The Evening News: A Content Warning

So, one of the guys I work with stomps into the break room the other day, and announces… loudly, and with great consternation: THERE ARE WOMEN DRESSED AS VAGINAS ON THE SIX O’ CLOCK NEWS. When the kids… and THE SIX O’ CLOCK NEWS. (There may or may not have been more to the conversation, but that’s about where it landed on me.)

The oldest of his kids are about ten, and girls. And WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO TELL THEM?

He turned the TV off, but you know it. Daddy WHAT IS THAT?

I’m going to say it’s a safe bet that the average ten year old is not going to recognize a vagina built out of felt and hot glue, and that the first tiny hint she had that SOMETHING WAS WRONG was when her father tackled the television set.

You can probably tell that I find this whole scene to be… well, somewhat amusing.

And, if you know me, you’ll know that my chameleon circuit self-censoring mechanism has been broken for a really long time.

So, I had to ask. What did you tell them?

NOTHING!!!!!!!!!!

So, okay. Let’s go with that. There’s NOTHING on television, but your father just dove twenty feet across carpet to turn the damn thing off? At best, he’s lying to you, and at worst, he’s a completely irrational and unpredictable creature.

(Note: Co-worker in question is one of the most involved and able parents I’ve ever known. Vagina costumes just wig him out.)

And what if there was something on television?

You haven’t actually learned any of your family’s rules about what’s acceptable and what’s not.

At ten, you’re probably still debating whether it’s a Muppet or Patrick from Sponge Bob that set your father off. Being quite honest, there are a lot of vagina costumes out there that I wouldn’t recognize without a label, if I were a gynecologist, much less a ten year old. (Oh, look. There’s one with teeth.)

You can explain your family values, and not leave the kid wondering what they did wrong.

Well, kiddo, in this country, we have freedom of speech. Which means that people sometimes do things to make a point or attract attention.

Those women were dressed as (private parts, vaginas, pussies with teeth) to attract attention to what they were saying.

In this family, we don’t watch television shows with vaginas in them because (mixed company, inappropriate for children, we believe they’re private, etc.)

Then, you go on to discuss Pravda, and propaganda in various totalitarian governments, and how turning the television off from time to time is a small price to pay for freedom of speech, being able to criticize our leaders, and the rights we all enjoy.

Now, eat your beanie weenies.

Is Reading a Zero-Sum Game?

I posted a poll on Twitter, the other day. There wasn’t any real intent behind it, except maybe the idea that I’ve been looking at the same picture of the same trees for too long, and needed something new to pin to my profile page.

The question was Would you be interested in a private, membership library? Yes or no. I didn’t even manage to come up with a snarky third option.

Full disclosure: I didn’t think the question was political, at the time. I didn’t really think anyone would have strong opinions about membership libraries, and I actually didn’t know that I had strong opinions. I have paid fees to libraries that do not lend directly to the public; about 50 dollars, as I recall, but I’m not sure if that was per year or per semester.

Everything is political. Some days, I think I could announce to the internet that Horny-Toad sperm tastes terrible, (that’s pure speculation of course) and I’d immediately wind up with five people protesting that I’m being unfair to horny toads.

So, the first response I get is from someone I know (Twitter Style) and they are very against private libraries, and here’s why: in their opinion, private libraries would take funds away from public libraries.

You note, of course, that we’ve already skipped to where they are talking about future private libraries and I’m talking about present tense ones.

Oh, okay.

So, I ask if the subject matter would make a difference. What if the library were dedicated to something utterly obscure? Ventriloquist dummies, or phrenology? Something not generally of public interest? Something that would get a city librarian fired, if she spent a few thousand bucks on it?

And that’s where the conversation begins to separate out.

It’s not that we have any deep, dark differences. We’re both people who support the reading community, and books, and writers, and education, and all the things that go with it.

It’s just that she believes libraries are a zero-sum game–that my ventriloquist dummy library on the other side of the town, diminishes interest in public libraries, and therefore in funding for them–and I don’t.

She’s horrified by the idea that someone will start a private, membership-only library and that lower-income people will wind up being left out.

I’m equally horrified by the idea that private ownership of books is seen as a threat. I have trouble differentiating between private libraries (good) and private libraries (evil). Or even, for that matter, where “library” begins and “private citizen who owns books” begins. After all, if my ventriloquist dummy library is a threat to funding… wouldn’t bookstores, and e-readers, and Amazon also be a threat to funding? And wouldn’t I have more interest in funding public libraries, if private citizens simply weren’t allowed to own books?

I found myself looking for the line–the point at which a private library goes from good to evil–and not finding one.

