mokie: Red-haired punk Vyvyan makes rude gestures at the viewer (snotty)
An odd trend popped up and caught my eye over the last decade: failing businesses requesting donations to keep from going under. I mean donations literally: not an exchange of goods and services, but outright requests for money to pay off outstanding rent and utility bills. They were usually from bookshops under three years old, crossing my path because I am bookish and frequented bookish sites and forums where the requests appeared.

What the requests suggested to me, depending on the details:
- The owner did not have a viable business plan and knew diddly-squat about running a business.
- The owner confused their daydreams about what they'd do with 'the keys to the candy shop' with having a business plan.
- The owner confused being a business in the business of [whatever] with being a church in the service of [whatever].
- The owner confused being a business in a community with being a community center.
- The owner should have started a club instead, as it seemed they wanted a place to hang out with fellow [whatever] lovers rather than a business.
- The business was already beyond saving.

Bookshops aren't really the point here, but they do illustrate it well.

First, more than half of all new businesses fail by their fourth year, simply because new business owners are inexperienced. Successful business owners usually have a few failed businesses under their belt; their failures taught them the pitfalls of business, how to mess up and pick themselves up and eventually succeed. Bookish people who've long daydreamed of having their own bookshop look from a customer's point of view, seeing a lack of bookshops as a need for bookshops, but missing the obvious counterpoint: shops with decades of experience in successful operation were put out of business by Amazon and the chains, and those that survived did so because they had advantages others didn't (like a great walkable urban location) or because they made changes that brought in a wider range of people (like bric-a-brac hunters).

Second, these small business owners overestimated the importance of their interests to the local community, and their role within the community. To bookish folks, a refrigerator is just an appliance, a bath towel just a flop of cloth. They're just things. Books are different, sacred vessels to which we entrust ideas, containers for other worlds and lives. Opening a bookshop isn't just like having the keys to the candy shop - it's like being entrusted with your own church. A church of candy, even. That lends itself to unhealthy expectations, because to the rest of the community, a book is just a thing, and even dedicated bibliophiles are going to have to pay their own rent first.

That's why new and troubled bookshops take to their blogs and Facebook pages, asking for $15,000 in a month to cover their outstanding debts so they can stay in business. They do a little interview with the local paper about how they'll have to shut their doors if the community doesn't come through and show it values its bookshops, and keep Twitter abuzz with updates. They'll certainly get a few more customers, mostly looking for really good going-out-of-business sales, but I haven't seen a single bookshop yet saved by begging the community to keep their dreams afloat.

For some, as the deadline looms, the bitterness creeps in. If all the people offering supportive comments were regular customers... If they were real book lovers, they'd have been there all along, and the shop wouldn't be in trouble. They get huffy at what they see as invasive questions, because who do you think you are, asking them about their business plan and how you can be sure they wouldn't be asking for donations again in a few months? How dare you want to make sure your money wouldn't be wasted? They forget that they run a business, not a charity or a church or a fucking community rec center, and that nobody owes them a goddamn thing - certainly not to be rewarded with free money for their incompetence, no questions asked. "Show us you value our business" is the customer's line.

The community sees a business begging, and a business begging for donations is a business that's bad at businessing. Why throw good money after bad? That hardly gives them any confidence in the business owner's competence.

The community wants to see the business taking steps to fix its own problems, and telling them how they can help - not that it's dead in the water unless its customers come up with a load of cash. People will happily help someone raise money to start a business (and I will, because St. Louis needs Dr. Dan's Pancake Van). People will gladly patronize a business if they like it and it fulfills a need or want for them. People don't want to be blamed for a business they've never heard of going under, however, or shamed for not taking up the flag in someone's personal cause, be it books, raw dog food or organic produce.

To be clear: the point is not bookshops, failing bookshops, how many bookshops turn to donations/crowdfunding, that small businesses should not ask for help, that small businesses should not be given help, or that one should write off troubled businesses as, "Oh well, do-over." It's that the community loves to give businesses support, but asking for charity makes a business look non-viable.

All of which brings us to the inspiration for this ramble!

A local organic grocer's expansion fell through, and now the business is in debt and at risk. Though only five years old, they are pretty well established on the local food scene, and increasing their business steadily. On social media, they're sending a business message that suggests confidence and capability: we're responsible and well-run, not asking for donations but having a sale to raise funds to fix an identified issue. Not a hand-out, just a hand-up - that sort of thing.

It's perfect! It should appeal not just to the organic church and choir, but also to the community. Except, in local print media...
Horine says it would defy the Local Harvest ethos of building a stronger local-food community to close without first turning to that community for help.

"We've always stuck with it," he says. "We believe in what we're doing. It sounds cliché, but we feel like it's bigger than us. So we're going to give the community a chance to try to save it." (Ian Froeb, "Local Harvest Grocery and restaurants face imminent closure, seek help", St. Louis Post-Dispatch 27 January 2014)
Give the community a chance to... Gah!
The Scoop talked with Earnest about her fund raising plans. “What we built the [Local Harvest] model on was building a local food community,” Earnest said. “People will have the chance to say…whether it’s important that we continue to exist. Whether it’s worth it. Whether it’s right for them. Obviously we think so, but do they?” (Ligaya Figueras, "The Scoop: Local Harvest launches community fund raising campaign to avoid closure", Sauce Magazine 27 January 2014)
Whether it's worth.... Gah! 'Cause' wording undermines any sense of confidence and capability. By shifting all action to the consumer, it doesn't tell us how (or if) the business is trying to fix its problem, if there's a plan besides "beg for donations help", if the problem has even been identified or if this is just rescheduling a crisis. It's all just "Support my church of candy! Don't you love candy? Prove it!"

