Tuesday, December 24, 2013

I like the religious meaning of Christmas

Secular Christmas is kindof meh, honestly. It's basically Thanksgiving again plus obligatory present giving, horrendous traffic, and shopping crowds. I enjoy a good holiday with family, regardless, but I'm also worn out on the commercial themes that have been hanging around since literally before Halloween. I'm sure when I have kids there will be a renewed magic to it, because childlike wonder is infectious.

In contrast, the religious theme is potent and meaningful. It takes a little suspension of disbelief if you're not Christian, but this is true of all myths. I feel no need to disdain Prometheus or the River Styx simply because these things lack literal truth. In the Christian myth, our yearning for absolution is touched by grace and we are made whole again: unfractured, unscarred - a kind of healing that mere time cannot provide. Jesus is the physical manifestation, the personification of grace and forgiveness.

Forgiveness is necessary to sustain any relationship over the long term, including one with ourselves. Because the forgiveness in this myth is perfect, the grace infinite, no one is beyond its reach.  However unable you are to accept yourself, or obtain absolution from others, God is still there. It opens a gateway to renewed self-love, and because whole communities believe in this and place God's judgment above their own, it opens gateways to re-acceptance into the community as well. That no one is beyond redemption is powerful, because placing someone beyond redemption makes them incorrigible or worse. This is the ultimate restorative justice, powered by magic/God.

Like the tale of the Boy Who Lived in Harry Potter: there was darkness, and it was sundered by the power of love as manifested in an infant. A mysterious event met largely with relief and gratitude, a bewildering Deus Ex Machina. Who would not be grateful for the sudden respite?

This is not to say that there are no problems with the myth, but on a holiday celebrating it I prefer to put that aside and appreciate it for the worthier parts. We have to live with each other; it may as well be in harmony. Peace on Earth and good will towards men - it all starts with the grace to forgive.  The myth has literary meaning that extends into our real lives;  Jesus does not have to really exist for this to matter, though that does sound nice.

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The racist thing I did.

A belief that white Americans often seem stuck with is the idea that racism necessarily implies at least some minimal amount of malicious intent.  The term has been associated so entirely with  clearly identifiable villains that normal folk who think of themselves as good people are unwilling to entertain the idea that something they said or did might be racist.  They're really saying they would never be racist on purpose, and they don't understand that most racism happens without any conscious intent to be racist.

Imagine for a moment some future dystopia in which most jobs are given out by a machine, and the machine identifies individuals by biometric thumb scan.  And let's say that this machine is less accessible to black people because it has difficulty reading darker skin and wasn't tested at the factory to work on a variety of thumbs.  The result would be that it would be harder for brown people to get jobs because they can't simply use the machine, they have to struggle with it - sometimes unsuccessfully.  This creates a systemic bias against them, and would be racism.  It does not matter that it was not intentional.  It does not matter that the creator did not want to make the machine discriminatory.  It does not even matter if the creator is black (although that would make this outcome much less likely, which is part of how racism works.)  The machine systemically hurts an oppressed racial group; it is therefore racist.  We can talk about what everyone intended to do later, but we must first acknowledge this fact.

It is easiest and most effective to be critical of ourselves.  Let's go there.

So, I am a white business owner.  (This is not hypothetical, I am describing reality now.)  I just hired someone.  I hired them out of my pool of personal contacts, selecting someone who I believe is capable of and will benefit from the job.  Because my personal contacts are disproportionally white compared to the population, it was overwhelmingly likely that this approach would result in hiring a white person.  This is racism.  It does not matter that I didn't intend it, or that I recognized and did not like it.  It is still a contribution, however small, to a system that stacks the deck against some people because of their race.  Do you understand?

I am not alone, of course.  White people overwhelmingly have the wealth in our country, are overwhelmingly in the positions of power to make hiring decisions, and overwhelmingly have their social circles populated by other white people.  Combine this with the (natural, not in and of itself racist) tendency to hire people personally known, and then from your network of contacts, and THEN from the anonymous public, and you have systemic bias.  Large companies and government agencies generally require jobs to be posted publicly to avoid exactly this kind of nepotism, but smaller companies generally do not and smaller companies tend to do most of the job creating.  Do you understand?