She tried to explain it to me–size, maybe, or renting separate space, or maybe the first time you take out an ad in the local paper–but I just wasn’t getting it.

And I’m pretty sure she wasn’t following my logic, either. After all, we started out in different arguments. In hers, reading is a zero-sum game. In mine, it’s not.

I believe that every book in a community enriches the community as a whole. Whether I read it or not. Whether I want to read it or not. Whether I’m able to read it, or not. It adds to the culture of literacy.

I believe that if I walk next door to borrow a book, the door will be opened.

She expects it to be slammed in her face.

(Did I mention that we come from different backgrounds?)

So, I’m still sitting there. I’m waiting for someone to define a way in which my own library–my collection, my house, and my culture of literacy–is not one of the evil libraries. A way in which I’m not essentially a membership library, already.

And she’s listing all the fabulous, valuable things that libraries do.

But she’s not explaining why I should be allowed to keep my books, but that private library over on 16th street is an abomination.

Loaning books to your friends is not the same thing…

And I wait to hear how it’s different.

How many members make a library? (And what, exactly is a member?) How many books? Am I good, if I just don’t offer copying services to the members?

If I invite friends over to study, and we all exchange books, and talk, and whatever… we’re not competing with the public library until we all decide to go dutch on ordering a pizza, right?

What if we’re not friends? What if we’re randomly matched study-buddies? What if I set up a Little Free Library, and never even lay eyes on the people who borrow my books? What if I just make people sign a contract that they will not dog-ear the books, and they won’t eat cheerios while they’re reading?

No… I can’t wrap my head around the idea of reading as a zero-sum game. It just doesn’t work for me.

I’m a Recovering Crime Writer, Not a Lawyer.

I’ve been watching one of those social-media explosions, lately. Let’s see if I can even find video without commentary attached…

There is more video than this, but a huge number of the copies I’ve seen include people speculating about what happened, so I’ll let you look them up yourself.

She was 19 years old (note for people outside the US: two years below the legal drinking age.) and at some point the following day, (many, many hours later) she was found dead inside a hotel freezer in an “unused” portion of the building which was under renovation. (And that’s pretty much everything anyone can agree on.)

In the beginning, the police seemed to be leaning toward this being an accidental death.

And then, Kanneka’s mother took her story to social media (I actually heard about this on Twitter, before it got to mainstream news in my area), and the internet rose up in support of a more thorough investigation.

The manner of death is now undetermined. (Manner of death is a check-box. Multiple choice. Five options. Natural, Homicide, Suicide, Accidental and Undetermined. It is not the same thing as cause of death, which could be Alcohol poisoning, hypothermia, asphyxia, etc.)

And on the internet–you’ll see what I mean, if you look at many of the videos–the theories of how and why Kanneka died run from the reasonable to X-Files worthy material.

My opinion? Doesn’t really matter a lot, but I think unlikely that Kanneka was murdered for her organs, and it’s also unlikely that her death was faked by sex-traffickers.

I still think there’s an excellent chance she was murdered.

Oh, no. Not in the way you’re thinking. I don’t think anyone pushed her in the freezer, or locked the door, or edited themselves out of the surveillance footage.

What I believe is that this death may have been the result of a felony.

Felony murder is the idea that you are responsible for the deaths that occur while you are committing a felony, or as the result of a felony. And–in the United States–it’s more or less first degree murder.

So, imagine that you are the get-away driver in a bank robbery. You never set foot in the bank, you never point a gun at anyone. Maybe your accomplices inside the bank don’t even have guns. The bank guard turns and shoots your buddy Steve. Steve dies as a result of your felony, so… guess who’s going to jail for murder? Just a hint: not the bank guard.

So, now that you have the general idea…

Imagine that you are a drug dealer in a hotel party. Selling illegal drugs is a felony. (Selling any scheduled drug without a license is, too.)

(As is Conspiracy, by the way. Someday, I’ll have to talk about my deep and abiding hatred of conspiracy.)

So, here we are… Down to the toxicology report.

If what we’re looking at is purely alcohol intoxication, then, maybe it’s an accidental death.

If, on the other hand, there’s anything else causing that intoxication… If she was sold or given drugs… If there were drugs at the party, and that’s the reason nobody called the police or the front desk when she first went missing… if any number of things happened,… that’s a death as the result of a felony.

Waiting for The Cinder Block of Internet Dismay

Do you ever look at that SEND button, and know–even before you push it–that what you’re saying is probably more controversial than you know?

