Election “Year” “Reporting”

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“The boys on the bus”, image courtesy of NPR

Yes, I put both “Year” and “Reporting in scare quotes.  Know why?  Because something that starts two years (at least) before election day is not a “year”, and because the “reporting” the reporters do from the campaign trail doesn’t qualify as true reporting, in my opinion,

Which is the main fact behind my whole point.

There are a couple of really irritating aspects to election reporting that I think about often, especially during election season (and especially during Presidential election season).  The first irritating thing, the reasons behind which are easy to understand, is that the vast majority of election reporting are “reports” on “the horse race”, i.e. who is up, who is down, who is moving up, etc. in the polls.  Nothing about people’s positions, who might actually make a better office-holder, what a given candidate might do in a particular situation or facing a certain vote based on their past behavior (or past votes), or hell even what their past behavior has been.  No, it’s all breathless discussions of “the polling”.  (And equally breathless discussion about how shallow modern political discourse has become in that we only discuss “the horse race”.  Which is kinda absurd, since my memory goes back to the Nixon years, and I don’t remember a whole lot of reporting on the issues back then, either.)

The reason for this is simple:  That kind of writing is easy.  I can sit here, right now, make up some poll numbers and write a story about it.  Seriously.  It’s absurdly simple, the only research it requires is looking up poll numbers, and it can easily fulfill your word quota (or minute quota) of the day.  And everything is reported in this box. It’s not “How would Candidate Jones’ statement on Israel effect his future Israel policies”; no, it’s “How does Candidate Jones’ gaffe about Israel effect his polling?”  Writing all your stories according to a pre-existing narrative is way easier than coming up with something original.  It’s like writing a new fantasy story based in Middle Earth or Westeros instead of coming up with your own fantasy world.  It’s lame, reductionist, a cop-out of your responsibilities, but it’s easy and understandable.

What I don’t understand is:  Why is there a pool of reporters traveling with each candidate at all?

If there’s one thing I’ve noticed in the last, oh, say 20 years of Presidential elections, it’s that reporters and commentators are constantly talking about how useless and news-less campaign events and speeches are, how little access they have to candidates, what a pointless exercise campaign reporting seems to be.  Expect these stories to start flooding in soon; New York Magazine got off an early salvo–the proximate cause for this blog post–just last week (20 months before election day!).  And as I read all the whining in this post, and anticipated all the whining to come in the next 20 months, I kept thinking, as John Oliver would say, “Why is this still a thing?”

One would think that reason enough to do something about campaign reporting.  But we have been hearing about–and observing–for nearly two decades now the vast shrinkage in “traditional media”.  Newspapers folding or being “consolidated”, network TV ratings dropping like rocks (along with their budgets), magazines going out of business or migrating to the Web, etc.  Money is tight in media.  They’re closing overseas bureaus all the time.  And so I get back to my John Oliver question:

Why is campaign pool reporting still a thing?

Cover campaigns, absolutely.  And I can understand why the Washington Post, New York Times, and a few other papers and TV organizations with national reach cover them.  But do CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox, ABC, Bloomberg, and God alone only knows how many other networks really all need individual reporters on the ground for every candidate for every event?  Do we need reporters from the Des Moines paper going to New Hampshire in December of 2015?  You get the picture.

What I don’t understand is, with every network and paper crying pauper, why are they still doing this?  Why don’t they designate one or two people to follow these people around–particularly the right-wing nitwits who have absolutely no chance of winning–and leave it at that?  They can share their “news” with the other outlets, and write their feather-weight “news” pieces from that.  Or they can just stay home, look at the poll numbers, and write the exact same stories.  But either way, sending dozens of reporters howling after this election season’s Herman Caine is absolutely idiotic.

That’s what I think, anyway.  How about you?

Support Sex Workers on Sex Worker Rights Day (repost from Facebook)

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Photo courtesy of Julia Laite at notchesblog

First posted on my Facebook feed.

I know this will be controversial with some folks who follow me, but: Today is Sex Worker Rights day. This is NOT about the approx. 22% of all human trafficking victims who are trafficked for sex work. (The majority of trafficking victims are for the agriculture, garment, and construction industries.) No. This is about people–men, women, and trans folks–who for whatever reason choose sex work in which to make money. By choice. I just want to be clear.

I absolutely, unequivocally support sex worker’s rights, their right to have their work treated as work rather than stigma; their right to have their industry decriminalized; their right to be safe in their work; their rights in general. Sex workers–particularly those who are people of color or transgender (or both)–deserve respect and safety, rather than being subjected to harassment, assault, and stings by police whose primary motivation is (this is true, I promise) money.

Look: I’m not stupid. I know we live in a fairly Puritan/Napoleonic Code-based social framework, which looks askance (to put it mildly) at anything of a sexual nature. But I ask you to look beyond that and realize that sex workers (for the most part) are just doing a job. “How can you do a job so demeaning?” 1) It doesn’t have to be demeaning just because it’s sexual, and 2) There are plenty of other jobs that are plenty demeaning that aren’t sex work. I have laid sod and landscaped hillsides during a heatwave; worked graveyard shift as a security guard; cleaned restaurant toilets and floors as a janitor after hours; and plenty others. These were demeaning.

And I’d like you to consider the positive aspects of sex work you might not have thought of, or dismissed as silly or absurd. What if you are a man with some kind of mental disability who has never had sex before because your disability makes you unattractive to potential partners? What if you are physically disabled and your partner can’t deal and needs help? What if your partner simply lose interest in sex but you don’t? What if what excites you changes completely over time but doesn’t for your partner? These and many other areas are places where sex workers help, not only individuals but entire relationships.

Sex work is work. They deserve respect. Please give it to them.

Sex Work is Work, and Prohibition Doesn’t Work

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Photo courtesy of caans.org

In many ways I feel incredibly lucky to have attended UC Santa Cruz.  For one, it’s simply a good university; high quality, good instructors, wonderful campus, good facilities, etc.  I received a damn fine education there at a quite reasonable price.  (It’s not particularly reasonable now, but that’s a post for another time.)  I met some–hell, most–of my lifelong friends there.  All good things.

But in many ways the most important thing was living in Santa Cruz, and being absolutely immersed in a social matrix that was wildly, spectacularly, incredibly left-wing.  A place where the majority of the town council was, like Bernie Sanders, openly Socialist–That was their party affiliation, not just their political philosophy–and given this was spang in the middle of the Reagan era, that tells you just how leftist it was.   A place that was doing “take back the night!” marches in the early 80s, that occupied the campus library in 1985 to protest Apartheid and demand divestment of UC assets from South Africa; a place that was my introduction (as a Freshman) to loud, emotional protests (for tenure for a professor name Nancy Shaw, in I believe Women’s Studies); a place that had a class called “Birth of a Poet”, where you were required to write down your dreams every morning.

That kind of place.

And I’m glad, so very glad, I went there, because even though my parents were quite liberal (and my dad amazingly so for a Naval officer born during the Depression), growing up as a military brat narrows your view of the world pretty considerably.  Middle class all my life, rarely exposed to many minorities, almost totally unfamiliar with religions other than Catholicism, it was a major eye-opener, to put it mildly.  And a time I absolutely cherish.

Which brings me, in my time-honored style of burying the lede, to sex work.

It is a cliche to call sex work “the world’s oldest profession”.  But the fact is, we all know about the existence of sex work, and like any teen I was familiar with the bold outlines when I started college.  Indeed, I probably had a somewhat different view than most, as I had read a lot of science fiction in which sex work was either a normalized part of life, or even societies where it was an honored and exalted profession (viz. how it is treated in “Firefly”).  But like everyone else, I had imbibed by osmosis the Madonna/whore dichotomy, along with the usual john/pimp/ho’ cliches.  I probably wasn’t as bad as some, but I was still a pretty ignorant middle-class, white, teen male.

