September 30, 2009

Happy Blasphemy Day!

I'm rather fond of holidays that make us reflect on our rights, so I marked International Blasphemy Day briefly this morning with a Tweet:

I'm happy without your religion, thanks. Luckily, I enjoy working to improve the world while others just pray. #BlasphemyDay

What I didn't realize was that this was a gift-giving holiday. I apologize for not getting y'all something, but I'm happy to share what other people gave me in response to my Tweet. The first was this lovely comic from Miscellanea. (Also available as a t-shirt.) I'd seen it before, but it's always worth another look.

The other (oh, the other) gift I got was a link to a video for a Bible prophecy group that damned near self-mocking.

Q: How do you predict the exact date of events from reading the Bible?
A: Wait until they've already happened.

Q: How will knowing when Armageddon will come is going to help save people's marriages?
A: Hang on, honey. It's only for a few days more.

Happy International Blasphemy Day, everyone!

September 28, 2009


Kammy pointed me pointed me to an excellent article by Kate Harding in Salon. It's a reminder of the inconvenient facts that some people would prefer to forget about Roman Polanski.

Can we do that? Can we take a moment to think about all that, and about the fact that Polanski pled guilty to unlawful sex with a minor, before we start talking about what a victim he is? Because that would be great, and not nearly enough people seem to be doing it.

Second, Polanski was "demonized by the press" because he raped a child, and was convicted because he pled guilty. He "feared heavy sentencing" because drugging and raping a child is generally frowned upon by the legal system. Shore really wants us to pity him because of these things? (And, I am not making this up, boycott the entire country of Switzerland for arresting him.)

Polanski is in many of the categories of people we want to believe can't commit rape: rich, respected, charming, intelligent. He's also in a few special categories: Holocaust survivor, relative of a Manson Family victim, long-unpunished fugitive. I know that we don't want to associate guilt with any of these categories--but that means nothing more than the fact that we have to work harder to think about what actually happened.

In addition to Harding's reminders, here are a few more:
  • The rich don't commit significantly less crime than any other demographic, and their punishment is generally inversely proportional to their resources rather than directly proportional to the crime's impact on society.
  • Respect is based only on what we know of a person--their public side.
  • Charm is an excellent way of getting what you want, which people can get very used to.
  • Intelligence is much like charm in this respect.
  • Victimhood does not keep people from victimizing others. In fact, it increases the chances. However, the vast majority of victims manage not to drug people they want to have sex with or ignore them when they say, "No."
  • There are many people who helped Polanski comfortably escape custody this long, many people who worked with him in places where he could not be extradited. This tells us something about them and the accommodations they've made, but it tells us nothing about the rape.
But enough of me. Go read Harding.

September 26, 2009

Thanks, Bridesmaid

Off to a wedding reception. I was reminded of this bit of loveliness yesterday, and it seems vaguely appropriate. Enjoy.

September 25, 2009

Never Asked

Then it was time for me to repeat everything I’d told the officers. Having them hanging on my words had been heady, but facing a courtroom full of rapt listeners was almost too much. I’d never had so many people look at me at once. I wanted to hide. Only the knowledge the Carla had to listen to me for a change kept me talking.

A double dose of fiction this week. Get part two at Quiche Moraine.

September 24, 2009

Fighting the Frost

For those who found my last story a bit difficult to take, well, this one is at least somewhat less hard on the reader. Or at least it's intended to be.

Fighting the Frost

Raelorn stood on the edge of the city and shivered. He didn't know which city it was, nor did he care. They were all the same. Cold, indifferent steel and concrete, air thick with dirt and noise.

He was ready to stop. He'd been searching too long, and he was weary. Too, cities were not known for being gentle to his kind.

He closed his eyes. There. His caged cousins' spirits burned like beacons directly ahead of him. However inimical the city, however weak he felt, that was where his path led.

Raelorn sighed and stepped across the line, invisible to normal sight, that divided not-city from the city.


Jen waited with one eye just past the edge of the wall. She clutched a string in her hand and held her breath, hoping, needing.

The small creature moved slowly toward the bait. It stopped frequently, sniffing the air and looking around. Jen was lucky it hadn't seen her, even though she'd learned to hold very still.

Finally, the creature made a dash for the cake. As it tore hunks off in its hands and stuffed them into its mouth, Jen pulled hard on the string. A cheap plastic tumbler came flying across the kitchen at her, but she ignored it. She ran past it to the counter and threw all her weight onto the large plastic mixing bowl the tumbler had propped up seconds before.

She was almost too late. The bowl skidded to one side and she had to lunge for it. Pinned under her, it continued to jerk and shake. A whistling noise, high enough to hurt her ears, squealed angrily from under the bowl, but she ignored the pain.

After about twenty tense minutes, the whistling and shaking stopped. The bowl sat for a moment, then tried a march toward the edge of the counter. Jen braced her feet against the floor and pushed back. The pushing stopped, but Jen hung on. Two minutes later, the bowl again attempted escape, with similar results.

Jen waited until everything had been still for ten minutes before carefully and quietly letting go. She immediately put a cutting board on top of the bowl, then the several cans of soup waiting on the counter.

Then she turned to the kitchen table, where the cage that would hold her new captive lay in pieces. She poked cheap takeout chopsticks through holes she'd sliced in coffee can lids, one lid for the bottom of the cage and one for the top. Then she threaded string through the chopsticks to hold them all together. It felt flimsy, but it should do.

It wasn't difficult work, but Jen was tired when she finished. She looked up at the clock on the stove. Four a.m. No wonder she was beat; she'd been up since two and she wasn't a night person.

Everything had been quiet for almost half an hour. Jen returned to the counter and pulled the cutting board away. She bent down until her eyes were level with the counter and slowly lifted the near edge of the bowl.

It was safe. Jen pulled the bowl away. The cake was gone, except for some crumbs. In its place lay a tiny figure, to all appearances asleep. Jen would have said it looked human, except for the size and the wings. It was naked and obviously female, and its belly bulged with its recent meal.

Jen marveled that this creature, taking up maybe a third of the plate the cake had sat on, had devoured a piece of cake that had filled the whole thing. But the was hardly the only wondrous thing about it. The most wondrous thing was that it was now hers. Jen picked it up gently, set it in her makeshift cage, and pushed the lid back down over the chopsticks. She put the cage with the others on the shelves on the wall between the kitchen and the rest of her studio apartment. This one made eight.

She set up the tumbler and bowl with a new piece of cake and headed for bed. There'd be time later for the contemplation of wonders.

Jen woke up about noon. It was Saturday, for which she was grateful. She'd spent enough nights recently fairy hunting to be really sleep deprived. No matter how little attention anyone paid to her at work, they'd have to notice eventually. Besides, Saturday meant she could spend time with her pets.

A chorus of headache-inducing whistles greeted her the moment she sat up in bed. The shelves buzzed with the noise, and she was afraid it would bother her neighbors.

"Shh. Hush," she pleaded. "Wait just a minute and I'll get your food. Shh."

Jen ran for the kitchen and grabbed the pan that held the rest of the cake she'd used for bait last night. This had been the last box. She'd have to get more today. She didn't bother to cut it, just ran back with the whole pan. The new slice she'd set out had nibble marks in it, so she left it.

She broke off pieces and started stuffing them through the holes in the cages. It was easier with the new ones, where she could slide chunks through the large holes between chopsticks. The colander and perforated steel trashcan were harder. She had to rub the cake into the holes. The toughest was the plastic bin that used to hold her sugar before she'd poked holes in it to turn it into a fairy cage.

As they ate, she wondered again whether she should call them fairies. She was only guessing. She'd have sworn up until a couple months ago that there were no such things. If she hadn't been desperate, she might not have believed it then.

The first day she saw one was just like any other weekday, except that it was her twenty-sixth birthday. She hadn't gotten any calls from well-wishers, but she hadn't really expected any. Her mom wasn't good at that sort of thing--always too distracted by her latest passionate interest to deal with dates, she might remember to apologize later. Dad had his own problems. Her sister had always been too much older to really get close to, and the space between them had widened after Chris had married and had kids.

As for friends, well, Jen had to admit she didn't make friends easily. She never had. Some days the knowledge tasted bitter, but she wasn't going to let it get to her today. She'd do something special for herself, instead.

She took the earlier bus to work and tried to make eye contact and smile at her coworkers as they gathered in the break room, waiting to start the shift. It was hard, but she kept it up.

