Tag Archive | people

Drip, drip, drip— or, Showing up matters

A drop of water falls into more water...

Credit: Pixabay

A few months before my 18th birthday, both my maternal and paternal grandfathers, independently, started asking me if I had registered to vote, since I was going to be eligible to vote in the upcoming midterm elections. They were both big believers that voting wasn’t merely a right, it is also a responsibility. My paternal grandfather, for instance, was the one who told me when I was much younger that I shouldn’t argue politics with my father specifically because Dad had never voted in his life and therefore didn’t have a right to express an opinion on such matter.

The main thing I remember about that first election was that the person I voted to represent me in Congress won, while the down ballot races were more mixed. My preferred party lost the majority in the state legislatures lower house, that year.

Two years later was the first time I voted in a presidential election, and I have much more vivid recollections of just what a painful election it was. The guy I least wanted to become president (Reagan) won. My choices for Senator, Governor, and state Attorney General lost. The both house of the state legislator swung heavily into Republican control. I was devastated. It was another 12 years before the person who I chose on the general election ballot would win the Presidency—and that person had not been the candidate I supported during the caucuses. Then another 16 years before the candidate I favored in the caucuses got the nomination (and went on to become President).

My point is, out of 10 presidential election cycles, only four times did the person I vote for win, and even less often did the candidate I favored in the run-up even make it to the ballot. And the way things look right now, the person I wish would get the nomination and become the next president has become quite a longshot. But at no point has it ever made sense to me that I shouldn’t vote.

I was reminded this morning—while I was looking at the demographic information about who actually turned out to vote in yesterday’s primaries (and the heated discussion from some quarters about the results)—of the Zen story about A Drop of Water:

A Zen master asked a young student to bring him a pail of water to cool his bath.

The student brought the water, and after cooling the bath, threw the remaining water over the ground.

“Think,” said the master to the student. “You could have watered the temple plants with those few drops you have thrown away.”

The young student understood Zen in that exact moment. He changed his name to Tekisui, which means drop of water, and lived to become a wise Zen master himself.

The usual lesson people take from the story is that it’s easy while struggling with big problems (the buckets of water), to become careless about more routine chores.

One of the most fundamental of chores is to show up. It doesn’t matter how pure or noble your intentions are. It doesn’t matter how many people you have harassed tried to educate on line. It doesn’t even matter if you have volunteered or donated to your great and noble candidate. If you don’t show up and vote, you leave the decision to other people. And yelling about conspiracies after the vote didn’t go your way, rather than admitting that the people who showed up (and thanks to voter suppression tricks going on in some states, stood in line for up to 7 hours before getting to cast their votes) just picked a different person.

If you did show up and vote, but the polling data indicates that a lot of people who claim to agree with you didn’t, those people are the ones you should be yelling at. They are the ones who have let you down. The other voters who maybe have your candidate as their second or third choice are not the problem.

Being a discerning reader, part 2: it’s okay to set your own boundaries

position to have, and people don’t have to justify it beyond that. Hot Take: “I’m sure this work of fiction has artistic merit, but it does something that I’m sick to death of seeing, and I don’t want to consume it” is an entirely reasonable, valid position to have, and people don’t have to justify it beyond that. (Click to embiggen)

Because I participate in the Hugo Award nomination and voting process, I frequently find myself at this time of year scouring review sites and such looking for things that were published in the last year that I might want to read. Now, I look at review sites and follow-up on book recommendations year-round, but usually when I sit down to nominate and start going back through the things I’ve read recently, it turns out that a large portion of those books and shorter stories were published more than a year ago, and therefore aren’t eligible—hence the need to find and read more things that are eligible to see if any of them wow me enough to nominate.

During this process I occasionally come across recommendations of things that I decide I definitely will not read. Sometimes my reason for not reading it is because the review tells me that the story deals with things I don’t want to read about.

Now, when I have admitted this before, there have been people who chime in to say that it is wrong of me to condemn a story without reading it; why don’t I give it a try, just in case I like it any way? I have two responses to that. The first is, me declining to read a story is absolutely not the same thing as condemning it. Secondly, I don’t owe anyone or anything my attention. How I spend my life (energy, time, money) is my business.

My friends will tell you that when I really like a book or a show or an author, I will enthuse about them rather a lot. I’ll urge them to check it out. If they’re someone I see frequently, I may repeat the recommendation many times. I’m doing this because I really like that thing, I genuinely think that they will too, and it’s fun to share an enthusiasm with friends. Sometimes, I don’t recall that they have already told me that they aren’t interested, or that they checked it out and didn’t like it, or whatever. So I’m not meaning to be annoying. But I know it can come across that way.