Besides, who says something like that when they're asking you for money? "I need $1000 to pay my rent and heating bill and buy food. You have the chance to say whether it's important to you that I don't freeze to death homeless and starving on the street." And why am I hearing Sarah McLachlan?

To the owners, local and organic is its own little church of candy. To the 'church and choir' customers, it's local, it's organic, but it's also asking for a lot of money, while using language that puts responsibility for its success or failure on the people it's borrowing from. To the community that might have been persuaded to help a local business out, it's a goddamn business, and they do not need to prove any goddamn thing to a goddamn business. The community does not have to prove its love, prove that it cares, prove that it values a certain kind of business. The business has to prove that it's not going to tank and leave people high and dry with worthless gift certificates. Because it's a business, not a cause.

SPACEBALLS: THE CLARIFICATION! (and update): Yes, this entry was edited to clarify the intent (I hope), eliminate some repetition, and address my lack of caffeination when it was written. But more importantly, on February 1st, LHC met their funding goal, and the villagers rejoiced!
mokie: Ghostbusters' Vinz Clortho wears a collander and answers questions (SCIENCE!)
A conversation observed, paraphrased and annotated:

Naive poster: "My friend is a nurse and washes her hands all the time, but I looked at her lotion and it's full of all these chemicals. I'm going to make her some all-natural homemade lotion! With coconut oil, and sunflower oil, and..."

Note: Many medical facilities use latex gloves and barriers. Oil-based products break down latex. This is a bad, bad idea.

Helpful people: "Since your friend works with sick people, sterilizing your equipment and using a preservative is a must. This is usually the problem people run into with homemade lotions."

TRUE. Lotions are water-based, and water-based products are almost guaranteed to succumb to mold and bacterial growth eventually, even with a preservative. Products made without a preservative should be refrigerated and used within a month, and not on broken skin, because seriously y'all, cooties.

Naive poster: "How does a preservative keep someone from spreading infection? Pshaw!"

...ungh.

Helpful people: "It keeps bacteria from growing in the lotion. The lotion she spreads on her hands. The hands she touches equipment and sick people with."

Not at all helpful people:
- "You can just use vitamin E."
- "Or grapefruit extract."
- "I like rosemary oleoresin."
- "Essential oils make great natural preservatives."

Helpful people: "No, none of those things are preservatives. Several are antioxidants. They prolong the life of the oils, but they don't stop bacteria and fungi from growing in the product."

Not at all helpful people: "I don't use water in my lotions, just aloe juice, so it's not an issue for me."

Helpful people: "Aloe juice is water-based. Juices in general are still water-based. Is your lotion made with liquid? Then you still need a preservative."

People who work in an actual medical setting: "Guys, the products we're allowed to use are strictly regulated for exactly these reasons. Also, oil-based products break down latex."

See?

Scoffing scofferson: "Don't all lotions contain oils? Harumph and pshaw."

No. For example, products made for industries that use latex--

Scoffing scofferson: "Sounds like more chemicals to me."

And this is why you should be a little more cautious when buying handmade personal care products, especially from folks throwing around the terms 'all-natural', 'preservative-free', 'herbal', and (especially) 'great for kids': because good intentions are no substitute for actually knowing what the fuck you're doing before you put the health of total strangers at risk.
mokie: Man with an old computer monitor for a head drinks through a straw (media pop culture)
A month or so ago, for reasons I can't remember, I found myself reading about milestone episodes of South Park--which episode really gelled the show's dynamics, and which episode cemented Cartman not merely as a tiny Archie Bunker but a budding psychopath, etc. This kicked off a marathon review of the entire series for me. It's turned up a few surprising realizations, like that Stan and Kyle aren't as interchangeable or even alike as many fans claim (and complain about), and I can't explain that without going full nerd, so I'll just leave it there, because that's not the realization I want to write about.

I realized that some of the episodes are so damn far ahead of the moment that many of us don't seem to get them at the time of release.

The episode that brought this home is season 12's "Britney's New Look", about the media frenzy over Britney Spears and her long, slow public meltdown. In the episode, the boys learn people will pay insane cash for Britney photos and trick their way into her motel room by telling a guard they're her kids. For the distraught but otherwise normal Britney, this is too much: under the stress of the media onslaught that she knows will never let up, she blows her head off. Through some fluke she survives, and nobody treats her any differently except the boys. They feel guilty and try to help her escape, only to discover it's a massive conspiracy, and she's just a human sacrifice for a good harvest. (Yes, really.)

(Edited to add: I refuse to add spoiler tags for a TV show that aired two elections ago, especially as the spoileriffic element is the whole point of the episode.)

