Monday, August 31, 2009

The Importance of Tragedy

One of the things I always thought odd about American taste in fiction and cinema is our aversion to tragedy. Filmmakers, in particular, are constantly changing movie endings for American audiences to "lighten" them up. Many British books just aren't carted over the ocean for the simple fact that they're just "too depressing."

I had a lot of trouble understanding this phenomenon. I figured it had something to do with our belief in the American Spirit and Manifest Destiny. I figured we were terrified of tragedy, and in love with the idea that science and progress and good, god-fearing folks could overcome everything.

But it still bugged me. Because I love tragedy. I love watching the inexorable trudging on events toward a inevitable end knowing there's no way to stop it... but watching our heroes bravely try anyway. I like the cathartic rush.

Then I watched this TED talk with Alain de Botton and was suddenly stuck by what he had to say about our aversion to tragedy. Tragedy, he points out, was created to teach us compassion. Instead of looking at somebody who's down on their luck and saying, "God, she's such a loser. She must have done something pretty terrible to end up that way," we learn the old "there but for the grace of god go I" lesson. We learn that each person who's down on their luck isn't a loser, but merely "unfortunate."

But in America, we don't believe in misfortune. We believe in pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps. We figure that bankrupt people living out of a friend's house, unemployed, with chronic medical conditions, working temp jobs, are just... losers. Lazy. Meritless. After all, if they worked hard and had merit, they'd be winners, right? They'd be successful American entrepreneurs.

But what our American dream ignores - each and every time - is the influence of tragedy on people's lives. We don't like tragedy. We don't like the idea that sometimes you really do get hit on the back of the head with a shovel for no reason. Sometimes, shit happens.

Because if shit happens, then we can't ignore the bum on the street. We can't plead entitlement for healthcare. We can't just say, "If you don't own your own house, you're a loser," or "if you don't have a car, you're a loser."

Without tragedy, without teaching compassion and morality by putting us all in the shoes of good people who experience bad things, we look down on the poor, the uninsured, the bankrupt, the destitute, with scorn, derision, and not one ounce of compassion. After all, they must have *done* something (or *not* done something) to get there, right? I'm good, I'm hard working. That will never happen to *me.*

I mourn our lack of tragedy.

Excuse me, ma'am, I'm busy trying to figure out which way I'll choose to prevent you from receiving healthcare

In conversation with my mother:

"Well, with this Obamacare thing, we'll all get rationed healthcare."

"Mom, do you even know what `public option' means?"

"The government's taking over healthcare!"

"Mom, the government isn't running healthcare. All they want to do is expand Medicare to cover people who don't have insurance or are underinsured. That's it."

(long pause)

"Are you SURE?"

"Yes, mom. I have a chronic health condition. This is something I actually looked into."

"Well, what's to stop employers from just dropping our insurance then, if there's a public option?"

"Because Medicare SUCKS, mom. Doctors treat you like crap. You still pay copays for insurance. It's a shitty insurance program for poor and desperate people. Nobody fucking wants to be on Medicare. But for poor people, or people with chronic conditions, or other folks who can't afford health insurance - it's *something.*"

"But --"

"Ok, mom. Think of it this way. It's like the post office. You can go to the post office and have a letter sent for cheap, and it takes 5-7 days to get there, right? And you wait in a long line and the employees are surly. Or you can go to UPS or Fedex and get it shipped overnight and walk right up to the counter and everyone treats you great. You still get your letter sent. It's just that the service and speed you get from the post office sucks compared to UPS and Fedex. But! It's affordable. The postal service makes it possible for everyone to send a letter, not just rich people. All they want to do is create an insurance version of the U.S. postal service. And the post office certainly hasn't put DHL, Fedex, or UPS out of business."

"Are you SURE?"

"Yes, mom."

"But... then why do they make it sound like a government takeover of healthcare?"

