Here I Go Again

Get ready haters, I’m about to give you yet another reason to call me a self-involved, entitled, culturally insensitive, ignorant, tone-deaf dudebro. So here it is: if I hear the word “appropriation” misused or overused one more time, I’m going to appropriate a can of whup-ass and start spraying uppercuts. (See what I just did there?)

Here’s the thing: I understand that historically Caucasians (I do so hate the term “white people”) have taken credit for creating entire cultural movements that were actually created by other groups, whether it be people from another country or oppressed minorities within their own countries. Whether it be art, food, music, dance, or pretty much any form of creative or personal expression, if it’s been done by someone a white person (and usually a white man) came along, repackaged it, and sold it as something “new”. And lots of people are still understandably angry about that. Add onto that a history of assimilation (read: be forced to do as we do or you’ll get nothing and worse) and the flames burn even hotter.

But then something strange happened: somewhere along the line, and I’m not sure exactly where, people of all ethnicities and backgrounds started getting credit for their original creations, and we even started going back and correcting the dominant historical narrative. There’s still work to do, and the debate about who originated what is likely to rage for decades if not centuries, but that’s actually normal (people still argue about who “actually” wrote Shakespeare’s plays). This extends beyond individuals to entire elements of society, such as African American culture, Asian culture, and “start-up culture”, and even localized geographical elements, such as Portland culture and Silicon Valley culture.

What many individuals seem to be missing in all of this, however, is that despite the deficiencies of the past, culture does not exist in a vacuum. It influences and is influenced by the society and cultures around it. Pop culture influences African American culture, which influences start up culture, which influences Portland culture, which influences Asian culture, which influences Silicon Valley culture, which in turn influence pop culture, and they all influence each other. When African Americans adopt some element of pop culture (whether individually or as a group) there is no great outcry of “appropriation!”, and yet as soon as some element of African American culture (or any other minority culture) becomes a part of the dominant paradigm, there is an immediate rush to cry foul.

And this is where I have a problem. This failure to acknowledge the intertwined and interactive nature of culture (and note I do not say modern culture, I mean culture across all time and all places) is a fallacy. The problem of appropriation (as I understand it) was not and is not one of the dominant culture being influenced by other cultures, it is that it tries to subsume those cultures, to take what it wants without even acknowledging that those other cultures ever even existed. Today I don’t see that happening so much as I see a blending of cultures, of people being inspired to try new things, to make something a part of their cultural lexicon that wasn’t there before.

Does that mean they have a complete grasp of the entirety of what it is they are exploring or are delving into? No, it doesn’t. In the same way that an artist may see a painting by another artist without understanding the entirety of the subject matter, the depth and composition of it, or even the cultural significance of it because she lacks the necessary referents, and yet still be inspired by it and tries to incorporate some elements of it into her own work. Just as there’s a fine line between tribute and plagiarism, so there is a fine line between inspiration and appropriation. But a knee-jerk reaction that assumes every cultural movement is an act of bad faith is simply a reflection of itself.

An Open Letter to the World

Dear Everyone,

We’ve known each other for quite a while, practically my whole life, and while it’s been a good relationship on the whole, there are a few things I need to get off my chest. See, the thing is you have some bad habits, and if they don’t change soon I’m afraid we just can’t be friends anymore. I know this seems kind of sudden, but it’s been building for some time. If you haven’t been able to see this coming that just shows how dysfunctional our relationship has become.

And so, in no particular order, here are the things I really need you to work on:

You walk in front of, behind, and in general all around moving cars, as if they won’t hit you. They will. You need to stop that.

Clean up after yourself. Seriously.

You drive too fast.

Stop picking fights.

I don’t care about your religion, so please stop bringing it up.

Clean up after your dog.

Racism, sexism, and –isms in general.

Stop riding your bike in the middle of the road. I don’t drive in the middle of the sidewalk.

Clean up after your kids.

You drive too slow.

Stop yelling. I can hear you. The people in the next room can hear you. The people several houses down can hear you.