But it was at UC Santa Cruz where I was first exposed to the actual concept of sex work as it collides with the real world.  It was there that I first encountered the term “sex work”; there that I was first exposed to actual sex workers; there I saw sex workers supported by non sex workers, advocating for their rights, the organization COYOTE setting up tables and giving out info on campus, students writing papers and articles in support of sex work and sex workers rights, and so on.

And to be perfectly frank, all that in combination to the already-fertile, science fiction-tilled ground of my brain, radicalized me.  The arguments of sex workers seemed so logical and reasonable when weighed against the almost-hysterical inveigling the anti-sex work crowd engaged in.  Sex workers wanted their victimless, consensual, non-coercive work to be treated as exactly that:  Work.  Difficult work deserving of dignity, recognition, and a lack of persecution.  Work that they had chosen, and that they believed was deserving of treatment equal to a schmuck like me toiling away in a cafeteria dishroom to put himself through college.

Seemed pretty reasonable to me.

By contrast, the anti-sex work crowd had many, many arguments against it but, not unlike arguments against marriage equality boiling down to “I think butt sex is yucky and no one should do it”, it always seemed at base to rest on “It’s against my moral code”.

Now, it didn’t matter that we separate church and state in the country.  It didn’t matter that it didn’t match the moral code of plenty of other people.  It didn’t matter that many of the people espousing draconian punishment against these Evil Whores used their services themselves (think David Vitter).  And it certainly didn’t matter that the “oppressed” providers were themselves saying, “Hey, no; I’m not oppressed!  I want to be paid a fair wage for my difficult and involved work and not be at risk of harassment and arrest just for my work!”  Or as they put it now:  Sex work is work.

I am bringing all this up for two reasons:  There have been a raft of laws proposed or passed recently (like #C36 in Canada, or the law in Alaska) in an effort to eliminate sex work, and today is Speak Up for Sex Workers Day (h/t Maggie McNeill).

Now, like every other political effort nowadays, this isn’t what the proponents of these new and draconian laws say.  The efforts in favor of what is called “the Swedish model” or “the Nordic model” say that by following this model will “end demand”–i.e. they target the clients rather than the sex workers–and thus give the oppressed sex workers the incentive to find “legitimate” work.

That “end demand” hasn’t worked with alcohol, cocaine, crack cocaine, crystal meth, marijuana, or any other thing we’ve tried to “end demand” on, doesn’t detract these social warriors.  That prohibition doesn’t work is something they don’t acknowledge.  Hell, they outlawed absinthe, and people are drinking it again.  And we’re talking about sex here, not drugs.  Do they really think putting laws in place will cause people to stop?  They know this is nicknamed “the oldest profession”, right?

They are convinced it will work, and refuse to listen to the sex workers who keep telling them a) It makes their work more dangerous and b) They don’t want rescuing, thank you very much.  They are convinced they have The Solution, a solution that literally has eluded every single society since the beginning of history.  I mean, seriously, think about that.

After much reading on the topic it’s pretty clear that the advocates both on the far right (religious folks) and far left (radical feminists) both just think sex work is eeeeeeeevil, and this is one way to try to eliminate it.  I’ll leave as an exercise for the student the weirdness of radical feminists and fire-and-brimstone Christian fundamentalists being in bed together on this (and yes, that was deliberate).  But their purported reasons don’t hold up; they want to remove the choice of work from the sex workers.  They know better.  The sex workers to these people are “fallen women”, victims, deluded; they only think they want to be engaged in sex work.  Once they realize the error of their ways–either that it’s immoral, or an oppressive continuation of the patriarchy, depending on who is arguing about it–these sex workers will be happy to be church secretaries or telephone sales people or whatever.  They’re just deluded and need to be educated, or victims needing to be saved.

I’ll let you go ahead and think about the epic level of condescension required for the point of view.  Me, I am immediately suspicious when Person A purports to be doing something for Person B’s “own good”.  “It’s for your own good” is generally a smokescreen behind which lays “I think what you’re doing is icky and wrong”.

One of the big ways anti-sex worker activists (and their name is legion) push their agenda is by intentionally blurring and obscuring the line between human trafficking and sex work. (Not to mention continually repeating the same exploded myths and statistics about sex work, like “the average age of entry is 13″, which is just flagrantly untrue.)  Let me be crystal-effin’-clear here:

Human trafficking is evil.  I tell you three times and what I tell you three times is true:  Human trafficking is evil; human trafficking is evil; human trafficking is evil.

But here’s the thing:  The majority–the vast majority–of human trafficking is not for sex work.  Nope.  22%.  Yes, that’s still terrible; but why are we harassing sex workers who are in that business by choice (i.e. they are by definition not trafficked) and their clients over that 22%?  Further, since the vast majority of sex workers being abused by the police and courts are in that job by choice, we are not even helping that 22%!  And why are we so focused on that 22% that we are basically ignoring the other 78%, who are stuck in garment factories in lower Manhattan, or out on farms living in hovels in essential slavery in the Southwest, or doing dangerous construction work all around the world?  Aren’t those people deserving of our attention?  And why are we wasting money and effort on sex workers who aren’t trafficked and are doing their work by choice when that effort could be spent helping all those other trafficked people?  Where’s the logic?

And the answer is, the unholy left-right anti-sex worker alliance isn’t using logic; they think sex work is icky and should be ended, and there’s no evidence to support the idea that they give a rip about the other trafficking victims.

So what can we do, here on this particular day during this particularly time when seemingly every small hamlet and big city wants to “crack down on those prostitution rings”?  Glad you asked!

First, you should read up a bit and not swallow the anti-sex worker propaganda whole.  Here.

You can’t argue against someone who has religious convictions; like in the anti-abortion fights, the best you can do is fight against them.  And the folks who believe that sex for pleasure is evil are living in a completely different universe than the one I occupy.  Frankly, I think they need clinical help.  If God gave you the ability to get pleasure from sexual stimulation, doesn’t it make you more godly to seek that pleasure?  Where in the Torah does it say self-pleasure, or pleasure with a partner, is evil?  (Pro Tip: It doesn’t.  But boy, you should read some of the rationalizations some folks try to use to justify their “no masturbation!” perspective!)

But you can shine a bright light on government agencies (police departments, prosecutors offices, etc.) who waste enormous amounts of money running “sting” operations on “crimes” that have no victims.  Is that what we want them doing, rescuing “fallen” women who haven’t asked to be “rescued”, and busting men who are just seeking pleasure and are willing to pay for it?  Wouldn’t public monies be better spent, oh, hey, I dunno:  Serving and protecting?  (And this isn’t even going into the profound, astonishing, ridiculous hypocrisy where the same police officers who expect to use a sex worker’s services for free later turn around and bust the same sex workers.  And yes, it happens all the time.)

But most importantly, you yourself should start treating sex workers–in your own mind, and by your behavior–as workers, just as deserving of respect as tech writers, or computer programmers, or electricians, or police officers, or soldiers.  Sex work is work.  Like with any work, sex workers are doing it to pay the bills (though many enjoy their work), and how many of us love our work?  I mean, I do, but I’m well aware I’m in the minority.  Sex work is work.  Keep telling yourself that.

And then go out and tell others.  Cuz that’s the only way the word will get out.

