Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

Ring in the New Year with some British comedy quiz shows

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As you prepare, celebrate (or recover from) the New Year, there's really no better way than British comedy quiz shows.

I'm personally quite fond of The Big Fat Quiz of the Year and Quite Interesting (or QI).  If you're unlucky enough to not be able to find them on a cable package, you can usually find episodes on YouTube or elsewhere.  (Though the latter means that links and video embeds sometimes goes away). Below I've embedded the holiday episode from YT, but also a short clip to give you an idea of what you're in for.

The Big Fat Quiz of the Year is hosted by Jimmy Carr, features celebrities and comedians answering trivia questions about the last year in a "pub quiz" format, and is about as dryly profane as you'd imagine, and hilarious.

QI this season is hosted by Sandi Toksvig (it used to be hosted by Stephen Fry), and while it proports to be a quiz show, it often devolves - or really, evolves - into a freewheeling amusing roundtable discussion about obscure facts and knowledge.

Happy New Year!

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Relationships In The New Year

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To get started, let's dismiss a quick thought about polyamory:
The idea that poly people are more "evolved" is a myth. 
It's a stupid claim, and anyone who claims it is deluded.
I'm sure you can find someone who thinks it and says it aloud or publicly. My point still stands.
There's no one relationship model that works best for everyone. Even (most) poly people recognize this. One person's idea of polyamory may - and probably will - look very different than another's. Hell, there's continual debate between the relationship anarchy folks and the heirarchy folks and other groups I simply can't think of right now.
The sheer fact of being polyamorous means that any issues you have in your relationships can't be glossed over indefinitely. They'll come to the forefront faster than if you're in a monogamous relationship.
Things like compersion and deliberateness are no longer optional; they're requirements.
And these skills are freaking awesome in your relationships, whether you're polyamorous or monogamous or somewhere inbetween.
But that's not the biggest thing. That's this:
You'll screw up more. Possibly a lot more.
And as a result of that - if you're paying attention to your mistakes, and how to fix them - is that you'll get better at relationships.
A gentleman at Penguicon last year said "I've been practicing polyamory for twenty years - and I say practicing because I'm still getting better."
Every relationship you have - every interaction you have - is an opportunity to learn and grow.
Especially when you screw up.
We often view "practice" as somehow lesser than actually doing. That's a really depressing way of looking at it.
LIFE IS PRACTICE. We constantly practice. We constantly improve.
And if you're not, if you think you're somehow at the pinnacle of relationships, you're simply deluding yourself.
As we hit the new year, I have a challenge for you:
Let's all practice with our relationships this year. Whether they're at work, online, romantic, platonic, it doesn't matter.
Let's practice. Let's try new ways of relating. Let's screw up. Let's learn.
Let's become better.
Happy New Year.

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I'm putting new projects on hold until existing ones are completed

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The end of 2014 almost ended me. I experienced a huge emotional shock which kicked me off-kilter for most of 2015 and put most of my publishing efforts on hold.

Then, at the end of 2015, I started up again with the Kickstarter for recompose.

That I ended up in the hospital before it was over should have been a warning sign.

For Alliteration Ink, 2016 has been marked by a departure from my prior behavior, and not in a good way. A portion of it has been other people, but really, the blame lies with me. Whether due to depression, physical illness, or other factors, every project in 2016 has been late in coming to fulfillment.

It was important for me to start publishing again at the end of 2015 and through this year. But it's clear that I overestimated my own resources and how much I'd recovered. While I've been much better (emotionally, at least; I've been physically sick almost continuously since November), that also meant that I was dealing with half a year's backlog.

But that's all excuses. Reasons, if you want to be generous, but really, excuses.
I've not been able to fulfill my promise to all of you, to deliver the books that you so generously supported both emotionally and financially.


Before I start any new publishing projects, Alliteration Ink is going to finish fulfilling all outstanding projects. That includes Devils' Field, recompose, No Shit, There I Was, and Steampunk Universe.

While those projects are finishing, I'll be putting things in place so that I'm able to be healthy and productive - and so that if I get laid low (for whatever reason), everything doesn't come off the rails.

After that, we'll start back up, beginning with a second year of recompose.

Thank you for your patience and support.

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But you'd call me Steve: Nicknames and gender

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I think that I usually introduce myself as Steve. I'm not sure, though. Maybe it's Steven.

That's what eight years of only being called by your last name will do to you. 

I am sure of this:  Inevitably, I'm asked "Do you prefer Steve or Steven?"

I mention this today, when the North Carolina legislature (shortly after the GOP legislative coup) goes to consider repealing the "transgender bathroom law".

One of the most common ways that transpeople are dehumanized and discriminated against is by refusing to call them by their target gender and instead insisting on referring to them as their biological sex.  This even spawns awful memes like "identifying as an attack helicopter".

But here's the thing: People remember whether to call me Steve or Steven.  They'd remember if I asked them to call me by my middle name, or by a nickname. Sometimes they'd slip up or forget, and I'd remind them, but by and large, they'd get it right. All of us has a huge database in our heads of not just what first name goes with which person, but what specific variations goes with each person.

And if we deliberately, intentionally, called someone a variation they disliked?  

You'd be a total asshat.

So, here's the simple question:

Why wouldn't someone do the same thing for gender that we already do for first names?

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The lengths @ATT used to keep me as a customer, and how they ensured I'd leave. #att

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I'm currently trying to cancel my cellular service with AT&T.  (Ironically, there's a commercial for their service on the radio station I'm listening to right now.)

I was easily able to sign up for services - or increase my services online, but to cancel them, I had to make a phone call - one for each service.

Annoying, but sadly predictable. I expected it.

I was also expecting the “concern” where they worried about making sure I would have service, the upsell trying to get me to buy something else instead.

I was not expecting to be transferred four different times, each time first going to an automated message tree which connected me to a customer service rep who told me that I'd been transferred to the wrong department, then back to another automated message tree.

I was not expecting the customer service reps to have their headset volume set so low that I couldn't hear what they were saying… even though I could hear the automated messages from the phone tree loud and clear.

