Archive for August, 2009

The Importance of Tragedy

August 31, 2009

One of the things I always thought odd about American taste in fiction and cinema is our aversion to tragedy. Filmmakers, in particular, are constantly changing movie endings for American audiences to “lighten” them up. Many British books just aren’t carted over the ocean for the simple fact that they’re just “too depressing.”

I had a lot of trouble understanding this phenomenon. I figured it had something to do with our belief in the American Spirit and Manifest Destiny. I figured we were terrified of tragedy, and in love with the idea that science and progress and good, god-fearing folks could overcome everything.

But it still bugged me. Because I love tragedy. I love watching the inexorable trudging on events toward a inevitable end knowing there’s no way to stop it… but watching our heroes bravely try anyway. I like the cathartic rush.

Then I watched this TED talk with Alain de Botton and was suddenly stuck by what he had to say about our aversion to tragedy. Tragedy, he points out, was created to teach us compassion. Instead of looking at somebody who’s down on their luck and saying, “God, she’s such a loser. She must have done something pretty terrible to end up that way,” we learn the old “there but for the grace of god go I” lesson. We learn that each person who’s down on their luck isn’t a loser, but merely “unfortunate.”

But in America, we don’t believe in misfortune. We believe in pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps. We figure that bankrupt people living out of a friend’s house, unemployed, with chronic medical conditions, working temp jobs, are just… losers. Lazy. Meritless. After all, if they worked hard and had merit, they’d be winners, right? They’d be successful American entrepreneurs.

But what our American dream ignores – each and every time – is the influence of tragedy on people’s lives. We don’t like tragedy. We don’t like the idea that sometimes you really do get hit on the back of the head with a shovel for no reason. Sometimes, shit happens.

Because if shit happens, then we can’t ignore the bum on the street. We can’t plead entitlement for healthcare. We can’t just say, “If you don’t own your own house, you’re a loser,” or “if you don’t have a car, you’re a loser.”

Without tragedy, without teaching compassion and morality by putting us all in the shoes of good people who experience bad things, we look down on the poor, the uninsured, the bankrupt, the destitute, with scorn, derision, and not one ounce of compassion. After all, they must have *done* something (or *not* done something) to get there, right? I’m good, I’m hard working. That will never happen to *me.*

I mourn our lack of tragedy.

Excuse me, ma’am, I’m busy trying to figure out which way I’ll choose to prevent you from receiving healthcare

August 31, 2009

In conversation with my mother:

“Well, with this Obamacare thing, we’ll all get rationed healthcare.”

“Mom, do you even know what `public option’ means?”

“The government’s taking over healthcare!”

“Mom, the government isn’t running healthcare. All they want to do is expand Medicare to cover people who don’t have insurance or are underinsured. That’s it.”

(long pause)

“Are you SURE?”

“Yes, mom. I have a chronic health condition. This is something I actually looked into.”

“Well, what’s to stop employers from just dropping our insurance then, if there’s a public option?”

“Because Medicare SUCKS, mom. Doctors treat you like crap. You still pay copays for insurance. It’s a shitty insurance program for poor and desperate people. Nobody fucking wants to be on Medicare. But for poor people, or people with chronic conditions, or other folks who can’t afford health insurance – it’s *something.*”

“But –“

“Ok, mom. Think of it this way. It’s like the post office. You can go to the post office and have a letter sent for cheap, and it takes 5-7 days to get there, right? And you wait in a long line and the employees are surly. Or you can go to UPS or Fedex and get it shipped overnight and walk right up to the counter and everyone treats you great. You still get your letter sent. It’s just that the service and speed you get from the post office sucks compared to UPS and Fedex. But! It’s affordable. The postal service makes it possible for everyone to send a letter, not just rich people. All they want to do is create an insurance version of the U.S. postal service. And the post office certainly hasn’t put DHL, Fedex, or UPS out of business.”

“Are you SURE?”

“Yes, mom.”

“But… then why do they make it sound like a government takeover of healthcare?”

“Speaking as somebody in marketing and communications, I can tell you exactly what I’d say as a communications manager at a big insurance company… and `government takeover of healthcare’ is it. These are the same talking points the insurance companies dragged out back in 1993, the last time we tried to get healthcare reform going. Because the other stuff in this bill – which the insurance companies aren’t keen on advertising – is that there’s going to be a lot more regulation for the insurance companies. Dropping bank regulations on the banking industry in the 90s helped create the greedy meltdown last year, and having an unregulated insurance industry is what’s turning health care into a greedy meltdown. The bill will eliminate lifetime caps on coverage and force them to cover people with pre-existing conditions (among other things). These companies make billions of dollars a year. This is their marketing strategy. Tell people the government’s taking over healthcare, and people freak out. I do a lot of marketing stuff. I provide people with a lot of talking points. Now think of somebody who’s making about 8 times what I make sending press releases to every talk show host and major news outlet in America about what’s become a totally political issue and spending millions in money lobbying your representatives. Scary talking points make much better news than `expanding Medicare.’ People who are afraid are really easy to manipulate.”

“Well, I just don’t know how it’ll all turn out.”

“I don’t either. But it’ll be really interesting to find out.”