"Speaking as somebody in marketing and communications, I can tell you exactly what I'd say as a communications manager at a big insurance company... and `government takeover of healthcare' is it. These are the same talking points the insurance companies dragged out back in 1993, the last time we tried to get healthcare reform going. Because the other stuff in this bill - which the insurance companies aren't keen on advertising - is that there's going to be a lot more regulation for the insurance companies. Dropping bank regulations on the banking industry in the 90s helped create the greedy meltdown last year, and having an unregulated insurance industry is what's turning health care into a greedy meltdown. The bill will eliminate lifetime caps on coverage and force them to cover people with pre-existing conditions (among other things). These companies make billions of dollars a year. This is their marketing strategy. Tell people the government's taking over healthcare, and people freak out. I do a lot of marketing stuff. I provide people with a lot of talking points. Now think of somebody who's making about 8 times what I make sending press releases to every talk show host and major news outlet in America about what's become a totally political issue and spending millions in money lobbying your representatives. Scary talking points make much better news than `expanding Medicare.' People who are afraid are really easy to manipulate."

"Well, I just don't know how it'll all turn out."

"I don't either. But it'll be really interesting to find out."

(for those interested, here is the actual latest version of the bill. Wiki-like forum where you can actually comment on diff't sections of the bill. Very cool.)

Friday, August 28, 2009

V Remake

Would not be at all excited about this... except that got the absolute most perfect person to play the alien leader, Anna. This clip shows just how perfect she is.


When Your Results Confirm Existing Biases, Check Your Controls

I do love it when somebody has one of those, "Oh, shit, we totally missed something incredibly obvious" moments.

The mere act of physically approaching their potential romantic partner, behavior far more typical of men than women, makes people more confident and increases their attraction to their potential partner. In other words, by acting more like men (by physically approaching their dates), they begin to think more like them as well (by being more confident, aggressive, and less selective). In support of their embodied cognition hypothesis, Finkel and Eastwick show that, whether they are men or women, “rotators,” who approach their dates, have greater self-confidence than “sitters,” who are approached, and once they statistically control for self-confidence, the institutional arrangement (whether men or women rotate) ceases to have any effect on whether men or women were more selective.

Quote of the Day

All life is only a set of pictures in the brain, among which there is no difference betwixt those born of real things and those born of inward dreamings, and no cause to value the one above the other.

— H. P. Lovecraft

Friday, August 21, 2009

Take a Nap

So, what are ya'll doing next Thursday?

I will be one of 8 guest speakers at Dayton's first Pechu Kucha night held at C{space (20 N. Jefferson St.) in downtown Dayton, OH on Thursday, August 27th (that's next Thursday!).

Doors open at 6:30 pm for mingling. Program starts at 7:20 (if you're just coming for me... (oohhhh, imagine that!!) I'm currently on the program as the second-to-last speaker. Each presentation is just 6 min 40 secs, so you do the math).

I'll be talking about, "Why science fiction (and/or fantasy)?" as a popular creative medium. This will also brush up on the old "Where do all your ideas come from?" question, and I will try not to be snarky about it. The person who asked me to participate in this event is largely unfamiliar with my work, so I think they're going to be a little startled with my answers.

Should be a good time.

Admission is $20, but includes free beer and sandwiches. I'm not actually getting paid for this, so best guess is the $$ are going toward your beer and sandwiches... and supporting the Dayton creative community (?), etc. etc..

So if you come, indulge, and indulge often!

Another Interesting Tidbit

This was a tidbit of particular interest to me from the article I link to below:

Indeed, some scholars say they believe the reason Muslim countries have been disproportionately afflicted by terrorism is not Islamic teachings about infidels or violence but rather the low levels of female education and participation in the labor force.

Like everyone else, I, too, am curious about how a female dominated society whipped up into religious fervor would act. There's a lot of reasoning that societies of women will be inherently more peaceful than those where men predominate in public life.

As you'll see in God's War (and much of my short fiction), this isn't a belief I ascribe to. The issue may not even be religion (see the recent reaction in the U.S. to healthcare reform). I think there's a deeply human fear of change and "the other," and I just don't believe that switching the genders of the participants will change anything.