I know it, because I’ve had those “Why not give it a try?” conversations mentioned above, and find myself explaining exactly why I’m not interested in a particular subject matter or whatever.

Then, sometimes my reason for not reading it is because the author of the story is someone I find problematic. For instance, back when I was in my early 20s, a series of sci fi books came out that several of my friends were reading and really enjoyed. And the world the books occurred in seemed to be right up my alley. So I read the first book and liked most of it. There were a couple of points where rape—one instance psychic, another physical—figured in the plot in a way that felt unnecessary to me, but other parts of the story were great. But as I read through the subsequent books, physical rape, psychic rape, maiming, and a disturbing number of murders while in the middle of the sex act became more and more prominent.

I decided I didn’t need to read any more in the series. Even though there were a lot more books, and people were gushing about how great they were for years after. And when the author started another series in a related genre, and it became a bestseller, people were again enthusing about it. It had been long enough that I didn’t connect the author’s name with my previous experience until I read some reviews. The guy’s plot, according to all the reviewers, still wallows in rape, grotesque murder, and similar stuff. And I just don’t need to read yet another tale like that.

There are thousands of books that don’t leave me feeling dirty and blood-soaked nor do they cause nightmares. I’ll read those. It’s perfectly fine if other people want to read the blood-soaked rapey books. Me not reading that sort of thing is not the same thing as saying it shouldn’t be published, nor that it shouldn’t have been written. Many years ago, after a series of unpleasant experiences of by verbally harassed by bigots who (correctly) guessed that I was gay, I wound up writing a story in which a gay character was cornered and gay bashed… and rescued. With the bashers dying in the process. It was not great literature. The plot was barely there. Some people read it and enjoyed it. Other people read it and didn’t enjoy it. Some people, I’m quite sure, declined to read it when they saw the content warnings.

And all of those responses are valid.

You don’t owe other people an explanation for why you don’t want to read (or watch or listen to) a particular thing.

Not All Like That, part 3, or, If the Shoe Doesn’t Fit, I Ain’t Talking About You

“A man is known by the company he keeps.” —English ProverbSometimes insight into important parts of human behavior and social interaction comes from unexpected places. For instance, because of my father’s work, my childhood was spread over 10 elementary schools in four states: Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and Nebraska. It was mostly very small towns where everyone attended church and it often seemed as if football (whether the local school teams, regional college teams, or pro teams) was at least as important as religion. Because the professional football team that was geographically closest to most of the small towns was the Denver Broncos, a lot of the people were Broncos fans.

But not all.

In almost every one of those towns we lived in, we attended a Southern Baptist Church. Because of the origins of the denomination, at least half of every congregation seemed to be people who either had spent their childhood in the South or Former Confederate States, or their parents had been from there. Consequently, there were always some Dallas Cowboys fans.

Now, clearly, no one is obligated to be from the region a team is headquartered to be a fan, but there is at least a correlation.

I can’t recall a time in my childhood where I didn’t consider the Dallas Cowboys a horrible team. I know part of that is because they were one of the least favorite teams of both my dad and my grandpa. But as time went by, my dislike for the team grew stronger, such that I now feel an intense, visceral revulsion when the team is mentioned.

A few years back, a good friend who isn’t much into football (or sports in general), asked me why it was that I hated the Cowboys so much. Beyond saying that the management of the team (at least back when I was kid) was notorious for not taking care of the players, I didn’t have much. I mean, the guy who was general manager of the team for a long time once famously said to the leadership of the player’s union, “You have to understand: we’re ranchers, and you’re cattle. And we can always find more cattle.”

I’m sure he was hardly the only general manager or team owner across the league to feel that way, but he was willing to say it in a public forum, so take from that what you will.

As I was trying to think of some actual logical reasons, the truth finally hit me: over the years I had met (and often been classmates with or students of) a rather large number of Dallas Cowboys fans. And almost every single one of them that I could remember were the most arrogant unfeeling pricks that I had ever known.

Seriously. In a few posts on other subjects I mentioned a pastor (not of the church I was a member of) who was essentially a camp counsellor at Bible camp. He was fond of, if a boy did or said something he didn’t agree with, grabbing their hand and bending it back into a stress position—you know, a move the cops use to put a person much bigger than themselves down on their knees in agony? But he was a big (and I mean big) man, doing this to 11, 12, and 13-year-old boys in his care. And when one us (like me) actually had tears in our eyes because of the pain, he would snap, “Don’t be such a faggot!” Any time he stepped outside at the camp, he was wearing a Dallas Cowboys baseball cap.