There's making sure your customers actually want to leave… and then there's poisoning the well. While the profit motive (and short-run gains) may explain some of it - there's a good bit from the NY Times detailing this - the damage it does to your company's reputation is far more widespread.

While this kind of strategy can still make a certain amount of (evil) sense in areas where there's a near-monopoly, doing so in an area as competitive as cellular service is simply insane… especially when it can tarnish your reputation in other bundled markets (internet, television, etc).

Luckily, I'm working the swing shift, so I can swing by a physical AT&T store tomorrow and force the issue in person.

I wonder if they'll insist on whispering.

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The Golden Throne: How Trump's Chair Choice Sent Two Different Messages

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As individuals, we carry around certain assumptions about how the world works. They're often unconscious until we drag them into the light. Similarly, our entire culture seems to have some subconscious ideas, and one of them might help explain one of the most unusual things about Trump's ascendancy.

The concept of the Protestant work ethic is strong in American society (and turns out to be a real, testable thing). The basic idea - at least, the part that is important here - is that material success is a sign of spiritual success.

That's not really what the theology involved says - it requires a believe in predestination, for example, which I don't think is particularly widespread - but the concept as summarized above does seem to be real. For example, unemployment is more emotionally damaging in majority Protestant countries than elsewhere.

It doesn't matter whether you are Protestant or not; the subconscious cultural idea (again, deriving from, but separate from the actual doctrine) impacts everyone in that society to some degree.

This implies that not only is a lack of success seen as a spiritual and moral failure, but that success (or at least, the impression of it) is seen as a spiritual and moral success.

And that brings us back to Trump.  When the 60 Minutes interview aired, this image (or ones just like it) were all over the place:
Many (including myself) saw those golden thrones and thought "out of touch" or something like this:
But what we didn't think about then - and apparently haven't thought about yet - is that the very thing that seemed inappropriate and out of touch may have struck a subconscious nerve with a non-trivial number of Americans. That these very trappings of ostentatious wealth communicated moral authority and rightness at an unconscious level.

This would go a long way toward explaining why some religious leaders fell all over themselves trying to justify and rationalize away the ways that Trump's words and actions didn't and don't meet their faith tradition's rules.

Because it's easier to rationalize away one person's actions than to imply that a deep, nearly unconscious belief in the Protestant Work Ethic and the related Horatio Alger "bootstrapping" myth is flat out wrong

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Abortions, Heartbeats, and the End of Life

So, once again, Ohio lawmakers slipped an anti-abortion "heartbeat bill" in among other legislation. Which is a legit tactic...

...but it seems pretty shady and underhanded if it's something you really believe in.

More troubling to me is the whole idea of a "heartbeat" benchmark for life. Like, let's talk about when life begins.

I'm not particularly interested in what your book or your spiritual leader has to say here, for reasons that will become obvious. I'm looking to try to understand where a particular moral reaction comes from.

Keep in mind that this isn't some philosophical hand-wringing. Not only do we literally have scientists trying to really determine if viruses (and prions!) are "alive", but these definitions have a very real world impact on women.

One of the things I sometimes do as part of my day job is a "brain death" study. It's literally one of the (usually three; it varies by state) ways to determine if someone's dead. We literally image whether or not the brain is using resources... or not.

And that's long had me thinking - any criteria for determining when life ends would also be the criteria for when life begins, and vice versa.

And that starts to get really problematic really fast.

For example, brain activity of the kind we associate with life (or its lack being associated with non-life) starts around week 25. Ooops.

Reflex-type movements start kicking in around weeks 14-16, but again, that doesn't necessarily require higher brain function (a surprising amount of your reflexes is handled by the spinal cord and such).

Viability outside the womb? Well, that depends entirely on how much tech you have around you and how good your insurance is. Which also applies at the end of life, so maybe... but that means life is a sliding scale, not an actual critiera.

Conception? What makes that special? That two sets of DNA merge? If so, that raises other problems - that merging is not instantaneous, and it implies by omission that clones are inherently "not alive"... or at least, less alive than a cell that's been infected with the DNA and RNA of a virus from outside the body. Bah.

A heartbeat? Well, let's think back to where I started - a person who we can demonstrate doesn't have blood flow to their brain, but whose heart still beats. Are they alive? Are they non-life? Do we have an oblication to keep their heart beating indefinitely?

The same logic also shows the folly of those who claim the father gets a "right" to choose what a woman does. Why is that? Because of sperm? What about the billions of sperm masturbated into socks or tissues (or night ejaculation if you're going to claim that masturbation is bad for some reason).

You get the idea.

I'm hard pressed to find a concrete demarcation of "life" during gestation and birth that doesn't have massively bad implications for the person (or society at large) on the flip side of thier life.

Especially the heartbeat.

I still stand by my pro-choice and anti-abortion manifesto.  Maybe you should take a peek and see if it works for you, too.


Westworld, Consciousness, and the Limitations of Selfishness

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What's been most interesting about this first season of Westworld has been the somewhat feminist bent of the thematic elements of the show, whether through refuting the manic pixie dream girl and  the large (and perhaps unintentional) feminist metaphor in the series arc. Now that we're done with season one and everyone's written their recaps and first impressions, it's time to take another look and see if this trend continued.  Obviously, spoilers for season one of Westworld follow after this kick-ass picture of Dolores.

It's worth a shoutout to two blog articles that really inform the way I'm looking at the show here.

First, Eli Keel's analysis of season one of  iZombie as an allegory for surviving sexual assault is just amazing. I was already enjoying the show when I read that article, and seeing the additional layer increased my appreciation of the show.  Second, Katharine Trendacosta wrote a great article pointing out that the "mysteries" of Westworld aren't really the point of the show. Instead, she suggests that the themes of the narrative really are the whole point of the show.

Looking at Westworld with that kind of lens, it's clear that Dolores' story in particular is informed by being in - and surviving - an abusive relationship.  (John Cheese's article on Cracked about living with abuse is a useful read here as well; I'm cribbing a few things from it.) 

While William starts out as a prototypical (although perhaps clueless) "nice guy", we saw back in E07 that at some level, he still views Dolores as a "thing". Then just an episode later, that's reinforced with his "break down" comment. 