Content in an Online World: A Modest Proposal

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This pic will make sense later, I promise

When I went to New Zealand at the age of 27, some of the things it taught me were about the United States.  For example, at that time Baywatch and Pam Anderson were hugely, wildly popular, and a question my friend Tim and I often heard, especially when people learned we were from California, was:  Is that what it’s really like?  (“Only in Venice,” I said to one.)  Another thing I learned was the sheer variety of food we had available in California.  At a small grocery store near Christchurch–a decent-sized city–they had two sets of lunch meat.  Not three types of meat; three sets, period.  You could have ham, or beef.  By manufacturer X.  That was it; your choices.  You didn’t get to decide between grain-fed beef or free-range turkey or whatever; this packet of ham, or that packet of beef.  Thanks for shopping!

But the other big thing I noticed about America while I was in New Zealand was . . . standarization.  We’re big into standards here.  Not quality standards; design standards.  Not to gross you out, but the place I noticed it most was in plumbing fixtures, specifically urinals.  Here, urinals either look like vertical (when they’re individual) or horizontal (like in older sports stadiums) bathtubs.  All of them, everywhere.  You go into a men’s room in Omaha and it’ll have a urinal that looks just like the one in your office park in Mt. View.  Oh, there’ll be a bit of variety; here there are self-flushing ones, there you have to use a handle and flush manually.  But in the main, standards.  Hell, there’s a company that makes this stuff called, naturally enough, “American Standard“.  We like to standardize.

So you’d think (he said, finally getting to the point) that after 20 or so years, Web pages would be pretty standardized by now.  That at least there’d be some agreements on some basic things, like putting an author’s name and email address on there, or some such.  But if you think that, you’d be out of luck.  And so, in an effort to correct this rather egregious error, I offer to you a very, very short list of simple things everyone can do to their web sites to make life much better for everyone.  So pay attention!  I’ve been writing online content for longer than the web has existed, and I actually know what I’m talking about here!

Every web page, everywhere, should have a date stamp.  You’d think this goes without saying, but apparently it doesn’t because a lot of otherwise fine sites don’t follow this rule.  Why is it important?  Because in an online world, you can’t always tell by looking how old a post is.  You’re reading a post that you got to through google and thinking, “Wait, there’s a chance of a government shutdown?”, and then do a little digging and find that you’re reading a post from 2009 or something.  Why make readers guess?  Put the date stamp right up there at the top.

Another important ease-of-use issue is:  Don’t make readers click through dozens of pages.  Yes, I know it ups your click counts; yes, I know you can squeeze in more advertisers that way; yes, I know you can sucker readers into accidentally clicking on ad links that are made to look like a “Next page ->” link.  And you know what?  That’s a good long-term strategy for driving away readers.  I once clicked on a link that was The Top 100 [something]–I can’t remember what–and they were all on their own separate page.  Does the writer, or more likely the editor or site owner, really think anyone is going to click through that many pages?  It’s absurd.  I got out of there in a hurry.  I wonder how many hits they got on page 100; close to zero, I’m guessing.

If you feel you must have click throughs, at least give your readers the option of reading it as a single page.  Yes, it’s more work for you–which is why I urge you to make your content a single page to begin with!–but it will make your readers happy.  Buzzfeed has plenty of long lists, and they don’t force you to go to multiple pages and they’re doing pretty durn good.

And speaking of multiple pages, for the love of God, don’t force open a whole bunch of new pages or tabs when they’re all associated with your site.  I went to pay my daughter’s tuition and opened up the main college site.  This told me to go to the student site which, when I clicked, opened a new tap in my browser.  Then when I logged in and click the “payment plan” button, it opened up yet another new tab; I now had three separate tabs open when all I wanted was to pay the durn bill.  Bad design, ACC.  And again, if you feel you must open new tabs or pages, let your readers choose at least.

Another feature I think should be avoided is forcing people to “sign up” with your site in order to leave comments.  I’ve gone to [random site] following a link from Twitter or Facebook, left a comment, and then had the site ask for my name and email address at a minimum, or access to my Twitter, Facebook, or whatever account.  First, stop calling the name field “name”; call it “handle” or “alias” or something so that people know they don’t have to use their real names.  But even better would be to stop doing it altogether.  I don’t mind my regular sites having that information, but the Atlanta Constitution-Journal or whatever just because I went there that one time?  Silly.

Related to that is the obnoxious “opt out” practice.  Most sites that use your email are at least polite enough to inform you and give you a “please don’t spam me” checkbox (sometimes checked by default, sometimes not–another tip:  Let it always be unchecked by default!).  But there are clearly plenty that just grab your email address and start sending you spam, which you then have to opt out of by clicking a link to an “opt out” page.  Don’t do that to your readers.  And if you have an “opt out” page or pages, don’t force them to answer why they’re opting out; the answer is simple: They’re tired of spam from you!  There, I’ve told you; stop asking!

In a similar, and much more obnoxious, vein is the pop-up (or whatever the hell they’re calling it now).  Again, it’s an issue of revenue, I’m sure, but two things to avoid: Don’t let it cover the entire page, and have a big, clear, easy-to-find, easy-to-tap “X” in either the upper-right or upper-left corner.  That’s where years of Mac or PC use have taught us to look to close stuff.  Making the pop-up cover the whole page; having it stay there for a pre-allotted time before you can close it; making it a video that plays automatically; giving it an audio track that plays automatically; making it look like you can close it but really it takes you to another page; all these are douche moves.  Don’t do them.

Finally–and I know this will be controversial for some–include the author on each piece.  On technical documents on corporate sites this isn’t a real need; on opinion pieces, it really is.  And if you don’t want to use your real name–and I know plenty who not only don’t, but legally can’t–use your nome de plume or alias or handle or whatever you write behind, and then include a link to where people can voice their opinions other than the comments page.  I think a link to folks’ Twitter accounts is good, but maybe just set up an email account–I’ve got five (I think)–where people can send stuff.  Will most of it be dreck?  Of course.  But one of the benefits of online content is that it makes people feel there are less layers between you and the writer.  When I read a Matt Taibbi piece to which I take issue, I don’t comment after the post or send mail to Rolling Stone, I tell Taibbi on his Twitter feed.  Maybe he doesn’t respond, but it feels as if he might.  And improving people’s feelz when it comes to online content is what we’re talking about here.

Anyway, those are a few of the things I’ve noticed in my time online, and think we should strive to standardize against.  What about you?

We Need More Women in High Tech, Dammit!

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Jordan from “Real Genius”, who I adored
(Image courtesy of the Cult Film Club)

Note: This is longer than my usual blog-post.  It’s on a topic that is both complicated, and one I think is really important, but it may strike you as tl;dr.  I’m okay with that.  For the rest of y’all, read on:

Despite the fact that it is a trite observation that “women and men are different”, and bearing in mind that gender is both more fluid and less binary than we are taught growing up, these differences–which permeate basically every facet of our lives–have been and continue to be an important area of study for psychologists, sociologists, and even relatively unimportant schlubs like me. (One of the best books on this topic that I’ve read is Deborah Tannen’s “You Just Don’t Understand”, which I highly recommend.

Now, the reasons behind this are up for debate. Some–radical feminists, for example–say that it’s the patriarchy’s method of keeping women subjugated. Other theories abound (“It’s due to religion”; “It’s a holdover from the Middle Ages”; “It’s a holdover from the hunter/gatherer era”; etc.). But I’m not interested in exploring any of that.

I mention this right up front as a preface to what I’ve seen, and what I think about what I’ve seen, with women and the reactions of men in the high tech world. I’ve written about some of that in another post, so I won’t rehash that in depth. Instead I want to focus on “typical” male and female reactions to certain situations, and how that affects the advancement (or lack thereof) in that environment.