I don’t care about your politics, so please stop bringing it up.

You double park. All the time. I don’t care how big your car is, or how big you are, one car, one spot is the rule.

Learn how to courtesy flush.

I don’t care about your new iPhone, so please stop bringing it up.

I understand you’re a big fan of public transportation. I think that’s admirable. Please move into the city, where they have some, and out of the suburbs, where we’re tired of hearing you talk about it.

No matter how many times I ask, you keep casting David Spade in things.

Turn it down. If you need a hearing aid, get one. The rest of us aren’t deaf.

Put a muffler on that thing.

Don’t use management terms in everyday life. If you try to “put something on my radar” “from 10,000 feet” because I need to “take an institutional view”, my foot with find synergy with your ass.

Stop hitting on women who are clearly wearing wedding rings.

Telling me “You don’t look like a smoker.” I realize I don’t look like a cowboy or a camel, but exactly what DOES a smoker look like?

Enough with the unsolicited advice.

Mouth-breathing. I know this comes up a lot, but how hard is it to sit with your mouth closed?

I know this makes me sound pedantic, but please, stop saying “literally” when you mean “metaphorically”. It literally gives me fits.

Please stop putting pictures of your food online. Unless it looks like someone famous, I’m really not interested.

Writing computer viruses. It stopped being “cool” in 1990.

I know this is asking a lot, and I don’t expect you to change overnight, but if I don’t see some sort of action soon, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.




Taking Back the Internet

I was talking with my friend Keri of (which I’ve mentioned before, and who’s been a guest blogger for me as well, but still check them out because they rock), and it seems there was a troll who popped up in the comments section of her blog the other day. I’m not going to dignify the comment by repeating it here, but suffice to say it was inappropriate.

I know there are those who would say that trolling is part of the internet, and that we have to accept it as part of doing business. I’ve even said as much myself. But maybe I’m getting a little quixotic in my old age, because I’ve decided it’s time we take back the internet. I’m tired of the trolls and the sleazebags dominating the internet. I’m tired of feeling like I can’t go into what amounts to the public square without having to worry about seeing the verbal (or sometimes literal) equivalent of someone throwing feces. I’m tired of not being able to invite people into what amounts to my digital home without fear they’re going to track filth all over the metaphorical rugs.

Let me be clear: I’m certainly not advocating for governmental interference. Not only would that go against all of my core principles, the chilling effect that would have on speech vastly outweighs any benefits we might garner from it. Besides, the truth is there are places and times that I myself enjoy kicking back and acting the fool. I have one friend whose Facebook page I troll regularly. Note the keyword there: friend. As in “I actually know him in real life”. Given the chance I would say the same things and worse to him, and he’d say the same and worse to me. It’s part of our friendship dynamic. I’m also part of a group that shares awful (and I do mean awful) videos from around the internet. The kind that should come with a warning label that reads “watch this at your own risk – better yet don’t.”

So what am I calling for? I guess the best equivalent would be community policing, or neighborhood watch. A public shaming of those who do such things, not on the internet (because that only feeds their egos and drives them to do it more) but a real-life shaming. When guys (and let’s face it, it’s mostly guys who do this, but if girls do it they deserve their share of real-life hate as well) start bragging about their latest online escapades, let’s start letting them know it’s not funny, it’s not cool, it’s just sad and pathetic. They may go to their dark little corners of the internet to nurse their grudges among their like-minded ilk, but frankly that would be an improvement. Let them congregate amongst themselves in a self-imposed exile and leave the rest of us to enjoy our own company.

It’s the moral equivalent of making fart sounds in church. A few people might laugh nervously, and a couple immature goofs might get a chuckle out of it, but most of us just sit there in uncomfortable silence and hope they go away. (Not that I consider the internet to be a church, but it’s an analogy. Work with me. I swear it’s apt.) It’s time we all stand up in the metaphorical pews and denounce them for the fools and hecklers that they are, and chase them back under the bridges where trolls properly dwell.