That’s when I realized that my hatred for the Cowboys team was fueled entirely by the many, many, many unpleasant experiences I have had interacting with Cowboys fans. And just as a couple years ago Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum said in answer to a question about his opponent, “I didn’t say he is racist, I said that racists believe he is a racist,” sometimes you can judge a person based on the character of people who are his/her biggest fans.

So when, in two different election cycles four years apart, I see among the fans of one specific candidate people who pile on with misogynist and homophobic attacks directed at anyone who expresses skepticism about their candidate, or has the temerity to favor a different candidate, I have to ask myself, “Why do all these hateful people like him so much?”

Listen, buddy, there is no pumpkin in pumpkin spice, and if you don’t like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and such in your food or beverage, then don’t order it…

“I think people who hate on pumpkin spice but praise bacon are hypocrites. The only difference is that bacon is seen as 'manly' and pumpkin spice is seen as 'girly.' Both groups want to put it on everything, but only one gets shamed for it.”

“I think people who hate on pumpkin spice but praise bacon are hypocrites. The only difference is that bacon is seen as ‘manly’ and pumpkin spice is seen as ‘girly.’ Both groups want to put it on everything, but only one gets shamed for it.”

I love bacon. I love a good martini. I love nice olives. I love a my husband’s homemade chicken soup1. I like sampling different kinds of winter ales/holiday beers. I love cooking a big pot of chili to eat while watching a football game. I love the many variants of Earl Grey tea. I love coffee. I love beef stroganoff (both making it and eating it). I love sweet potato pie, pumpkin pie, pear and ginger pie, or any homemade fruit pie even though I can almost never eat pies any more. I love lamb stew. I love my husband’s solstice cake2. I love homemade vanilla and the many wonderful things I can make with it. I love cooking veal scallopini (and not just because when I open a bottle of wine to cook with I need to drink the rest of the bottle). I love very rare steak. I love a nice Old Fashioned made with really good bourbon. I also love a lot of what some people call froo-froo cocktails. I love homemade ginger bread.

And yes, sometimes, I like to spice things with a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspace, and cloves. Because those spices tastes incredibly delicious on many foods.

As autumn approaches in the Northern Hemisphere, we see the unveiling of the many snarky and condescending memes and social media posts about pumpkin spice. And one of the things that really amuses me about them are the large number of them who seem to think that the drinks and foods and such are pumpkin flavored.

Pumpkin spice lattes do not taste like pumpkin. They taste like coffee, steamed milk, and cinnamon. It’s not pumpkin, guys, it’s pumpkin spice, specifically, the spices that are traditionally used in pumpkin pie. It’s spices—you know, those substances whose entire existence in our culture is to be added in small quantities to various edible things to make them taste better? It isn’t something weird or new-fangled or unnatural. They are spices.

If you don’t happen to like cinnamon and so forth, that’s fine. But there is no reason to go hating or shaming other people who do. And I find it particularly irritating when I see it being done by the kinds of guys who are really into craft beers, or who want bacon on everything, or who buy up the various winter ales/holiday beers as soon as they show up in stores. All of these foods and beverages are things that some people really like, other people could take or leave, and other people dislike. It’s no big deal.

I know that you don’t think you’re being an asshole. You think your clever meme about guys dressing up in pumpkins to attract the ladies is funny. I totally get it. There are foods and drinks that I despise, and sometimes I describe my dislike for them in rather extreme terms4. But just because I don’t like something doesn’t mean that it is inherently inferior to other things.

But your hating on pumpkin spice and your shaming of people who like it? That totally makes you an asshole. If you make fun of other people for liking cinnamon, you are a douche, an idiot, an asshole, and a petty insecure hypocrite.

You don’t have to buy any of the pumpkin spice things on the market. Their existence neither hurts you nor causes you harm. So chill. Relax. Let it go and stop hating on some spices. Unless you like being known widely as a prick.


Footnotes:

1. He makes the most amazing soup. One time when word got out that he was making chicken soup for a writing meeting we were hosting, one pair of friends changed their travel plans so they can attend for the soup. That’s how good it is.

2. It’s a cake he invented when he was tired of people always hating on fruit cake, so he concocted a way to turn pineapple, apricots, figs, and a bunch of fruit into a puree and then cook it in a way that people think they are just eating fluffy golden sponge cake. One year he made a bunch of them that we served at our Christmas party, took to some other people’s gatherings, and he took two into his work. The cakes were so good, that two of the people at his workplace got into a literal fist fight over the last slice of the cake. And the company instituted a rule that Michael couldn’t bring in home baked good any more, for fear it would happen again3.