I’m pretty good at self-censoring the political content. In the first place, it just doesn’t travel well. After all, does someone in Britain or New Zealand really care that I hold my local city council personally responsible for the water main break the other day? I mean, if someone had employed the judicious use of condoms, their son would never have hit that pipe with a backhoe, but you pretty much have to be from my town to care. Definitely my state.

In the second place, that’s a slippery slope into a rant–FREE CONDOMS FOR EVERYONE (except the nuns, that would be a waste of taxpayer money)–and do I really want my website to be the no-holds barred, ultimate fighting championship of the world?

Not really.

I spent plenty of time stuck between the republican, the democrat, the dentist and the gynecologist at family gatherings, and I have no desire to relive the experience.

Maybe I’m still left with that feeling of the futility of talking about it.

After all, the only consensus anyone ever came to was a preference for patients with big… mouths.

Okay. Yes. Moving right along.

Every now and then, the urge to say something overcomes me, and I say it, and then, I wait for the backlash. Most of the time, the backlash never comes, either because I don’t have that big a following outside my immediate sphere of internet influence, or because everyone in the whole entire world agrees with me.

Every now and then, though, there’s something I know touches on the political, and I still wind up saying it because someone’s in danger (right now, at this moment), or because I just don’t have the sense to keep my mouth shut.

So, you say the thing that everybody’s been dancing around for political correctness’ sake, and hold your breath.

There’s that feeling that you’re about to be hit by the great cinder block of internet derision.

Yesterday, I heard the story of a girl whose brand-new college roommate is in an abusive relationship. There are two elements that I should point out here: American dormitory rooms (including the one these girls are in) tend to be about 15feet x19feet with the bathroom down the hall. And the college semester started about a month ago, so they have known each other for about a month.

Well, there’s what’s really happening. Then, there’s the fraction of that the girl’s willing to tell a roommate she’s known for a month. And then, there’s the fraction of that the roommate is willing to tell her mother.

The mother was asking what to tell the daughter.

Uhm… Gee… what would I tell my daughter?

GET. THE. FUCK. OUT.

NOW.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe the other girl should be safe, too. Hell, I’ll even say I think she should dump the bum, if half the story is true.

But sharing a 15×19 room with someone who’s in that kind of situation is not safe, and it’s certainly not conducive to learning to spend your life wondering what’s going on and if your roommate is going to come home.

There’s a difference between “supporting” someone in a bad situation and putting yourself in the line of the bullet.

And nothing says “I’m concerned for your safety” like… well, “I’m concerned for my safety.”

I also included information on how to switch roommates, in case that’s the problem. Not everybody is aware that changing is an option, and I happen to believe that the girl who’s the very first person in her family to go to college deserves the same safety as the girl whose mother just picks up the phone and calls the dean.

So, I’m sitting back and waiting for the cinder block.

But as of right  now, I get a few extra rep points on that forum (it’s one that’s visible to the public, not a private forum), and some very quiet murmurs of agreement.

 

Comparing Yourself To Others (A Beginners’ Guide)

I get a whole lot of advice that says not to compare myself to others.

In general, the advice also includes some kind of admonition that the only person you should compare yourself to is you. And something that’s meant to be consoling, but which could almost certainly be said for anything from an infant’s first crayon scratches to Shakespeare. You are where you are.

I don’t believe a word of it.

What I do believe is that if you are going to compare yourself to others, it should be in a very specific way. I don’t, for instance think “I want to write like Shakespeare” is a healthy goal. It’s too big, too general… it’s something that eliminates your own style in the process. Wanting to be someone else isn’t achievable. But if you break it into specific elements you admire, some of it might be. “I should use the word thou more.” well, that’s achievable. (I’m not sure it’s advisable, but you can achieve it, if you want.)

I’m not being humble, here: It’s not where I am that tells me the heights that are out there. Or what’ necessary to succeed. Or where I could improve. Or how far I have to go. It’s looking at others.

And then, you sort out the things that are pure, dumb luck–the lightning strikes–from the things that are hard work. The things you’re willing to work for from the things you’re not. What can you have? What do you want badly enough?

I used to go out and shoot a few baskets, now and then. Now, let’s be honest. I was not good. And–I’m five foot zero and a half–so I’m never gonna be good. Not in any global comparison, anyway. If I’m comparing to Michael Jordan, that’s an impossible, lightning strike goal. He’s taller than me, prettier than me, and has better legs than me. But if I compare to Mike Miller down the street–you know, the guy who spends time with his kids, and gets some exercise, and has fun–well, I could do that. I’d be happier doing that.