First, there are the reviewers who see only a parody of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" and describe it simply as that, even though I don't think that's technically accurate. The episode imitates the end of Jackson's story, the crowd surrounding the damned woman with cameras instead of stones, but it's using Jackson's story to satirize paparazzi culture, not satirizing her story itself. (Interesting aside: Jackson said about the original reaction to her story, "People at first were not so much concerned with what the story meant; what they wanted to know was where these lotteries were held, and whether they could go there and watch.")

Then there are the folks who missed the point. Spears fans protested that it was a heartless mockery of a low point in her life, and completely missed that she was being portrayed sympathetically, while everyone else (even the boys at first) were villains. Show fans whined that there weren't enough jokes, not enough Cartman, and the only laugh they got was hearing Clinton say "spearchucker" in debate with Obama, completely missing, well, probably anything in the series more intelligent than a fart joke.

And then there were the folks complaining that if they were going to do a Britney Spears episode, they should have done it properly, because there's so much to make fun of, missing both the point ('Holy fuck, there's celebrity poking, and then there's this, and this is not right--we as a society are killing this woman, let's back off and not do that anymore'), and the fact that they were in fact the very people the episode is actually satirizing. For example, and an egregiously creepy example it is, there's the review that crowed the episode "takes a stab at Britney Spears and her popularity" "[w]hen the Queen of Trailer Trash visits South Park," and "[o]nly the boys seem to notice her head is blown off in a great parody of her train-wreck life. We love how Matt and Trey treat her as a brain-dead machine propped up by the media. No head. No brain. Doesn’t matter. Look at the camel toe!"

That's driving right past the point and off the pier, into a lake of fire.
mokie: Hannibal Lecter sits on his shiny blue couch (media viewing)
Sometimes you get a look behind the curtain, and you realize that the little man back there is pulling so many more levers than you imagined. Stephen King's On Writing, for example, opened my eyes to how he thought about and structured stories. Suddenly those weird elements in his stories that just don't work (you know the ones) made more sense: they still didn't work, but I could see the reason, the intention and framework behind them.

Other times, though, you pull back the curtain and discover that the little man has no clue what he's doing--but it won't stop him from congratulating himself without cause. That's what it felt like to read an interview with the creator of the classic Nick show Clarissa Explains It All.

"You have to remember that before Clarissa, girls were given outfits to wear. Matching clothes. Girls didn’t pick their own clothes and make their own styles. Now we take it for granted. Annie Hall was a good example for adults. People didn’t create their own styles except in minor ways. Punky Brewster wasn’t fashionable. She was being 'quirky, goofy girl.' She was really Pippi Longstocking." (Mathew Klickstein, "Inside Clarissa Explains It All with Creator Mitchell Kriegman," Splitsider.com 27 February 2012)
Bullshit.

We'll put aside the fact that kids bucking their parents' ideas of suitable hemlines and haircuts, and picking out their own clothing to make their own styles, is half the history of modern pop culture, most frequently and fondly remembered in the '60s tug-of-war between mod and hippie and the '70s war between glam and punk. Sure, as a Boomer, Kriegman should remember those days, but let's keep things closer to the era of the show in question.

Before Clarissa came along in 1991, we had three seasons of Becky Conner's fab fashion sense and Darlene's descent into demi-goth territory on Roseanne, not to mention Denise Huxtable, not just a fashionista but a fashion student, and her sister Vanessa, who seemed to change up her personal style a couple times per season.

What did Clarissa Darling do? The same thing Punky Brewster did: brought a watered-down version of a specific style to television five years after the hip kids started it. In Punky's case, it was defanged and pastelized punk, and yes, she was fashionable: the show hit as whitebread department stores began selling blue lipstick and multicolored converses to decidedly non-punk teens. For Clarissa, it was eccentric layers loaded with patterns and vintage and accessories, straight out of Pretty in Pink--of whose costume designer On This Day in Fashion's Ali Basye says, "Vance excels at capturing, without irony or kitsch, the instinctive thrift and experimental, sometimes awkward dressing that is distinctive to adolescents." (Emphasis mine.) ("The WTF Prom Dress of Pretty in Pink", 28 February 2011)

What Clarissa did was nail (not invent) the vest + untucked shirt + shorts + tights/leggings + boots look that is so very, very '90s, and which Kriegman seems to think is the first time teens picked out their own clothing. He's wrong about that.

"It was amazing that they accepted that first episode with Clarissa trying to kill her brother. In those days, people did not talk about sibling rivalry at all. It was kind of taboo. But we went right at it with her trying to kill him. No one seemed to give me any trouble about that. They just let me do it. I don’t think you could ever do that in a show now. But I think it was healthy to bring out the fact that people can talk about sibling rivalry in shows like this."
Bullshit.

Did this man not watch TV at all? Sibling rivalry is the bread and butter of sitcoms. Jan and Marsha, Marsha, Marsha (1969 - 1974), Thelma and J.J. (1974 - 1979), Raj and Dee (1976 - 1979), Willis and Arnold (1978 - 1986), Vanessa and Rudy (1984 - 1992), Mike and Carol (1985 - 1992), DJ and Stephanie (1987 - 1995), Bud and Kelly (1987 - 1997), Darlene and Becky (1988 - 1997), Bart and Lisa (1989 - 3043), Eddie and Laura and Judy, till she went into porn (1989 - 1997)... Not to mention every other TV show that has ever featured siblings, ever.

How taboo can something be if the Smothers Brothers built a comedy act around it?