3. Just more proof that I am the luckiest person in the world, because that amazing man is my husband!

4. For instance, raisins. I hate them5. I often call them Satanic Fruit.

5. Seriously, they taste so vile that I almost vomit with I get some in my mouth. It took several years to get to the point where I could stop that reaction and just find a napkin to put the the stuff in6.

6. And I have a history of this. When I was a toddler, the doctor wasn’t happy with some of my blood tests, and told my mom to feed me something like an ounce of raisins a day for nutritional purposes. My poor mom tried. I violently spit them out, cried, pushed her hands away, et cetera. She tried hiding them in other foods, soaking them in water, soaking rhem in apple juice, cooking them in various ways, and so forth. And every time I spit out the raisins. I would eat the other stuff around them, but I spit out the raisins again and again. Finally, Mom called the doctor’s office to say that I absolutely refused to eat the raisins. They started listing other foods that would take care of the nutritional deficiency they were worried about. When they got way down on the list and mentioned liver, Mom interrupted: “Liver! Why didn’t you say so, he loves liver!7” And she hung up the phone and headed to the store.

7. She knew I loved liver because my dad also liked liver, so just about every pay day they would splurge on some liver and Mom would cook up a mess of liver and onions for my dad. And at some point Dad offered me some and I gobbled it down and wanted more8.

8. I know lots of people hate liver, and that’s fine. May taste buds are different from yours. Raisins probably don’t make you gag because your taste buds are different. That’s okay. You can have my share of the world raisin supply. I’ll take your share of the world liver supply. We’ll all be happy, right?

By their fruits you will know them — when people show you who they are, believe them

“Just a reminder. There's not two of you — Internet you and real you. There is just one real you. Which means if you're not kind on the internet, you're not kind.” —Glenn Melton Doyle

“Just a reminder. There’s not two of you — Internet you and real you. There is just one real you. Which means if you’re not kind on the internet, you’re not kind.” —Glenn Melton Doyle

Those of us who are fans of Geek Girl Con had a little scare this week, as a message that seemed to indicate a huge portion of the staff was quitting together came into our mailboxes. The post (also put up on the con’s Facebook page and elsewhere) was carefully crafted to push the outrage buttons of the types of person most likely to be attracted to the con’s spirit of inclusivity. And yes, the outrage machine seemed to be gearing up. But there were enough skeptical people to keep it from snowballing too quickly. And the manner in which the post was made was a big clue for many people: the folks who were resigned hijacked the official Geek Girl Con mailing list to post their vaguely described grievances, and hijacked the official web page to post it, and none of them were willing to sign their names to it. Even before I read it, once I knew that, I knew that it really didn’t matter what their grievances are. Anyone who would hijack the official mailing list and the web page were the kinds of people who needed to be removed from convention staff.

But you don’t have to take my word for it Rob Salkowitz breaks it down nicely: GEEKGIRLCON DEALS WITH THE PAINS OF PROFESSIONALIZATION.

“As anyone who has ever worked for or with a nonprofit can tell you, the transition from volunteer to professional organization is not always smooth. People who contributed to the growth of the organization may feel resentment toward an outsider brought in above them, whose job is to make tough decisions and impose management discipline on previously informal systems. As fair-minded and inclusive as you might want to be in that role, eventually you will piss some people off just because you are the boss and they aren’t.

“It’s not unusual for longtime staffers to quit in these circumstances, sometimes in a huff. Sometimes, to really make a statement, they’ll resign in a group. If there’s something actionable, they can call a lawyer. And if they really want to leave a mark, they’ll take their dispute public via social media.

“But taking over the organization’s official email to blast out their manifesto after they’ve already quit? Nope. NOPE. In no conceivable universe is that ok.”

We now know that all of those who quit were white guys who posted their grievances anonymously (vague claims of being discriminated against by the new executive director who happens to be a woman of color) because they didn’t think they would be taken seriously. And that might have been true no matter what, but the way they did it really shows all we need to know. I’ve been either on staff or closely involved with enough people on staff for a lot of cons to recognize both the dynamic Salkowitz explains above and the circumstances that likely led to the mass resignation. By the way, it was only five guys, out of a staff of a bit over 50, so while it seems like a lot, it certainly isn’t most of the staff, as their post clearly tried to imply.

I could go into more detail about why hijacking the con membership’s list was wrong, how it is triangulation and so forth. But the real reason is this: when I have been in situations where I felt I was the aggrieved party and have been tempted to do such things, I knew that the suggestion was coming from the little devil on one shoulder, and not the little angel on the other. (Although in my imagination it’s the evil fairy tale queen on one shoulder, and a happy glitter-covered fairy on the other).