She got only a couple of weak smiles from Tom and Elena for her efforts, but it was early, and that was still more interaction than she usually had with them. It wasn't that she didn't want to get along. But being part of the crowd seemed to mean being loud and very casual. Jen just didn't know how.

Still, her modest success felt like a birthday present. She resolved to try again at lunch. When the whistle blew and the lines shut down, she grabbed her lunch bag and headed for the break room. In good weather, she usually took her lunch outside, so she wouldn't have to sit alone in the middle of a roomful of noisy camaraderie. Not today.

She marched, without pausing to let herself think about it, up to the table where Elena was sitting with a bunch of female friends. There was one empty chair, and Jen put her hand on the back of it. "Excuse m--"

"Did you guys see what she said to him last night?"

"I know. And he believed her!"

"I'm so ready to give up on him. Anyone in his right mind would know that when she scrunches up her eyes like that and tries to look adorable, she's lying through her teeth."

"I don't know..."

Jen could tell they were talking about a TV show, but she didn't have any idea which one. She waited with her hand on the chair for a pause so she could ask to join them. The conversation rattled on. When it switched to another show a minute or two later, she walked out and ate her lunch in her normal spot on the dock steps. The book she'd brought was almost enough distraction.

When lunch was over, it was a different matter. Counting the screws, washers, and other assorted hardware in each bag coming down the line didn't use enough of her brain.

Normally she used the time to daydream. Today, she wondered, once again, why everyone but her seemed to understand how to deal with other people. Other people knew what to say to start and end conversations. They knew how to chat to pass the time. She couldn't remember a time when those things hadn't been awkward and painful for her.

Was it something about her that made these things so hard? Sometimes it felt like she'd missed a class in school that everyone else had taken. Or that everyone else had been handed a key to life, while she was still searching for the gate in the fence. Silly, she knew, but more pleasant than thinking it was something wrong with her that kept her sitting in life's shadows.

Her memory was all too ready to argue that it was her. There were all the jokes she hadn't gotten, the ones where she'd laughed in the wrong places. There were the conversations that she'd killed as soon as she'd opened her mouth. There were all the times she'd said something she'd heard someone else say the day before, only to have everyone stop and stare at her as though she were speaking another language.

The scenes were still fresh and painful, although some of them were years old. She welcomed the break whistle. Then came Terrie, the plant manager's assistant, over the PA. "Will all employees please join us in the break room for cake and ice cream."

That meant going back outside to read was out of the question. They were celebrating the June birthdays. She had to be there when they announced hers.

She stood in the back of the room, so she wouldn't have to fumble with a chair when it was her turn. She hadn't been enthused enough to hurry, and she got there just in time to hear Terrie, a petite, slightly overweight brunette whose self-important attitude did nothing to endear her to the production staff, start reading off the birthdays.

"June second--Jim Curran. Come on, Jim, stand up."

Jim grumbled but stood up.

"June ninth--Blanca Padilla." Terrie pronounced it blank-uh pad-ill-uh, and Jen winced. "There you are Blanca. June eighteenth--Alfonse Williams."

She'd skipped today, the twelfth. Jen hoped they weren't saving her to make a big deal out of the fact that her birthday was today. She hated having everyone looking at her. She didn't remember them doing it to anyone else, but she usually skipped these things.

When Terrie read the last two names and started leading the singing, Jen changed her mind. People staring at her would have been infinitely better than knowing she'd been forgotten, left off the list. She'd been on it for the last four years, so they knew when her birthday was.

No, they'd just forgotten she existed, and no one in the room, many of them people she'd worked with for years, knew her well enough to remind them. Jen felt a cold knot crystallizing like ice under her diaphragm, making it hard for her to breathe.

Suddenly, she'd had enough. She didn't want to spend any more time with these people, and she certainly didn't want to eat cake and celebrate with them. Clutching the icy mass in her belly, she walked over to Sanchez, her shift supervisor.

"Mr. Sanchez, I'm not feeling well. I'd like to go home." She quailed under the weight of his attention. "I think, maybe, lunch."

"You don't look so good, Jenny. Go ahead and take off. Do you need help getting home?"

Jen exhaled hard, feeling like she'd been hit. She shook her head and fled into the women's room. It was, Jen was thankful, empty. She stepped into one of the stalls, slammed the door shut, and leaned against it, holding her stomach and breathing carefully through her mouth.

Ow. Ow. Ow.

Jenny. He'd called her Jenny. He'd been her supervisor for two years. Two years of some of the best quality numbers in the company, and it wasn't even worth it to him to get her name right. No more than it was worthwhile to anyone else to know when her birthday was. And she'd tried to do something nice for herself by making friends out there.

Jen laughed bitterly, stopping when it threatened to turn into sobs. She pressed her back hard against the stall door, covering that little aching vulnerable spot between her shoulder blades, the one that felt like a bull's eye painted on her back.

She should know better. She had no excuse. If experience had taught her nothing else, it should have at least taught her not to try. If constant failure hadn't driven the lesson home, the talk she'd had with her mother after she turned eighteen, "old enough to know," should have.

Mom had meant to be kind, maybe, in her absentminded way, to explain why Jen's father had never taken the interest in her he obviously had in Chris. But for Jen, learning that she'd been conceived in an attempt to save a marriage--ended by court papers signed three weeks before she was born--had just confirmed something she'd always suspected.

"Useless." As the hissed word bounced back to her off the tiled walls, cold and relentless, Jen felt something crack. Fat, unstoppable tears rolled off her cheeks onto the floor.

The litany that had formed the background of her life poured through her head. She'd outlived her purpose before birth. She wasn't good at anything. She couldn't get close to people, couldn't talk to them, couldn't even act normal. She was a lousy human being. Useless.

She covered her ears and rocked, willing it to stop, but on it went. The ice in her stomach snaked slivers of frost into the rest of her with every repetition. It came with pain but left a welcome numbness, with only a tiny ache of cold, behind it.

Jen knew she ought to fight the frost. Something had warned her, a long time ago, that letting it take all of her could mean her death. Worse, it could mean living as the kind of monster who didn't care about anything or anyone. But the only alternative to ice right now was pain, and Jen thought that might just kill her on its own.

The door to the bathroom opened, and Jen put a hand over her mouth. She tried to take deep, quiet breaths through her fingers, hoping she wouldn't start hiccupping. She really didn't want anyone to find her crying in the bathroom.

That fear and the breathing took up so much of her concentration, it took her a minute to notice the conversation going on in the stalls around her.

"So now I have to go work Q.A." She recognized Elena's voice. "Is there anything more boring?"

"So sorry," replied a voice Jen couldn't place, "but at least it's not me."

"Thanks." Elena was sarcastic. "Oh, well. That's Jen for you: too stuck up to talk to us, and then she leaves us with all the work."

Jen coughed, choking on the unfairness of the accusation. She was maxed out for accruing both sick time and vacation. It wasn't like she had somewhere else more appealing to spend her time.

At the sound, conversation stopped. Flushes were quickly followed by perfunctory hand washing. The last noise Jen heard from them was giggling as the bathroom door closed.

Hearing that hurt, but it helped too. Anger burned away a little of the frost and let her stand up straight again. That was what she'd let spoil her birthday? No more. She'd...well, she wasn't sure what she'd do, but it didn't involve staying here.

Jen grabbed some tissue and blew her nose savagely before opening the door behind her. She splashed some cold water on her face and patted it dry with a paper towel without looking in the mirror. She settled her face into a scowl that she hoped dared the world to talk to her.

She marched out of the bathroom and down the short hall to the door. No one was there to see her. She was half-sorry, half-relieved. Her anger still felt all too fragile.

It was easier by the time the bus stopped for her. Jen sat on the sunny side of the bus, closing her eyes and trying to absorb a little of the sun's warmth. Once the bus reached her corner, she'd settled on a plan. If no one was going to help her celebrate her own birthday, she'd just have to do it alone.

She marched into Harold's, the convenience store on her corner, and picked up a box of yellow cake mix and a tub of chocolate frosting. She grabbed eggs, just to be sure she had some, and headed for the counter.

Abdullah, his white hair in its usual untidy mop, gave her his standard wink and toothy grin. "Looks like someone's having a party."

Jen gave him what she hoped was a mysterious smile and paid for her purchases. She wasn't quite ready to try to talk.