A former manager of mine, Margaret Dawson, has written an excellent post (Seriously: read it!) on this topic, and if I’m successful this will be a good companion piece to her thoughts and observations. You might even read her post first, if you have a mind to.

These are generalizations, of course. I recognize that. And I recognize the fluidity of gender and its potential impact on these observations. But I have seen too much of what I note below to think this stuff isn’t widespread, so I hope you can read with an open mind.

“Men Don’t Cry”

This is a stupid trope that has been around as long as I’ve been alive. Heck, it’s in some literature–science fiction literature, no less–that I still enjoy. “Don’t cry in public”; “Make sure you’re alone in the bathroom if you have to cry”; “Crying shows weakness”; even “There’s no crying in baseball”. All macho baloney of course, but it’s deeply stuck in the culture.

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Oy, enough already with the yelling!

Why mention it? Well, when men are angry, they yell. We’ve all heard stories about high-tech executives who behave like–let’s be honest here–spoiled little children. Yelling, screaming, throwing things, calling people names, cursing up a blue streak that would cause a sailor to blush. (Well, maybe.) Men get mad, and they yell.

When women get mad–and again, this is a generalization, but one I’ve seen many many times and had it confirmed by many women–they cry. It’s their emotional response. It doesn’t matter why–Deborah Tannen probably has a whole book on it–it only matters that it happens.

Add that to the fact that many men have very strong responses to female tears; embarrassment, shame, anger, even (so I’ve read) sexual excitement. (It’s never affected me that way, but I can believe it.)

Now mix it together. A woman gets angry during a meeting, or in a 1-1 interaction; what happens? She’s a weakling, she “can’t take the heat” and should “get out of the kitchen”. She needs more and bigger balls. She needs to toughen up. This is business, not personal, and business isn’t bean-bag toss. It’s tough; you need to be tough, too. Etc.

(As a side note the only time I ever hear “It’s just business, it’s not personal” is when someone has either just screwed you over, has screwed over someone else, or is planning on screwing someone over, and they want to salve their ego. And in my view, it’s epic baloney.)

There are really only two options here: Force yourself to learn another set of emotional responses to external stimulus (it can be done, but it’s hard), or teach men to be respectful of the different ways in which women respond to situations that make them angry. Neither of these is an easy solution, but these are emotional reactions, for most folks below the conscious level; it seems unlikely we’ll see a lot of advancement for women in high tech executive positions until both are addressed. Both, not just one or the other.

Men Expect Advancement as Their Due

One thing in Margaret’s post was that has long struck me was her recounting how many of her fellow women executives wondered how to advocate for themselves, how to get the advancements that they seemed to earn, how to ask for it. What hit me most of all were the women who advanced rapidly or highly, and were considered “heroes” for doing so.

You shouldn’t have to be a “hero” in order to advance. Reasons to advance someone in a hierarchy are various, but most folks expect the value of their work to be recognized, and for them to advanced based on that recognition. But you also have to advocate for yourself, because your manager–no matter how good he is–may not know of your goals, or advocate strongly for you, or think you want advancement. Only you can avoid being trapped in a position because “that’s where you excel”.

As a rule, men advocate for themselves; it’s expected, it’s not surprising, and it’s not denigrated in the least. Indeed, a number of managers have told me that it was good I did.

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Hoo boy

Women on the other hand are in a double-bind. While it’s made advances since I was a kid, society still treats girls and women to “be seen and not heard”, to be demure, quiet, not strong personalities. (My partner and I have gone out of our way to avoid our daughter being inculcated with this idiotic trope.)

If a woman follows this line, she doesn’t advocate for herself, expecting (reasonably) that her efforts will be justly rewarded. And as I already alluded, a lot of time that simply doesn’t happen (unless, ironically, a male co-worker goes to bat for them–which I have done myself on a number of ocassions).

But if a woman does have the temerity to advocate for herself, it’s almost impossible for her to do so in a way that doesn’t mark her as “pushy”, “grasping”, or “a real bitch”. She can be asking for her due in a far less direct manner than her male co-workers and still be branded as “a pushy bitch”, despite how enormously unfair this is.

Are there male executives out there who don’t behave this way? Sure. But as Margaret’s post shows you, they’re in short supply.

Nerd Culture is Inherently Sexist

If you had any doubt about this, one can only hope that “gamergate” changed your mind, as gamers are very similar to nerds and the two overlap quite a bit.  (If you don’t know anything about it, Google it; it’s too long to summarize here.)  Or you can read my brief overview of the problem in a previous blog post.  But a few details of that culture are relevant and I wanted to mention them.  (And I tell you three times and what I tell you three times is true:  I am well aware that these are generalizations.  But I’ve seen them demonstrated so often it would make your head explode.)

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Turnabout is fair play, mo’fos!

Nerds wear jeans and t-shirts.  Yes, it’s superficial and at base a silly observation, but it hints at something deeper, and is another double-bind for women.  If they dress like a nerd in jeans and t-shirts, they’re not being feminine; they’re being butch, they must not like guys, they must be the female equivalent of self-hating Jews, etc.  You won’t believe some of the nasty things I’ve heard (mostly younger) nerds say about women who actually dress the part.  But by the same token, if you dress nicely, you’re a “distraction”, you’re not a real nerd, you’re paying more attention to your clothes than your work, etc. etc.

Guys swear, girls don’t.  As I mentioned in my other blog post, if a guy swears, he’s just being a guy. If a woman does, it’s inappropriate.  I have seen CEOs, Senior VP’s, “distinguished engineers”, and other men at high levels behave in a manner that is, shall we say, unacceptable outside a locker room.  In meetings.  Yelling, swearing, banging on things; it’s all okay.  But if you are a woman, oh my land, do the Mrs. Grundy’s of the world come out.  “How shocking!”  “Not acceptable!”  “Inappropriate!”  “What a bitch!”  Etc.  And of course if you don’t swear, or use alternatives, you sound as ridiculous as Ian McShane would saying, “Well drat it all!” on “Tombstone”.

Guys watch sports.  Look, just because a lot of nerds didn’t play sports doesn’t mean they don’t watch them.  (Though of course many nerds did and do.  I’d still be doing sports if my body hadn’t collapsed on me.  Another story.)  Fantasy football.  Baseball.  Football.  Soccer.  “Hey, did you see the Sharks game?”  “Do you have tickets to the Spurs?”  “Are the ‘horns ever going to the Rose Bowl again?”  Etc.  This filters into the language, where as many feminists have pointed out makes sports metaphors pervasive.  “We have to swing for the fences”; “It’s fourth and one and we need to go for it”; “We need a home run here”; “We’re going to have to punt”; etc.

Sure, there are plenty of women who like sports, and can fit in with this, but not all of them.  To push it to the other extreme, while there are some metrosexual guys out there who might feel comfortable speaking about upcoming software projects in terms of makeup, if a female project manager started saying things like, “We used the wrong shade of lipstick on that; we went with a pink and we should have gone with a deep red”, I have to think there’d be a lot of uncomfortable squirming around the table and guys talking to each other afterwards saying, “What the FUCK was she talking about?”

And that’s exactly the point, kids.

Now What?

I’ve always hated articles, books, blog posts, or what have you that point out some problem in society and then say various versions of, “How this all plays out in the future . . . remains to be seen.  I’m Biff Clicherstein, CBS News.”  No.  Suggestions, thoughts, ideas; if you’re going to kvetch about something, the least you should do is propose a solution or two, no matter how ridiculous it may sound.  As people in high tech say, put something up there so you can shoot arrows at it.  That’s the only way to make ideas arrow-proof.

So what do I think?  I think a few things, most that have been proposed before, some of which will be, to put it mildly, hard to implement.