(for those interested, here is the actual latest version of the bill. Wiki-like forum where you can actually comment on diff’t sections of the bill. Very cool.)

Real News

August 30, 2009

After months of committee meetings and hundreds of hours of heated debate, the United States Congress remained deadlocked this week over the best possible way to deny Americans health care.

I love The Onion.

V Remake

August 28, 2009

Would not be at all excited about this… except that got the absolute most perfect person to play the alien leader, Anna. This clip shows just how perfect she is.

Perrrrrfect.

When Your Results Confirm Existing Biases, Check Your Controls

August 28, 2009

I do love it when somebody has one of those, “Oh, shit, we totally missed something incredibly obvious” moments.

The mere act of physically approaching their potential romantic partner, behavior far more typical of men than women, makes people more confident and increases their attraction to their potential partner. In other words, by acting more like men (by physically approaching their dates), they begin to think more like them as well (by being more confident, aggressive, and less selective). In support of their embodied cognition hypothesis, Finkel and Eastwick show that, whether they are men or women, “rotators,” who approach their dates, have greater self-confidence than “sitters,” who are approached, and once they statistically control for self-confidence, the institutional arrangement (whether men or women rotate) ceases to have any effect on whether men or women were more selective.

Quote of the Day

August 28, 2009

All life is only a set of pictures in the brain, among which there is no difference betwixt those born of real things and those born of inward dreamings, and no cause to value the one above the other.

— H. P. Lovecraft

Ya Think?

August 27, 2009

Why, YES, this IS a TWO-PERSON crime.

Seriously, people, why has it taken us thousands of years to put this together?

In most communities, prostitution has been a one-sided battle focused on the women who offer sex. Their customers, when they are arrested, are usually cited for a misdemeanor and fined.

By comparison, prostitutes are often charged with more severe sentences and jailed for months, depending on the offense.

But in Nashville, the johns’ faces are shown on a police Web site.

Whether it works or not? No idea. But it’s a step in the right direction.

Take a Nap

August 22, 2009

So, what are ya’ll doing next Thursday?

August 21, 2009

I will be one of 8 guest speakers at Dayton’s first Pechu Kucha night held at C{space (20 N. Jefferson St.) in downtown Dayton, OH on Thursday, August 27th (that’s next Thursday!).

Doors open at 6:30 pm for mingling. Program starts at 7:20 (if you’re just coming for me… (oohhhh, imagine that!!) I’m currently on the program as the second-to-last speaker. Each presentation is just 6 min 40 secs, so you do the math).

I’ll be talking about, “Why science fiction (and/or fantasy)?” as a popular creative medium. This will also brush up on the old “Where do all your ideas come from?” question, and I will try not to be snarky about it. The person who asked me to participate in this event is largely unfamiliar with my work, so I think they’re going to be a little startled with my answers.

Should be a good time.

Admission is $20, but includes free beer and sandwiches. I’m not actually getting paid for this, so best guess is the $$ are going toward your beer and sandwiches… and supporting the Dayton creative community (?), etc. etc..

So if you come, indulge, and indulge often!

Another Interesting Tidbit

August 21, 2009

This was a tidbit of particular interest to me from the article I link to below:

Indeed, some scholars say they believe the reason Muslim countries have been disproportionately afflicted by terrorism is not Islamic teachings about infidels or violence but rather the low levels of female education and participation in the labor force.

Like everyone else, I, too, am curious about how a female dominated society whipped up into religious fervor would act. There’s a lot of reasoning that societies of women will be inherently more peaceful than those where men predominate in public life.

As you’ll see in God’s War (and much of my short fiction), this isn’t a belief I ascribe to. The issue may not even be religion (see the recent reaction in the U.S. to healthcare reform). I think there’s a deeply human fear of change and “the other,” and I just don’t believe that switching the genders of the participants will change anything.

It’s like saying that since I’m a woman, it’s impossible for me to be a misogynist. Um, hello? I was raised in a misogynist society. I’ve said on many occasions that I’m one of the biggest misogynists I know. I’m *aware* of that casual misogyny (and casual racism, also a byproduct of growing up in a racist society), and I work hard every day to fight it. But if you put somebody – no matter their gender – into a society that glorifies war/conquest/God/bloody triumph, you will create a violent people.

Viking women spent a good deal of time alone on their islands while men were away, and they were more than capable of slaughtering any wayward band of mauraders who came their way. I think that glorifying violence is what makes people violent. If violence truly was considered repugnant, effeminate (for lack of a better word), cowardly, debase, and truly morally wrong under any circumstances, our lives – in a society run by women or men – would be far different.

The question then being, “Are societies of women less likely to glorify violence than societies of men?” To which I’d reply, “It depends.”

Where did their beliefs come from? Have they risen to “power” from within a violent society? Did they have to do it violently? Is there religion/society already glorifying violence? How would they distort themselves to fit the culture? Because let’s take a good, hard look at how women distort themselves to fit into our culture. Think about that for a minute. Old beliefs remain, and if you’re a women dominated society that’s constantly under attack from the outside, you’re either going to find ways to defend yourself… or your women-friendly society isn’t going to last very long.