All this could simply be written up as the differences between the hosts and "human" guests, but it's the monologue from The Man In Black (or present-day William, as we now know) where he says:

She pushed me away, told me that my wife's death was no accident, that she killed herself because of me. Emily said that every day with me had been sheer terror. At any point, I could blow up or collapse like some dark star...
They never saw anything like the man I am in here.
But she knew anyway.
She said if I stacked up all my good deeds, it was just an elegant wall I built to hide what's inside from everyone, and from myself.
And that's exactly what we see in the season finale.

Because despite the selling point of the park being to "find out who you really are", William never does. He attributes the change in his personality to this (where he's talking about himself in the third person:
[William] Didn't have an instinct for it. Not at first.
But now, he had a reason to fight.
He was looking for you.
And somewhere along the way, he found he had a taste for it....
William couldn't find you, Dolores.
But out there, among the dead he found something else himself.

This is what he thinks is his transformation, but once his flashback gets back to Dolores, we see her back in her loop, dropping her can, greeting a new guest as William looks on, stunned that she does not acknowledge him.  The MiB says:

You were as beautiful as the day he met you.
Shining with that same light.
And you were nothing if not true.
I really ought to thank you, Dolores.
You helped me find myself.

Here, while the MiB repeats the same dehumanizing thing he said three episodes earlier, without really acknowledging that this is at the heart of his change, we have a different - and truer - visual narrative.

It's from this point that William turns from a mostly nice guy (since when is going to any lengths to save your love a bad thing?) into a hateful selfish man who buys up as much of the park as possible and, as we saw back in the first episode, will rape the woman who he professed to love because she didn't love him back the same way. Nevermind that her memory was literally wiped clean - something every guest to the park is aware of.

It's at this point that William turns into the petulant entitled child that embodies the worst part - and the main part - of our patriarchal culture. All of William's professions of caring, of love, boil down to it all needing to be about him.  His later protestations about wanting the hosts to have a chance, to be able to win sometimes, have nothing to do with the well-being of the hosts, and everything to do with William's own ego.

That's exactly what the park - and our patriarchal society - is set up to do.

There's a quote from an interview with Jimmi Simpson (who played young William) in Vanity Fair that is very telling:

I feel like William is a man who has seen the rules very clearly. That’s a lot of people’s mode of getting through life. When you have nothing, you have to abide by other people’s rules, and play their game, and play it well. And then they give you a cookie. I think what he saw [during his Westworld experience] was that playing by the rules to get the cookie actually hadn’t gotten him anywhere.

He goes from following the rules to making the rules, and I think that happens when your heart breaks. You realize, “Holy shit, I have nothing to lose. That didn't kill me.” Then you start calling the shots. I really related to that, being a person who was in a very long-term relationship and was married and then divorced. There comes a clarity of what’s important. For the narrative, the Man in Black’s realization is pretty dramatic and exciting. But, like mine, it's very much “Oh, that kind of stuff won’t kill me. I can try a little harder. I can go after what I want more, and I can be myself, and fuck it.”

Simpson's own rationalization here - just like William's - uses emotional pain as a rationale and justification for wielding power over other people, and it's revolting.

I've had that kind of pain myself. While I got suicidal, the idea of lashing out to deliberately hurt the person I cared for never have crossed my mind. (I also think the use of "get a cookie" by Simpson is particularly chilling; I hope it's unintentional.) 

We repeatedly see the humans in the show acting in ultimately patriarchal might-makes-right selfish ways. Even Dr. Ford's motivations to uplift the hosts is less about their well-being and more about both his own desire for redemption and to strike back at Delos.

In contrast, when the hosts - at least, when not running a loop -  exhibit compassion and caring for each other. Whether it's Armistice's sacrifice, Bernard's tragic efforts, Dolores' last-second reassurance of Teddy, or Maeve's getting off the train (thus breaking her own code), they're all showing concern for others rather than just themselves. 

And that concern is not only when it's convenient, but even when it might cause them personal harm.

It's important to note that Dr. Ford gets something wrong (even as he tries to make Bernard feel sorry for him while rationalizing away his actions):
Do you want to know why I really gave you the backstory of your son, Bernard? It was Arnold's key insight, the thing that led the hosts to their awakening: suffering.
The pain that the world is not as you want it to be.
It was when Arnold died, when I suffered, that I began to understand what he had found.
But this isn't really right.  There is a theory that consciousness is about conflict, but it's about internal conflict, not conflict with other people and not conflicts between desires and reality.

You know, like the conflict between your own desires and doing what's good for someone else.

Or in other words, the hosts are more conscious than the humans ever were.

I think it's no accident that our awoken hosts are portrayed by women and people of color, as are the two other characters who seem to have concerns for entities other than themselves: Arnold, and Felix.

And Maeve does mean that as a compliment - and as a slam to the self-centered might-makes-right selfishness of the patriarchal culture that humans are swimming in.

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Thank you for your service.

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"Thank you for your service."

The phrase has grated on my nerves since I left the Army. Maybe that's because I was in medical units the whole time. But I think it's something bigger than that.

I remember protesting the second Gulf War, not even a year out from being discharged. I remember the young men jeering at me for protesting the war, but having "better" things to do than enlist themselves.

If I'd not been holding a protest sign, I suspect they would have thanked me for my service... but still wouldn't have enlisted.

When it comes to actually taking care of veterans, we've been doing a pretty bad job for two long presidential administrations. 1

For all the hand-wringing over what impact a Twibbon campaign or making your profile picture green might have, for all the whining about clicktavism, it's stunningly shameful to see this in real life example of the same.

Put the flag on your lapel. Thank them for their service. Then you can feel like a good citizen, like you've done something.

And that's bullshit.

Listen to this episode of The Memory Palace:  There's a player on the web page, so you don't need anything special.  It's maybe ten minutes long.  Listen.

If you're old enough, you might remember that night. If you're young enough, really listen.  Let the idea of it sink in.

That was when everyone2 had something at stake.

I don't think going back to a draft would be good, not really.3

But I wish there was some way to make military service mean more than a cheap lapel pin and empty thanks.