The decision was also sexist, for similar but different reasons.  Somewhere out there is an applicant, possibly someone more qualified than the person I hired, who does not even get to know that a job opening existed.  When I conjure a list of people I might want to hire, the list is comprised entirely of straight white men.  This is not intentional but it is also not a coincidence.  Do you understand?

The black unemployment rate is consistently double the white unemployment rate.  Do you understand?

I have a lot of Very Good Reasons* for making the hire this way; good enough to sway me against the fairer approach of making the opening public and interviewing applicants.  But those reasons don't change the impact of what I've done.  That stuff is just explanation of intent, of what I meant to do and why I meant to do it.  The fact is that this practice contributes to racism and sexism, and I consider myself under a moral obligation to change it as soon as practical. 

When you're a white guy growing a company in a racist and sexist society, developing that company with real diversity probably requires deliberate effort on your part.  It isn't going to happen "naturally" in most cases.

*The reasons, if you care, are: fear of risk, change, and uncertainty; convenience; lack of confidence in my ability to choose a candidate based only on a resume and interview; and cost savings.

In short, I made the decision out of self-interest, choosing what seemed easiest and best for me and the circle of people I care most about - which includes the person I hired.  There was no malice, no "intent to be racist", but it was still a racist thing.  Running a company is hard, and I do not begrudge myself the freedom to do what keeps my company from becoming a statistic, but nepotism from white people amounts to racism.  I know this, and it sticks in my throat some. 

Do you understand?

Monday, October 21, 2013

I love Wrecking Ball, but hate the video.

Many videos feature gratuitious, problematic objectification, but the video for Wrecking Ball is willing to be incongruous and senseless to do so.

The video opens. Miley is crying. This song is about pain and loss.  It's about giving your all and having it not be enough. There is no reason for her to be enticing anyone.  She isn't trying to win him back or move on with someone else; this is not sexy time, it is the fall. I can feel a quiet rage under her surface. We get shots of her holding the sledgehammer, and there is a promise of what is to come.

The music rises into the first chorus, angry, hurting. "I came in like a wrecking ball..." She's holding the sledge above her head now, poised, strong, tattooed. Beneath a butch haircut and above a lithe body, her face has begun to set. There is stoicism, resolve, anger. She's crossing some gender boundaries here, exhibiting masculine power in a feminine body. I'm reminded of Pink, I'm thinking how much the lesbians are eating this up, and I'm inhaling in anticipation because shit is about to get real. Her rage is about to erupt into the physical world. Her face will contort, her well-muscled body will flex and twist, and there will be a mighty blow from that hammer.  Left to right across the screen, BAM! Rocks everywhere.  It will be a dual metaphor, an expression of how hard she tried to reach past his walls, and a destructive manifestation of her present pain and fury.

Wait, ok, not yet. She's doing like a runway thing with the hammer first. Ok, now she's... is she going to fellate that hammer? "WHAT THE FUCK AM I WATCHING?" screams one part of my brain, while another sits up and starts paying attention. Maybe there is going to be a different kind of "mighty blow." And that tradeoff right there, that's what I find to be a particular problem. Throughout the rest of the video she is portrayed as passive, wounded, and sexually available. No rubble is too uncomfortable for her to make sexy pose on. The symbols of her power, the wrecking ball and the sledgehammer, become symbols of male power (read: cocks) between her thighs for her to submissively gyrate and pose with. She is not wielding power, she is riding on it, and not from the driver's seat. Someone else is swinging that ball, she's just an ornament making it sexier.  (I'm reminded of mud-flap girl.)  Suddenly our heroine is cast into the passive supporting role.  She will take no actions.  She is going to wait, like a properly distressed damsel, for someone else.  But there's no one else in the video, where is her hero?  Why, it's you, hetero male viewers.  It's you. 