What Do I Owe You?

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about society, specifically an individual’s place in it and what we owe to society as a whole. I’m not speaking about taxes and such per se, but rather the social conventions that make up the social mores of society, and the point at which those social mores conflict with our belief in the spirit of the individual and individual expression. With Miley Cirus quickly tanking her musical career with twerking, Anthony Weiner destroying his political career with his… Twitter account, and President Obama rapidly, well, for the sake of civil discussion let’s say “adjusting” America’s reputation in the world on a daily if not hourly basis with the Syrian situation, clearly we hold public individuals accountable. But at what level do we hold private individuals accountable? And should we?

Obviously there are some actions that, while not necessarily physically assaulting others, we believe to be beyond the boundaries of appropriateness. Screaming profanities at a child is not acceptable. Public nudity is (generally) considered outside the lines. Even the unauthorized use of someone else’s property, and no it doesn’t matter if you return it with a full tank of gas, is completely out of the question, whether they were inconvenienced or not. But is that all? Or is there something more?

In our personal relationships we set boundaries, and those boundaries can be somewhat flexible. As we get to know others better we adjust those boundaries, although some things will always be off limits (although what and to whom varies from individual to individual). The difference between standards that we set amongst ourselves and for ourselves can occasionally cause conflict, the most common of which is people judging others or feeling judged. Personally I have no problem with either one; feel free to judge me, because lord knows I’m judging you. Anyone who says otherwise is either lying, has a different word for what they are doing, or has no standards for behavior at all.

But that doesn’t mean we have a right to restrict each other’s behavior. Should we call each other out on it? Depends on the relationship. In a work environment, there are (hopefully) guidelines for what is and is not acceptable, and ways to address unacceptable behavior. Outside of those narrowly defined terms, you either need to find a nice way to address it or live with it. For example, maybe the person in the next office talks on their phone really loud. Not so loud that it justifies a complaint to HR, but still. Either you need to find a way to talk to them about it, or get some headphones. And that’s the way life goes.

Personal lives are the same way. If you know someone who engages in what you consider to be obnoxious (but not illegal) behavior, you either need to find a nice way to approach them about it or let it go. Of course they may not listen, or they may be unwilling or unable to change. Then you either have to live with it or stop spending time with them. Life’s full of tough choices like that.

Which kind of brings me back to where I started. There are no guidelines about public behavior, but there is this: if you put it out there for everyone to see, you’re inviting comment from everyone who sees it. Right or wrong, good or bad, fair or not. Public figures accept this as part of the package (or at least they should, because they’re gonna get it anyway), but private individuals need to accept it too, on the small scale. Being a private person doesn’t mean everything you do is private, and we all need to accept that, as well as accepting the consequences of our actions. Even twerking (which I promise to never do).

An Experiment in Found Poetry

I decided to try something very different, a new poetry style I’ve never worked with before. For artistic reasons I may explain another time (I believe art should stand on its own), the result is rather dark and explores some disturbing territory. Reader discretion is advised, as this may serve as a trigger event for victims of abuse.