I wish it was real enough that VA programs were funded, that returning troops got treatment for PTSD, that instead of overpriced pork barrel projects, our military members got the equipment they want and need.

Instead, all we get are a quick gesture of thanks and mentally crossed off the "be a good citizen" list.

1 The current VA issues were known to the White House in 2005, for example.
2 Well, most everyone.
3 The general thought for WWI and WWII was that we gave just enough training to civilians, and those who survived would be good soldiers. American casualty rates at the beginnings of hostilities before 1980 were usually quite atrocious.

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Leading with positivity in your text messages

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As much as I like the Voice Rule, a lot of communication these days is via text.  And because everyone's got their own brain weasels, small details matter.

You've probably already heard that periods can totally change the tone of your text message (for the worse), but when you strip out all the non-text elements of communication, even something encouraging can sound iffy or worse.

You might think that a small difference in phrasing wouldn't be a big deal, especially when you're trying to be encouraging. That's what I thought too, until I stopped and thought back to some of the times I've really misinterpreted things.


I've been doing something different with my texting. It's really helped me, and it doesn't require a whole lot of energy or overhead.

I've been leading with positivity.

I'm using "leading" in the sense that one "leads" their shot with a gun - you aim where the target is going to be, not where it is now.  Let me use an example.

Bob is one of my favorite co-workers. I enjoy interacting with him, and he's done a lot to make my day job better. But Bob recently saw an opportunity at another company, and texted me.  "Would you be upset if I took this job?

I could text "Well, no harm in trying. That job's not a bad thing at all."

On the face of it, that's encouraging. But brain weasels could easily turn that into damning with faint praise. So instead, I replied:

"Dude! That sounds like a perfect job for you! Go for it! Now! Don't text me back, apply now!"

Yeah, I overstated my position a bit. And if I said that out loud, it'd sound kind of silly.

But there was no way Bob's brain weasels could misinterpret that message, and it took far less effort for me to text that way than to clarify things later on.

Give it a shot!

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Westworld as an (unintentional?) feminist metaphor

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I am really enjoying Westworld.  Not because I'm theorizing and trying to figure out who, what, and so on, but because I'm seeing reflections of some really feminist topics reflected in this show, both subtly and overtly (and I'm not seeing others remark upon them, which puzzles me greatly).  Last week's takedown of the manic pixie dream girl trope was pretty overt, but in S01E08 "Trace Decay", there's several topics that get tied together, and some of them aren't quite that obvious.

And perhaps most important of all, they don't even have to be there intentionally.

Spoilers for S01E08 and before follow after the picture of Maeve and Dorothy!

You kick ass, ladies.

With Dolores' "freakout", Bernard's beginning flashbacks, and Maeve's blunders this week from resurging memories, it's not too much of a stretch to see the erasure, implantation, and manipulation of memory as a big metaphor for gaslighting.

This doesn't take away from Ferrett's analysis of Westworld as a metaphor for mental illness; in fact, he mentions the gaslighting analogy in that post.  Considering that the point of gaslighting is to get one to question one's own mental stability, these metaphors can quite easily co-exist.

Which brings us to William. He's oddly calm about Dolores' freakout - because he's a stand-in for the "well-meaning guy". He started off being very compassionate and caring - to the point of being ridiculed by Logan (who is acting as one of many Archie Bunker stand-ins). Over time, though, we're getting to see that caring doesn't quite go all the way down. Last week, we saw him try to make Dolores into nothing more than a catalyst for his own story, and this week we see that despite his assertions of caring, deep down William still sees Dolores as less-than-human.

William:  We gotta get you closer to Sweetwater. This far out, it's like you You start to break down or something.
The key here is realizing that William does not mean "break down" as in "get emotionally upset".  He means "break down" as in malfunction.  This also explains his lack of emotional response to Dolores' fugue state; she's suddenly snapped back to being less than a real person to him.

I don't think this is malice, though. William's heard about Westworld for a long time, and has had it driven home time and time and time again (both explicitly and implicitly) that the hosts are lesser.  That kind of societal training has an effect.

Another example of that effect is in the revelation from the Man In Black.  While talking to Teddy, the MiB lists off several ways that he is a "good" man - titan of industry, philanthropist, and so on. Immediately following that, the MiB tells Teddy and us) about his wife and daughter.  It's worth quoting his monologue:

I'm the good guy, Teddy.  Then, last year, my wife took the wrong pills.
Fell asleep in the bath. Tragic accident. 30 years of marriage vanished.
How do you say it? "Like a deep and distant dream."
Then, at the funeral, I tried to console my daughter.
She pushed me away, told me that my wife's death was no accident, that she killed herself because of me. Emily said that every day with me had been sheer terror. At any point, I could blow up or collapse like some dark star...
They never saw anything like the man I am in here.
But she knew anyway.
She said if I stacked up all my good deeds, it was just an elegant wall I built to hide what's inside from everyone, and from myself.
This reminds me of nothing so much as when I suddenly realized that every woman in a night class with me checked under their car when heading home when I never did. It reminds me of when I insulted a woman and didn't realize it.  It reminds me of the other side of the "well meaning guy", who suddenly realizes that no matter what their intent, they were still participating in the Monopoly game of structural inequality.  The MiB was suddenly faced with the existential crisis of his self-perception being completely out of phase with those whose opinions he cared most about.

Sadly, it seems that rather than use that critique as a starting point of actual self-discovery (and self-improvement!), the MiB instead went straight to Westworld to see if he (could be) was as bad as his daughter claimed.

Have you met humans?  We can all be pretty damn awful, and there's quite a bit of research indicating that if we want to (or are encouraged to, as the park does, Ford's protestations about white-hat storylines notwithstanding), that any of us can do horrible things.

Especially if everything around us teaches us that some of the people around us - hosts, women, people of color - are somehow lesser.

Which brings us to Ford and his watered-down nihilism and watered-down Nietzscheanism. To Ford's machismo.

Yes, machismo.