She does bring the hammer down once, and this shot fails utterly to convey strength.  Maybe a big strong man in the audience would like to show her how to swing that thing properly?  Or just do it for her?  And maybe they tried, and Miley Cyrus actually can't swing a sledge hammer (which I kinda doubt.)  Could this not be overcome with prop hammers and walls?  Could she not just get in the cab of the crane and appear to be piloting the wrecking ball?  That is the theme of the song, yes?  Hard hat, dirt-smudged face, and an angry pull of the lever?  Look me in the eye and the tell me that a Pink version of this video would not have successfully portrayed her as a hurting but strong person with agency and humanity, and not as a pin-up girl in her underwear.

They did not accidentally fail to show her being strong.  They were not trying.  Her transformation into passive sexual object is entirely deliberate.  They showed what they (she?) wanted to show, which was her passive, sexy body.  This might have been a deliberate choice on Cyrus' part, but that does little to improve the message.  We are not viewing sexual agency.

The Wrecking Ball video starts out promising to show us a phoenix in the process of violent immolation, and transforms that into a montage of boyhood sexual fantasies about Miley's body. I am disappoint.

In fact, I'm so mad that I'm going to go pose on some sharp rocks in my sexy underwear and wait for someone to do something about it.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Our military needs to break out the guillotine.

Rape in the U.S. military is an ongoing, systemic problem.

Some have blamed this on gender integration, but that is wrong because (among other reasons) about half of the victims are men.

'"It is only natural for commanders to want to believe that a crime did not happen," he said. "Making it disappear entails less risk for their careers. And not pursuing prosecution is much less disruptive for their units."
After his commanders learned of the attack, he was misdiagnosed, he said, with personality disorder and given a general discharge instead of an honorable discharge.'

Let me attempt to explain how broken that is from a military perspective.  A commander is responsible for everything that happens under their command.  Everything.  No, seriously.  All of it.  There is no plausible deniability, because you should have known.  There is no "the person that works for me fucked this up." because it is your job to make sure that they don't.  As we said, "Authority can be delegated, but the responsibility remains yours."  If the training, the procedures, the culture, or the people under your command are not tuned to create success, then that is your personal failure.

The incident that most drove this home for me was the sinking of the Ehime Maru.  You can read about it here  
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ehime_Maru_and_USS_Greeneville_collision  but basically a U.S. submarine accidentally crashed into and sunk a Japanese civilian vessel, thereby killing some people, including students.  In the aftermath, my captain personally conducted training for our whole crew, and gave us a message that you won't read in that wiki article. (paraphrased from memory)

The Greenville sunk that Japanese ship because the captain had fostered an image of himself as infallible and not to be questioned.  Multiple people in Control [a location the ship is driven from] had concerns about how dense the civilians were in Control and that this was interfering with their jobs.  The Firecontrol Tech in sonar, Seacrest, had indication that the Ehime Maru was too close, but doubted himself because this contradicted the captain's assessment.  The captain had created a culture that was not conducive to the concerns of the crew being presented to the chain of command, and this set the command up for failure.  Those people died because that captain's crew was reluctant to tell him he had gotten something wrong.  And that... that is the captain's fault.  He is responsible for creating that culture.

And so, our captain said, I do not want you to be afraid to tell me when I'm getting something wrong.  If you think there is a problem, if you think there might be a problem, any one of you can say "Wait. Stop.  This doesn't seem right." and we'll stop, and we'll look at it, reassess, and move on from there.

Culture matters, and the command is responsible for the culture.  In this case, our military's culture is leaving rape victims to the wolves.  It's unacceptable.  It's bad for morale.  It's bad for recruitment.  It hurts readiness and unit cohesion.  It's absolutely wrong, and if covering up a rape isn't conduct un-fucking-becoming, I don't know what is.  Has no one stopped to wonder what else these commanders are willing to cover up?  How can you occupy a position that requires good judgment and high trust if you will not face the difficult problems?  A commander that covered up an operational incident would be Fucking Fired (different from regular fired), and this should be no different.  A military, particularly a volunteer military, cannot achieve excellence under these conditions.  These commanders, all of them, have a responsibility to create an environment which prevents rape, advocates for the victims, and delivers justice.