Does Kriegman believe sibling rivalry is defined by acts of cartoonish violence? Even there, he's not even breaking new ground on television: Moe, Larry, Curly and Shemp had him beat by nearly 60 years. Not even on modern TV, as Darlene's torment of DJ bordered on criminal and started three years before Clarissa first aired.

It's irritating. I want to give Kriegman kudos for an awesome show that legitimately did break ground: while it didn't invent the 'teen sitcom', Clarissa Explains It All did re-popularize it and bring the target age down a few years to include pre-teens; it was one of the first non-animated Nick shows to be carried by a single character instead of a concept that allowed for an ensemble cast; and it was one of the first teen-aimed shows to feature a female lead. Given how '90s Nick shaped the network and influenced later tween programming, that's a pretty big deal.

But I can't shake the annoyance of the irrational teen fashion claim, and the nonsensical sibling rivalry claim. It makes me want to offer less praise, because unwarranted pride is just arrogance. Sure, Clarissa was OK, but she wasn't All That...
mokie: Red-haired punk Vyvyan makes rude gestures at the viewer (snotty)
I need a word for the uncomfortable feeling of realizing you're the smartest person in a conversation.

I don't mean the smug belief that you're the smartest person present, or the haughty irritated glee of having the rightest opinion and why won't everyone just shut up and admit it already. No, I mean the awkward, embarrassed feeling when you think you're casually answering a question, only to realize that the other person thinks they're winning an argument you didn't even know you were having. You know, the moment you realize that not only do they not understand what you said, they're not capable of understanding it, because they really don't grasp how it works--be it science, medicine, English grammar, etc. And yet they're convinced that they're totally rocking that shit.

And then I need a word for the other side of the table: when you're pretty sure you're rocking that shit, but that little voice in the back of your head whispers, Maybe you're just not getting it.

For instance, homemade soap. Occasionally when washing my hands at someone else's house or purchasing a bar from a highly praised veteran soapmaker, I'll get irritated at the underwhelming performance. Terrible lather, a formulation clearly geared toward hardness rather than function, or toward squeaky cleanness at the expense of moisturizing, etc. I've dropped bars back into dishes and said aloud, "My soap is better than this." Even though I know that some people formulate for harder/softer water than mine, that one person's moisturizing bar is another person's 'slimy feeling' bar, that a formula that works perfectly for one person may be irritating to someone else, and so on. I know all this, because that's part of why I make my own soap--so I can have a bar that works just the way I want it, with the factors facing me, like my building's crazy-ass hard water.

All the same, I look at packaging, and that list of fancy-pants oils, and I think, "Who makes a coconut-based soap and uses olive just to superfat? You just gave me sandpaper fingers!" I stand there, all irate because my soap is better and they have years more experience than I do, and they have no right, no right at all to not whip my soap's ass. (I know, I can't even be cocky right.) And in the back of my head, there's that voice: What if my soap is so wrong, I just don't even know it?

Except when someone sheepishly points to a soap I purchased but they think I made, and says, "That one doesn't really lather." Then I am vindicated, goddammit.

Happy New Year!

Friday, 4 January 2013 08:55 am
mokie: Stonehenge with the sun shining through the stones (holiday renewal)
Three days late for a new year post. Well, so much for that resolution...

Let's get right to business, shall we?

NEW
YEARS
RULIN'S


1. WORK MORE AND BETTER. I've been very fortunate in my current line of work, but I need to buckle down and more actively seek more of it. This means overcoming my oddly specific fear of work-related scheduling conflicts, a result of having to fight at three different retail jobs to make them respect my 'unavailable' days.

2. WORK BY A SCHEDULE. A new soap or related product every week! This year, I will keep the shop stocked.

3. Here's where I break from the Guthrie list, because the man has eight different hygiene-related resolutions, which is a little worrisome. So instead, I'll take one from a very cool project manager I know: PUT ON A BRA AND GO OUTSIDE. Between working from home and working night owl hours, it's easy for me to forget to put on real clothes and go outside every so often. While the fresh air may be trying to kill me, I could probably use the vitamin D, and the socialization.

4. DRINK GOOD. With all due respect to Mr Guthrie, I want to expand my alcoholic horizons this year, from trying out more of the local beers to adding some of the better reviewed absinthes to my liquor cabinet.

5. READ LOTS OF GOOD BOOKS AND WRITE EVERY DAY. When scheduling gets crazy, one of the first things to fall by the roadside is my own writing. The next is recreational reading. I miss both, and so this year, instead of being something to fit around the schedule, they're going to be part of the schedule. That includes staying on top of the journals, and getting older entries properly tagged. All thirteen years of them.

And a corollary: read less tabloid fodder and media gossip, view fewer celebrity photos. This isn't a new resolution for me. I was never big on gossip rags, and working in retail during Britney Spears' Very Bad Year, seeing her mental illness played out over rows of magazines every day for entertainment, didn't raise my opinion of them. Unfortunately it's easier to get sucked into gossip online, where you're often looking at a row of links to news stories mixed with a row of links to stories that shouldn't be considered news at all. ("The Senate passed a bill requiring--wait a minute, Lindsay Lohan did what?")

It also weirds me out that our celebrities have WWF-style heroes, villains, grudges and sob stories that are wheeled out as a form of advertising every time they have a movie coming out. That can't be healthy for us as a culture.