We come up with rationales for vindictive, angry, destructive behavior all the time. It’s not fair, we say. Or they started it! Or it’s just the internet! Or I was joking! Or you took it wrong! Et cetera and ad nauseum.

Maybe you are right. Maybe you have suffered a great injustice. But here’s the thing: if you win by fighting dirty, that isn’t justice. The ends don’t justify the means. There is a big difference between righteous indignation and vengeful lashing out. Just as there is a difference between cruelty and kindness. How we take a victory or defeat matters just as much as the actual outcome.

Situations are messy and there’s always more than two sides to every story. But every side isn’t equally true, or equally valid, or equally relevant. And sometimes you can tell which side has the fewest facts in their favor by their tactics. And I, at least, can spot a sore loser from miles away. Even when they’re hiding behind anonymity, misleading verbiage, and the furtive fallacy.

There are not two of you. There isn’t literally a devil/evil queen on one shoulder and an angel/good fairy on the other. There’s just you. A noble and just person doesn’t have to resort to dirty tactics. If you’re fighting dirty, even if for a just cause, then you’re not the hero.

Being reactionary – bad rules and good expectations

“Sorry but your password must contain an uppercase letter, a number, a haiku, a gang sign, a hieroglyph, and the blood of a virgin.”

“Sorry but your password must contain an uppercase letter, a number, a haiku, a gang sign, a hieroglyph, and the blood of a virgin.” (Click to embiggen)

I was reminded this week of the Dumbest Password Policy Ever™. I was working at a company that was a subsidiary of a large company that had a bunch of divisions and subsidiaries all over North America and was in turn a subsidiary of a multi-billion dollar international company. And one day we got an email in the form of a memo from the President of all the North American divisions informing us of the new updated employee manual and drawing our attention to the new password policy included in the handbook which everyone was expected to read and conform to immediately. So I downloaded the handbook and found that policy and read with both horror and amusement: every employee is required to write down their passwords for all company owned systems, and are to keep this hardcopy of their passwords hidden somewhere in their work area, and are to show their supervisors where that password list is, and the password list must be updated whenever a password is changed.

Which anyone who knows anything about security knows is the most insecure way to treat passwords.

My boss called everyone in our department together and said, “Do not write down your passwords! If we get audited, I will tell them that of course we comply with the policy and of course each of you showed me where your passwords are hidden, but darn, I seem to have forgotten.” Which is what every other manager in our division told their direct reports (And I suspect a whole lot of managers in all of the divisions).

I understand how a policy like that comes into being. Someone who was the only person with admin privileges on some important system in one of the other division was out sick or on vacation or maybe even had died and there was a great deal of trouble that wound up costing a lot of money (either just from all the time spent by a lot of people trying to fix the problem and/or other people not being able to do certain tasks for a while). The solution to that is not to make every single bit of proprietary information available to anyone who can sneak into an office and snoop for a while. The solution is to make sure every system always has multiple people with admin rights. As long as you have someone with admin rights who can reset other account passwords or give other people rights to access files or whatever that are only accessible ordinarily to the one employee who is unavailable, you can solve any of the other problems.

Right?

Trying to avoid repeating a mistake is a natural (and not unreasonable) reaction when something goes wrong. Unfortunately, in some circumstances involving certain sorts of people a very simple “solution” that is worse than the original problem is adopted.

I’ve been worrying about this a little bit because as part of the move we’ve been trying to make some changes in our behavior to avoid problems we kept having at the old place. Some are fairly east: don’t let dishes pile up in the sink; it’s all right to run the dishwasher when it isn’t completely full. Others are a little more difficult to stick to: take out the trash or recycle as soon as we notice it’s full.

Those are examples of things we kept meaning to change before. There were issues with the outside garbage and recycle bins at the old place that provided an excuse to put off dealing with the trash at certain parts of the week, but the real issue was procrastination and habit. Habits are reinforced by all sorts of things, for example, getting used to seeing dishes piled in that sink. So maybe the change in visual cues will help us develop a new habit.

Some of the new ways of doing things are because of issues we didn’t realize were happening until we packed up. We discovered all sorts of unexpected things lurking in the back of closets, or the back parts of shelves we couldn’t see easily, or behind furniture that was seldom moved.

But I also recognize that slavishly adhering to rules without regard to unintended consequences can create worse problems. So I’ve been trying to think of this as merely establishing new norms: not strict rules, just expectations.

And maybe that’s the secret: don’t be inflexible!

We’re living in the future, but a lot of people don’t get it

An magazine ad from 1968: Western Electric is crossing a telephone with a TV set.  “What you'll use is called, simply enough, a Picturephone set. Someday it will let you see who you are talking to, and let them see you.”