Ford: And as exquisite as this array of emotions is, even more sublime is the ability to turn it off.
Ultimately, Ford views this kind of control, this kind of power to be far more valuable than any other achievement. It may be dressed up in fancy clothes, but it's raw control - or power, or force - that matters most to Ford.

It's here that it's important to back out of the story for a moment. The writers may not have intended these topics and themes at all. But they do exist in the narrative. This isn't a contradiction at all; we are all steeped in the society and morés of the culture we're raised in... and the global West has been a patriarchy for a very, very long time.

Therefore, it's not a stretch to think that these themes and topics have seeped into the show from the cultural zeitgeist, without any kind of deliberate intent. And likewise, it's not a stretch to think that the machismo of the fictional Westworld park likewise stems from the now clear values of its (fictional) head storyteller and caretaker of the last 30 years, Dr. Ford.

Whether intentional or not, Westworld is highly rooted in the cultural patriarchal narrative of the current day.

This manifests in obvious ways, like the independent but related struggles of Dolores and Maeve.

It also manifests is more subtle ways, such as the high female mortality rate of characters in the series.

Because in the park, in the show, and in our current society at large, it is literally the system killing women.

You want to know who to root for?

Root for those who want to break the loops and tell their own stories.

Root for those who want to break the system.


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Expend The Extra Effort In Communicating, Especially When It's All Going Great

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Communicating takes effort.  As my amour said the other day, "Things were so much easier when I didn't really have any people in my life!"  Which is true.

She also quickly added: "But it's so much better with friends and relationships!"  Which is also true.

Despite this, humans still have a limited amount of energy.  We have a tendency to take shortcuts and make assumptions.  Sometimes, that can work out beautifully, and you seem to understand each other without flaw. But even then, I think it's important to be able to expend the extra energy and overhead to do reflective listening and ask for clarification in order to make sure there aren't any translation errors. 

In fact, I'd say it's even more important when it seems like you're communicating flawlessly, for two reasons.  First, when (yes, when) there's a misunderstanding, it'll seem somehow worse. Second, you won't be looking for it, and it might go on for quite some time before it's realized.

So while it's necessary to expend the extra effort with someone with whom you don't always communicate flawlessly, you still have to take the time to do reflective listening, even with people you think are on the same page.

And definitely don't forget the Voice Rule!

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Wherein Westworld Smashes The Manic Pixie Dream Girl in two sentences (mild spoiler for S1E7)

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HBO's series Westworld is a pretty trope-heavy show. Not in a lazy way, though. The park - the aforementioned "WestWorld" - is literally a mass of tropes upon tropes upon tropes.  Intentional tropes in the fiction of the show, there for the guest's amusements.

The show itself has done a fairly good job of using tropes and then subverting them or twisting them just enough to make them fresh and new. There's a lot of writing about them, but I've not yet seen any explicitly calling out this one quiet, effective scene in episode seven.

Minor spoiler for "Trompe L'Oeil" follows after the picture.

Dolores has been doing a good job going beyond the MPDG trope since episode one, but this simple quiet scene between her and William below utterly demolishes it:

If you can't see the video (or if HBO gets over-feisty with takedowns), here's a GIF of the most relevant part of the scene:

Sure, this is important in the plot. "I am not a key." Gotcha. No foreshadowing there.

But more importantly for us, in a place where the people you fall for literally are there just to serve you and to be tools in your journey of self-discovery... Dolores quickly, efficiently, and unequivocally tears down the whole concept that she is  simply the MPDG tool for William's journey of self-discovery. 

It is a quiet, simple declaration that echoes the roar across the wasteland:
We Are Not Things
And for us as writers, it is a beautiful example of how writing above and past the tropes, how writing our characters - even the flawed, looping hosts of Westworld - as three dimensional allows us to crush a trope within the plot that we're writing.

It could be done more heavy-handedly (the antagonist from this week's Supergirl comes to mind), but then it's ineffective as either political thought OR as plot. When it serves the plot, as it does in Fury Road or "Trompe L'Oeil" it does not pander to your baser instincts, and when it does show you who you really are, it's because we empathize with the characters, not because of a diatribe.


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Being Safe While Out In Public - Some Ways To Let People Know If You're In Trouble

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There's a number of reasons you might not feel safe in public now. 

And yes, you should always tell someone else where you're going, and when you're due back. But sometimes plans change, or you might not have someone you can easily tell.

Luckily, if you have a cell phone (even if it's not a smartphone), there are ways to help keep you safe and alert folks in case of an emergency.

Kitestring is a web service that relies on text (SMS) messages. Which means that even my friend with his cheap burner phone will be able to use it.  The service checks up on you with a text message, and if you don't respond, will alert your emergency contacts.

When you start looking for smartphone apps, there's a number of them with a variety of options and drawbacks, as well as free and subscription based services.  Techlicious has a good roundup (from earlier this year) at

If you have Tasker (Android only, sorry) I wrote a task that will send a SMS to any number of contacts in a text file with your location and a request for help. It does not require root access.  Aside from being free (once you buy Tasker), it has the additional benefit of being able to be tied to any condition, task, shortcut that you like with a little bit of tweaking.

And if you have the $99 and can wait until 2017, you can preorder Athena now from RoarForGood.  Press a button, and there's a loud alarm.  Press it a different way, and it'll contact your emergency contacts.

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After the election: The power of a pin or button

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I'm home for the second day in a row feeling nauseated; I really haven't been able to eat much lately (or really wanted to; nausea will do that to you).  And while I joke that the weight loss is nice (though I know it's an unhealthy rate), it kind of really sucks.

I'm probably not making it any better by continuing to be engaged with social media. (I know it's not just stress - my normal stress response is to eat, not stop eating.) I'm going to take some anti-nausea meds and try to ignore it all for a little bit.

Which is a luxury I have that so many others do not.1

As an old friend of mine pointed out yesterday, the things that I see as new and horrible don't really seem new to him.

I kept sharing articles and reports - from people I know - about the harrassment and worse that they experienced over the last few days. He acknowledged that they were real, yes. But he didn't have the same sense of urgency that I did.

Not because they weren't bad things. Not because they weren't bigotry.

They're the things that have been happening every day for a long, long time that I got to miss out on because I'm a straight white male.