But mostly, it's the idea that being a celebrity means someone gives up their right to common respect and privacy--that they don't have the right to sit in their own yard without cameras peering over hedges, that they can't walk their kid to school without hiring someone to first push the press out of the way, or that it's acceptable to put lives at risk chasing them through traffic in search of that perfect shot. And for what? For a picture to put in a magazine intentionally designed to make the rest of us feel old, fat, ugly and unhip so we'll buy products to fix what isn't broken. Why feed that beast? Why pay anyone to make myself and a handful of famous strangers miserable, when I generally feel better not knowing or caring who's seeing/breaking up with/stalking who?

6. DON'T GET LONESOME. I'm not just an introvert, I'm one of those introverts that makes other introverts uncomfortable. But I've been slack when it comes to maintaining my social ties lately, so this year I'm going to make an effort not to be such a hermit--from a family game night with the nephew, to taking a friend up on an offer to tutor me in local beers.

7. LEARN PEOPLE BETTER. I've seen some cooing over Guthrie's self-awareness, and even a project on Tumblr about interviewing people to learn them better. As a girl with roots in southern Missouri, though, I suspect Woody was using 'learn' in the rural sense--that this really means "Teach people more effectively." That's how I'm taking it, albeit in a personal direction.

Though I rant about random topics that rile me and get way too cozy with the TMI, I'm really a pretty private person. I don't open up often or easily about my personal life, feelings, beliefs, relationship status--anything, really.

In my hesitation to become that friend who won't shut up about their cause or their boyfriend or their faith, I've become instead something of a relatable blank slate. The end result is that I find myself fairly often with an angry ___ who is upset because suddenly my experience/feeling/opinion/belief doesn't mesh with what they've projected onto me, and I'm not an angry ___ too. (It's usually atheists. Don't know why.) I'm never whatever enough to fit the idea they've formed of me, so they want to push me to their position, or lecture me on how wrong I am to not be like them, or tell me what I really am/believe (and you would not believe how much that pisses me off). There I am, left with the awkward choice of smoothing things over and putting up with their crap for the sake of peace, or telling them to fuck off and dealing with the fall-out. I admit that I lean more toward the latter these days, because life's too short to cater to other people's personal issues. But anyway.

Essentially, I need to open up more, and get comfortable with expressing who I am and what I think (etc.) a little more, and not worry so much about becoming that creepy friend who nags you for wearing leather, or being targeted by that creepy friend if I reveal that I'm not also a Baptist/vegan/UFOologist.

For the record: I'm a relatively liberal blue-haired bisexual hammock-dwelling pulp-reading hippie-ish single neopagan who eats meat, listens to whatever damn music feels good at the time, and really only feels strongly about reproductive rights and single spaces after sentences. (Never double. It's a relic of the printing press and HTML ignores it anyway. Let it go.) There's probably more worth adding, but nothing comes to mind at the moment. If you're conservative, don't eat meat, don't dig hammocks, listen only to K-pop, etc., it makes me no nevermind.

8. STAY GLAD. I used to live within walking distance of one of the world's greatest gardens; now I'm a tedious bus ride from any of the city's fun activities. I used to live beside a well-planted park, in a picturesque neighborhood that I wandered with a camera in hand; I now live in a closely packed neighborhood with bland lawns, where I feel like an intrusive guest even without the camera. I used to have my own little garden, with plantings older than I was and a makeshift pond; now I have a tiny patch of weedy dirt that I share with a rotating cast of neighbors who always, always, take it over and ruin it.

I've let this vague, sulky, gloomy dissatisfaction rule my roost far too long. I need to zhenzhizhenzhify my outlook! To look up and find the beauty in the moment and where I'm at, to look out over the neighborhood not as an intruder but as an explorer, to take bootyloads of photos and share them, if only to remind myself that it's not where my body is, it's where my head is.

9. SAVE DOUGH. Enough said, right?

10. LOVE EVERYBODY. And I do, even when I don't.
mokie: Earthrise seen from the moon (melancholy)
What can I say that hasn't already been said? News of the shooting was devastating. The national discussions it started on gun control, mental health access and the role of the media have been frustrating, but were overdue. The national discussions some people tried to start using the tragedy suggest that any mental health care reform needs to start with our politicians and celebrities. Please, won't someone think of Victoria Jackson?

On the same day that a man shot 20 children and 7 adults in Connecticut, a man in China slashed at least 22 children with a knife, a man in Indiana was arrested after threatening to set his wife on fire and then shoot up a nearby elementary school, and a teen in Oklahoma was arrested after plotting to lure students and faculty into the school gym and open fire. In the week since, a man walked into an Alabama hospital and opened fire, a Maryland teen was put in psychiatric care after concerned students reported that he had detailed information on the school building and security, and a Utah elementary school student brought a gun to school and threatened his classmates, citing fear of being killed like the kids at Newtown.

Maybe the world is always this crazy, and we just spend so much of our time focused on our own little corners that it's usually easier to ignore.

Mental Health Reform
Yes, please.

Though speculation abounds about the attacker's mental health, his actions point to a larger societal problem, and if we can't see it objectively in our own backyards, we can observe it unfolding in China, where attacks on schools are on the rise. Some experts attribute these attacks to mental illness, while others talk about frustration with rapid social changes, unemployment and general disenfranchisement.