Heads need to roll, and it starts at the top.  President Obama, you are the Commander in Chief. This is your military.  Fix it.  Now.

Media: I want to be hearing as much about this as I did about Catholic priests.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Red Right Ankle

"This is the story of your red right ankle,
And how it came to meet your leg,
And how the muscle, bone, and sinews tangled,
And how the skin was softly shed.

And how it whispered,
'Oh, adhere to me!',
For we are bound by symmetry.
And whatever differences our lives have been,

We together make a limb."

And I have begun to love you as myself,
to give consideration jealously reserved.
And to wonder what witchcraft
has brought you past the briars and walls,
and disposed my armaments.

All my life I have mistaken,
these inward lies for honesty.
But the real truth flushes pink
with shame and uncertainty,
leaves me naked and seeking mercy.

Yours is the courage, lent to me,
that brings me back to this place again,
trembling, and resolved.

Vulnerability is the price we pay,
and the gift we receive,
and is precious as each.

Ours is a story
of broken toys in love.
Playing, mending, creaking.
I could not do this with someone else.

"Some had crumbled you straight to your knees
Did it cruel, did it tenderly
Some had crawled their way into your heart
To rend your ventricles apart."

Sometimes when I feel loved by you,

it is beautiful and unbearable all at once.
I slip away to cry tears of joy
splashed with agony,
or the other way.

It is recognition that I cannot bear for this to end
and that we are mortal, still.

It is knowing I am not worthy of you loving me,
and seeing you continue, undeterred.

It's feeling grateful and small,
or nourished,
or infinite.

It's the ultimate trust-fall,
and I believe in you.

I decided,
on a day that was yesterday and a lifetime ago,
that I would never be this vulnerable again.
But you've disarmed that lie, too.

I love you more than I was supposed to.

Points of no return are defined
by anxiety on one side
and liberation on the other.

Let us journey, then, you and I.
You are irreplaceable in my heart.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Gun owners and safety: we can do better.

I think that the "responsible" part of "responsible gun owners" is important.  I also think that those of us who are or have been part of our country's gun culture are aware that sometimes gun owners fall short.  I would like to suggest that we, the community of gun owners, have some self-policing to do.

Here are some mishaps from personal memory:

1) A reloader intentionally overcharged his ammo so much that the ejector rod had to be banged on a picnic table to remove the shells after firing.
2) A shooter at a range, holding an automatic pistol that was loaded but not chambered, pulled the slide back, observed the empty chamber, declared "Yep, it's empty!" and released the slide (thus chambering a round.)
3) Two hunters were sighting in their rifles at an outdoor range.  One fired the rifle while the other stood downrange, about 6-10 feet to the right of the target, and hollered back "a little to the left!", etc.
4) I picked my weapon up off of the nightstand, ejected the magazine and opened the slide to verify what I already knew with 100% certainty: that the chamber was empty.  A bullet tumbled out of the chamber.  I'm still not sure how it got there.  I couldn't have been more shocked if a tiny motorcycle had driven out of it.
5) A man in my childhood trailerpark neighborhood devised a scheme to garner sympathy from his wife.  He would put an empty gun to his head and pull the trigger in a feigned suicide attempt.  The gun was not empty.
6) A WWII vet believed in a "common sense" approach that defied gun safety standards: a gun that had been verified empty could be handled as though it were not a dangerous thing.
7) The grandchild of that vet, having been raised with his philosophy on guns, would later dryfire an empty revolver out of a 2nd story window towards a grocery store parking lot to check the direction of cylinder rotation.
8) A person who had never fired a gun before took, as their only training, the 8-hour concealed carry course offered in South Carolina.  Though eager to learn, this person was still not familiar with firearms at the end of the course, but was about to be licensed to carry one in public.
9) At about 15 or 16, I would fire a weapon while someone was downrange because no one explained the range rules to me and in my (poor) judgment, everyone was sufficiently clear of my target (45-60 degrees away) for it to be safe to shoot at.
10) A police officer, thinking to make it safe to leave my gun in my car with me while writing my ticket, took the magazine out of it, did not clear the chamber, and left the other 2 magazines sitting there in the holster with the gun.
11) I accidentally reloaded a round with primer but no powder.  It lodged in the barrel; fortunately I noticed.
12) I accidentally reloaded a round with double powder.  That was hard to not notice.