And I dance. I can rattle off lists of the greats in this that and the other form, and shiver with awe for all of them. But on a personal level, I connect more with Ray Bolger than with Baryshnikov, and long-term… I want the social connections and longevity and fun of Frankie Manning more than then the elegance of Maria Tallchief.

I lucked out a lot more, when it comes to writing. More of the stroke of luck talent than I have for other pursuits. I’m probably capable of walking out on a professional court at some point. Some of that is lightning strike stuff, and some of it is hard work. I am where I am… but this is where I want to go. Not just one professional writer, but the collective, group of them. Professional-level writing all the way. The get up at three in the morning on a weekend and write crowd. The going places crowd.

What catches my eye when I read this book or that book, and am I willing to do the work to get there?

Hunting the Witch of the Gaps

Note: This is a continuation of the cemeteries and science rant from last week. I hope it makes sense in a vacuum, but you might want to read the earlier piece first.

There’s no need to look for a reason.

They blamed the girlfriend–the “significant other” who moved out after however many years… and took the children he’d grown fond of with her. They blamed her in whispers, and telephone calls between people who never met her.

Never mind the fact that half the world is divorced,

And “significant others” have their reasons.

And never mind the fact that–

If he’d had the good sense to live–

The same old hags who blamed her would have been rooting for her. You have to do what’s right for you. Children need a safe and stable home. Good for you… if he’s not going to buy the cow…

That was the reason.

And if it wasn’t, there’s the mother–she spanked, you know–she could have paid attention.

If only she’d bothered to read… this brochure. The Warning Signs of Suicide.

She could have stopped him, when he gave her that thing. They give their things away.

Everyone knows that.

And no one ever takes a gift without questioning why. A thank you note’s an abomination

If it  doesn’t end with Thank you, but are you okay? If you need to talk… if you need to cry…

Never mind that.

The mother had to be the reason.

And if not, there are brothers. Sisters. An old babysitter or two. His grandparents had just died. (Imagine!) And maybe the rent had come due.

We know the reason. Or maybe there are reasons.

There have to be reasons. We must blame someone.

Because saying “I don’t know” means “I don’t know.”

And  anybody could be at risk.

 

 

Name The Crime

I ran across a headline in Jezebel (not my usual reading) yesterday.

“After Body-Shaming a Fellow Gym Patron, Dani Mathers Will Be Tried in Court”

Body Shaming?

Well, don’t get me wrong. She definitely did that, too. (Allegedly, but in an already admitted it in an online video, and apologized, but really doesn’t want a record kind of way.)

But what she’s being tried in court for is taking a picture of a naked 70 year old in the gym locker room and posting it to the internet.

Let’s put it this way: if she’d said the woman was “hot” instead of the nasty thing she did say, she’d still be on trial. And probably for a sex offense. The DA delivered a nifty sermon on the evils of body shaming, but in the end, that’s not what she’s charged with.

The media likes to do the same thing with “bullying.”

“Bullying” can stretch all the way from not eating lunch with someone through harassment, and assault. Most of the time, if “bullying” hits the papers, what we’re really talking about is a concrete, nameable crime.

Sometimes, it’s lots of crimes.

You can sit and count the crimes in the articles that announce the “bullying” victims’ eventual deaths.

We could call this kidnapping, or false imprisonment, or assault or battery, or any number of things. We can name people who went to prison for the same things. If someone did it to an adult, they’d call the police, press charges, and name the crime by name.

But if the crime is committed in a school, we have a tendency to find the euphemism. Bullying. He was pushed (assault) into the women’s restroom (kidnapping), held there against his will, (unlawful imprisonment). Let’s call it “bullying.”

Let’s call the principal instead of the police.

Let’s keep it out of the papers until someone is actually, literally, dead.

Let’s fudge over the reports and the details, so no one can really be sure how often something like this happens in the school their children go to. You didn’t really want valid statistics on that in-school crime rate, did you?

And why on earth would the principal have any obligation to report these things to the police, in the first place?

It’s only a crime against minor children.

Oh, that’s right.

It’s a crime against minor children.

The next time you see a story that says something like “Bullying Victim Commits Suicide”… NAME THE CRIMES. Chances are pretty good that an adult would have called the police months or years earlier.

And if you have children, make sure they KNOW that these are crimes. Not just so they’ll understand the impact doing things like that can have on their own life, but so that if they are a victim, they’re able to walk into the principal’s office and say, “I’ve been assaulted, and I need to call the police.”

Sometimes, a stern talking to just isn’t the answer.

The punishment for assault–for kidnapping–for unlawful imprisonment–for any number of things that get waved aside as “bullying” isn’t that you don’t get to go to the winter Snow Ball.