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Kaylee from “Firefly”, who looks best w/ engine grease on her

  • Start ‘em young.  In the 70s, a lot of people made fun of attempts to produce gender-neutral toys.  Yeah, okay, sometimes the 70s went a bit far, but why not?  And why not market toys to the entire spectrum of kids?  My boy loved his sister’s Dorothy costume ruby slippers; why not?  We gave my daughter dolls and Mack trucks.  Girls can’t love the LEGO Millennium Falcon?  Why the heck not?  Don’t limit your kids.  Now, just because my daughter turned into a girly-girl who loves pink doesn’t mean we didn’t work hard to give her options.  And that’s the point; she made her own choices.  Don’t make them for your kids; let them make them.
  • Similarly, be aware that gender is not binary, that there are more options than The Manly Boy and the Girly Girl.  There are girly-boys, and boyish girls, and little boys who will grow up and decide that they were girls all along, and all kinds of variants all over the spectrum.  Be aware of it, and don’t force your kid into a mold.  The mold of the Barbie, pink-wearing, “math is hard”, I can’t fix engines type is a trap.  Sure, they can choose that, but the key is giving them the choice.  Trust me on this:  Not every “Firefly” fan is stuck on the “classic” beauty Inara; Kaylee and River and Zoe have plenty of fans, too.  Don’t force your girl to be Inara if she wants to be Kaylee.  (Yes, I am a nerd, too.  Sue me.)
  • More video games with female heroes.  And with a greater variety of body types, please.  Humans come in all sizes.  Yeah, soldiers are going to be more buff, but all women don’t have D-cup boobs and trust me on this one, those that do don’t usually go around in skin-tight spandex.  Use some imagination here.
  • More movies with female heroes.  How many people kicked up a fuss when they talked about Black Widow not being in the second Avengers movie, huh?  Don’t tell me there’s no market for it.  Two of the best science fiction shows on TV are “Orphan Black” and “Lost Girl”, both with female protagonists (and both with bi and lesbian characters, I might add; start clutching those pearls, Mrs. Grundy!).

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The stars of “Lost Girl”–not the “female stars”, the stars

  • Enough with the fucking sports metaphors.  I’m a guy and I’m tired of them.  Can’t we come up with something a little more imaginative?  We have access to almost all the knowledge of human history through our effin’ phones and we have to stick with sports metaphors?  C’mon!
  • Positive encouragement of girls in STEM classes all through K-12.  This has to be a priority.  Kids learn early what their roles are, and we keep letting girls get shunted into the “girly” tracks right from kindergarten, we are dooming ourselves.  How many potential female engineering geniuses are dying on the vine because of sexism?  My mother’s side of the family is hella smart.  Really smart.  And with what result?  My grandmother attempted suicide; her mother suicided, and so did her mother.  I don’t know the reasons, but it couldn’t have been easy to be a smart, strong-willed woman in an era where that was strongly quashed.  We need all our brainpower; let’s not quash it.
  • Affirmative action for women in college STEM programs; and yes, that’s right you right-wing jerks:  I’m talking about quotas.  When the playing field gets leveled, maybe we’ll change it back.  Right now, with what, 13% of high tech engineering jobs filled by women, you want to whine about quotas?  That’s just plain stupid.  We need to crank our butts into gear, get women in STEM, and keep them there.
  • In these last two, we need to treat sexism with the same level of intervention as bullying is now treated (and boy I wish we had had that anti-bullying stuff when I was in school!).  Have sexist jerks be brought before the Vice Principal and read the riot act, given detentions and suspensions.  Stop that kind of nonsense in its tracks.

Just like how in the end it wasn’t necessary for gays and lesbians to “act straight” in order to start getting equal rights, I see no reason why women should be forced to “act like nerds” in order to make it in high tech.  High tech doesn’t need women acting like nerds; it needs women acting however they act, and everyone getting over it.  If a woman swears, she swears; get over it.  If she dresses in a low-cut top, get over it.  If she uses some kind of metaphor that isn’t sports-related, get over it.  If she cries instead of yelling and throwing things when she gets angry, GET OVER IT.  You cried when Spock died in “Wrath of Khan”; she cries when you acting like a jerk-weed in a meeting.  Deal with it.

And in the meantime, let’s get cracking, shall we?  And if you have any ideas, let’s hear ‘em!

The Anti-Anti-Cosby Ass-Clown Backlash

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Image courtesy of Det Snakker Viom

In case you haven’t been paying much attention to the news–I sure haven’t, honestly; it depresses me–recently Bill Cosby was accused of sexual assault/rape.  He denied it (as one might expect), and a few of his friends defended him and made the (reasonable) point about due process, assumption of innocence, and that he’s a good guy they can’t imagine would have done anything like that.  And I have to admit that it depresses me a lot; my sense of humor is apparently an amalgam of multiple sexual abusers like Woody Allen and Bill Cosby.  Lucky me.  (George Carlin is in there too.  And Bob & Ray and others.)  I don’t want him to be guilty any more than his friends.

But then multiple other women came forward with their own stories, in a manner that makes it hard to believe that Cosby is totally innocent.  And thus the debate was engaged, and the mainstream media went absolutely nuts, as it is wont to do.  Reminded me of the OJ highway chase, honestly.  Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, unemployment, the recent election results, the latest committee report that there is no there there regard Benghazi–all this might as well not exist.  It’s all Cosby, all the time.

A web zine called The Wrap (that I have never heard of) weighed in on the topic several times, and then yesterday published a post by a writer named Richard Stellar (ditto) that was titled, incredibly, “The Rape of Bill Cosby”.  As if this weren’t obnoxious enough, the lead sentence continued in this vein.  “Bill Cosby raped me.  Now that I have your attention . . .”  And it went on like that.  Disguised as an accusation of the media feeding frenzy, Stellar went on to insult victims of rape everywhere (“There is no legitimacy to justice if there is no real evidence, and evidence has a way of vanishing as memories dim with the marching of time”) along with accusing the women who have come forward of trying to “cash in” on the story.

So okay, this was horrific.  It was victim blaming in almost it’s most classic form.  But then, in a response to a Twitter-storm of protest, Sharon Waxman, CEO and lead editor for The Wrap, defended the post and Stellar, insisting it was a 1st Amendment issue and that the outrage was designed to squash alternative views.

What hogwash.

It’s spectacularly clear that Ms. Waxman simply doesn’t get it.  In her “apology” (which I put in quotes because it’s only one level removed from the classic non-apology apology of the form “I’m sorry if anyone’s feelings were hurt” that politicians use all the time), she writes, “Our Hollyblogs are written by independent bloggers and represent their own views.” Ms Waxman, I’m sorry, this is your Webzine; take responsibility for what it prints. Don’t try to fob off responsibility because it’s an “independent blogger”. Besides, as you yourself said, “Richard Stellar has been blogging for TheWrap almost since the site has existed”. Given that, it’s even more critical that you take responsibility; while Stellar may be “independent” in some absolute sense of the word, his long association with your publication renders claims of total independence dubious at best.

She also writes, “What would be the point of only publishing points of view with which we agree?”  This is a classic straw-man argument, one that she has gone to again and again on Twitter.  No one is arguing that.  Indeed, if you had posted–or Stellar had written–a post in defense of Cosby that didn’t denigrate his accusers in the title, not to mention attributing to them motives of which he can have zero knowledge and engaging in an epic spasm of victim blaming, while people would have protested, it would have been more like the “debate” that you say you want.  