An magazine ad from 1968: Western Electric is crossing a telephone with a TV set.
“What you’ll use is called, simply enough, a Picturephone set. Someday it will let you see who you are talking to, and let them see you.”

Some years ago I was attending a meeting of the committee that ran one of the local science fiction conventions. I had just joined the staff, and it was my first full meeting. One of the topics debated that day was a proposal that the committee obtain an email address that several committee members could check, because people kept asking why they didn’t have an email address. The only means that were available to the public (and thus people who might want to attend the convention) for contacting the organization was to either mail a physical letter to the club’s post office box, or to leave a voice mail message via a phone number that didn’t actually ring a phone. A system that was troublesome because if you didn’t check the voice mail box often enough, it would fill up with messages and no one could leave a new message.

During the debate, one person admitted that he had voted “no” each previous time the question had come up, but he had recently realized that it was as inconvenient for him and his friends that he didn’t have an email address of his own, as it had been inconvenient for he and his family that his elderly great-aunt refused to get a telephone. He wasn’t the only member of the committee to admit that they had been resisting adopting that “new technology.”

And this was a bunch of sci fi nerds.

Admittedly, it was sci fi nerds in the 1980s. Personal computers were still complicated gadgets that cost more than a car (the first IBM PC/XT had 128kilobytes of RAM and cost $5000, that’s the equivalent of $12,000 in 2017) and often had parts you had to solder together yourself. But my point is that even people who think they are forward thinking and tech savvy often have big blind spots about technology.

Such as the current dismay I keep seeing expressed online because so many politicians on both sides of the aisle have been talking about rural broadband. “Is this really a pressing need?” As a matter of fact, yes. It is nearly impossible in the modern era to apply for a job if you don’t have access not just to email, but a robust enough internet connection to fill out the often very-poorly scripted online applications. When my husband and I were recently looking for a new place to live, not only were the only reliable places to find available properties online, but often the only way to inquire about a property was to fill out a web form. Even after that point, we had to each fill out applications for background checks via a different website and system than we’d used to contact the property manager.

(click to embiggen)

The primary means to access services such as unemployment insurance, disability benefits, and so forth, is over the web. And that means needing more than a basic internet connection, you have to have a decent amount of bandwidth, or things time out. When new medical equipment is handed out, they doctor’s offices don’t have the time to show you how to use it, they give you a web address to access videos online. That’s how I learned to properly inject myself with insulin (including how to troubleshoot the injection pin and so on): they sent me to a webpage to watch the videos and read the warnings and disclaimers myself.

Internet access, particularly high speed/high bandwidth access, is no longer a luxury. Society, both businesses and institutions, have embraced the new technologies. Just as phones ceased being a luxury decades ago, then cellphones ceased being a luxury about a decade ago, and now smart phones have also crossed that line. For a number of people, particularly poor people, their smartphone is their only reliable way of accessing the services they need to get and keep their jobs, to take care of their kids’ needs, and so on.

Douglas Adams observed in an article in 1999:

“I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”

Which is accurate, but also just a bit dated. Technology doesn’t just move forward, but the rate at which things change accelerates. Adams’s rules could use a couple of additions. For instance, we might add “Any new and exciting thing creating jobs when you’re in your 20s is a dying, obsolete industry by the time you turn 40.”

And there are the people who don’t understand how mass production and the commodification of products makes things that once were terribly expensive available for a fraction of the cost. This comes up a lot in relation to iPhones, in particular. In certain circles it is popular to hold up the ownership of an iPhone by someone who is struggling financially as proof that the person is only struggling because of bad priorities. This doesn’t take into account the many, many ways that someone can obtain slightly older versions of currently expensive gadgets extremely cheaply. We’ve already established that have a phone, specifically a mobile phone, has become a necessity in our modern society. Getting a refurbished unit of some previous year’s model or a non-refurbished unit of a model from a couple of years ago for free or close to it as part of a cell phone contract is quite common. And then there are various sales and special offers one can find.

That doesn’t even get into the hand-me-down process. Lots of people, when they upgrade a device such as a phone or tablet or laptop, rather than try to sell it somewhere, wipe their data and give the device to a friend or relative who can’t afford a new device themselves.

Luxuries aren’t what some people think they are. Sadly, the people least likely to understand this also don’t realize that being able to look with condescension on others for having or wanting nice things is a form of luxury on its own.