Some of these have a single, simple answer:  The gun is always loaded.  I don't wish to trivialize this with a bumper-sticker phrases, however.  What I am suggesting is that rather than a gun culture, what we need is a gun safety culture.  Human error will never be eliminated, which is why safe procedures must not rely on perfect operators.   That doesn't mean that we should be tolerant, as a community, of less than perfect adherence to safety standards.  I don't think that we have to be judgy about it, but I do think we need to work to improve this, ourselves, and each other.

Most of the above were just near-incidents; no one was hurt except in the unintentional suicide.  But we cannot rely on luck to get us through these mistakes.  This gun that I'm about to pick up... this is a thing that kills people.  In my opinion, safety starts with that thought, with that level of respect for what we're doing.

Rather than shrug off the... what was it, 8? people who were accidentally shot at gun shows on "Gun Appreciation Day", we should be embarrassed, as a community, that this sort of ineptitude is present in our ranks.  I submit to you that we should be pushing to raise that bar.  It can only come from us, because for people outside of our community, the answer is actually simple: "I can't have a gun accident because I don't have or want any guns."  It's an approach that works, but it's not an approach that works for gun owners.  Our answer requires education, training, and care.

The question is: How do we do it?  What can we do to improve the safety awareness of the entire gun community?

The comment range is hot; fire at will.

Friday, January 11, 2013


I'm in the throes of flu and blogging about one of the most contentious political issues in our country.  What could go wrong?

I'll start by giving people an idea of where I'm coming from, and then I want to make a proposal that I think would address a lot of concerns on both sides while also pissing everyone off.  I submit this more as a discussion point than as a proposal that I think would seriously be implemented in the near future.

First, some of my views and assumptions, as well as criticisms of some common talking points:

1) "2nd Amendment advocates who think they need guns to protect against a hypothetical tyranny are delusional."  I disagree.  All political power and law ultimately comes down to force or the threat of it.  An armed populace has more power, is harder to oppress.  I acknowledge that the group who believes this (including me) intersects with people who believe that Obama is a Kenyan Muslim Anti-Christ who wants to use the U.N. to implement a New World Order, but let's not generalize by the nuts.
2) "If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns."  I'm suggesting a ban in almost no cases, but I still want to say that this statement ignores that flooding a market with legal guns makes them readily available to an illegitimate market.  It's also an assertion that we're essentially incapable of affecting the availability of guns to criminals, and I don't think we're as impotent as all that.
3) "If liberals think we can't effectively control drugs, then why do they think we can succeed at controlling guns?"  A great question, one that I think has to do with a difference in who provides the demand for each.  I will assume that we are able to be at least somewhat effective (I mean, there are countries that have done this.  It can't be impossible.)
4) There is basically no evidence that gun control, education programs, or concealed carry laws have any discernible effect on gun violence.  http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=10881  More data is required.
5) One of the concerns of 2nd Amendment advocates is that there should not be a registry of all of their guns, so that a tyrannical government could not go door to door and round them up.
6) The crime rate among concealed carry holders is low, and the rate of gun crime is lower yet.  This isn't too surprising since concealed carry means registering with the state and submitting fingerprints in most places.  I suggest extending this model.
7) Long rifles are sufficient to defend against a tyrannical government.  (Imagine occupying Iraq.  Now imagine 10x the people and 20x the geographical area to secure.)
8) Current concealed carry laws are a tapestry of varying regulations that is honestly very annoying if you're trying to legally bring a firearm with you on a road trip.  I have literally had to stop the car at a state line and transfer my weapon from one location to another to meet the law.  Not to mention all that research if you're crossing a lot of states.  Ugh.
9) Rifles are rarely used in crimes.  This may change as the availability shifts, but lack of concealability is a major issue.
10) Many gun deaths are associated with a gun that is owned by someone in the household (suicide, domestic violence.)  I leave it to individuals to opt in or out of this risk.
11) Handguns create the lion's share of the problem.
12) Gun violence is mostly an urban issue.

