the Viability of Saliva to Blood Transmission of Exotic Disease

  • A Clockwork Orange: Examining the Efficacy of Aversion Therapy With the Criminal Element

  • Romeo and Juliet: Social Ties and Obstacles for Youth in the Italian Upper Class.

  • Hamlet: Admissibility of Testimony From Beyond the Grave, a Case Law Perspective

  • Terminator: Quantifying the Durability of Exotic Alloys in Extreme Real-World Conditions

  • Birth of a Nation: Examining Narrative as Racist Attempts at Historical Revisionism

  • Silence of the Lambs: Examining the Role of Altruism in Victimization

  • The Princess Bride: Distribution of Manual Digit Variation Among the European Upper Class.

  • Snakes on a Plane: Assessing the Results of Training Variation on Piloting Ability in Extreme Situations

  • Dune: Morphological Derivations and Phonemic Analysis of Killing Words.


  • What are yours?

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Proms and Graduations

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I am not graduating.

DSC00029.JPGThat is, I'm not walking at the graduation ceremony. It makes announcements and invitations difficult; the presumption is that people will go to a ceremony. But I decided over a year ago that I did not want to.

There are a couple reasons. First is just the ceremony itself. I've seen one at my university - a several hour ordeal with you and your several hundred closest friends. I don't want to put other people through that. Hell, I don't want to put myself through that, now that I know what it's like. Unlike my high school graduation, I don't know much of anyone else graduating. When my wife graduated, she was part of a continual stream of people walking past. It wasn't even a minute in the sun - just a second or two.

Secondly, it's now eighteen years since I first started an undergraduate degree. Sure, some time in the military helps explain that, but it seems rather... long.

While I was at PLDC (an Army leadership course), I had to do the land navigation course several times in order to pass. When I returned to the barracks, I happily announced that I had passed.

"What do you want, congratulations?" one of my squadmates said. "Praise that it took you three tries for something you should have gotten right the first time?"

Yeah, it feels like that.

Unlike most of the other graduates, this is not a life change for me. I am already employed, and that will not suddenly change on graduation. Grad school is a summer away - a summer of the normal routine, not a summer of relaxation.

But mostly, it's because of the prom.

Prom and graduation are often spoken of in the same hushed tones. "You'll regret not going," I was told. "Don't you feel bad that you didn't go?" I'm asked now.

Dances were some of my most miserable times growing up - to the point where I stopped going by the end of the tenth grade. I was a socially inept geek, pudgy, desperate, and insecure. The social circles I ended up fitting in with didn't go to dances either. I would usually end up disappointed and feeling more alone than ever. The few short times that I had a girlfriend during high school did not overlap with prom at all. Being single and with my memories of other dances meant that I never seriously considered going to prom.

Part of me thinks about the typical ending of the Mouse's movies. What was supposed to happen, of course, was that I would reluctantly go. While there, I would unexpectedly find myself having fun, find the girl who had the secret crush on me, and finally be accepted.

That's because the Mouse's movies lie.

In reality - especially since my social circles still did not go to dances, and few of my friends were in my class anyway - it would have been like every other dance.

Just worse.

There's a part of me that says that this graduation will be different. That I'll finally be accepted, feel special, and everything will fade into a chorus of easy listening music. But there's no reason to really expect that.

Instead, I'd rather be spending my day drinking and discussing things geeky and academic with my friends. There is every reason to expect that to happen as imagined.

It's an easy choice.
DSC00027.JPG

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Sneaking Out - A Flash Fiction

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This is part of the same story as Homework, but the continuity is sketchy at the moment... and somehow got posted to the wrong one of my blogs. Doh!

Jasmine did not find maths hard, not normally. But now the plus signs looked like crosses. Divisional slashes resembled stakes sliding towards a heart. Parentheses were Nancy's hands, flung out in horror and fear.

This would not be easy. Jasmine was not pretty. Her mother had said differently, but Jasmine was not stupid. She was attractive enough, true. She was okay with the way she looked; she'd given up on trying to curl her thick brown hair or pad her bra with tissues. David had even kissed her under the mistletoe at the last interschool dance. But the snows were melting, and Jasmine knew she did not have the power to turn heads from across the room. She was not pretty in the way Nancy had been. She was not pretty in the way that Perdonious wanted.

The tutor's cough startled her, and Jasmine handed over the test without looking up.

The janitor - a large man who moved faster than his weight would suggest - caught her going out the dormitory window that night. The headmistress managed to look stern - despite her Hello Kitty! nightrobe. The janitor's hand was tight around Jasmine's arm, even though she had stopped struggling.