It's like saying that since I'm a woman, it's impossible for me to be a misogynist. Um, hello? I was raised in a misogynist society. I've said on many occasions that I'm one of the biggest misogynists I know. I'm *aware* of that casual misogyny (and casual racism, also a byproduct of growing up in a racist society), and I work hard every day to fight it. But if you put somebody - no matter their gender - into a society that glorifies war/conquest/God/bloody triumph, you will create a violent people.

Viking women spent a good deal of time alone on their islands while men were away, and they were more than capable of slaughtering any wayward band of mauraders who came their way. I think that glorifying violence is what makes people violent. If violence truly was considered repugnant, effeminate (for lack of a better word), cowardly, debase, and truly morally wrong under any circumstances, our lives - in a society run by women or men - would be far different.

The question then being, "Are societies of women less likely to glorify violence than societies of men?" To which I'd reply, "It depends."

Where did their beliefs come from? Have they risen to "power" from within a violent society? Did they have to do it violently? Is there religion/society already glorifying violence? How would they distort themselves to fit the culture? Because let's take a good, hard look at how women distort themselves to fit into our culture. Think about that for a minute. Old beliefs remain, and if you're a women dominated society that's constantly under attack from the outside, you're either going to find ways to defend yourself... or your women-friendly society isn't going to last very long.

It's the Women, Stupid

In many poor countries, the greatest unexploited resource isn’t oil fields or veins of gold; it is the women and girls who aren’t educated and never become a major presence in the formal economy. With education and with help starting businesses, impoverished women can earn money and support their countries as well as their families. They represent perhaps the best hope for fighting global poverty.

And yet, for all the great information in this story... I was struck by how there was little to no mention of changing *men's* behaviors and *men's* attitudes toward women. Yes, give women aid, education, to lift populations out of poverty... but how does one go about changing the cultural attitude that women are beasts of burden?

By allowing them to make a buck, I guess. Which seems like an oddly capitalist solution. We measure the value of a life... by how much money it can make.


Not arguing with the solution. Just... concerned about that solution. Read the very excellent, For Her Own Good: 150 Years of the Experts' Advice to Women for more about how the industrial revolution actually contributed to the *devaluation* traditional "women's work."

Like everybody else, we've just had to learn to do new things.

But you know what? Men have - and continue to need to - learn new ways of living, too. Giving women all the burden of change while excusing men who spend their family's money on alcohol and prostitutes... well.


For those tired of reading about this crap and want to make a difference, I recommend Kiva.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Michelle Rodriguez has signed on to the cast of Robert Rodriguez's Machete, which will be out next year.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Urgency Care Tomorrow

What I love about reading Diabetes Mine (she's another Omnipod Pump user) is that pretty much anything that's happened to her while using the pump also, eventually, happens to me. She's got an incredible resource of t1 diabetes information that has really helped me get a handle on my illness and the most up to date info. There's nothing like reading the musings of another t1 who strives for optimum health.

I've been debating about whether to visit Urgency Care for my pump site infection, which, sadly, has not gotten better despite cleaning and dressing twice a day for the last two days (discovered it Thursday night when I pulled off my old pump to change it out).

Finally, I did some googling today and found this post about Amy's own pump site infection, which pretty much looks exactly like mine (only mine is on my thigh, and is redder than hers, as I was silly enough not to jump over to the doc immediately, as she did).

As I cleaned and drained the wound again tonight, I realized that if J. had something that looked this bad, I'd make him go to Urgency Care.

Yeah. Urgency Care tomorrow for me. Bah. I fucking hate doctors.

West Coast Trip Photos

For those who haven't seen them, here's the full set of J and I's West Coast Trip photos.


My God, that was a depressing movie.

Don't get me wrong: the Taliban is utterly fucking depressing (and fascinating. What made the movie are the ways people get around laws enforced by Draconian regimes. I've looked a lot into how Iranians have gotten around these sorts of laws, and it's a good illustration of why a Draconian society eventually breaks down, but I digress). But my God, could we get just one good thing happening for this kid?