Stock characters exist for many reasons

Stock characters: comic, victim, braggart, pretender, fool. (

Stock characters: comic, victim, braggart, pretender, fool. (Click to embiggen)

One of the things I’ve been getting used to since the move is the new bus route. I used to ride the Rapidride D line, and now I’m on the E. My old bus commute was usually just under half an hour. The new one is usually about 45 minutes going in, but usually at least an hour coming home. Of course, when I was walking home it took more than an hour, so the time isn’t all that different.

But the crowd on the E is very different than the D. There are always interesting people on the bus, of course, but since most of the E route goes down Aurora Ave (aka Highway 99, aka the old Pacific Coast Highway), well, there are a lot more marginal people on the bus.

And everyday on at least one trip I wind up sitting near & seeing a couple (a guy and a gal who are obviously together) who dress, act, and talk like a particular movie cliche. Note: it’s seldom the same couple! I have seen one couple twice (and the female half of the couple two other times, once hanging out with a different couple who matched the trope).

What trope am I talking about? The couple who are dating/romanatically involved in some way and are also a pair of less-than-bright petty criminals who have gotten into something way over their heads which will cause no measure of awful problems for the actual protagonist in the movie. That couple.

And seriously, if I transcribed their dialogue–often a monologue because usually one of them is very talkative and the other either nods and says “uh huh” if the talkative one is the male, or sits there stone-faced and occasionly grunts or mutters something if the talkative one is the female–it would sound like comedic dialog written for a ludicrously incompetent criminal. Monday night there were three sets, though not at the same time. And one of the freaky parts was how similar the guys were.

In the first couple, the guy was wearing a Seahawks baseball cap and carrying a filterless cigarette. While the gal babbled, he kept adjusting is hat and fiddling with the cigarette. He would pack the tobacco in the cigarette a little denser crimping one end a bit more, then tamp that end on his knee or his cellphone, then crimp the other end tighter and flipping it to do some more. Meanwhile he would randomly lift his cap and reposition it on his head, sometimes seemingly exactly as before, and sometimes he would flip it so the bill was in back, then several fidgets later he’d put the bill in front again. Every now and then he’d stick the unlit cigarette in his mouth as he did something with his phone.

In the second couple, the guy was wearing a UW Huskies baseball cap and fidgeting with a filtered short cigarette (I kept hoping he’d pull out the pack and confirm my suspicion that it was a Marlboro Red, which would have nailed the stereotype further…). He would put the cigarette in one side of his mouth, then adjust his cap. Half a minute later, he’d take the cigarette out of his mouth and flip it around in his fingers a few times. Then he’d stick it in the other side of his mouth and pull off the cap, smooth his hair, then put the cap back on. And so on. He flipped his hat front to back once, then later flipped it back.

The third couple had the additional trope that both of them were burdened with backpacks and such that were, technically, each bigger than them. The guy was wearing a Mariner’s baseball cap, bill forwards, with a filterless cigarette behind one ear. As they were getting situated in their seats, he flipped the hat front to back, and moved the cigarette to the other ear. As they talked, he kept adjusting the hat–each time pulling the cigarette from behind his ear and moving it to the other side. There probably would have been some more flips, but as we approached a bus stop with several people waiting, she suddenly jumped up, very agitated, and ran to the back door. I thought that she had seen someone waiting at the stop that she didn’t want to ride the bus with, but as the bus stopped, the guy (who had gathered up his backpack, her duffle, and this rolling suitcase with two more backpacks attached and ran over behind her) started shouting for the driver to open the back door. As soon as the doors opened, she leapt out, landing in a little strip of landscaping beside the pharmacy there, and proceeded to puke her guts out. He followed with their stuff, and seemed to be offering some comfort as the bus pulled away.

Those were just one bus ride. As I said, I’ve seen couples like them at least once a day, four days a week, for seven weeks, now. The ages of the couples have varied quite a lot, as had the apparent ethnicity of each member of each couple. But there have been a lot of similarities in mannerisms, the sort of things one or the other talks about way more loudly than someone ought about cheating drug dealers and such in a public place, and so on.

The late, great author Terrie Pratchett observed on more than one occasion that there are really only a small number of people in the world, you just keep meeting some of them again and again and again in different bodies. This phenomenon (which is at least partially the result of social and economic circumstances that cross cultures and time periods) is one reason stock characters exist in fiction. But there is a difference between a stock character such as the morally impair braggart or the gullible minion and a racist/sexist/homophobic stereotype.

For storytelling purpose, you sometimes need a stock character to move the plot along or add a bit of verisimilitude to a scene. You don’t want or need to put a lot of effort into these characters’ backgrounds, but you do want to make sure you aren’t just pulling a bigoted stereotype out of the drawer when you do it. This may be helped with a sensitivity reader, beta readers in general, or an editor. But the burden shouldn’t fall solely on them.