I don't think that's an either/or. Dismissing these attacks as mental illness fails to address seriously the debilitating stress that drives people to the point where exploding seems like a solution; talking about them only as frustrated men downplays the value of access to good mental health care in favor of talking up punishment and armed guards. We need a healthy middle ground, where a person doesn't need a diagnosis of mental illness to get serious help, and doesn't feel stigmatized for seeking out the help they need.

Gun Control
Social media has been rife with strife, hasn't it? In one corner, people waving photos of an armed Israeli teacher with her students as proof that we need guns in schools--nevermind that the photo is of a guard, not a teacher, and that under Israel's restrictive gun control policies, citizens wouldn't even have access to as much firepower as the attacker had that day. In the other corner, people pointing out that the 22 children involved in the Chinese knife attack will all survive, so eager to make the point that they gloss over the alarming larger reality that schools are increasingly seen as a viable target by the disgruntled.

To share my biases upfront: my grandfather was a hunter, my cousins still are, and I know people who work in dangerous vocations that have to be armed for their own protection, so I know that there is such a thing as a responsible gun owner. At the same time, I also believe there's no reason for your average everyday citizen to have an assault rifle in their home, and that the discussion about gun control in our country is muddled by an unhealthy combative mindset that has latched onto guns as symbols of power and agency.

Examples of that mindset? Start with politicians pushing to arm teachers, under the assumption that at least one teacher with a gun could easily take out a gunman and reduce the danger. In reality, all armed teachers would introduce to the situation is crossfire: statistics tell us that accuracy drops among trained police officers when shooting moves from target practice to real situations, and psychology tells us that humans are consciously unwilling and subconsciously sabotaged when firing on other humans. (Yes, that's a Cracked article. Their explanation is a more interesting read.)

This kind of thinking is dangerously related to the kind of thinking that says, "I'll get a gun and show them all that they messed with the wrong guy." This kind of thinking isn't the solution--it's the problem. It's the kind of thinking that got an unarmed teenager stalked and shot by an armed junior detective wannabe after the real police told him not to engage, and which had half the country arguing if the wannabe had the right to 'stand his ground' and fire on the unarmed kid that he was stalking through the kid's own neighborhood. It's the kind of thinking that led a grown man to fire into a minivan full of teenagers because their music was too loud.

Whether or not we manage to come to a consensus on the issue of accessibility to guns, we have to address the connection between anger and armament in our culture. We've gotten the idea that waving weapons around is a legitimate way to express our frustration, even to the point of bragging about it on cable news stations. Is it any wonder a segment of the population carries out that threat?

The Media, the Politicians, the Deities and the Wingnuts
By midweek, even the media was questioning its presence in Newtown, and the value of the story vs. the empathy of its actions.

Sadly, some of us have gotten so entrenched in the politics of empathy that we've started to lose hold of the real thing.

Politically and/or religiously-minded individuals tried to stick the tragedy to their favorite hobby-horses. On the right, Mike Huckabee blamed the 'removal' of God from schools (nevermind what that says about attacks in places of worship), Victoria Jackson tried to equate it with abortion, James Dobson blamed it (and everything else) on the gays, and Ted Nugent blamed 'political correctness and moral decline', if you're inclined to take a tongue-lashing about morality from a man who gained legal guardianship over a teenager so he could have sex with her. On the left, there were snark remarks about 'arming those evil union teachers' and a demand to talk gun control before the families even knew if their children were among the slain.

For me, none of that tops Charlotte Allen's error-ridden misogynistic New Review essay in which she blames the "feminized setting" of the school, stating that "women and small children are sitting ducks for mass-murderers," lamenting that there were no men on staff to leap into action, that "even some of the huskier 12-year-old boys" might have taken the attacker out had they not been pushed to hide like scared little girls. It's a batshit revisionist view of events that ignores two brave women who rushed to try to stop him, insults the custodian who saved lives not by flinging a pail at an armed man but by running through the building warning teachers and students to take cover, and denigrates teachers who saved lives by concentrating on getting kids out of the line of fire rather than throwing themselves into it.

And, on the other side, those pointing out that the heroes of Newtown were all women (sorry, custodian!), and waxing philosophical about the differences between the genders, as if male teachers would not have given their lives for their students in the same situation.

But can we say that they're at least learning? Between Anderson Cooper's refusal to use the attacker's name on the air, and the media's greater focus on the victims rather than the gunman, the media seems to have figured out that they don't have to feed that morbid curiosity or give the attacker a posthumous platform. If this holds up, it's already a great step forward.
mokie: Red and Kitty Foreman are obviously exasperated (disappointed)
After watching George Romero's Land of the Dead a few days ago and Rob Zombie's Halloween tonight, I feel like starting a movie review series entitled, "I see what you were trying to do, and here's why it didn't work."

I see the earnest effort. I see the love. But I also see where they fucked up (yes, including making the film at all) and damn, it hurts.
mokie: A girl in a bathtub wearing a snorkel (hair)
'OM-bray' is Spanish for 'man' (hombre), from the Latin root hominem, and has nothing to do with hair.