In fact, mixing the cake in her beige, boring apartment took most of her remaining energy. As it baked, Jen reconsidered her decision not to have a television. All the songs on the radio were about broken hearts or parties, like the one she should be having--if she had anyone to invite. She was too tired to read even the books she reread when she wasn't up to tackling something new. She just sat on her couch and waited for the oven timer, trying unsuccessfully not to think.

It was almost too much work to get up when the timer went off, but it would be more to deal with beeping and smoke. Putting the cake on the counter, she wondered why she'd bothered. She didn't want it any more.

Since it was made, one slice, plain because frosting was too much trouble, went on a plate that she carried into the living room. She got a bite into her mouth before the tears overwhelmed her again.

Lying on the couch, she couldn't stop crying. Was it wrong, she wondered, to need more from life than a slice of solitary birthday cake? Anything more was always out of her reach, and it hurt so much to keep trying. Wouldn't she be better off to reach out for the frost and let it take her? Still, she couldn't quite. She cried over her cowardice too.

She knew that she was loud enough to be heard in the hall. She tried to keep quiet, but then another surge of pain would come. On it went, and on, until she couldn't think clearly enough to remember what she was crying about. Still she couldn't stop.

When Jen woke, her apartment was dark except for the streetlights shining in the window. Her neck was sore from sleeping with the couch still folded up. Her head throbbed, her throat was raw, and her mouth tasted foul.

She groped her way into the bathroom for some aspirin, then into the kitchen for water. She tried to accomplish the whole trip without waking all the way up. That possibility evaporated when she turned back from the sink.

There was something on the cake, something big enough to see in bad light. Jen wanted to run away, but she couldn't leave whatever it was with her in the dark. She edged around it to flip on the kitchen light--and saw her first fairy.

Not that she knew right away. It took minutes for her eyes to convince her brain that the head of dark gray hair resting in a hollow in the cake wasn't a mouse. But mice didn't have wings. Whatever was in her cake definitely did, translucent gray-green sheeny wings cupped around its sleeping body. Their edges fluttered as the fairy breathed in and out in its sleep.

She prodded the fairy gently, testing the reality of it. It chirruped, poked an arm out from under one wing to wave vaguely in the direction of her finger, and turned over on its back, all without opening its eyes. Opening his eyes, she corrected herself.

He wasn't quite as tall as her hand was long, and aside from the wings, he looked like a tiny man who worked out a lot. Well, wings and one other thing. Jen didn't have any practical experience, but she had taken health class, and she'd seen enough guys in tight jeans to be pretty sure those were not human proportions.

She realized she was staring and blushed. Then she laughed at herself for blushing over a sleeping fairy, or whatever it was. That brought home the fact that she was standing over a fairy in her kitchen at--what time was it? One a.m. Oof.

Jen decided she was probably dreaming, or sleepwalking, or whatever it would take to make the whole thing make sense. It was time to go back to bed.

First, just in case it was all real, Jen pulled everything off her coffee table. She grabbed the colander from the cabinet. She cut into the cake around the fairy and gently scooped fairy and cake together onto a paper towel. She set that on the table and put the colander over the top, with a stack of books to weight it down.

Then it was time to try to sleep. Her brain buzzed with questions, making sleep difficult, but they were far more pleasant thoughts than she'd had earlier.

She must have dozed off eventually, because her alarm woke her up at its usual time. Jen shut it off and glanced at the coffee table. The colander, at least, was still there. Jen didn't touch it. She decided she could wait to prove to herself that she'd been sleepwalking. Before having to face another day of reality, she wanted to relive the magic of discovering a fairy in her kitchen.

The colander trilled and Jen jumped. She looked over to see tiny fingers gripping the colander through the holes. Jen sat up and leaned over the coffee table. Through one of the holes, she could just barely make out an eye staring back at her.

Slowly, trying not to startle him, she reached out one pinky toward the colander. Instantly, he disappeared. Still, she rested her pinky nail just below the hole where his fingers had been. She waited, breathing shallowly.

Eventually, his fingers crept back out the hole. She held her breath. Gently, weightlessly, they crept over the surface of her nail. They came to rest still touching her. He blurbled a question that she didn't understand.

She called in sick to work, not caring for once that someone would have to cover for her. She even hoped it was Elena.

It was Friday, which gave her three days. Except to get more cake mix, Jen didn't leave the apartment all weekend. That wasn't so unusual, but it was the first weekend she could remember that she hadn't been lonely even once.

The fairy didn't do anything special, just chirped occasionally and ate all the cake she could stuff through the holes of the colander. But her apartment wasn't empty.

Monday morning, she saw signs that another fairy had been in her cake pan. She set up her first fairy trap. It hadn't worked, but the second one had. Since then, the fairies had continued to show up on a semi-regular basis. She didn't know why they found her box cake so appealing, but she wasn't about to argue.

Jen was glad she didn't have to try to tell anyone about them. Completely aside from the issue of being believed, there was the question of how to refer to them. She'd decided against giving them names, since presumably they already had their own. They might even have told her what they were, for all she could understand them.

Finding space for them was a more pressing issue. Cages were cobbled together or pressed into service from anything she had lying around that might hold them without suffocating them. She blessed whomever had decided that these apartments could skimp on space but needed almost a full wall of deep built-in bookshelves.

Her books came down to make room and were stacked against the wall underneath the shelves, covered with cake crumbs. They were mostly children's books and fluffy romances. Every one had happy endings and soft covers, making it a little safer to throw them on those occasions when she could no longer stand things working out for everyone but her.

She hadn't picked one up since the first fairy had arrived. They weren't friendly, exactly, but they offered more companionship than books did. They looked at her through the cages, watched her. Occasionally they even trilled at her. She talked back to them, not caring whether they could understand. It was just nice to have someone to tell things to.

Although she wasn't sure what exactly happened to the food she gave them, since she never had to clean the cages, they appeared to need it. She couldn't remember ever being needed.

It was slowly freeing her from the tyranny of other people's opinions. She was able to joke a little with Abdullah and say hi to the bus driver instead of just smiling. Small things, but every time, she felt the frost recede just a little.

Two weeks after her birthday, she'd run into Elena. If there had been a crowd, Jen would have kept quiet. But seeing Elena by herself, Jen hadn't been able to resist the impulse to get a little of her own back.

"Hey, Elena. I hear you had to work Q.A. while I was gone." Jen looked her in the eye. "It must have been terribly boring. So sorry. I just couldn't stop coughing."

Elena had flushed silently and dropped her eyes.

Jen still wanted to jump up and down like a kid remembering it now. She knew it was a small thing, petty even, but it had been so nice to see someone else be speechless for a change. Even a tiny flame could warm you if it was all you had.

The only flaw in her new happiness was the cages. She wished she dared trust that the fairies would stay if she let them out. Still, sitting in her living room on that Saturday morning, surrounded by cages and a burbling chorus, she was as happy as she could ever remember being.

When someone knocked at the door, it took Jen a moment to realize what the noise was. No one ever came to see her. She opened the door, thinking it was someone knocking at the wrong apartment.

When she opened the door, she was sure of it. The stranger in front of her was tall and pale, with black hair that absorbed light and eyes that suggested every color without settling on one. Handsome, even beautiful, felt like inadequate words to describe him. Finally, Jen settled on magnificent. He was definitely not someone who would come to see her.

"I have come for them." His voice matched the rest of him and carried a weight of authority that Jen envied.

He could only be looking for the fairies. Still, she tried to lie. "I--I don't know what you mean." If he'd peered past her into the apartment, looking for the cages, she might have been able to do it. Instead, he stared down at her silently, and she, utterly unnerved by that kind of attention, stepped out of the doorway.

As he walked past her, Jen had the vague impression of something following behind him. It might have been a pair of wings, but when she looked directly at his back, she couldn't see anything unusual.

"Are you a fairy, too?"

It was the only time in her life that Jen could remember speaking without thinking first, and she regretted it immediately. He turned to stare at her again.

"I'm s-sorry." Jen looked at the floor. "I--that's just what I've been calling them to myself."

He sighed, and Jen dared to look up again. "Don't worry, child. Fairy is not what I call myself, but I have been called so before. It will do."

"I could call you by your name?" Jen tried to meet the cool eyes that stared down at her. She couldn't. "Never mind." She didn't know what to say next, and the silence stretched uncomfortably until he broke it.

"It's time to let them go."