I honestly wonder if Ms. Waxman truly does not understand why women are so reluctant to report sexual assaults or domestic violence, or why so many women held their tongues until someone finally couldn’t take it any more and had to report it.  And what is the likelihood that a woman suffering one of the most violating, humiliating of crimes really wants “15 minutes of fame” to talk about it?  I stipulate it’s possible, but must believe it’s very rare.  Particularly against a figure that has been almost universally beloved for more than a generation.  Is Stellar kidding about that?  It’s a ridiculous accusation, and insults the pain and suffering of the accusers.  It’s classic, almost a Platonic ideal, of victim blaming.  That she could publish such a piece and then defend it so vehemently is simply astonishing.

And that is what is at issue here, in my opinion.  Waxman’s TheWrap ran with a post that engaged in insulting, denigrating, dismissive victim blaming right from the title onward, and furthermore was easily interpreted to be insulting to any rape victims, not just those who might have been assaulted by Cosby.  (How many different ways can one interpret “Bill Cosby raped me”, other than as a lame attempt at “humor” that insults rape victims everywhere?  It enraged me, and I’m a male who has never experienced rape; I can’t even imagine how it felt to women who have experienced sexual assault.)

In her “apology” and her Twitter remarks, Waxman keeps trying to make the point again and again that the people protesting Stellar’s post don’t want to engage in debate, and that’s simply not the issue at all.  The issue is the way Stellar addressed his point of view, which was horrific.  It’s not unlike when anti-abortionists call pro-choice folks “baby-killers”.  There is debate, and then there is trolling, victim blaming, insulting, and being inflammatory; Stellar’s post was the latter.  It’s not like there aren’t plenty of “independent bloggers” who would be more than happy to write on this topic without being insulting and dismissive.  Why couldn’t The Wrap engage one of them, post it, and stop engaging in straw-man tactics and trying to grab the higher ground of “freedom of speech”?  Because freedom of speech doesn’t mean a WebZine has to publish everyone’s obnoxious, noxious opinions.  You want to publish an opposing viewpoint, go for it.  You want to continue publishing abrasive click bait, and you’ll keep getting castigated.

It’s up to you, Ms. Waxman.  Here’s hoping you have an open mind, and not just a reflexive defense mechanism.

Musing on a Guy’s Feminism

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt nails it IMO

Because of when I grew up, and in large part because of who my mom is/became, I have been thinking about feminism, women’s rights )reproductive and otherwise), feminism’s relation to sex, how men can (or can’t) be feminists, and so on a good chunk of my life.  Lately, as seems to happen on a regular basis, I’ve seen another round of posts, articles, and thought pieces on whether women can or can’t have it all, and which one is a more feminist approach.

Now, my opinions on the answer to this are inherently bogus cuz I’m not only a guy, I’m a straight, cis-gendered, white guy.  I’m well aware of my privileges and advantages, and how they benefit me basically every single friggin’ day.  Heck, I’ve even written about how much it pisses me off.  If you don’t believe me, or want to tune me out because of that, that’s totally fine.  I’m not trying to mansplain’ here; I’m just musing about what I think.

Now that I’ve qualified my place in the feminist movement, my answer to the “can/can’t she have it all” question is simple:  It’s the wrong damn question.  And this is kind of what I’ve decided feminism boils down to for me:  Equality for all, regardless of gender.  (With gender having the modern, more elastic definition, i.e. including trans folks & etc.)  That’s it.  Pretty simple, and something I have hard time anyone would not want to support.  Which means the question about “having it all” should really be asked this way:

“Don’t you believe everyone, regardless of gender, should have the opportunity and freedom to pursue their dreams in life?”

If you want to try to “have it all”, you should have that freedom (whether you’re a man or a woman!); if you want to just pursue your career, you should have the freedom to do that, without having to face the stuff I’ve seen in high tech; if you want to stay at home and raise your kids (like I did for more than a year!), you should have the freedom to do that.  That’s feminism to me:  The ability to have an equal chance to pursue your dreams, your desires, whether you “want it all” or not, dammit!

Freedom and opportunity; that’s all.

Now, the right wing has done an exemplary job in throwing enough mud at the word “feminism” to make us lefties disown it to a lesser or greater degree.  I’ve given this considerable thought, and on the one hand I think the word “feminism” really sucks–right away, it makes me feel as a man that my help in pushing this really reasonable goal of equal opportunity and freedom is not wanted.  Or worse, actively discouraged, as indeed it is by the radical feminism side of the world.  You know: The folks who believe all penis-in-vagina (PiV) sex is rape; the wymyn who believe any male/female sex is assault.  And the second wave feminists, by saying things like “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” haven’t helped.  You hear that, and it’s pretty reasonable to respond, “Oh yeah?  Okay; fuck you, then!”

And of course, you get a vocal minority of these types of feminists who object to anything that is remotely sex-positive.  Porn is evil; PiV sex is evil; male/female sex is evil; BDSM is evil; kink is evil; opening doors for people perpetuates the patriarchal paradigm; getting married is demeaning (and evil); etc.  You get enough of this and you think, “Yeah, I don’t want to be part of that.  Combine that with the right making you feel bad about it anyway, and the pressure to disown feminism is pretty strong and widely held.

But you know what?  Screw those people!  “Feminism” means equal opportunity and freedom no matter your gender, dammit!  That’s it!  We’re all equal partners in the workplace, the home, raising the kids, forming relationships, sexual play, governing the country, state, and locales, and everything else!  Opposing that is not only sexist and bigoted, it’s anti-American, durn it!  We hold these truths to be self-evident, and all that.

So yeah, I think it’s not a good term for the principle (and “humanist” is worse), and wish we could come up with a better one like when “gay marriage” morphed into “marriage equality”.  (“Genderism”?  “Gender freedom”?  “Gender equality”?  I’m open to suggestions.)  But it’s what we have right now, and the first thing is we need to reclaim the word from the right-wing dipsticks like Rush “Feminazi” Limbaugh and his fellow idiot travelers and make it our own again, just like “liberal”, and to heck with them.  And the second thing is, we gotta get more men on board.

Anyway, that’s what this one guy here thinks.

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I’ve been this guy & the haters can still suck it

GenX is Middle Aged & the World Yawns

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Our dreams are modest–a bit of payback would be nice

Recently I read in Salon that the generation with which I most closely identify–GenX–is now reaching middle age.  The writer repeated a lot of common GenX tropes about how we’re all a bunch of loser slackers who do a lot of whining about our lot.  And as a (more or less) GenXer at the outer edge of middle age, I naturally had a few thoughts on that score.

I may have been born in 1963 and so am, technically, a “Baby Boomer.”  But I’m not.  When people were sticking flowers in guns, I was watching “Romper Room” (and wondering why that damn magic mirror never saw “Doug”).  When women were burning their bras, I was diggin’ on Morgan Freeman as “Easy Reader”.  I wasn’t watching Mrs. Robinson; I was watching “The Brady Bunch.”  You get the picture.  My “generation” came right after the Baby Boom.  We’re a wedge generation; too early for being Gen X; too late to understand sock hops or free love or all that.  We’re not even really a generation; we’re more of a condition.  A state of mind.  A longing, perhaps.

Put it this way:  When I tried to read one of Updike’s “Rabbit” novels–supposedly one of the major literary voices of the Boomer generation–I found it stultifyingly, brain-numbingly tedious.  “Get over yourself!” I kept yelling.  “Stop pining over your lost youth and do something, you useless git!”  If this was a typical “Boomer” voice, not only did I want no part of it, I couldn’t even relate to it.