'Om-brr' is French for 'shade' or 'shadow' (ombre), from the Latin root umbra (which also gives us the color umber), and is used to describe a hair coloring effect featuring gradation in shades--usually dark roots with lightened tips as if a dye job is growing out, but sometimes a dip-dye of less natural colors.

'Om-brah', spelled ombré, is not a real word, and people should stop using it.

Update: Okay, I'm wrong, it is a real word (French for 'shaded') and not just people slapping an accent mark onto a word because they think French words all have those. Though the French term for hair is used in plural (les cheveux), so wouldn't the adjective also be used in plural (ombrée?), and unless I'm mistaken (again) still not pronounced 'OM-bray' or 'om-brah'? Oh, but it doesn't matter--all of this is entirely irrelevant, because Google suggests that the actual term used in French for this trend is, in fact, shit thee not, not cheveux ombré(e) but simply ombré hair.

It's a bit like finding out that chop suey is an entirely American dish, and Chinese restaurants are just humoring us.
mokie: A doll with an open torso featuring a diorama (yay for girls)
Abusive boyfriends and spouses run in my family. (Usually from the cops.) At one time, I thought it was practically destiny--that as a family, we were so collectively messed up in the head that I just couldn't trust my attractions. I actually warned one boyfriend that, before we got too serious, he needed to know I would kill him if he ever hit me, because I'd decided as a little girl I'd go to jail for murder before letting my man beat me.

Hell, that's still true.

But all of this is not about Chris Brown and Rihanna. It's about us, and how we've framed their story, because it is just a story to us.

We have our villain, the woman-beater. We have our heroine, the beaten woman. The media gathered its torches and pitchforks dutifully. Alas, the heroine refused to follow the script. So we townsfolks gathered around to gossip and berate her.

She ought to just do what she's told. Doesn't she know she's a role model now? That means she can't just decide things on her own. And the girl shouldn't be deciding things on her own anyway--everybody knows beaten women are all Stockholmy and too stupid to get out of a bad situation. She can't just be allowed to make her own decisions. What if she makes the wrong ones? Then all the other girls will get the wrong message.

That message? Sure you're a grown woman who can make your own choices and live your life as you see fit--up to a point. And then you're just a bewildered girl who needs someone bigger and stronger to step in and save you from yourself. You won't know, so we'll let you know when that point is.

And the heroine refused to fall in line, so the media shined its pitchfolks and grumbled. Maybe she's not a 'good' girl after all...

What could possibly be more offensive than Chris Brown beating Rihanna?

A police officer leaking photos of Rihanna's bruised face for money.

The media splashing photos of Rihanna's bruised face everywhere for entertainment.

Every blogging site associated with Gawker online posting rants about how Rihanna needs to get with the fucking program and start acting like a damn role model already, for hits.

That if Jane Doe from Nowheresville, Wyoming, were suddenly splashed across the front page of tabloids as too stupid to get out of an abusive relationship, we would be decrying this invasion of her privacy, the abusive tone of this coverage, and asking how the hell this was supposed to help her.

That people still rant about Chris Brown, but not about the two police officers who sold that photo escaping prosecution, or about the media exploiting Rihanna's abuse for money.

That every blogging site associated with Gawker online is still doing this paternalist posturing, shaking the "Silence is Violence" placard as justification for making this a big public story and ignoring that Rihanna's rights--to privacy, for starters--were merrily trampled along the way to it becoming a big public story.

Sure, silence is violence. Too often abuse is swept under the rug as a 'private matter' when neighbors and family should intervene and tell the young woman she deserves better and they're there for her. But while it's not a private matter, it's sure as hell not tabloid fodder either, and there's a world of difference between a neighbor's offer of support and some blogger's smug headshaking.

Conspiracies 'R Us

Thursday, 15 November 2012 11:52 am
mokie: Red and Kitty Foreman are obviously exasperated (disappointed)
I will not dream about politics tonight. I will not dream about politics tonight. I will not dream about politics tonight...1

But I'll sure as hell write about it. I seem to be writing more about politics now than I did during the year leading up to this election.

For a few minutes this week past, it seemed as if the crazy spell was broken. The shrieking prophets of doom were temporarily dumbstruck. The viewers blinked out the sleepy dust, stretched and asked what time it was. The moderates dared to raise their hands and suggest rethinking the party's policy of political martial law. Everyone took a little step back from the Cliffs of Insanity.

A few folks asked if we could stop catering to the fringe now, and start work on "a message that works for people who represent all of America."2 There were many nods; turning a blind eye to the tinfoil behatted birthers was not only embarrassing, it was also counterproductive in reaching out to "a segment of society whose members have often been discriminated against through the types of disqualification-hunts that [rabid birther] Donald Trump engaged in so vigorously."3 And, as liberal Rachel Maddow pointed out (with only moderate gloating), the idea behind the two-party system is that those two parties come at problems from two different angles and hash it out; it breaks down if one party dedicates itself entirely to keeping anything at all from getting done in the name of destroying the political career of one particular president.

Alas, it was not meant to be. Or at least, not yet.