The headmistress snapped each word: "Where is David waiting for you, girl?"

Jasmine looked up, managing to keep the look of surprise hidden better than her furtive first kiss. "By the croquet court," Jasmine said.

The headmistress waved her out of the room, a curt "twenty demerits" following them out. The headmistress was already on the phone. Jasmine guessed that the headmaster of St. Stephen's School for Boys would not appreciate being awoken. Part of her wondered if David would forgive her someday, but most of Jasmine's energy was spent hiding her glee.

They hadn't found the small satchel of garlic, holy water, and crosses under the side bushes.

They hadn't found the stakes.

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Fuzzy Generalizations

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I'm taking a break from writing an essay (wherein I am mashing up social class, punk rock, straddlers, boingboing, Mr. Jalopy, the trailer I spent my first two years in, the internets, and John Scalzi into one steaming helping of mashed goodness with cheese) to point out why I am a furry.

YOU DO NOT NEED TO HIDE THE CHILDREN.

Bear with glassesI'm only a furry in Second Life, and then only incidentally. My avatar is an anthropomorphized bear. (I have one that looks a lot like me in real life too, pictured below.) I've got a little bear paw logo on my imaginary car, yadda yadda. But that's it. I know of yiffing, but want nothing to do with it. Honestly, the idea of sex in Second Life strikes me as funny, not arousing. I do not "have a spirit of a bear living inside me". I have no desire to put on a fur suit in real life, let alone... eww. But I like my bear.

I started thinking about this after reading Alter Ego, and noticing there wasn't a single fur in the book. Tails were mentioned once, but that was it. Further, an old friend of mine from real life is opening her Clockwork Panda club in SL this weekend, and that made me think about it more. Originally, I made the avatar because I was trying to visualize a werebear character in a story I'm working on. Then, when I reconnected with my friend (who goes around as a panda), I kept it on when I was visiting with her... but eventually realized that the bear had become my default avatar. I kind of identified with him.

I don't buy the spirit guardian thing. But if I did have to choose an animal to identify with? Yup. Bears. A lot of the stereotypical behaviors of bears do fit me - both good and bad. Baloo was far and away my favorite character in Disney's Jungle Book, and I just liked both TaleSpin and (the animated cartoon) the Gummi Bears. And I found that it was easier for me to talk to other people this way. My appearance got some comments (mostly kind or curious, with just a few jerks), and could spark some discussion. But it wasn't about "appearance" the same way it is in real life.

And I found myself labeled as a furry.

Let's make this crystal clear - the idea of anthropomorphized animals "getting it on" does not do it for me. Humans dressing up as anthropomorphized animals and "getting it on" kind of queases me out. Pretty much all the behavior complained about on godhatesfurries.com isn't my thing. This XKCD pretty much sums up my attitude towards sexualized furries. But godhatesfurries goes too far - both by insisting that others have the same kinks as they do (and most Americans have kinks - like oversized breasts - that are far from "natural"), or by making sweeping generalizations.

That second error is the dangerous one. The same problem happens with religions, or race, or any other grouping that's based on one widely-held criteria. Call yourself a Christian? That one criteria is held by straights, gays, people on the right and left, pacifists and war-mongers. That one criteria covers both Mother Teresa and Rev. Phelps, even though they are hugely dissimilar people.

The problem comes when we form a normative image of a group based on only some of its members - or pretend that the image applies equally to all members of that group. It's when our thinking becomes lazy, and we pretend that all - or even most - people who share a few criteria are alike. Or worse - we take the most sensational examples of a group (see Phelps again) and think that there is a relationship between how much noise they make in our media and how frequent those behaviors are.

Snapshot_024So when I swing by Clockwork Panda this weekend, there will be all types of furry types there. Some rich (inworld or out), some not. They might be different races, genders, or religions. Some might think they have a spiritual connection with their animal, some might fetishize the whole thing. I don't know. Unless they're doing it in front of me, I don't care.

I will work to treat each of them as a person, no matter how they choose to represent themselves, or what labels they carry. If they behave badly or inappropriately, that's a problem with an individual, not with a group.

And if you run into me?

You could call me a furry (even though I will not wear a fursuit in real life). You could call me a liberal, or a student, or any one of dozens of labels that could apply to me.

But I'd prefer that you said hello, and just called me by name.

You can IM me inworld as Uriel Wheeler, or even stop by my place. (Though you should ask before going in - there are bees inside. Bear and all.)

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