Want to Test-Read a New Fairy Tale?

No misanthropy or media studies today, my darlings: for once, MA101 needs to go back to its roots as a platform for my modest writing ambitions.

I’m looking for test readers willing to read through a 32,000 word novella and return their thoughts on the reading experience in a fairly timely manner.

The Deets:

This is a whimsical, slightly surrealistic story about a young girl who becomes the prince in a fairy story. With fairyland itself coming apart for reasons no one seems to understand, it doesn’t work out quite the way it’s supposed to.

It’s novella-length, meaning you could read it in one long sitting or several short ones. Either will work. It’s a single, contiguous story: no multiple acts, no jumps in time or “moving line on a map” transitions, and no straying outside the experiences and perceptions of the main character.

It’s also going to be a bitch to sell to anyone, but that’s my problem, not yours. If you’re interested in reading such a thing, and you think you could get through it and fill out a short response sheet for me in a two-week window, let me know! There will be thanks, gratitude, similar reviewing services in return as needed, and drinks on me if you’re ever in the area as payment, at least one of which has cash value.

Contact info, if you don’t have it, is just my first name and my last name, separated by a period, at the ubiquitous Gmail. Though if you didn’t know that already I’m surprised (and flattered) that you’re interested in my fiction writing projects.

Meet the New Gridlock, Same as the Old Gridlock

gridlockMuch beating of breasts and wailing this morning, no? (Or crowing, depending on your partisan flavor — the beating of breasts works either way, though.)

Unfortunately for both sides, the serious problems causing harm to real Americans these days are, for the most part, structural rather than discrete. With a few exceptions, a single policy or piece of legislation is not going to make much substantial change in any individual person’s life.

The people building the larger structures of policy-making are still bought and sold on both sides of the aisle. The system of getting them there is still inaccessible to you and me. And now that they’re there, the seats that flipped from Democrat to Republican will go right on doing what they were doing already: spending your money on blowing people up in countries you will never visit, and reflexively opposing anything domestic because writing laws is hard and sometimes it makes people angry enough to vote (no matter how difficult you make it for them).

If you’re worried about what’s coming next from the Republican-controlled Congress, don’t be.

Obamacare repeal? Almost certain to go through the House, for something like the 40th time. Then it dies to a Senate filibuster, or, if Republicans in the Senate finally do away with the filibuster (unlikely, with the 2016 Senate race geography favoring Democrats in much the same way this year’s favored Republicans), Obama’s veto. And that’s the end of that, since there’s not much else Republicans can do, short of presenting an alternative so functional it pulls in enough Democrats to make up a two-thirds majority.

Impeachment? The lunatic caucus will probably force articles past a weepy, reluctant John Boehner. That’s bad news for Republicans in the Senate, since they would have to put Obama on public trial for real, provable crimes, and the only ones he’s actually committed are related to torture, spying, and assassinations, which Republicans support. Trying him for those would basically undo the consequence-free war machine that they depend on to keep the military industry dollars flowing in their home states; trying him for anything else would be a humiliating public failure without even the comedic appeal of talking about blowjobs this time around.

Gun control? They could hardly make federal regulations weaker. Nothing to lose there, and Democrats weren’t able to make any changes when they held the majority anyway.

Abortion? Still thankfully protected by Roe v. Wade, not that that’ll stop the Jaybus Caucus from splooging a few blatantly unconstitutional bills out there onto the House floor. Once the Senate and Obama’s veto power wipe up the stains, all that’s left are fundraising letters for Democrats in 2016.

Military action? We should be so lucky as to have a Congress that actually votes on sending our military into battle. The lives and treasure get spent either way. And as you may recall, the last time Congress voted to authorize military force, a wave of anti-war Democrats promptly swept their way into the majority.

So long story short: nothing’s gonna change. Any proactive policies are still going to come through executive action, because flawed though some of his ideas are, President Obama is still one of the few people in Washington who believes in trying things, rather than opposing things. The Republican party can’t govern at the federal level, but that’s been true for the last four years, and a Senate majority doesn’t add much to their obstructionary powers.

It does add to their governing powers, if they choose to use them. A Republican Congress could, in theory, craft laws that appeal to a minority of conservative Democrats and a broad enough spectrum of American voters to make a veto unappealing. But they won’t.

So meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Halloween Meta-Costumes to Ensure You Don’t Get Invited Back

prince_harry_naziAre you smarter than all your friends? Do they, despite your best efforts to remind them of that fact, still invite you to things? Never fear — here’s a list of costumes that will demonstrate your intellectual superiority in the most offensive way possible, ensuring that you never have to endure another night of trying (and failing) to chat up the Sexy Bumblebee over the punchbowl again:

  • Nazi costume? No! It’s a Prince Harry costume. I dyed my hair orange, see? How many Nazi redheads do you think there were?
  • Oh, I’m privilege this year. See, it’s a costume party, but I didn’t bother wearing one, secure in the knowledge that, as a white male, my actions will be perceived as the social norm even in a context where they’re a clear outlier. Scary, right?
  • It’s not blackface. I mean, it is blackface, but I’m not going as a black person. I’m going as a white minstrel show performer. Historical, see? 
  • Here. Instead of a costume, I printed out a value chain analysis of every ingredient in that Butterfingers bar, complete with potential chemical side effects and known environmental harms. It was the scariest thing I could think of. 
  • I’m “the male gaze.” Your costume’s actually a prop in my costume. Nope! Too late! It is! I looked at you, and you can’t do anything about it. You’re a part of a system that hurts us both whether you want to be or not, you little Sexy Bumblebee you. 

…and just like that, you’re freed of unwanted social interactions and of having to come up with another stupid costume. Christmas comes early this Halloween! (No, seriously, I think I saw Christmas decorations at Target. I mean, um, at my local artisan and fair-trade handicrafts store. Shit!)

Gaming’s Self-Appointed Guardians Upgrade from Assault to Terrorism

If you don’t read “gaming news,” no one could blame you. Like any entertainment-focused journalistic niche (sports journalism, Hollywood journalism, etc.), it barely deserves the label “news.” But also like those other niche industries, the niche periodically spits out a story that matters to everyone else.

“Gamergate” is that story, and it’s a story of intimidation, assault, and, most recently, terrorism.

If you want the long-form summary, Gawker Media’s Deadspin has it here, and it’s worth the lengthy read. If you can’t be arsed, the short version is this: a ferment against “social justice” in video games, meaning essentially any content that isn’t violent and centered around male protagonists, has been bubbling for a long time on gaming-related message boards, social networks, etc. Recently, that ferment exploded into a campaign of targeted harassment against gaming industry figures.

Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist critic who put out a series of videos on the presentation of women in video games as compared to the presentation of men (unequal, dismissive, and often downright abusive, in case you were wondering), began receiving death threats and online harassment as soon as she announced the video series on Kickstarter. Zoe Quinn, who designed a video game based around struggling with depression, was doxxed, threatened, and hounded out of her home after a disgruntled ex-boyfriend alleged that she had slept with gaming journalists in exchange for favorable reviews. (The allegations, not that they would have justified her treatment in any way, were false.) And Brianna Wu, a developer who has written about the harassment of women in the gaming industry, was threatened in stomach-churningly vivid detail by someone who simultaneously revealed her home address on Twitter:

brianna-wu-twitter-threats

The language directed at all of these women on a regular basis is, by any sane definition, assault: a clearly-stated intent to do unlawful violence within the capabilities of the threatener. (You can’t meet that standard much more closely than by posting someone’s home address while stating that you are going to rape them and kill them.) And if we had a sane law enforcement system, it could be treated as such, but harassment that involves a computer almost inevitably gets kicked down the road to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, where all but the most extreme cases (or those with connections to crimes the FBI deems higher-priority, because protecting women’s safety isn’t as exciting as drug busts, natch) promptly vanish.

But maybe this one will finally get the Bureau’s attention, and inspire other law enforcement groups to start treating online threats like actual crimes, instead of the internet equivalent of playful roughhouse:

“Canadian-American author, blogger and feminist Anita Sarkeesian has canceled her scheduled Wednesday speech at Utah State University after learning the school would allow concealed firearms at the event despite an anonymous terror threat promising “the deadliest school shooting in American history.” 

Utah State confirmed Sarkeesian’s decision to cancel in a tweet sent out shortly after 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. 

University officials originally decided to move forward with Sarkeesian’s speech after several staff members received an anonymous email terror threat on Tuesday morning from someone claiming to be a student proposing “the deadliest school shooting in American history” if it didn’t cancel the Wednesday lecture.

The school later reversed their announcement after a discussion with Sarkeesian over whether firearms would be allowed at the event.”