Jen panicked. Every little bright moment she could remember in her life had happened in the past two months. Life had stopped being endless work and had started giving her moments to look forward to. Now he was telling her to give that up.

She wanted to say, "No," and make him leave. She wanted to be strong enough to defy this stranger who was coming into her home and giving casual orders. Instead, she could barely hear her own voice, high and thin. "I...I can't."

"You can't?" He paused and considered her. "Oh, I see."

Jen knew that he did, that the truth was plainly there on her face, in her posture. She cringed to have to acknowledge that hers was such a small, easily read story. As the silence stretched, she felt the ache again in that small vulnerable spot between her shoulder blades. She waited for him to mock her.

Instead, his words were as gentle as they were inexorable. "Don't you think they have the same right to their lives that you have to yours?"

More. She knew their lives were worth far more than hers was even with them in it. Her life the way it had been before they arrived--well, if she hadn't known how little it was worth before, she certainly did now.

Knowing it, she couldn't go back. She needed them. She grasped desperately at an idea. "But they came to me."

"You did nothing to tempt them here?"

Jen thought about it and risked a look up. "Just baked a cake."

A sad smile on that majestic face softened his words. "And do you think cake alone would be enough to keep them here?"

Jen shook her head and looked back at the floor. The cages. She should have known he'd see the weakness in her argument as quickly as he saw the weakness in her. The tears fell for the first time since the fairies had started coming to her.

It hurt more than she thought it could to face the truth implied by the cages. It was such a fragile lie she'd built her happiness on. His words shattered it. They had no more chosen to be with her than anyone else in her life had. She'd have to give them up, set them free.

But she didn't know how. How could she go back to her old life, being certain that there was more, knowing that it had once been hers? She'd only been able to bear it because she'd never known anything else. The frost had almost won then. How quickly would it take her now?

She wished desperately that he would just take them all and disappear. She could admit to herself what she had done, but saying it out loud was beyond her. Putting a hand to a cage to free the first one would be impossible. Waiting for the courage to do either, courage she knew wouldn't come, was agony.

He interrupted her misery. "What if I stayed in their place?"

Jen gaped. "What?" She didn't believe what she heard, but her brain couldn't make the words mean anything else.

"If I promised to stay with you, would you be able to let them go?"

Jen couldn't hear anything but sincerity in his voice. Still, she looked hard at him, trying to detect mockery or deceit. He was...he was just too much to be willing to do that.

"You would stay?"

He nodded. "I would, if you would let the little ones go."

"Why?" The question slipped out, more forcefully than she usually spoke, before Jen could stop it. She blushed, but her attention was all for his answer.

He shrugged, implying that the question hadn't occurred to him. "It is necessary."

Necessary. Right. She took a deep breath. Well, she wouldn't have believed him if he'd said he'd stay because he liked her.

In fact, she still had trouble believing he'd be willing to stay at all. She wanted to ask again, to make him confirm it, but it felt a little too much like suggesting he was lying. Some instinct told her it wasn't a suggestion he'd take well.

So, he wasn't lying. But all her experience told her that people just didn't do things like this. Admittedly, he wasn't human, but no one had ever been this generous to her. As much as she hated herself for doubting a creature like him, her brain kept searching for the catch.

"You..." Jen took a deep breath and hoped he wasn't easily offended. "You won't hurt me, will you?"

He sighed, a big, gusty breath that ruffled her hair. Jen cringed for having had to ask.

"No. I will not hurt you."

That should have settled it, but Jen still couldn't reconcile his offer with the rest of her life. There had to be some hidden snag. She couldn't think of anything momentous that could prevent what was happening, so she groped after the mundane.

"Would I have to feed you? I can't afford that much cake."

He laughed, surprising her. "My cousins are greedy, are they? No, you didn't need to feed them, and you would not need to feed me."

His eyes twinkled. "You would also not need to cage me, clothe me, or find me a place to sleep. My needs are very few."

A place to sleep. Jen felt herself going pale. She hadn't thought about that. She hadn't thought beyond having someone to come home to, to talk to, someone who would listen to her. Really sharing her apartment hadn't been a consideration. Still, it would be worth changing in the bathroom for the rest of her life if that was what it got her.

That brought up one more important question. "How long would you stay?"

He stepped up to her and smiled brilliantly. "You ask excellent questions." He picked up her hands in his. "I will stay until you no longer need me."

Jen didn't know where to look or what to say, but there wasn't any question of not accepting his offer, not now. As much as her past told her to disbelieve in him, he was undeniably present and wonderfully real. She'd just have to adapt to the idea that he was willing to stay.

Jen realized the cages had been quiet throughout their conversation. It was odd. Letting the fairies go had been unthinkable just a few minutes ago, life without them impossible. But with one simple promise, she didn't need to hold onto them anymore. She could give them back their own lives, and that knowledge lifted a burden she didn't know she'd been carrying.

She started toward the shelves.


Jen turned back to the fairy slowly, feeling a heavy fear. The relief she'd felt evaporated. She waited for this one sliver of life to be snatched from her hands too.

The fairy smiled. "You haven't told me your name. If I'm to stay, I'll need something to call you."

Jen could breathe again. She thought about his question. Somehow she didn't want him to call her by the same name her parents had, the name the rest of the world had used indifferently. Something new and untainted would be so much better. She returned his smile. "Call me Jennifer."

Then she reached for the first cage.


Raelorn allowed himself to sag a little. That had taken almost more than he'd had left. It had been more difficult than he had expected and would be, it appeared, less productive than he had hoped. Still, he had accomplished what he needed to.

He looked to where Jennifer was dismantling her "fairy" cages, apologizing to each little one as she released it. She was a slight, pale thing who might have been pretty with a little animation. Instead, she huddled and cringed and apologized for existing. Her only distinguishing feature was the need that blazed though her like fire, big enough that she couldn't contain it and hide it away.

He marveled anew at what humans could do to their own. He didn't know the specifics of her story, but he'd heard enough of them to know the general outlines. There were only so many things that could be done to stunt a human life this badly.

Still, he admired her. She was more resilient than she knew. She had to be, to have contained her need this long without burning herself out. Even now, she was releasing the little ones cheerfully, apologizing for keeping them captive, when an hour ago they were what kept her life livable.

As they were released, his kin flew to him and chirped their welcome.

"Little cousins," Raelorn said in the liquid language native to them all, "you are looking fit and well fed."

An angry buzz of insults fluttered around his right ear.

Raelorn turned to face the little female who had arrived in Jennifer's apartment just before he did. The faint flush of pink that was just visible on his other cousins was missing on her. Her skin was a pale, pale cold blue, though not as blue as his.

He made her a bow of apology. "Ah, dear one. I apologize, but I couldn't wait. The frost would have taken me shortly."

She warbled at him some more, and he listened politely. She was tired and disappointed. He understood, having been in her position more times than he liked to think upon. Still, her situation was not as desperate as his had been, and there was nothing he could do to reverse what had been done. She had been released. She'd have to go.

Eventually her anger spent itself, and she followed the others, flitting through the solid outside wall to continue her travels. Raelorn wondered whether Jennifer noticed and if she understood what it implied about the cages. He wished the little one a quick end to her search.

He allowed himself a moment of sorrow that his kind had been reduced to this, to stealing scraps of human warmth from one another for survival. It hadn't always been so. They had once been gods and the emissaries of gods. But that had been in the infancy of humanity, when mankind had needed them.

They had never considered that they also needed humanity.

His people's beginnings were shrouded in legend, so it was a matter of great debate among them which had come first, his kind or humanity. Some thought that as mankind had slowly freed itself from instinct, learning to doubt everything, they had created a burning need for comfort in themselves. They thought his people had arisen to answer that need, learning to live off it in the process.

Others thought that his kind had shaped the development of humanity to provide more potent sources of the delicacy that slowly became their only food. Raelorn suspected that the truth was more complicated, that the development of his people and Jennifer's were intertwined and interdependent. He doubted that either could have reached maturity alone.

But the humans had moved on. Perhaps it was his people's fault. They were known to be capricious, to devise torments that kept humans in that constant state of uncertainty that breeds the most potent need.

Whatever the reason, humans had reached out for more certain answers to their needs. Slowly, they had built societies and civilizations, learning to depend on one another instead of their gods. They developed rules and customs that took the place of instinct and kept fear at bay. They had worked hard to discover certainties, constants and laws that made their lives more predictable and muted their strongest needs.