Despite his attempt at a classy concession speech, Romney threw out a snarky parting shot about Obama winning on the basis of 'gifts' to targeted voters. The gist of the message is common sense: the Democratic campaign tailored its approach to a wide range of voting blocs, emphasizing Obama's stance on reproductive rights to female voters, on immigration issues to Latino voters, on student loans to young voters, etc.--while the Republican campaign seemed to target only angry white guy voters. The language of the message, on the other hand, is loaded with the same angry white guy rhetoric that the party has used for four years to slyly stir Teapublicans into a foaming rage of willful misunderstanding. Off in a family room somewhere, someone's uncle is ranting at his family that Obama literally handed out presents in exchange for votes, and that's the goal of this rhetoric. The stupid, counterproductive goal.

And now the conspiracy engines at Fox News have smelled fresh blood, proclaiming voter fraud because areas of Pennsylvania went 100% to Obama. It seems incomprehensible to them that in predominantly black urban areas, Obama got nearly all of the vote, despite the campaign writing off black voters and urban voters in the first place, and pre-election polls showing Romney's support among black voters to be so ridiculously low that it registered as 0%. But again, beneath the bewilderment that they can't find a single Romney voter in some areas, the message they're sending is one of disenfranchisement: there shouldn't be that many black people voting, and if there are, it must be fraud. It can't be that they were motivated to get out and vote--it must be that they're dishonest and cheating the system.

With the Right torn between those who want to 'double-down' and those who want to pull back to a more moderate platform, I've seen many suggestions that this is not the end of our partisan woes, but just the beginning of the GOP's own less-than-civil war.


1 I wrote this bit last night, and it worked! I didn't dream of politics! I dreamt of editing text...
2 "David Frum: Why Mitt Romney Lost the 2012 Presidential Election (VIDEO)," The Huffington Post 14 November 2012.
3 John Dickerson, "Why Romney Never Saw It Coming," Slate 9 November 2012.
mokie: Sleepy hobbit Will Graham naps on a couch (tired)
While cruising links, I wandered past two stories.

The first is of a popular new novel that was originally published as fanfiction, and which has some writerly blogs/groups upset. They point out that the author only changed the names in her story, nothing more, and that she drummed up support for her novel within fandom. Pro-fanfic, they question the integrity of exploiting another author's work for profit, and exploiting the fan base at all.

The second was about a self-published romance author, treasurer for the Romance Writers of America (networking: it's what's for dinner), unmasked as a plagiarist. Upon being caught, she claimed she'd downloaded the original story to read but mistakenly saved it to her writing folder and uploaded it for sale by mistake--a story which didn't explain the changed title or character names. As more examples rolled in from her other works, she confessed that she was guilty, resigned her role, and tried to fade back into obscurity.

Somewhere in the tangled mass of comments and debate for these two stories, someone made the sad observation that there had been quite a few stories of self-published authors revealed as plagiarists in the past year. The usual slew of "I don't see how they think they can get away with it" responses came up, but a few pressed a different angle...

There are some people who really believe that changing just enough counts--that taking Steve in Wichita and making him Mike in Dubuque makes the story uniquely their own, even if most of the words are the same and in the same order as Steve's Wichita adventures. They really believe they can take a favorite scene, change it just a little--plug in their characters, reword a sentence or two--and it's theirs. They completely misunderstand what is meant by 'taking inspiration' from a beloved story.

They're not intentionally out to trick or defraud anyone, or claiming their work is a remix. They simply don't recognize what they're doing as plagiarism. In their minds, plagiarism is exact copying. If it's Dubuque, and the big showdown doesn't feature all the same elements, that's different enough to count as an homage, right? (No.)

I don't mean the unconscious copies, words or sounds or ideas that quietly take up residence in the back of our heads and pop up a year or ten later pretending to be original ideas, like the songwriters who play a riff and don't realize it comes from "The Wizard of Oz," or authors who write a line and fall in love with it, only to have it pointed out later that it's an obscure movie quote. I remember jabbering about pulling squid out of my nose, and not realizing until later that the image in my head was a medicated hybrid of a short story I'd been reading and someone's blog post; I can only imagine how much more embarrassing that kind of thing is when it's, say, a pop star being called out for ripping off a twenty-year-old Madonna song. Or how frustrating, given that Madonna twenty years ago was openly and intentionally ripping off her contemporaries. But I digress. And embarrass myself by citing the Gaga/Madonna thing. Moving on.

I'm also not slamming self-publishing or fanfiction. Quite the opposite: I think before self-publishing became so easy, these authors would have participated longer in fanfiction, participated in some competitions, and been poked (or seen someone else poked) for their lifting of a line. Or maybe they'd have taken a creative writing course or two, participated in a critique circle, and received a polite but pointed comment about their work being too 'derivative', and that they should look into the exact meaning of plagiarism. Maybe they would have just started a blog, lifted someone else's material, and been on the end of some flamey comments and emails.

The point is, there's been so much debate about the importance/unimportance of the traditional 'gatekeepers' in publishing, snark about the whole world being one's slushpile vs. defiant optimism about levelling playing fields, and so forth. But hand in hand with that, there's also the diminished importance of the small-scale writerly training grounds. Maybe it isn't so much that authors used to have to pay their dues to earn a traditional contract, but that these spaces allowed them to make mistakes semi-privately, whereas now Google sees all and remembers all.

Or, more likely, I'm overthinking this entirely because I've been so loaded with work these past few months that this is the first chance I've had to sit down and overthink a couple of silly articles.

Hi, journal! I've missed you!

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