Lest anyone consider this an overreaction on Sarkeesian’s part, it’s worth reprinting the threat the school received in its entirety:

usu-anita-sarkeesian-threat

This is terrorism, plain and simple. And it had its desired effect, which will only encourage more, similar attempts in the future.

Nor is Sarkeesian’s event cancellation the first win for gamer-terrorists — Intel, a multibillion dollar corporation, was bullied into withdrawing its advertising from a gaming news site that criticized the “Gamergate” harassers by an organized “operation” to spam the company’s public emails during peak business hours. The attack was little more than a poor man’s DDoS, clogging up Intel inboxes with thousands and thousands of e-mails criticizing the offending website, but the company pulled back rather than wade into the fray.

Don’t believe anyone who tells you that threats and harassment are part of a friendly “smack-talk” gamer culture that outsiders just don’t get. These are crimes, pure and simple, and they’re crimes that fall most heavily and most predictably on women.

Kentucky’s Troubled Relationship with the Secret Ballot

I grew up in the Midwest, where everyone knew all the dirt on everyone else, and was therefore expected to pretend they didn’t and to espouse a great respect for personal privacy — sort of a social Mutually Assured Destruction scheme reinforced with good old-fashioned Protestant guilt complexes.

It’s not a system I’d necessarily recommend, but it did have some beneficial side effects, like an obsession with secret ballots. Asking how another person voted, I learned at a very young age, was both rude and an insult to our democratic tradition. People fought and died for the right to vote privately, the argument went, so don’t use it to score cheap conversational points or to stir up shit. (Iowans, even in the days before hog megafarms started exploding in geysers of burning manure, had strong opinions on the subject of shit-stirring.)

But like most patriotic lessons learned in the Midwest, that was based more on fancy than on fact. America didn’t start adopting the secret ballot for major elections until after the Civil War, and even then it took a while to catch on. It’s more accurate — albeit more uncomfortable — to say that lots of people died from the lack of secret ballots, most of them black.

alison-grimes-secretary-of-stateCue the biggest non-story out of Kentucky, the last state in the Union to adopt secret ballots for national elections: because talking about actual policy bores viewers to tears, TV reporters and anchors have suddenly become obsessed with Democratic candidate Alison Lundergan Grime’s refusal to say who she voted for in 2012.

This is, I kid you not, being spun as a scandal. Eager to tie Grimes to the unpopular-in-Kentucky President, political and media figures have been characterizing her refusal to say who she voted for as “evasive” — rather than, you know, how our electoral system works.

Whether we buy into the old-fashioned notion that it’s a rude question or not (it is), Ms. Grimes is currently Kentucky’s Secretary of State. Ensuring a private ballot is literally her job right now. Who she voted for in 2012 doesn’t have any bearing on how good a Senator she might make, but discussing it publicly would certainly reflect on how good of a Secretary of State she makes.

Mitch McConnell reminded viewers in a debate Monday that there’s no “sacred right” to privacy at the ballot box. That’s certainly true, in part because America doesn’t have “sacred rights” of any kind. But Kentucky, reluctant though it may have been to follow the trend, does guarantee citizens a private ballot, meaning it very much is a right until the law is changed. And it happens to be a law that Alison Grimes is personally responsible for enforcing.

 

Independent Candidate Senate Wins Would Benefit Everybody

Seal_of_the_United_States_Senate.svgWhat was supposed to be a shoo-in year for a Republican Senate takeover is shaping up to be a surprisingly close contest.

In Kansas, with the Democratic candidate officially out of the race, independent candidate Greg Orman is looking increasingly comfortable to win over lackluster Republican incumbent Pat Roberts, whose political survival now depends on getting the tinfoil-tricorn fringe of the party that voted for his opponent in the primaries to turn out for him.

Over in South Dakota, Republican candidate Mike Rounds is polling somewhat better, holding onto a measurable lead over his opponents (in part because, unlike in Kansas, the Democratic candidate remains an active and viable campaigner), but a persistent scandal is dogging his heels and dragging his numbers downward, and his independent opponent, Larry Pressler, is a former Republican with a good shot at wooing away the party’s saner, more centrist voters.

Unlikely as the event remains, a win for both independent candidates in the midterms could be one of the healthiest things to happen to American democracy in a long time.

There are already two independents in the Senate (Bernie Sanders and Angus King), but neither one has ever won election at a time when control of the chamber could be tipped by an independent’s vote. If Pressler and Orman both win in 2014, depending on what happens with other elections, we could conceivably see both major parties with under 50 seats.