Raelorn's people started to go hungry. Their fires burned low, and lower, until many of them simply stopped.

There was still need left in the world, but not like it had been. All too often it was vague and fleeting. Humans who are regularly fed don't cease to feel hunger, but they forget the sharpness of near starvation. They forget to worry. Distractions, amusements, intoxicants--all of these dulled need, making it thin and unpalatable.

The small, half-articulated needs of children never faded, but they were just barely enough to feed one of the little ones. Times of great trouble created a feast of need, but it didn't last. It took something unusual to make a Jennifer, an adult who found no comfort in the world, who needed as much, as persistently, as she did.

Even Jennifer's need wouldn't last long, although it radiated now so strongly that he could feel its warmth against his skin. His willing presence would slowly heal the wounds that made her need so great. The protections with which she had ringed herself so well would see to it that he couldn't stretch that need by prolonging her pain.

Still, he was glad that she had been cautious. Watching her covertly look at him, trying to figure out what would come next, he had no heart for adding to her burdens. The promises she had extracted from him would ensure he could never be tempted. Hurting her would be a poor price to pay her for saving his life.

Raelorn walked over to Jennifer's couch and sat. He looked her squarely in the eye and patted the seat next to him.

"Jennifer, if I am to stay, we should know each other better. Will you tell me about yourself?"

He saw tears return to Jennifer's eyes, but this time, they looked like the right kind, the kind that could melt the frost in both of them.
Continue reading...

September 23, 2009

A Costly Delay

All apparent evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, is Senator Max Baucus really the best friend of single-payer health care in Congress? Yes, his bill does nothing to rein in obscene insurance company profits. Adds to them, in fact, largely at the expense of the working poor and middle class.

However, via Neuron Culture, we find this segment from Countdown talking about how blatantly in the favor of the insurance companies the bill is.

It isn't as though no one is paying attention to the reform process at this point, nor as though no one has been anticipating the bill would suck. During the drafting stage, there was a proposal going around to require Baucus to use his own plan, as a check against him doing exactly what he wants to do--make the federal government a collection agency for the insurance companies.

The question is, now that it's happened, what will the backlash be? At least one conservative pundit thinks delay in passing health care reform will lead to universal health care in another decade. I agree that delay isn't good for the industry's goals, but I'm not sure it would take a decade.

The longer we don't have a reform bill passed, the more cases of denial of coverage and rescission come forward. The more true grassroots groups raise money to get their messages across. The more the strings making the blue dogs dance are exposed, and the louder the progressives become. The more the strength of our need for change creeps into the public consciousness, and the more people attack the problem with whatever skills they have.

I don't know how long it would take for the demand for single-payer health care to reach these levels, but the conservatives have waited to long to pass something for all of us to compromise any more. The time for the public option is already here.

September 22, 2009

Are Women Less Skeptical?

The much-awaited survey on the religiously unaffiliated, "American Nones: The Profile of the No Religion Population," is out and it exposes some fascinating gender differences. Or does it?

"Women are also less skeptical than men and less drawn to irreligious and anti-religious views. They are more likely to reject a secular upbringing," Kosmin says.

Well, that's just from the researcher talking to the press, and you know how that can go. How about the report summary?

Whereas 19% of American men are Nones only 12% of American women are Nones. (Fig. 2.1)

Oh, my Gawd! Men are 60% more skeptical than women!

And from the report itself (detailed pdf):

There are a couple of additional findings worth noting here. Looking at retention by gender, Nones are more likely to retain men than women: 66% of men who reported no religion at age 12 were Nones at the time of their participation in ARIS 2008, but only 47% of females who reported no religion at age 12 remained Nones. Of those who reported having a religion at age 12, 15% of men left while only 9% of women did. It appears that American women have a greater affinity for religion than men. And conversely men have greater affinity for secularity than women.

Well, that's easy to say, but of course, the study isn't directly measuring skepticism or the appeal of secularity or religious views. It's measuring social behavior. It's measuring affiliation.

So what happens if we look at affiliation? 19% and 12% give us 81% of American men who are religiously affiliated versus 88% of American women. Which means we have 9% greater affiliation among men than women. That's still a significant difference, and it's the difference in what is actually being measured by the survey.

Of course, religion isn't the only major type of affiliation that people are expected to have. In fact, Kosmin and his group looked at the interaction of political affiliation and and religious affiliation. Unfortunately, they didn't report their results by gender, but a 2004 Pew study did. 59% of men and 65% of women identified themselves as affiliated with a political party. In other words, women showed about 10% greater rates of political affiliation.

Huh. About the same, then. Who'd have guessed?

Okay, now that I've got you thinking about what the survey does and doesn't measure, and the complexity of the situation, it's time to take a step back. When Kosmin is talking about regarding skepticism in the original quote isn't the base statistics on affiliation. He's talking about a smaller survey of beliefs among the non-affiliated, in which 58% of women indicated a belief in a higher power or personal god, compared to 46% of men.

Yet Kosmin's statement isn't that women are less skeptical of religion. Nor does it address the interaction between those beliefs and the ways in which women move into and out of religious affiliation (if males with no belief stayed among the unaffiliated while the women with no belief left for social/affiliation, rather than belief-based reasons...). It doesn't, as my Episcopalian atheists friends would be the first to tell you, even address belief among the religiously affiliated by way of comparison. In no way can it be said to address gender differences in skepticism in general.

While it is possible to conduct studies in which women show less skepticism, it's also possible to choose topics on which men are less skeptical. One survey that covered a range of topics found no difference by gender. If you want to really address the question, you simply have to look at a broad range of areas requiring skepticism. I recommend Podblack's three-part series on the topic.

Whatever you do, don't take Kosmin's word for it.

Update: I also recommend this post at Pandagon and the comments, which delve into the question of gender differences in affiliation.

September 21, 2009

Sleeping Weather

Maybe it's because it was the first season I experienced, but I happen to think that fall in Minnesota is pretty much perfect.

Cool nights, perfect for snuggling. Warm days in which sun falling on skin is both tangible and welcome. Winds suddenly made manifest by their burdens. Scents of woodsmoke (even in the city) and crumbling leaves that make me sneeze.

Impermanent color. Death that is only dormancy. Sleepy schoolchildren waiting on the corner. First frosts and heavy frosts, with every blade of grass looking sharp enough to cut. Migrants overhead, the early birds and the late. Crows returning to claim the park. Squirrels shut securelly out of the eaves.

The return of shoes. Wrapping fingers around steaming mugs to ease the joint ache. Red ears and noses and long delays in pulling out the heavy coats. Brief awareness of every outdoor breath. Big, fluffy, transient snow.

Apples and squash and cranberries and baking and roasting. Proud pantries. Gunpowder on the wind. Butchery in the kitchen. A diet suddenly heavy in meat, making room in the freezer. Friends and freshly brewed beer and kittens in front of blazing oak fires.

Perfect. Truly.

September 20, 2009

You Must Have Power

One of the highlights of SkepchickCon this July was getting to meet Dr. Pamela Gay. I could say that was because we have good friends in common or because of the outreach she does with Galaxy Zoo or Astronomy Cast, but that really just tells you what we talked about. The truth is, even sleep deprived, the woman is simply awesome. She proves it with her latest blog post, "You Must Have Power to Stop Discrimination."

And here is where I’m going to ask all of you to listen to me really closely: Anytime anyone with the power to help is aware of any form of discrimination and they do nothing to fix it, they are just as much to blame as the perpetrators.

Throughout my adult life I have over and over had some well meaning man watch me get frustrated in some work situation or academic situation, and they’ve said with the intention of comforting me: “It’s not you, he’s an [expletive] to all women.” Okay, nice try. I appreciate the attempt, but… Could you maybe offer a girl a little help?

I want to be clear: If you are in a position of power, and you see a problem, telling the victim they are being victimized is not a solution. Finding a way to stop the perpetrator is the only a solution.

There is lots more, including specific actions for both sides of those "It's not you" discussions to take. There's also a challenge for the writers in the room.

September 19, 2009

Community Index

This is a list of links to some of the more accessible writing here, at Greg Laden's Blog and at Quiche Moraine on topics generally related to the creation and maintenance of community, mostly online community. Topics include language, identity, civility and rules, particularly as they relate to inclusion and exclusion.

Many of these come out of ongoing, not entirely friendly discussions. There's a fair amount of insight in some of the comment threads, but there is also a certain amount of emotional violence in some. These discussions were not moderated.