In a nutshell, I propose almost no restrictions on long-rifles (what we have now) plus anonymity, I propose a registry for basically everything else similar to existing concealed carry requirements, closing the private seller loophole, and a federal (states must recognize) concealed carry law with more stringent requirements than current concealed carry regs.  I rely on the assumptions that people who are registering their weapons will be infrequent offenders, that handguns will become less available to the black market over time, and that long-rifles are a poor tool for urban crime.  Gun security requirements might decrease domestic shootings some, but owning a firearm will continue to be a risk factor.

A)  All sales, private or otherwise, must obtain a background check for the buyer through someone licensed to do that.
B) For long-rifle sales (not of concealable length, semi-automatic, capacity of 10-rounds or less), these queries shall be anonymized and no record kept of who the weapon was sold to after transferring possession.  This is to partially relieve registry concerns.  Requirements are 18+, basic background check, 3-day waiting.
C) For handguns and semi-automatic rifles (including "assault" and without restrictions to magazine capacity) 21+, background check, basic gun safety course certification, detailed registration (see below).
D) What I mean by detailed registration is:
      a.) Name, address, fingerprints, dna sample, a ballistic profile if that is a useful thing (I have no idea, I may have watched too much CSI here.), serial number of the weapon.
      b.) If the weapon is lost or stolen it must be reported within a reasonable timeframe, and there is a small to moderate civil fine regardless.  False reports carry criminal liability.  Knowingly failing to report carries criminal liability.
      c.) Reasonable precautions must be taken to guard the weapon against unauthorized users.  Failure to do so can result in modest criminal sanctions against the registered owner if the gun is used in a crime.  (But not if reasonable precautions have been taken, and also not if the weapon was reported lost/stolen before it was used in a crime.)
      d.) Household members can be authorized as a user if they meet the requirements to own such a weapon themselves.  Responsibility for safe-keeping of the weapon in this case is shared but not diminished, but a crime committed by an authorized user does not impart criminal liability onto anyone else.  An exception is also made for gun sharing during hunting, sportsmanship, at the shooting range, etc.
      e.) Sale of the weapon requires a change of registration and for the buyer to meet all requirements.
E) Optional anonymous buyback for anyone who does wish to register a weapon.
F) Automatic/burst weapons are banned.  (Like, actually banned, not "effectively banned.")  Mandatory buyback compensates the owner for the fair market cost of the gun (these weapons are very expensive.)  Nobody uses spray-N-pray, anyway.
G) Federal Concealed Carry Permit.  25+, evaluation for stability, detailed registration as above plus a more extensive course, one that would take a pure novice into competency with a weapon.  The course will be good for any weapon and the license will be "shall issue" and respected in all 50-states.
H) Firearms Trust.  A situation may arise where a person owns a weapon, perhaps through inheritance, that they are not qualified to possess. Such weapons may be placed into a trust for safe keeping, and the owner may sell or will or assign the weapon to someone else normally, or just keep it in trust until they are qualified to possess it.  Automatic weapons may be held in such trusts (if the owner is hopeful that the law will one day change, for example.)
I) Antiques and permanently disabled weapons are subject to basically no restrictions (or whatever it is exactly that we have now.)
J) Provisions for legal transport shall be made for people without concealed carry permits who are traveling to engage in hunting, sportsmanship, etc.
K)  No carry in public of any kind, with the exceptions of J), without the Federal Permit.