For practical purposes, some of the independents would be spoken for, of course — Bernie Sanders is unlikely to cross the aisle and start voting Republican on major issues any time soon. And the GOP in particular seems determined to burn bridges with the independent candidates before election day; RNC Chairman Reince Priebus has already called the possibility of Orman caucusing with Republicans “impossible” and “ridiculous.”

But in theory, independent wins could put both major parties in the position of having to actually work for their Senate majority on votes of substance. That would be unprecedented — and it would be a vital step back toward a functioning democracy, where policy is crafted based on compromises that can win approval from a wide range of diverse interests, rather than by bare-minimum marginal victories along polarized party lines.

Could that, in turn, shift incumbent legislators’ attention away from political grandstanding aimed at winning a party majority in the next election cycle, and back toward actually legislating? Don’t let’s get ahead of ourselves — but it would be a hopeful step, and a badly needed jolt to both major parties’ institutionalized complacency.

Jennifer Lawrence Decries Leaked Nudes (in Nude “Vanity Fair” Appearance)

Coming soon in the pages of Vanity Fair: cognitive dissonance that’ll make your head spin like a sulphur-crested cockatoo’s, courtesy of social media omnipresence Jennifer Lawrence. She’s furious that people looked at naked pictures of her without her permission — rightfully so — and she’s going to tell the world what a violation it was, in print, right next to the full-page shots of her naked body.

vanity-fair-jennifer-lawrence

It’s a hell of a hat trick (er, necklace trick?). The two nudities, of course, are not comparable: there’s a unsubtle difference between having stolen, private pictures published without your permission and making a consenting, contractual agreement with a magazine photographer and publisher. One set of shots may also be more revealing than the other — I haven’t looked at the leaked photographs, and can’t speak to their exact content.

The people who hacked and released her photos were bad people, in other words, committing both a crime and a serious violation of another person’s privacy and physical safety. J-Law and the folks at Vanity Fair, in putting together their shoot, were not. More power to Ms. Lawrence for continuing to put her body out there in ways that she feels comfortable with.

But still, it’s hard to get away from that lovely, water-lapped bosom juxtaposed with Lawrence’s strong sentiment that “Just the fact that somebody can be sexually exploited and violated, and the first thought that crosses somebody’s mind is to make a profit from it…It’s so beyond me.”

Sexually displayed for a profit, on the other hand, is more like business as usual in the world of celebrity glam mags, and clearly not beyond J-Law’s imagination (or participation) at all. Famously, and for decades, Vanity Fair has been in the business of selling sexy pictures of attractive actresses, many of whom also happen to be talented and have interesting things to say — in small letters, down below their airbrushed cleavage. It’s a one-two punch of titillation and “I read it for the articles” legitimacy that’s served the modern reincarnation of Vanity Fair well.

But so long as J-Law gets a cut of the action and editorial control over how bare to bare, it’s neither exploitation nor violation. It will even be enthusiastically cheered as empowering. Everything is fine, and you can ogle to your heart’s content. With her permission!

Ain’t capitalism grand?

~

A NOTE FOR CLARIFICATION: As a number of people have complained that the above post equates to “slut-shaming,” let me be explicitly clear: no one should feel ashamed for getting as naked as they like, with whomever they like, for whatever reasons they like. Jennifer Lawrence hardly needs my approval to take her clothes off for any sort of photo shoot, or for any other reason, but she certainly has it, as does everyone else. Neither her Vanity Fair appearance nor her nude selfies demand any explanation (although, since she offered one for the selfies, I wish it had been a slightly more empowering message than “It was long distance, and either your boyfriend is going to look at porn or he’s going to look at you”).

That said, I think it requires substantial self-deception to pretend that the grindingly repetitive media presentation of female celebrities as bosoms first and opinions second is completely unrelated to a culture that thinks itself entitled to those same celebrities’ private photographs. There’s a limit to how much we can cheer actresses as “taking control of their own bodies” by taking their clothes off for popular magazines (as if that’s the best or only way to prove agency) and still be horrified when unethical people, looking for something to steal or profit off, immediately think of those same actresses’ naked flesh.

J-Law called the shot (pun intended) and chose to appear unclothed for Vanity Fair; don’t let’s try to take that agency from her. But don’t let’s pretend that VF would still exist if it couldn’t find someone’s tits to grace the front page every other month or so, either, or that it gives a platform to feminism that doesn’t come with a great rack.

And do let’s question that sales and survival strategy, and everyone — consumers and producers — that participates in it.

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