Some of my best friends are pseudonymous bloggers (GLB)
Pseudonymity, social cues and argument from authority.

The Nature of Offense (AD)
Taking offense as an assertion of power and why it may not work.

Not of the Tribe (AD)
A look at the costs and benefits of in-group and out-group status, much of it in the comments.

Are Words Trivial? (AD)
Language as a gatekeeper.

Whither Allies (AD)
More on how close one needs to keep one's friends.

Nanny Goat Gruff and the Internet Trolls (QM)
An index to my posts on trolling behavior in story form. Includes a link to How to Hijack a Thread, the most popular of these posts.

Unsolicited Advice for Maintaining the Appearance of Ethics Online & The Ironies (AD)
Making some rules so they can be taken apart and examined.

Negotiables (QM)
What do we do when hard and fast rules don't suit everyone?

From Anonymity to Subjectivity in the Blogosphere: Post Game Analysis by BZ (GLB)
Follow-up discussion of academic work on online identity management, with links to the original.

On Rules, Part the 47th (AD)
In general, and a small amount about blogs specifically, with some discussion of the consequences of being labeled an outlaw.

My reaction to Zvan on PhysioProf at Isis (GLB)
Follow-up on rules with thoughts on outreach and education.

Diversity and Conflict (QM)
We need practice at this stuff.

The Hurricane Lantern Effect (QM)
An observation on unsolicited advice.

Foul, Vile and Expressly Stupid (AD)
Just because everyone in the blogosphere should hear, "I Hate Your Blog."

Anonymous blogger's ID will be revealed under court order (GLB)
Discussion in comments of whether the internet is inherently a different place than meatspace with respect to accusations.

When to Speak (AD)
The rustiness of minority voices and the fear of being "shrill."

Joe Wilson's outburst is not about civility. It's about racism. (GLB)
When breaking the rules is the point.

Commenter Behavior and Misbehavior (AD)
For the discussion of bullying in the comments.

Kanye West: Uncivil Rebel or Obnoxious Lover of Goats? (GLB)
When the ends don't justify the means, you may hurt your ability to reach any more ends.

Purity and Outreach (QM)
The choices we make in defining our groups.

Pirate How To

From my favoritest pirate ever, despite the hair.

Oh, you mean it's Talk Like a Pirate Day. Never mind.

September 18, 2009

Purity and Outreach

Generally, however, purity movements either abandon their quest for purity in favor of rewarding in-group status (see the treatment of recent Republican infidelity revelations) or they splinter into tinier sects, some still obsessed with purity, others offering various loopholes (see the Mormon polygamist groups).

None of these outcomes are anything I want to see for any group I'm involved with, so I twitch when I see someone trying to draw, for example, simple lines between what is and what is not feminism. And when I say twitch, I mean I tell y'all about it.

Most recently, I've been twitching about these big, overlapping groups of rationalists and critical thinkers who are out here fighting the good fight against various forms of irrationality.

It's hand in the blender time, I'm afraid. Over at Quiche Moraine.

Methodology Matters

Via Barbara Drescher comes a lovely analysis behind some rather sensational reporting:

Technology addiction among young people is having a disruptive effect on their learning, researchers have warned.

Their report concluded that modern gadgets worsened pupils' spelling and concentration, encouraged plagiarism and disrupted lessons.

Luckily for those of us who might have some contact with teenagers, education or technology (how many of us is that again?), Anne Marie of Wishful Thinking in Medical Education sprang for the report behind the press release.

With regards to 'tech addiction' this seems to have been a self-assessment based on response to the question: How addicted are you to the internet or your mobile phone? The proportions given in the BBC report are those who stated they were 'quite' or 'very' addicted. Of course, we don't know what the students meant by 'addicted'.

With regards to this addiction harming learning, there is no analysis relating the perception of being addicted to outcomes in learning. In fact very few of the questions are related in any way to learning.

The whole thing is worth a read, as is a comparison between the BBC article and the blog post. It highlights the way that several red flags regarding the research are reported in the article without being emphasized or interpreted in any way for readers who don't already know that these are flags.

September 16, 2009

Commenter Behavior and Misbehavior

Those of you interested in trolling (the "cross this bridge and I'll eat you" kind, not the "anybody biting?" kind), should read a couple of recent threads. At Making Light is "The Bully Pulpit," an examination in the abstract of dealing with misbehavior and drawing the line between behavior and being. It's a short post with a very long comment thread, which I'm not done reading just yet, but which is remarkably thoughtful and, even while digressing, stays remarkably on topic.

Then, from Greg's blog, an exercise in specifics in which the commentariat is polled: "What do we do about Mike H?" Um, ignore that bit where people are complimenting me, please. It's the rest of the discussion, and the conclusion, that are interesting.

September 15, 2009

Dear Democrats

You want my money, I know. I gave you a bunch in the last election, and you'd really like me to give more. However, before you send that e-mail and interrupt what I'm doing, here's what you should know about what I want.

I don't want a bunch of money spent on safe elections. As much as I love Rep. Ellison, and I do, I didn't donate to his campaign last year. He didn't need it, and our district didn't need to increase our collective carbon footprint with a bunch of mailings that would have made no difference. Democratic incumbents in Minneapolis, this means you're generally out of luck unless something gets very interesting. Then we'll talk--maybe--after I've done some research. In other words, I'll call you.

I don't want a bunch of money spent on infighting. If you want to be governor, take your pledge to abide by the nomination of the party. Spend your money inspiring your supporters to show up at the caucuses on your behalf, not tearing down your opponents. Remember that it's about the state, not about you.

I don't particularly care about meeting you. I'm not awed by celebrity, speeches are slow, and access shouldn't be something I'm paying for or you're selling. If you want to set up a fundraiser for you, make it a joint fundraiser that also benefits people who are screwed under the current system. Highlight the problems you want to be hired to solve by helping to solve them.

And finally, about health care reform: I'm not donating any money to Democrats in general until they get their act together. Period.

There are damned few of you who have provided leadership on this issue. Ellison has. Franken has. A few others around the country have, mostly in the House. They have my support. MoveOn has my support. A few other groups that are advertising have my support. That's it.

Until the party itself steps up to advocate for affordable care with a robust public option, nothing. Until the DCCC starts extorting cooperation from House members, nothing. Until the White House stops trying to compromise itself into line with the status quo, nothing. It's that important an issue, and it's that simple.

Thank you for your time and all that lovely attention paid to my wallet.

September 14, 2009

Goodnight, Miss Vida

Joe Wilson and SCV Links

So, I was engaged in a little...discussion on Facebook with commenter Rob (#26) from Greg's post, "Joe Wilson's outburst is not about civility. It's about racism." We were...chatting about Rep. "Joe" Wilson's membership in the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), when someone dropped in some reading that was too good not to pass along. Thanks to Graeme for the links.

Lost Cause

But preserving that firewall is an uphill battle. Hilderman's anti-racism campaign has generated little enthusiasm inside the SCV. Currently, the only publicly identified member of Save the SCV is Hilderman: The men who founded the group with him have since left the SCV--having evidently concluded it was beyond saving--and those SCV members who support Hilderman's cause, he explains, are afraid to say so publicly for fear of retribution. Indeed, ever since founding Save the SCV, Hilderman has been routinely denounced as a traitor and a scalawag; on SCV-affiliated websites, he is portrayed wearing a Union uniform. "May God forgive your ancestors for having such vile and ignorant offspring," one outraged SCV member e-mailed Hilderman.

A House Divided

The grainy video frames, now almost two years old, are somewhat cryptic. At length, the speaker describes "heritage coalitions" as a new way for SCV members to cooperate with other neo-Confederate groups in fighting so-called "heritage violations" — acts like taking down the Confederate battle flag.

"Theoretically, it's a citizen's coalition, anybody can join," the speaker explains to a room full of listeners in this April 2000 videotape.

For those on the outside, such coalitions may seem like harmless anomalies. But the speaker was none other than white supremacist attorney Kirk Lyons, one-time member of the neo-Nazi National Alliance and current darling of neo-Confederate extremists (see profile, "In the Lyons Den," Summer 2000 issue, Intelligence Report).

Standing next to David Duke, Lyons was addressing a gathering of the neofascist American Friends of the British National Party that included many of America's leading far-right activists.

George W. Bush and the Confederacy: Where Does He Stand?