A Clear Violation

Oh Virginia gubernatorial candidate and state attorney general Ken Cuccinelli. You are so damn cray. You just launched a website whose sole purpose is to promote the enforcement of Virginia’s unconstitutional ban on oral and anal sex. Double down, indeed. “It’s for the children!” You say . Well, technically you say ”Keep Virginia Children Safe!” But all the law has done is keep 90 people on the sex offender registry, which is pretty useless in terms of safety and extremely problematic in terms of who gets included and residency restrictions. So good job.
Some libertarians want us to look beyond Cuccinelli’s backwards
and unconstitutional legislative maneuverings because his intentions there are good and because he says he’ll lower taxes. But that’s kind of the difference between a libertarian and a Republican, isn’t it?
A Republican says it’s okay to grow government when a Republican is president.
It’s okay to grant vast new powers of surveillance and detainment if it’s for national security. It’s okay to start wars in foreign countries if it’s to spread democracy. It’s okay to violate individual liberty and discard the principles of limited government if you’ve got a good reason.
But the libertarian says, “Well, no, not really.” The libertarian points out that the point of limited government is that government can’t be trusted do
just do what you want it to with the powers you give it. The libertarian points out that as soon as you give government vast surveillance powers, it will use it to spy on enemies not of the people, but of government itself.
Laws are serious violations of liberty. It’s beyond ridiculous to
sit back and trust government, as some even “libertarians” have done, to only use sodomy laws to punish child molesters. We KNOW FOR A FACT that sex offender laws are currently being used by racist parents to punish 18-year-old black boys who date their white high school daughters, or homophobic parents to punish their kids’ queer girlfriends.
So no, it
does not matter to me that Cuccinelli might have good intentions. Which terrible, terrible laws aren’t justified that way? This law is wrong. A judge has already ruled it unconstitutional. It will not survive further judicial scrutiny. It’s a clear violation of individual liberty. All such laws end up being used to screw vulnerable people.
Every time Republicans and libertarians sit back and say it’s just fine, you still have my vote, when our politicians do stuff like that, we’re wrong.
Besides, as soon as you make blowjobs illegal, only criminals will give blowjobs.
Or something.

Based on “Why Ken Cuccinelli’s Oral Sex Law Means No Libertarian Should Ever Vote for Him” by Cathy Reisenwitz, posted at Sex and the State July 19, 2013. Used with permission.

Two Kinds of Problems

My Not So Humble Wife and I recently moved into a new house, and I discovered that moving when you are middle class and in your late 30s is a lot different from moving when you are poor and in your middle 20s. My past experience with moving involved a lot of grunting, lifting, swearing, sweating, and general disorganization. This time there was far less of all of that, mostly because my wife was there to organize things, but there was also another very notable difference: money.

You see, when you’re in your 20s and poor, you lack the resources to do much besides rent or borrow a truck, call a bunch of friends and offer them beer and pizza in exchange for their labor (the barter system at work), and then bust your hump as hard as you can to get the job done. It may take all day, it may even take all night, but you do what needs doing because there are no other options. Money changes things. Specifically, it enables you to pay someone else to do the heavy lifting. When you’re in your late 30s and it’s a lot harder to get a bunch of friends together (especially friends who are capable of doing hard labor), that makes a huge difference.

There were also all the little things that can go wrong that went so much more easily this time around. Lost something in the move? Sure, we can go digging around for it, but do we have the time? There are fifteen other things we need to do. Just buy another one. Something got broke? Not to worry, we can replace it. The old place needs to be cleaned before we move out? Why spend three days doing it ourselves when we can hire a cleaning service?

This may sound profligate and wasteful, but there was a method to the madness. The philosophy here (as I explained it to my wife, and she was kind enough to quote back to me in a moment of panic) was that there are two kinds of problems in this world: the kind you can throw money at and make them go away, and the kind you can’t. The former are the easy ones. I know that’s a bit reductive, but it’s true. What I discovered in this latest round of madness… excuse me, moving is that there are any number of difficulties we face, and we are both at a point in our lives with multiple competing priorities for our time. If there is a way to “buy off” one or more of those priorities, or just to make a problem not be a problem by spending money on it, it’s well worth the cost to do so.

Of course, being me I couldn’t just leave that thought alone, so I had to chase it down a bit. I followed that line of logic and realized that it sounded an awful lot like the sort of thing I have for so long accused politicians of doing: mindlessly throwing money at problems rather than considering whether or not the money is actually fixing anything or improving the situation. I am well aware that applying lessons from microeconomic situations to the macroeconomic is a dangerous game that tends to lead to faulty conclusions, but it did lead me to some interesting realizations.