Why?  Because it seems like as long as I’ve been a conscious entity aware of what was going on outside of my immediate area, the country has been in decline.  It started with Vietnam, of course, but then we had the various economic stuff of the 70s (Gas lines! Stagflation! Runaway inflation! Etc!), Watergate, the constant sense of impending nuclear armageddon (until 1990 or thereabouts), Reagan & Bush I running up the deficit and exploding the deficit and building up the military to a ridiculous level and wedging the income gap wide open, Iran/Contra, the S&L crisis, the housing bubble, the Great Recession, two profoundly stupid wars (which the Boomers got us into)–three if you count the recent mess in Syria, the fact that more than half of our parents got divorced, and on and on.

It’s just been one damn thing after another, as they say.  Sure, no World War III, but it’s not exactly been one long party, has it?

So why is my “generation” the way we are?  Because we’re busy, that’s why.  We have a lot of messes to clean up (some of which, admittedly, we created our own selves, like the tech bubble–though let’s be honest here: We had plenty of help from the Boomers in that one).  We don’t have time to wallow in angst and self-pity like Rabbit; we have to deal with shit.  And we have to do it with less money and more debt (personal and governmental) than previous generations.  And hey, thanks a lot for all that, by the way.

But if you’re wondering why we sometimes whine, there it is.  Sometimes it gets wearisome.  I can’t tell you how many of my friends are so, so, SO tired of having to continue to keep re-fighting the social values wars of the 60s.  Gay rights, women’s rights, sexual freedom, freedom from religion, minority equality, reproductive health and self-determination, even effin’ birth control, for Pete’s sake!  We thought that had been taken care of.  We look at the Tea Party types and their fellow travelers on the far right and want to scream, “You lost those battles!  We won!  WHEN will you get over it?!”  (I’ve personally reached the conclusion, much like Andrew O’Hehir writes in his post on Salon, that we just have to wait for demographics.  i.e., we have to wait for these older, white, cis-gendered, Protestant, heterosexual Republican voting folks to–let’s be frank–die off.  Yeah, yeah; there are some younger folks who have allowed themselves to be brainwashed by the likes of Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, but believe me, they’re a minority.  I just hope and pray they don’t destroy the country entirely in the meantime.  And frankly, I don’t have much hope.)

Now, you may make fun of some of us for moving back in with our parents, taking longer to get married, staying in school longer, etc.  I understand.  But we’re facing some serious shit, here, and we have fewer resources with which to deal with it.  It’s all downsizing, and out-sourcing, and off-shoring, and “make do with less”, and “work smarter not harder”, and rising productivity with no corresponding rise in wages.  Why do you think the tech worker’s social ur-Text is “Office Space” with its “dream of doing nothing”?

So we’re doing our best, which sometimes means living in Mom’s basement while we desperately look for a job that pays us exactly the same in real dollars as they paid dear old Dad in the 70s, with no hope of catching up to the Romney’s, Trumps, Kochs, and the like.  We don’t have the money to just dive into marriage, or buy a new house.  (Sami and I needed a loan to get married!)  We’re struggling, to be blunt about it, but we’re scrubbing away at the mess, and we’re doing our best.

I would never call folks my age and in the bracket 20 years behind me “great”, though I think we do pretty well.  But bear this in mind:  The “greatest generation” was to a large part in a similar boat.  They dealt with the aftermath of WWI, absurd income inequality, a crushing Depression, and a World War that, literally, threatened democracy.  They had Gilded Age jerk-weeds wanting to lord it over them just like we do.  They had Victorian-era blue-noses that wanted to control their wild kids’ sexuality just like we do (though ours are 50s-era).  And I betcha they complained plenty until they hit retirement age, at which point they only complained about kids on their lawn. (Rim shot.)  Will we get that kind of epithet when we retire and people look back on the period of, say, 1990-2020?  Who knows?  But I betcha money we’ll come off better then than we do now.  What we basically lack is a Roosevelt, a member of the rich, monied group who “betrays their class” to stitch society back together.  (If only!)

So yeah, now we’re moving into middle age (some of us are deep in!), and hardly anyone is writing about it.  That’s okay; we don’t seem to get noticed except when we complain or invent the iPhone or something (Jon Ive is a GenXer).  And we don’t seem to go all batshit crazy just cuz we come up with a good idea that makes a lot of money (I’m looking at you, Mark Zuckerberg, member of the “millennials”).  We just keep plugging along and, when it gets to us as it inevitably does, we complain.  So apparently we’re a bunch of slackers who don’t do anything.  No, we don’t; we just clean up messes.  Cuz someone has to.

Note: Some of this content is a repeat of a post I put up on Open Salon in 2009, shortly after Obama’s first Inauguration.

When Being Correct Doesn’t Help

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Image courtesy of PaperBlog

Ever since they shuffled onto the scene in the guise of long-haired hippies in the 60s, the progressive left has been a) continually dismissed and even bashed by elected officials and the mainstream media, and b) been right about a ton of issues, over and over.  So, one item at a time.

“Hippie bashing” is a popular sport in the media and with politicians, especially politicians in Washington.  (Though it’s not limited to them; think Reagan in the 60s and how he treated any kind of left-wing protest on UC campuses.)  The first President I can remember is Richard Nixon, and though he made some nods towards youth, he mostly detested those “dirty hippies”.  And he was hardly alone; when asked in a Town Hall by a caller about drug or marijuana legalization, he simply laughed and moved on to the next question, as if it were such a silly notion it was beneath comment.

Now, of course, dope is legal in several states, “medicinal marijuana” in several others (despite heavy federal crackdowns by a nominally Democratic president), and even the most establishment of figures are saying the War on Drugs is a waste of money, time, resources, and causes people guilty of picayune crimes to be tossed into jail alongside murderers and rapists.  Not to mention that the busts are disproportionately minorities despite the fact that it’s caucasians who are most likely to be toking.

And this is my point:  When Reagan launched his huge escalation of the War on Drugs (alongside the phenomenally idiotic “Just Say No” campaign, the 80s answer to “abstinence-based sex education”, though more anodyne), many, many, many progressives said it was a waste of time and resources; that it would send people to prison for minor crimes to be jailed alongside murderers and rapists, and that it would disproportionately effect the poor and minorities.  And we were derided as dirty hippies, probably stoned, told to shut-up, and assured the government knew what it was doing.  And here we are, 30+ years along, and it’s clear we were dead right.

The same is true for a number of critical, key policies.  The dirty hippies were absolutely right in predicting a war in Iraq would be an endless quagmire that would do no good.  (And despite Bush&Cheney’s efforts to make it appear so, the vast majority of people on the left did not believe Saddam Hussein was better off alive than dead.  Although many Iraqis these days might disagree.)  The dirty hippies were correct in predicting that supply-side economics would cause huge budget deficits, increase the federal debt, and greatly increase income disparity.  (Look, righties:  Supply-side economics doesn’t work.  It doesn’t.  It got a more-than-fair trial at both the national and state levels, and it never works.  Get over it!)  Heck, the list of economic issues on which the progressives have been right and the right-wing wrong alone could fill a book–the effects of increasing the minimum wage (it doesn’t cost jobs); the effects of increasing taxes on the rich (it also doesn’t cost jobs and does increase tax revenue); the effects of regulation on business; and so on.

We hippies insisted that “abstinence-based sex education” would increase the incidences of teen pregnancy and STIs; it does.  We said making abortion outlawed or more difficult to attain would increase illegal abortion rates and the mortality rate among pregnant women; it does.  We said allowing marriage equality would have no negative effect on heterosexual marriage rates; it doesn’t.  Don’t even get me started on the negative impact of militarizing the police and greatly augmenting their numbers, which has led to things like Ferguson and the unbelievable increase in effort and money spent busting sex workers (which I personally believe is the “Drug War” equivalent for this and the next decade, i.e. pointless, expensive, and doomed to fail).  And on and on.  And this isn’t even taking on such Fox “News”-driven nonsense as “unskewing polls”, or their claims about the size of the federal workforce under Obama (it’s decreased dramatically), and all their other crazy nonsense.