While academics may argue over whether the museum celebrates or simply informs on the history of the Confederacy, it is clear that the Lone Star Ball, held on March 21, 1998, celebrated many of its aspects. Held at the Tredegar Iron Works Gun Foundry Building, the place where Civil War arms were produced for the Confederacy, it flew the confederate flags of all the Southern states and featured hundreds of guests in period costumes. A spokesperson of the museum said that Bush had written a letter of welcome to the attendees of the ball, which each year honors a southern state and in that case honored the state of Texas. Bush’s office refused comment.

What Trent Lott is, cont'd

Rather than reconcile himself and his state to Lincoln's victory in the Civil War, Lott has spent much of his public career seeking to burnish the reputation of Confederate president Jefferson Davis. He has urged the posthumous restoration of Davis' citizenship and proclaimed that the Republican platform reflects Davis' ideas. In May 1998, Lott spoke at the dedication of the Jefferson Davis "Presidential Library" at Beauvoir, the former Davis estate in Biloxi, Miss. His remarks were reproduced in a Sons of Confederate Veterans newsletter, with an introductory note by one of the chapter officers. "If there was any doubt [whether] the Senate Majority leader's heart is in our cause, this speech should answer all doubts." (For a deeper understanding of what is meant by the SCV "cause," look here and here. Lott told the assembled crowd, which included then-Gov. Kirk Fordice, who allocated more than $3 million in state funding to the Davis library, that the Confederate leader had been the guiding light of his political life. "Sometimes I feel closer to Jefferson Davis than any other man in America," he said. Perhaps he aspires to achieve the status he ascribed to Davis, as "the Congress's leading intellect and voice of Southern nationalism."

The Cross They Bear: Whiteness, Religion, and the Confederate Battle Flag in the American South (pdf)

At the regional level of the South, a variety of groups have been actively involved in the flag debate. Most prominent have been ‘Neo-Confederate’ groups who view the region as the exclusive domain of native Southern white Christians (African Americans are largely if not entirely excluded from their definition of the region), and who seek secession if necessary to create their vision of a white Christian South. We discuss the Neo-Confederate movement in more detail below. However these groups including the League of the South, the Council of Conservative Citizens, and, more recently, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, have been actively defending and flying the Confederate battle flag over the past two decades (Potok 2000, Sebasta and Hague 2002, Webster 2004, Webster and Leib 2005). These groups have been prominent in local and statewide controversies about the flag, have worked to defeat legislators they view as anti-battle flag, and have lobbied heavily for legislation promoting, protecting and defining the flag’s meaning (for example, the SCV has filed lawsuits against state motor vehicle agencies to force them to issue specialty car license plates that feature the battle emblem).

Enjoy your reading and any subsequent...gentle debate.

How Many Cops

...does it take to protect a counter-protester from teabaggers?

More than they originally thought, apparently. I particularly like the bit toward the end in which the counter-protester is being a pain in the cops' ass. They'd obviously very much prefer that his protest be done as soon as possible to avoid conflict. That's just as obviously not his priority. More power to him. Literally.

September 13, 2009

How to Think

I'm feeling terribly lazy today (which is a huge step up from exhausted). In lieu of the thoughts on outreach and purity movements that are bubbling around in my head (the thoughts, not the...oh, never mind), I direct you to the generally excellent Vagina Dentata and a crash course in critical thinking.

This was interesting because it challenged me and my preconceptions about women engaged in BDSM. It wasn’t what she said on the EA Games issue, all of which I agree with: this objectifies women, ‘Booth Babe’ is a demeaning term, it encourages sexual harassment not just of the ‘Booth Babes’ but all women attending ComicCon etc.

There are two things that I find challenging about this: empowered feminists being sexually submissive and BDSM models criticising the objectification of women.

Step 1: Don't dismiss the cognitive dissonance.

Read the rest.

September 11, 2009

Why Vaccinate? For the Fragile

Carrie, of course, is not otherwise healthy. She's prone to seizures, one of the rare complications of pertussis. She also has that problem with swallowing.

Think back to the last time you had a bad coughing fit. It's gross, but think about the saliva and the mucus. Think about the last time you threw up. Now imagine all that together, along with gasping for air--and not being able to swallow.

If Carrie gets pertussis, she'll almost certainly get pneumonia. Well, she will if the doctors can keep her from choking to death first. There's a very good reason that pneumonia is a common complication of pertussis, even without Carrie's problems.

A far too personal vaccination story, at Quiche Moraine.

September 10, 2009

What Makes A Man A Man

Hmm, someone's been busy putting good stuff on YouTube, old and new.

Ruby Red

It was the wickedest gift I could give to you.

What Makes a Man a Man

Then answers come from those who make the rules that some of us must break...

The Way You Walk

If I stay now, you don't own me.

September 09, 2009

Minnesota Politics with National Implications

I'm worthless for writing today, but one of the joys of a group blog is that you can let your co-bloggers take some of the pressure off. Mine have been picking up my slack for a while, but this week, they've outdone themselves.

Mike described the pandering to teabaggers that went on at a health care reform town hall--run by a Democrat.

Betty McCollum did a lot of assuring and comforting of conservatives in the crowd–that the bill would not damage them in any way, that there would be no “death panels,” that the special needs patients wouldn’t have to beg a panel for care, that they would be able to stay with their current plan, that Medicare would be fixed so that Minnesota hospitals are no longer punished for being efficient. She didn’t say anything to show those of us who had campaigned and doorknocked and phone-banked to help Democrats get elected in November that we were going to be heard this September. She didn’t say anything about fighting for a public option, let alone the one fix that would actually take care of the problems, single-payer health care, such as the type that our top competitors on the world market offer.

This post is a follow-up to his report on attending Michele Bachmann's town hall meeting.

Greg has a post up that I wish I'd written. No way I could have, of course, but there it is.

I love this video. I love the kids who made it. I love the message it gives and the way it is given.

But the Saint Paul Police Department saw it differently.

We now know, because of the release of previously secreted information and some excellent reporting at MinnPost, that this video was the primary piece of evidence used by the police to argue before judges, city officials, state officials, and federal authorities that they needed funding, warrants, and overall administrative support as well as coordination at the federal and state level to spend $300,000 invading several homes, harassing several people, confiscating truckloads of stuff that police claimed was either evidence or dangerous materials, and ultimately arresting over 800 people.

OK, have you stopped laughing? Have you stopped screaming? Have you cleared the tears from your eyes? Yes, it is true. This video scared the authorities into spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to carry out dozens of blatantly unconstitutional acts and hundreds of inappropriate activities. Thousands of law enforcement officials were involved. It was almost like a municipally organized pogrom pitting the police against the populous. The mayor of Saint Paul and the chief of police saw this video, shat in their pants, and the smell is still ripe.

Go see what he has to say.

September 08, 2009

We Can't Afford to Wait

Thanks to Ronald for the link.

September 07, 2009

Happily Ever After and the Locus of Control

Alma Alexander has written about happy endings over at SF Novelists.

I don’t really believe in the happy ending. In my early reading, few of the old myths had them; when I graduated to fairy tales I tended to prefer Hans Christian Andersen’s dystopias than ache to be in Cinderella’s wedding party – I might have cried bitter tears at the fate of the Little Mermaid (the ORIGINAL Little Mermaid, not Disney’s red-haired sea princess with a chorus of singing sea slugs) but somehow I had more in common with her than I ever had with Sleeping Beauty. I mean, I might not have grown up with a spindle in my hand either, but I think I could be kind of trusted to see a damned sharp point if one came under my hand, and I would like to think (faery curses aside) that I would have the motherwit not to impale myself on one.

I don't particularly agree with her about...well, about anything except that happy endings can be done badly. Happy endings do happen in real life. Happily ever after doesn't mean no work, just not working alone or without hope or reward. Sometimes the cost of happiness really is paid up front.

What really caught my attention, though, were her feelings about Sleeping Beauty.

Both kind of fairy tale endings hinge on a sort of fate or destiny – Maleficent’s curse or the Little Mermaid’s desire to walk on dry land no matter what the cost – but the difference in my head between the Sleeping Beauty tale and that of the Little Mermaid is that Sleeping Beauty almost literally sleepwalks her way through her life (the curse is something that WILL HAPPEN, no matter what she does or thinks about it) and the Little Mermaid makes her own choices, lives with her own pain, and finally turns her back on the dearly-bought salvation that her sisters have paid for because it is not her OWN choice, her OWN destiny. One of these protagonists is in control of her own life. The other is not. I saw the difference.