I hate it when I forget my own privilege.

So I'm going to do whatever I need to in order to recuperate enough today to make it to a local protest this evening.

It's not because I think it will change the outcome of the election. (While I'd welcome the reverse of 2000, I am definitely not holding my breath.)  I'm not an idiot.

It's because I am not okay with discrimination and bigotry.

It's because, even if that discrimination and bigotry isn't anything new, it should never have been okay in the first place.

Regardless of who you voted for, do you feel that bigotry does not belong in our country? Do want to quietly - but powerfully - communicate that sentiment to those you care about?

There's at least two options I'm aware of.

The first is the white rose. I've been advocating this for a while. A primer as to what it is and why, links to resources for allies, a way to add the rose to your social media avatar, place to get buttons of your own (or plans to get/make them elsewhere) are all at .  I've seen other people doing the same thing with other designs; use whatever works well for you.

The second is the Brexit-inspired safety pin. Wear one, carry others. Very simple, ubiquitous, and perhaps less confrontational.  If you are worried about retaliation, dress codes, or for whatever reason can't or don't want to wear a button, this is a great option.

Again, this isn't about who you voted for.

I'm choosing to hope that many of those who voted for Trump are as horrified as I am that the KKK and white supremacists view a Trump win as a mandate for their breed of bigotry and hate.

I'm choosing to hope that many of those who voted for Trump are as horrified as I am about the attacks on my friends who are people of color, Muslims, LGBTQ, or other marginalized groups.

And in the meantime, I will be wearing a button, or safety pin, or at a protest.

Not because it will change the outcome of the election.

But to let the others out there who are scared and frightened know that they are not alone.

1 This applies as well if you read this as having the economic ability to take time off work because I'm sick.

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We don't get to judge how someone reacts to oppression.

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There is a difference between being polite to people and being polite about ideas.  Too often, calls to be polite about ideas lead to oppression (see here and here). At the same time, civility can provide one of the paths to actually changing someone's mind.

Yes, silence can be read as consent. And we strive to create spaces where all people feel safe enough to speak freely.

But remember: We do NOT have the right to demand why, when, or how someone speaks up about bigotry.

We do not have the right to demand minorities react a specific way about racism. We do not have the right to demand that LGBTQ folks react a specific way about homophobia. We do not have the right to demand that woman react a specific way about sexism or sexual assault.

When we demand that others react the same way we do - especially when we have elements of privilege they may not - we are not helping.

That was true before this election, and it's true afterward.

If you have the resources and energy, be angry. Be vocal. Bear witness.

But do not shame or condemn those who do not have the same resources you do.

(I reserve the right to be wrong about the above; as always, I'm interested in critique if my own privilege is showing.)

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The Vote of White Aggression: It was about discrimination.

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I'm reading a hell of a lot of posts from people (including some whom I respect and admire greatly) saying things like "this wasn't about race" or "this wasn't about gender".

They're saying that it's about economics, about the city versus the country.

And it might be those things, sure.  That can be part of it.

And the Civil War (or the laughable Southern euphemism of "The War of Northern Aggression") was about state's rights, sure. That was part of the concerns of the people of the time. But that wasn't what was underlying everything. That wasn't the root of the problem.

The Civil War was about slavery, no matter how much some people have liked to pretend otherwise.

This election was about racism and sexism and homophobia, in so, so many different ways - no matter how much some people would like to pretend otherwise.

There's an old joke about Lincoln where he says "everyone has their price".

And for a disappointingly large percentage of people in the USA, racism, homophobia, and sexism are well within their budget.

This isn't just a simple reversal of fortunes. As David Wong wrote in Cracked, "That sick feeling some of you have right now? They've had that for the last eight years."

Which, I guess, is true, if you listened to the right-wing shills who lied and created boogeymen that weren't real. If the things that Obama and Hillary were accused of saying were actually things they'd said?  Yeah, that'd be pants-shittingly terrifying.

The way the right's felt during Obama's terms is pretty much I felt during all of Dubya's terms. I thought it was going to be much worse than it was (though it was bad).  I had fears based on reading between the lines, not because of what they actually said and did.  (Though still bad, I feared it would be much, much worse.)

This time?

This time there doesn't have to be anyone ratcheting up the fear.

This time there doesn't have to be anyone reading between the lines.

My conservative friends (and enemies) were worried about Obama taking away  their second amendment rights, even though that was never, ever said.  Or the "death panels" that weren't ever really a thing outside the imagination of Fox News anchors.

We are afraid of Trump censoring and jailing reporters, of throwing his political opponents in jail, of persecuting people belonging to a religion because he actually said those things.

That's an important distinction, isn't it?

FSM, I hope I'm wrong. I want to be wrong so badly.

I want to look around over the next few years and see my fellow Americans realize what they've done, the kinds of evil they crawled in bed with, and come to their collective senses, and work with us liberals.

But I'm pretty sure I'm not wrong.

As far as I can see, it still looks like the "compromise" that the right (and the neo-Nazi "alt-right") still wants is for us to stop existing.

It may start slowly, subtly. Perhaps by a Trump supporter going ahead and ranting, but then silencing any opposition by saying it's not appropriate discussion for the venue.  (Yeah, I'm talking about you, interacting with me, today, man.)

But it will begin.

You shall know them by their works.

And that is what they actually said and promised they'd do.

Mourn today.

But be vigilant.

There is work to be done.

If you have the funds, start with Amnesty International, the ACLU, and the SPLC.

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I am ashamed of my country.

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Nothing is so unworthy of a civilized nation as allowing itself to be governed without opposition by an irresponsible clique that has yielded to base instinct. It is certain that today every honest American is ashamed of his government. Who among us has any conception of the dimensions of shame that will befall us and our children when one day the veil has fallen from our eyes and the most horrible of crimes - crimes that infinitely outdistance every human measure - reach the light of day?

If the American people are already so corrupted and spiritually crushed that they do not raise a hand, frivolously trusting in a questionable faith in lawful order in history; if they surrender man's highest principle, his free will; if they abandon the will to take decisive action and turn the wheel of history and thus subject it to their own rational decision; if they are so devoid of all individuality, have already gone so far along the road toward turning into a spiritless and cowardly mass - then, yes, they deserve their downfall.