(I hate to break it to you, folks on the right, but we progressives have been right a lot. A lot more often than y’all.  You want me to go on?  Injecting capitalism into everything doesn’t work–for-profit prisons, colleges, and health care have all been an expensive disaster.  Industries don’t self-regulate; where pollution restrictions are relaxed, the air, water, and soil becomes more polluted because it is economically better to just keep polluting and pay fines than to clean up your factories; it’s cheaper to just ignore safety violations and let people die in coal-mine explosions and pay the fines; etc.  Printing money in certain situations such as a liquidity trap does not cause inflation.  And on and on.)

And yet, we’re still not taken seriously, despite our track record of accuracy and correctness.  Politicians make fun of us; our questions, comments, and opinions are cast aside as coming from “the crazy left”, even when we’re to the right of Eisenhower; the news media delights in running us down.

It’s even worse, because the way for nominally left-wing politicians to appear “tough” and “manly” (even when they’re women) is to bash them dirty hippies, and the mainstream media absolutely loves it.  I am not entirely sure why; trying to overturn accusations that they’re “too liberal” themselves (which is a load of hooey); embarrassment at their own individual liberal leanings; having been on the outs in high school and wanting to be accepted by the Kool Kids; I have no idea.  But it’s disgusting.  Doubly-disgusting given how often we’re right.  Not to mention the fact that lots of us have short hair, aren’t dirty, own houses, have jobs, are in long-term relationships, etc.  Triply-denigrating, you might say.

And the point is this–and it’s a disheartening one: It’s not enough to be right.  My side of the political spectrum has been right over and over and over for almost as long as I can remember, and 34 years on from “the Reagan revolution”, we’re still not listened to.  The only way you get listened to, apparently, is to use exactly the right words (“inner-city youth” instead of “damn n*ggers”), play to people’s fears, and keep calling the opposition liars even when the opposition is actually, ya know, correct.  (Climate change; endless wars; the effects of Obamacare; etc.)  We’re learning to do it, a bit; calling gay marriage “marriage equality” was a good move.  Referring to global warming as “climate change” was also smart, not to mention more accurate.  But when it comes to fear and demagoguery, the GOP really runs us ragged.

I like to think it’s because folks on the left are, at heart, more honest and good-hearted.  I know that I personally don’t want to resort to those tactics because I keep thinking that if I just lay the facts out for people, they’ll realize that they’ve been hoodwinked, fooled, and lied to, and accept the left-wing policies that have been and continue to help them with open arms.  But alas, I don’t think it’s possible.  But I keep hoping so, because the alternative is a right-wing-led national car crash, and to be honest, I really like this country and want it to succeed.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll do something to cheer myself up.  Watch “Singin’ in the Rain”, maybe, or some Chuck Jones cartoons.  Oy.

Lost Girl: A Guilty Pleasure You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty About

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Images courtesy of Showcase Lost Girl site

We all have guilty pleasures. Maybe you’re a hardcore leftist intellectual whose partner publishes dense books on comparative religion and you read People Magazine on the sly; maybe you’re a professor of Music specializing in Medieval religious music and you follow Miley Cyrus on Twitter and have every one of her albums; maybe your an avowed fan and proponent of the detective novel as major literature, a member of the Baker Street Irregulars, and a regular speaker on the influence of Doyle on modern detective fiction, but you have every episode of Scooby Doo on your Tivo. I dunno what yours is; I just know that people have them.

For me it’s usually some TV show or other. I can rationalize it; for example, I can make a good case that my love of Kim Possible shows my feminist leanings, my support of girl empowerment, and come up with plenty of other pseudo-intellectual nonsense, but the truth is I watch it because it’s funny and Kim kicks ass.

But I want to mention one guilty pleasure that is in some ways truly remarkable: Lost Girl.

At first blush, this is your classic guilty pleasure. Vampires! Werewolves! Succubi! Conspiracy theories and lost civilizations and lots of fight scenes! Lots of hot women in tight leather outfits! Gratuitous ow-neckline cleavage shots!  Girl-on-girl make-out sessions!

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See?  Told ya.

And let’s just stop there and back up a minute. Because here’s the thing:

From a perspective of how women are treated and how GLB (no trans characters that I can remember) relationships are treated, it’s one of the most level-headed shows I’ve ever seen.

The most obvious thing is who this show is about:  A woman.  And her female live-in, non-sexual best friend.  And the main character’s girlfriend.  And her main protagonists:  The leader of the “dark” folks (that’s what they call themselves)–also a woman–and her long-lost mother (yes, a woman).   (And oh, yeah; her sort-of boyfriend the werewolf.)

Seeing a pattern here?

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The three main characters; what’s unusual for TV lead characters about this picture?

I haven’t even mentioned the many, many characters who are on for longer or shorter periods, like Linda Hamilton in a multi-show guest-starring role, or Rachel Skarsten as real-life valkyrie, or . . . well, you get the point.  LOTS of women, and front and center.  This show passes the Bechdel test with ease (although I’m sure there must be an episode somewhere in its five-year run that doesn’t).

And as a middle-aged guy who has always been aggravated by the way women’s roles in film and TV seem divided into two classes (ingenue, and mom), I’m absolutely thrilled that the powerful, strong, independent, sexy (it has to be said; she playing a succubus, for Pete’s sake!), tough, absolutely kick-ass woman who plays the lead is over 40 and (in real life) a mom.  A middle-aged woman who plays an independent person not mooning after some guy or is a mom?  Wow; who’d’a thunk?  And despite the “common wisdom” among Hollywood movie and TV types, it’s run for five seasons.  So put that in your sexist pipes and smoke it, you jerks!

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Lead character, Bo, preparing to kick ass

And finally, I’m incredibly pleased at how unremarked the treatment of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals this show presents.  The lead character is a bisexual woman who has had men, women, and sometimes both as partners and lovers.  Various other characters are straight, gay, or lesbian, and no one makes a big point of it; it’s just part of their character.  We don’t have situations like “Will and Grace” or “Ellen” or many other shows and movies where a big deal is made of the fact that this or that character is gay or lesbian or bi and oh my god shouldn’t we get a lot of credit for being so brave?  Nope; it’s just a natural part of how the characters are portrayed.  And in my opinion, that’s what we’re driving towards, right?  Where being GLBT is so normalized and unremarkable that we don’t, well, remark on it.  (And a lesbian actress plays a lesbian character; heaven forfend!)

Now yes, this show definitely falls into the “guilty pleasure” category in many ways.  Being Canadian, it can show more nudity than US programs, and it takes this as far as it can–lots of beautiful women and men in very revealing clothing.  (Oh yes; men too.  You should see the scene where Bo, the main character, visits her mother’s house and is served–and offered “services” by–her mother’s shirtless, tight-leather-pants-wearing, hunky Chippendale’s male “thralls”.)  Lots of cleavage and tight leather pants and sex scenes.  Not to mention plenty of fighting with swords and knives and fists, claws and cross-bows, you name it.  Our Heroine has a trunk filled with weapons.

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Beefcake on the hoof

So yes, “Lost Girl” is a guilty pleasure on one level, but on another, it’s quite a remarkable show.  If you at all like science fiction, fantasy, or strong, powerful, interesting lead characters, gender equality, and positively-presented (without a lot of self-congratulation) GLB characters and relationships, you might enjoy it, too.

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