Politicians, little as I think of them as a class, don’t just throw money around for the fun of it. They have to have some reason, if only because there are so many competing priorities for the money and they want to support the best of them (defining “best” as you see fit and as your view of politicians demands).  Only there are so very many problems, and it’s so hard to stay on top of them all. Drugs, childhood obesity, unrest in the Middle East, civil rights, gun control, education reform, energy policy, foreign intelligence, minimum wage, income inequity, NSA spying… the list goes on and on. It’s not like when our country was young and could just call up a couple of friends, rent a truck, and move out West. How do you know which are the problems that can be solved by throwing money at them and which ones need more complicated solutions?

There has to be some problem, some issue that someone has brought to their attention, and that someone has convinced them can be made to go away by throwing money at it. This makes it an easy problem. And solving problems is what we send politicians to Washington for, right? Those people are called “lobbyists”, and they’re very good at what they do. It’s not that they don’t care, or that they don’t believe, it’s that they do care, and they do believe, and that’s why they need the money: because they have a problem to fix.

So I think I understand a little better now. It’s seductive to try to solve problems by throwing money at them. There are just a couple issues with that approach, as we’re finding: you can’t solve every problem just by throwing money at it, and no matter how easy it is with someone else’s money, sooner or later you run out.

Wait a Minute, WHAT?!?

Okay, I have to get this off my chest, because I simply can’t believe this exists. Not that I believe the women who are talking about it are lying, but I simply wish that the humans who share my gender and my interests weren’t such complete asshats. It’s pretty well established by now that I’m not exactly a feminist (as a friend said recently, “I’m not a misogynist, I’m a misanthrope, there’s a difference”), but this shit is beyond the pale.

Lately I’ve seen some (lots of) stories about women being called fake geeks and being chased out of the community of gaming/comics/sci-fi/whatever for not being “real nerds”. Really? And this is happening because… why? I’d ask if the guys who are doing this are twelve, except that I remember being a twelve year old geekling, and if a girl ever showed any interest in the sort of things I cared about I’d be more likely to chase her away by falling all over myself showering her with attention and praise (you know, being creepy) than by challenging her right to be there (you know, being an asshole).

The weird part of this to me is that I’ve walked into a game store and comic shops with my wife and I’ve seen the reaction. First I walk in, and nothing changes. A few guys might look up, they notice one of their own, and then they go back to whatever it was they were doing. Then SHE walks in. (You can even see the capital letters running through their minds when it happens.) A girl. It’s always a girl, never a woman. There’s a sudden pause, like deer caught in the headlights, or possibly roaches caught in the kitchen light. All heads turn towards her to see what she’s going to do, and more importantly if she’s with someone (free range is fair game after all). Then their eyes surreptitiously follow her around the store until we leave. After seeing this happen a few times I could totally understand why neither she nor any woman would want to go into any of those kinds of stores (the weird funk of basement boys aside).

But that at least evidences, albeit in a crude and creepy sort of way, that geek men at least crave the presence of women. And having spent far too much time around geeks, I can say with some authority the only thing they love more than their hobbies is talking about their hobbies. So when a woman comes along who is ready, willing, able, and in fact eager to do just that, what is their response? To chase her away by calling her a “fake geek”.

Mr. Spock, your analysis?

“Highly illogical, Captain.”

That’s what I thought. I’ve heard the (bullshit) argument that at one point in time there were a few media outlets that hired models to pretend to like video games or other things to appeal to geeks and somehow that means all females who ever exhibit any interest in anything geek are forever tainted. Wow, that might be the first time in history anyone has ever used sex appeal to sell anything to anyone ever! </sarcasm> The worst part of that argument is that video game trade shows had been using booth babes for YEARS before that, and these same guys were eating it up with a spoon.

So what happened? Did a girl come along and ask you to engage her in conversation about the relative merits of Star Wars versus Star Trek instead of expecting her to wear both a Princess Leia costume and an original series Trek uniform?

Guys, there are women out there, real women, who share our passions, who care about the same things we care about, love them with the same intensity we do, dive in with the same ferocity and joy, and best of all they want to share it with us. It’s everything we ever dreamed of, and you want to shut them out.

Grow the fuck up.