This bothered me quite a lot, this preference for willful self-destruction over a free release being offered to a young woman who is suffering for her parents' actions. Some of my reaction is a particular hatred for blaming the victim, this time for being passive in a situation in which she truly has no control. Some of it is that this fetishization of control has nasty consequences.

The most sure way to ensure control over what happens to you is to arrange a nice, quiet suicide where no one can find you until you're dead. Failing that, the next most certain is to make lousy choices with known consequences. Good things will happen to you by accident occasionally, but there's no surer way to get kicked out of wherever you live than to stop paying your rent or mortgage, no surer way to see your marriage destroyed than to walk away from it, no surer way to avoid getting an education than to refuse to study, no surer way to keep from being published than to refuse to write.

These things happen to some percentage of us anyway, because when it comes down to it, they are not under our control. Not completely. But they are much more under the control of those who engage in self-sabotage.

Not surprisingly, we see this in politics too. There is no issue so important that someone won't come along to say they're sitting on their hands because we'll never get the outcome we really want. We saw it last year before the election. We see it right now in the people who want a public health insurance option but act as though the decision is up to Rahm Emanuel.

The fact is, defeatism (anticipation of the unhappy ending) just isn't that reasonable. Bad things happen, but good things happen too. One hundred years ago, women couldn't vote. Poll taxes were allowed. Interracial and same-sex marriages weren't allowed in many places. We had a weak antitrust system, no formal national park system, no Interstate system, no Social Security, no Medicaid, no free school lunches, no Title IX, no Pell Grants, no VA, no education subsidies for the people who serve in the Armed Services.

Focusing on that unhappy ending means we are ignoring what we have accomplished--and losing sight of the power we have to accomplish more. We can't control all of our environment, but every decision we make, every action we take has an effect on it. We can choose the more certain path of failure, or we can the risk to try to improve our lot. We can reach for that happy ending. Sometimes, we even get it.

And that is every bit as much a Truth as any presented in the most dismal literature.

September 05, 2009


I was thirteen, which means I was in eighth grade. I hated school for numerous reasons mostly having to do with being a poor geek in a rich suburb in the status-obsessed eighties. I hated gym class for the very similar reason that almost everything was turned into a competition. After all, what better idea is there than making blood-thirsty teenagers play dodge ball (except maybe stranding them on a desert island)?

I liked swimming, both because water was home and because I'd been doing it competitively for a few years in a state where summer wasn't strictly bounded by holidays. All that practice meant that when one of the snobby kids wanted to put me in my place with a swimming competition, they got their asses kicked. Okay, beating one of them while doing the backstroke instead of freestyle was just showing off, but it was fun.

I liked running, too. Like swimming, it was an opportunity to be by myself, even in a class full of other people. I was a decent sprinter and an okay distance runner until I ran out of breath. I never did manage to condition that up properly, despite walking a mile to school every day with a nice uphill section in the middle.

Then I started liking running less. One day, my foot hurt. I didn't remember injuring it, but I figured I must have. I wasn't screaming with pain, but I limped. The gym teacher looked at me funny but let me sit out a day. Then a second day. Then the look was less funny, and I was told to get out there and try.

It hurt, of course, every time I flexed my foot. But I could do it. The pain, just as it had started, never got so acute that I was afraid I was hurting myself more. Sometimes it even waned. Then it waxed again. But I'd already learned I could run through the pain. It was better than that look and all it implied. I even taught myself to walk without the limp.

I think it was the next year that my knees started to hurt. Same gym teacher, though, so I knew better than to sit anything out. As long as I could do it through the pain, the pain couldn't really be that bad, and I shouldn't use it as an excuse. For not doing something I'd like to do until it hurt.

It wasn't until I was sixteen, riding the bus to a more-distant school and no longer required to take gym, that I saw the doctor about my foot and my knees. That may have been the first time I saw a doctor in that period. It may just have been the first time I said anything about this pain that I'd gotten used to living with. I don't remember. Things were complicated then.

It was arthritis. The toe got a whopping huge shot of cortisone, which burns like you can't imagine if you've never had it. A couple hours later, it was fine, a condition that persisted for more than a decade. The knees were more difficult, since my kneecaps are slightly malformed, but I was given exercises to strengthen the appropriate muscles to keep my kneecap from grinding into the rest of my knee.

That's what I'd been living with for three years. That and exercise-induced asthma, but it was even more years later before I figured out that being out of breath after a run doesn't make most people really struggle for air and cough to clear obstructions that can't be cleared. Well, the arthritis, the asthma--and that look on my gym teacher's face that said I was faking it, relying on a tiny boo boo to get me out of work.

I wanted to take the diagnosis back to my teacher and rub her face in it. I still don't know whether I should have. There are so many forces in our society telling us that as long as we can limp along, the only thing that's really wrong with us it that we're not doing it with smiles on our faces.

So I've learned how to smile, just as I learned how to run and how to walk without a limp. Real smiles, too, the kind that will fool experts. I've learned how to push enough air over the reddest vocal cords to defeat laryngitis long enough to allow the smallest of small talk. I've learned to look attentive when I'm falling-down tired. I've trained, "I'm doing well, and you?" as the automatic response to the polite question that isn't really interested.

Of course, I haven't learned how to feel any better. I haven't learned how to keep from resenting the world zipping past me when I have to stop or the people who can't see through the facade.

Most of all, I haven't learned how to stop feeling like a malingerer when I stop short of running. I know that the best thing I can do when I'm sick is sleep. I know that sitting up will just make my joints hurt more and that my temperature will fluctuate broadly, requiring that I have quite a bit of control over my coverings. I know that migraine-induced vertigo is much less likely to make me nauseated if I don't move around a lot. I know that in the past year, I've used five days of PTO for vacation, and all the rest has gone to sick time.

None of that makes me feel any less like I'm slacking off. None of it makes me feel any less useless when I'm not getting something done. None of it makes me feel that it is any less shameful to limp. And none of it makes me feel any less like someone is going to come along and look at me as though I'm making it all up.

Klobuchar Fails Leadership Test

The MinnPost recently interviewed both of Minnesota's senators about health care reform. Franken took the opportunity to, once again, rub his competence into the faces of those who want to think of him as "just" a comedian. Klobuchar didn't do as well. Here are a few of her answers about the public option:

MinnPost: Are you in favor of the inclusion of the "public option"?

I am open to a public option, but I am waiting to see what it looks like in the Senate bill.

MinnPost: Why?

I believe we can incentivize more affordable health care in general by better regulating insurance and creating meaningful competition for health care services. However, some of the options before Congress are tied to Medicare reimbursement rates. Before we even consider expanding Medicare, or another program based on its rates, we must reform our Medicare payment system so that it rewards value, not volume, and doesn't disadvantage states like Minnesota that provide high-quality care in an efficient way.

I would prefer a public option that would be a competitive option that would allow people to buy into a Federal Employee Health Benefits Program, which is a series of private plans…

I have long advocated for opening up the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program that uses the purchasing power of 8 million federal employees to lower premiums, while still providing access to quality care and preventative services. I am especially focused on making sure that any reforms make it easier for small businesses and the self-employed to afford health care.

MinnPost: You have faced some criticism about not coming down clearly for, or against, the public option. What is your rationale behind the position that you have taken?

We have a lot to lose if it isn't done right… I think I am doing the right thing for the state by stepping back. The problem is if you say "yes" and don't see the changes you want, that doesn't get you very far. You would give up any power to change it.

In other words, Klobuchar is taking a wait-and-see attitude on the public option. It would be nice, doncha know, but somebody might, maybe, screw it up. She can't really commit until she sees what is delivered to her desk.

Health care was one of the largest issues of the last election. It affects every one of her constituents. 79% of people polled (including 61% of Republicans) want an option that doesn't involve trusting their health to the insurance companies. What about this issue calls for such a passive approach?

When we elect a senator, we expect her to lead. We expect her to use the power we've given her instead of waffling about giving it up down the road. We expect her to get out and tell the rest of the Senate what is important to her state, to lay out our broad concerns as well as the details that worry her. We expect her to stay involved in the process long enough to make sure decent legislation is written.

We don't expect her to sit back and hope someone delivers legislation to her liking. That isn't being a legislator. That's being a voter, and any of us can do it. We don't need her for that.