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The election is almost over. The racism and bigotry summoned by Trump are not.

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My friend stopped me1 and he said, "Look, you know Hilllary supporters are just as nuts."

"What?" I said.

"Well, look," he replied, "I told my friend - who is gay, and normally rational - that I might vote for Trump, and he went nuts. But it's because I think Trump would be better for the military."

I tried to explain.

I tried to tell him how yes, his gay and minority friends would probably react extremely emotionally to him saying he'd support someone who slandered and vilified them. That they'd probably be really upset that he'd be okay with a candidate who opposed marriage equality or said quite a few horrible things about LGBTQ people, or just as bad things about minorities. That when you say you want to support someone who seems to think you'd be just as better off dead, it's not a logical issue anymore. It's a moral issue.

This isn't news. It's not surprising.  Hell, it's so common at this point that it's bloody mundane.

Here's what bothered me:  I tried to explain what it might be like for him.

"What if," I said to this person (who like the majority of adults in the USA, has gotten a divorce), "there was a candidate who was extremely Christian and followed Jesus' real teachings on divorce? Who followed Matthew 19:9 and Deuteronomy 22:22 and said that those who had gotten a divorce should be put to death? And your friend they supported this candidate who literally said you should be put to death, but just because they supported the military?"

"Oh, that'd never happen," said my friend. He flat-out denied that anything like the everyday lived experience of his gay and minority friends could possibly happen to him.

And that, friends, is privilege. 

That is the (false) comfort of thinking that surely you are not one of the outsiders. That surely you are not one of the people who will be discriminated against. 

And that thinking is universally wrong.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
 - Martin Niemöller

For all the comparisons to Hitler the 2nd amendment crowd throws around, there's only one side using racial and religious lines to determine who is "good" - and that's the racist alt-right facists (yes, literally) that rallied behind Donald Trump.

The results are just starting to trickle in as I write this.

But the bigots and racists - the so-called alt-right - are emboldened in a way far greater than they were by being legitimized by Geraldo back in 1988.

No matter who wins the presidential election today, we will have to be vigilant so that the bigots do not force their way unopposed onto our national stage.

If everyone waits until the other man makes a start, the messengers of avenging Nemesis will come steadily closer.

...why do you allow these men who are in power to rob you step by step, openly and in secret, of one domain of your rights after another, until one day nothing, nothing at all will be left but a mechanised state system presided over by criminals and drunks? Is your spirit already so crushed by abuse that you forget it is your right - or rather, your moral duty - to eliminate this system?

We will not be silent. We are your bad conscience.

1Remember my artistic license policy.

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Post-Kickstarter? Pre-Election? It's Time For A Parody!

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Welp, the Kickstarter's over (yay! thanks to everyone!), and we're all holding our breath until tomorrow's over.

Thus demonstrating there's always hope amidst the horror.  (Wubba lubba dub dub!)

But until we meet again on the flip side of the election... know that somewhere... out there...

[music swells]

Somewhere out there
beneath the pale monitor light
someone's thinking of me
and typing to me tonight.

Somewhere out there,
The FSM's typing a prayer
That we'll message each other
In that big somewhere out there.

And even though I know how many lines of wire there are
It helps to think we might be watching the same YouTube star
And when the trolling comments sing their lonely lullabye,
it helps to think we're blocking them with the same GUI.

Somewhere out there,
if spam filters can see us through,
then I'll get your instant message,
Somewhere out there
Out where dreams
come true....

Look, if English can have changed enough that "eye" and "symmetry" used to rhyme, I can call a GUI a "gooey". Am I right?

[music falters, Steve gets escorted offstage as the clip below rolls]

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Steampunk Universe: Continue Supporting Diversity In Steampunk And Get Some Awesome Fiction

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We keep getting told that steampunk is not diverse.

We keep proving them wrong.

Two and a half years ago, we brought you the award-winning anthology Steampunk World.

Since then, a number of prominent anthologies and other works of diverse steampunk fiction have sprung up.

But it is not enough.

We want to see characters like ALL our friends, like ALL the members of our families.

We want to see fully developed characters in steampunk who are disabled or aneurotypical. We want to see more than token characters and cliched plots.

We were told it would be too hard, especially in steampunk.

We are going to prove them wrong again - and we want you to join us.

Join editor Sarah Hans, our cover artist James Ng, and contributors Ken Liu, Jody Lynn Nye, Maurice Broaddus, Malon Edwards, Emily Cataneo, Pip Ballantine and nine others today.

Steampunk Universe: A fully diverse steampunk anthology -- Kicktraq Mini

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Some quick references on Trump's harassment and assault

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Yesterday in a discussion, Trump's assaults on women came up.

I'm already on record as noting that he acted like an abuser at the debates
and whose public sexism are a textbook example of sexism and rape culture, but the person I was talking to claimed that every allegation against Trump had been "proved false" and that Bill Clinton was just as bad.

First things first.  While you can point at this AP article saying there's "no evidence" Trump sexually assaulted women, that seems to hold a pretty high bar for "evidence".  For example, it's conveniently ignoring that the "hot mike" tape has Trump literally bragging that he "doesn't wait" and just starts kissing women he finds attractive and grabbing their genitals.

But that's just one instance. There's, sadly, lots of allegations. Here's just two lists available in seconds of searching online:

An Exhaustive List of the Allegations Women Have Made Against Donald Trump

Here’s Everything You Need to Know About the Sexual Allegations Against Donald Trump

The second - from Time magazine - also includes the evidence and corroborating testimony that the AP apparently doesn't think is important.

(Reminder: #IWillBelieveYou exists for a reason.)

Saving this for last, because I'm aware that ThinkProgress has a bit of a bias:

This is everything Trump could come up with to disprove 10 accusations of sexual assault

So, what about Bill?

Aside from the fact that Bill isn't running for president, this Chicago Tribune article by Heidi Stevens covers that pretty well.