Any character you put in a scene, no matter how minor, ask yourself a few questions.

  • Is there a reason you made the character one apparent gender rather than another? Does anything change if you change the gender?
  • If you mention race is there a reason you made them that ethnicity? If you didn’t mention it, but realize you are imagining them a specific ethnicity, why? And does it change anything if you change it?
  • If you mention any physical characteristic or their clothing, is there a reason?
  • If you mention apparent sexual orientation, again, why? If not, how are you imagining them? Why?

Having all of the characters apparently white, heterosexual, and cisgender serves an agenda, whether you mean it to or not, because the real world (yes, in every era of history and every part of the world) has characters of different races/ethnic groups, different economic classes, different sexual orientations, and different genders. If you aren’t including them in the world, you’re promoting an agenda. Is that what you want?

And if the only time certain marginalized groups are mentioned, they fall into lazy stereotypes (petty criminals are people of color, nurses are always women, doctors are always white men, et cetera), you’re also promoting that agenda. Is that what you want?

Game over, man!

To me, he will always be the panicky (“Game over, man! Game over!”) yet cocky (“Don’t worry. Me and my squad of ultimate badasses will protect you!”) Marine PFC William Hudson, fighting and cursing with all his might as he’s dragged to his death by an alien xenomorph. Bill Paxton Was Film’s Quintessential Game-Over Man: An Appreciation.

He was and remains the only actor ever slain on screen by a T-800 (a naked Arnold Schwarzenegger flung him into metal bars at the Griffith Park Observatory in The Terminator, 32 years before Gosling and Stone danced among the stars there in La La Land), a Xenomorph (a bug dragged him under the floor in Aliens while he raved his profane epitaph), and a Predator (Paxton emptied his sidearm into the advancing beast on an L.A. subway car in Predator 2; when that didn’t work, he tried a machete. And a golfball. Never say die! Even when dying is apparently your job.).

I didn’t intend to leave Paxton’s death completely out of yesterday’s weekly round up of links. But I’d wanted to write something a bit more personal than my usual inclusion in the links, so I had a separate draft post open with links to some of the best Paxton obits I had read, and then when I was assembling the links post, forgot to copy some from here to there!

Paxton appeared in a lot of my favorite movies. Frequently he played a slightly pathetic excuse for a human. Even more frequently, he died on screen. Seriously, directors apparently loved to kill him. And they did it a lot! In addition to the three famous deaths in the pull quote above, he was shot at least six times, stabbed, hacked to pieces with an axe, and in at least one movie both shot and stabbed. Even when he played an undead creature, an immortal vampire in the movie Near Dark, Paxton didn’t make it to the end of the film without being killed again. In the time loop movie, Edge of Tomorrow he’s only seen dying once on screen, but the script makes it clear his character died hundreds of times before the film was over.

His characters didn’t always die. And he wasn’t always the comic relief in a film. In Apollo 13 he portrayed astronaut Fred Haise, for instance, who gets to be heroic and live to the end of the picture. And in Twister he got to play a storm-chasing meteorologist still pining for his ex-wife, who risks his life for science, and lives!

Even though Paxton was often cast as a sort of smarmy loser whose lines would deliver many laughs in the film, he had a knack, using changes in body posture and facial demeanor, for making you forget about the other roles you’d see him in. There were a number of times I’d be well into watching his performance in a film before a moment would arrive where I’d go, “Oh! It’s Hudson!”

In interviews appearances on talk shows (when promoting a new film or series), he always came off as a nice guy. And he certainly had a sense of humor about his tendency to be murdered on film a lot. In his directorial debut, he cast himself as the character who is hacked to death by his own son with an axe on screen! So, clearly, he was in on the joke. Bill Paxton fought Aliens and The Terminator, but he was always just a guy from Fort Worth.

I’m going to miss seeing Bill pop up in my favorite movies and series.

The Death Of Bill Paxton Reminds Us That ‘Twister’ Changed Meteorology.

Bill Paxton, ‘Aliens’ and ‘Twister’ Actor, Dies at 61:

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(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.

It’s the day to March Forth!

“We don't know them all but we owe them all.”

“We don’t know them all but we owe them all.”

I’ve written before about an acquaintance in college who was shocked that I’d never heard the pun about this day: March Forth! It’s a date! It’s a command! It’s a date and a command!

For the last few years I’ve been observing my own March Forth tradition. I urge you all on this March Forth, to go please donate to The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.

You can also go to this page on the NCHV website, click on the name of your state, and find a list of organizations helping the homeless in general and homeless veterans in particular in your community. Donate or volunteer.

March forth, and spread the word.

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