I kept expecting her to stand up for herself. Her mother and grandmother basically force her to dress like a boy so she can go out of the house to work. The three of them are starving, her mother's always trying to get a man to escort her (since her husband is dead and she can't go outside without a male relative). But the kid never gets a break. Not once. And she's been so cowed by the system that her disguise... well, let's just say that this girl-dressing-up-as-boy story doesn't end as happily as Alanna's.

What's rough about these sorts of drag-you-down-and-out-constant-badness movies is that they always end up feeling unbalanced. There's some scenes of her jump roping where she appears to be having fun, but basically, all joy, happiness, love, and laughter is totally absent from this movie. I realize some of the lament may be cultural ("if we talk about good things, we'll jinx ourselves, so we must lament our fate"), and a good deal of it is just true... but this really needed a "life can be enjoyable" scene. Just one. Otherwise, life is not worth living, and these women should have all killed themselves by now (and, granted, many women in Afghanistan do and have, but: many don't. Why? It's not just for religious reasons. Even the worst life must have a moment - even fleeting - of joy).

At the same time, the film did what it set out to do, which is allow you to feel a fraction of what it's like to grow up a girl in Afghanistan under the Taliban. This whole time she's running around, I had this sinking feeling in my gut, this low-level terror of getting caught... and what would be done to her when she got caught. Which... inevitably, she is. This isn't a happy ending American movie. Not by a long shot.

I was horrifically sad for the heroine, as well. I wanted so badly to see her stand up for herself, to take an active role, to be an Alanna, basically. But this wasn't about an exception. This was about someone who'd grown up beaten and cowed by a system of oppression. And this is the most likely way things would turn out.

And that sure doesn't make me feel any better about it.

A good film, but don't expect to walk away feeling positive about the current state of the world or how long we have to go.

Facts About Healthcare Reform

I'm all for healthy debate, but please, folks, read the facts before you go debating. Otherwise it's not debate, it's "OMG MY DEEP SEATED FEARS VOMITED IN PUBLIC AND CRAZY KNEE JERK REACTIONS TO DEEP SEATED PERSONAL ANXIETIES AND OMG DEATH PANELS" and that's just... not helpful.

Facts about healthcare reform here.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Rough Nite

J. is out at GenCon til Sunday, so I have this nice big house to myself. Nice change of pace, but I enjoy his company quite a bit. The bed has remained unmade for the last three days...

Trying to save money by trying to eat in and eat reasonably. Failed, but not miserably. Drove around for awhile getting lost. Cheap Friday night entertainment, tho with the price of gas these days, I should have opted for the bike. Would have if my sugar was better. It's been a rough sugar week.

Pod site infection isn't getting any better. May need to pop by Urgency Care tomorrow for antibiotics if it's still red and gooey tomorrow. Antibiotics are a diabetic's best friend.

Life, overall, has been good, but busy. Health annoyances always feel more annoying when life is good. When life is bad, you just come to expect them. Like an old friend.

I need to go write something.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Back in the Saddle

Back in Ohio after a long, good, but tiring break-neck vacation in the Portland/Seattle/Vancouver area. A few highlight below.

Other highlights included: the Space Needle, eating far too much clam chowder, the excellent latte at Pike's Place Market (best I ever had), hanging with my crazy family Saturday night, the incredible view of Seattle from our hotel and amazing back porch and firepit overlooking the ocean at the Seaside beach house.

An all around swell time. More pictures later.

Cannon beach!

Beating up a defenseless penguin on the Seattle waterfront.

Pirate store victuals!

Moulton Falls, a bit north of my home town. One of my favorite places.

Small Powell's bookstore outlet at PDX, right after we arrived on Tuesday.

Voodoo doughnut Queen. The line to get into this place was half a block long.

J's very convincing Sasquatch impression at Camp 18 on the way home from Seaside, OR.

Cannon Beach!

Falling asleep at the Space Needle while we waited for our table...

Saturday, August 01, 2009

I'm a good writer. Now I need to fucking finish things.

For serious.

The Happening

That movie was just... retarded.