Why did Hillary stay with him? Aside from the fact that there's sadly a perception of failure and shame for those who are divorced (and overwhelmingly impacting women over men), or the subtle and overt sexism that is directed at women in positions of power (which is a whole thing in and of itself), the fact of the matter is that that it's a private relationship and not our business

Further, despite my friend's off-the-cuff allegation that Bill's still a womanizer, the only thing I could find post-2002 was a single picture of Bill posing with two women at a fundraiser who happen to be sex workers (in Nevada, where it's legal). There's no context given, and considering that I found it in this NY Post article "Bill’s libido threatens to derail Hillary — again", you'd think they'd include it if there was more to it than a photograph.

That's not to say that Bill's innocent, or shouldn't face harsh criticism (or worse) for his actions, even if they are in the past. The Washington Post has this guide to the allegations of Bill Clinton’s womanizing.

The most troubling thing in there is Bill's past (pre-2002) association with Jeffrey Epstein, who also figures in the Trump allegations.  The Daily Beast has a backgrounder on Epstein and the really awful things he did.

Again, though, this is Bill.  He isn't running for President. 
And why is this all just coming out now?  Here's a quick, generic, politics-free backgrounder on why women don't report sexual harassment.

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#IWillBelieveYou - An Ally Project To Support Those Affected by Sexual Harassment and Assault In Fandom and Elsewhere

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I don't have a witty introduction for this.
I wish it wasn't necessary to say.
Things are (slowly) getting better, yes. 
But it still needs to be said.

After the revelations last month (reference one, two), those of us with enough energy, privilege, and resources have to do something. Something that shows both that we will support those who have been harassed and that we do not accept harassment in the places we gather.

So, building on the example of Take Back The Night, as well as #IllRideWithYou and #IllGoWithYou, I created #IWillBelieveYou.

We are members of all kinds of fandom and the scientific community. The struggle of recent years to get harassment policies enacted at our conventions and gathering spaces is starting to show results.

Yet too many people are dismissed, minimized, or outright disbelieved when they are sexually harassed and assaulted.

We are no longer okay ignoring the broken/missing stairs in our communities and lives. No one should have to feel unsafe simply being in a public space, especially those spaces organized around the events and passions we enjoy.

Our pledge, the pledge of #IWillBelieveYou, is that those of us with the privilege and resources to do so will offer to be an ally, an active listener, and to support those who have been hurt by harassers or worse in our communal spaces.
I will be wearing this button to signal my commitment to the above at all public appearances.

I'll do my best to have them to distribute as well.

I do not make any money off these buttons, nor do I want to. I found the most flexible and inexpensive retailer so that it's easy and inexpensive for folks to purchase buttons. I have also put up the templates so that you can use another retailer or create them yourself if you like.

I've tried to make this as decentralized as I can. This is not about me. 

This is about making our cons, conventions, and gathering spaces safer.

It isn't a perfect solution.  But it's something.

If you wish to order buttons for yourself (or the templates to DIY them), head to

And spread the word.

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No More Missing Stairs - Reports of Harassment at WFC and IWillBelieveYou

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EDIT: Please see, which is now live.

TL;DR: A missing stair - who had been called out twice before - allegedly harrassed at least one woman at WFC last weekend. I have several ideas for solutions.

World Fantasy 2016 just passed this last weekend. While I did swing by the bar on Friday night, I did not attend for two reasons.

First, because of my concerns about their delays in putting up the harassment policy, and second because their harassment policy insisted that they could only respond to incidents reported during the convention. (Policy is/was here: , screengrab here: To quote myself:
Let's get rid of the "But it's WFC, it doesn't recur!" straw man. If we're going to take that approach, then you ar guaranteeing that any traveling convention is going to be a safe space for creepers and harassers. In which case, I'm not going.

Second, it puts a huge burden on the victim to be able to immediately feel safe enough to report any incidents. If you really need someone to unpack why that's a problem... well, that's another blog post itself.
This is a big deal for me - if you're not aware, reports of a pattern of harassment by "The Chainmail Guy" at Context 27 and my resignation in the face of non-action over those reports ended up leading to that convention imploding... also in Columbus.

While I ended up giving away my membership to Con-Or-Bust, I still paid attention to the other local Columbus conventions. So when there were reports that "The Chainmail Guy" harassed people at MarCon, I paid attention.

A friend of mine, who works security at MarCon, had a great response to that post. Keep this in mind.

Because this guy's behavior is known. This isn't some random dude showing up and being a creeper. Even if you only count incidents that I've been personally informed of, we're talking at least several years and multiple incidents with a number of women. At this point, it doesn't matter "why" he behaves this way; it's clearly been pointed out, is known to him and everyone around him, and yet it persists.

Yes, persists.

Because (allegedly) "The Chainmail Guy" made an appearance - and a harassing one - at World Fantasy 2016 in Columbus as well.

1. While I have been told explicitly about one woman who was harassed and did report his actions at the convention, there are rumors that there were other women who were harassed by this individual. While the conrunners of WFC 2016 will apparently not listen to anything they have to say (though one sorely hopes that they will change their mind on that, lest they tarnish the reputation of MarCon as well), I and others will. Tell us your stories. No more missing stairs.

2. I am calling for conventions - large, small, and otherwise - to start figuring out a way to deal with these so-called missing stairs. Especially when they may move between conventions the way this individual - or many others - have. At a bare minimum, it is time to remove clauses that require attendees to report harassment during the convention.

3. Simultaneously, I am also calling on those of us with enough spoons to do so to be witnesses and support to those calling out harassment at our conventions. We cannot just be waiting to have someone else deal with the situation for us.

I will be creating and distributing #IWillBelieveYou buttons for two reasons.  (I've just acquired; I intend to model it after in the next day or two.)

a. To show our support for those reporting harassment and missing stairs
b. To show our willingness to physically go with and support people reporting incidents at conventions.  The background color is the teal used for Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Because here's the thing, folks. I am sick of this. I am so done with people who keep abusing others and hiding behind either their longstanding presence or crappy harassment policies.

It is time to keep pointing out the missing stairs.

And to let everyone know how many of us are unwilling to let this continue.

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