I have pessimistic thoughts on protests

Protesting is necessary. There are injustices in the world that won’t fix themselves. It takes commitment and bravery to fight because power, the cause of most injustice, loves compliance.

Protest is also dangerous. Some of that is because power¹ loves compliance. Protest needs to remain focused and controlled. I don’t want to say “non-threatening”, since I don’t mean a willingness to accept whatever sham of rights power is willing to concede. No, not that. But at best it will be unpleasant. People whose rights aren’t violated – or who are content to have their rights violated, especially – will let you know you should like having your rights violated. They are miserable people. It will be necessary to face and ignore that nastiness.

But the danger I’m thinking of is more the danger from unleashing energy into combatting injustice. It’s easy to lose the thread on the principle involved in the fight. It’s inviting for anyone with a message to attach themselves to a protest and hijack it for other purposes. It isn’t easy to control that, either, because it’s seductive to think, “More people are joining us, we’re winning!”. Maybe, but maybe not.

Obviously the last couple days are on my mind. The protests from both Friday and Saturday reflect my point. Friday it was the predictable violence². It isn’t inevitable with a protest with a focused message, but Friday’s protests weren’t focused. “Anti-Trump” is a choose-your-own-adventure opportunity for grievances. But that also means it’s foolish to judge opposition to Trump on this inevitable violence.

Yesterday’s protest resulted in no violence, as far as I’m aware. I think that has much to do with coherence on the message. The danger awaits, though, for what the marches hope to accomplish. I’ve seen many astute voices pointing out that yesterday was the beginning. That’s correct. The work begins now. But I don’t think that work is to keep the momentum. The work is to prevent the message from fracturing. I’m not optimistic.

The stated principle for yesterday’s protest, as I understand it, was that women are human beings deserving equal rights. Great, I’m on board. But it’s clear this movement has the potential for power. That focus on principle will disappear. Here, I’ll pick a random example I encountered. The list has the above principle. It then expands to the LGBTQ community. I’m still on board because I think this is the same principle at its core. Human beings deserve equal rights. Third is resisting racism. Yep, still there.

Then, with numbers four, five, and six, are climate change, income inequality, and universal health care. That’s a fracturing divergence. “… we must immediately address the damage we have done and continue…” I agree that climate change is real, and that humans are a reason. But there’s so much room to disagree on how to address the damage. Maybe we’ll agree on what to do, but there will be disagreement.

For income inequality, “Wages for working people must rise. Wages for working people must rise. A healthy and growing middle class is not a naturally occurring phenomenon. It must be cultivated through sensible economic policy.” I agree that a healthy and growing middle class is not a natural phenomenon. The natural human condition is dirt-scratching poverty. But what is the sensible economic policy that raises wages for working people? Is it by decreeing the minimum wage is $X? That is economic policy, but it is not sensible. Work that can’t justify the minimum wage will be automated. The goal is an economy in which people can support themselves (with the understanding that no perfect economy can exist). I can’t support a push for an economic policy based in feelings that will not work. But attaching “income inequality” to the push for equal rights means fracturing the movement.

And universal health care. Opposition to what other countries do is not a wish for poor and sick people to die already. That every other industrialized nation does this does not mean they do it perfectly, or that they do not get free-rider benefits from the United States because we don’t do it their way. It also does not prove it can be replicated here.

It’s clear a push like this expects the result of yesterday’s march to be the further implementation of a progressive political platform. That just takes a message that “women’s rights are human rights” and makes it explicitly – and incorrectly – political. The coherence of the demand disappears.

Some of this I already know from experience with protesting and agitating for change. I’ve protested in sunshine and rain, in heat and cold. I’ve had people yell at me and I’ve had respectful conversations. It’s a messy process with rewards and perils throughout. Along with, “I hadn’t thought of it that way,” there’s disagreement and the “with us or against us” mentality within the group. I’ve seen people be right for unbelievably wrong reasons. It’s a fringe rather than universal, but the fringe gets the attention. Did you see more of the peaceful protests from Friday or the smashing windows? And when someone encounters a group protesting what they haven’t thought about or don’t agree with, do they remember the person trying to convince them or the lunatics? What’s more effective, “May I talk with you about genital mutilation” or “May I talk with you about genital mutilation and how vaccines cause autism and the one percent”? The former is principled in science and ethics. The latter is “I have a mishmash of agenda items and you need to accept them all.” Putting human equality into a mix of progressive (or conservative) political policies is no different.

Maybe I’m wrong on thinking this is putting human equality into a mix of progressive political policies. It’s possible, and if it’s true, do you want to convince me or condescend to me? Whether I’m right or wrong, that’s your choice.

For example:

I’ve seen so many men today screaming about rights for Islamic women and genital mutilation. I look forward to your march re: those issues!

Or do you guys only bring those issues up to try to de-legitimize someone else’s voice?

And a sample response:

@JulieDiCaro I think we both know the answer to that question.

I’ve marched and written extensively on the rights involved. I get laughed at for it. I get screamed at. I’m told how disrespectful I am when I emphasize the principle³ involved. There’s no curiosity that I maybe know what I’m talking about from research and experience. I don’t hold the right view, so my opinion should be mocked.

The same condescension is in those tweets. Maybe one/some/all of these men know? Or maybe they’re all awful people merely trying to change the subject. It’s probably the latter. Probably.

I composed a reply on Twitter but deleted it because 140 characters wouldn’t convey the message. Ms. DiCaro is saying “Don’t hijack the moment.” I agree with that sentiment but not the delivery. For example, I don’t jump into discussions purely about female genital mutilation to say “what about men?” unless the discussion includes crackpot opinions presented as fact or shoddy wishing masquerading as a principled defense of why girls deserve protection and boys should be happy about circumcision. But if you really want equality, “my body, my choice” applies to boys, or it can mean “my child, my choice” applies to girls. If you don’t stand for principle, don’t be shocked if it leads where you don’t want to go.

Anyway, my point is that protests lose focus. They work against uniting a coalition on shared principle, preferring to enforce ideological rigidity. Yes
terday’s march and what follows can be principled. It won’t be. There were speakers yesterday advocating for equal rights who also support male genital mutilation. Some rights are more equal than others, somehow, which will probably become generalized into the platform, so do not be surprised when this movement collapses into an incoherent, powerless mess without the necessary vigilance to adhere to “women are human beings deserving equal rights”. Prove me wrong, please.

Post Script: Damnit, I realized I didn’t talk about nazis yet. I’ve rambled enough, so I’m not going to work this into the above. Fucking nazis are evil scum. Don’t sucker-punch evil fucking nazi scum. Because it’s dumb and counter-productive and escalates into more violence. Yes, Hitler. But a street corner in Washington, DC on January 20, 2017 is not Omaha Beach. Maybe it will be if we don’t challenge President Trump’s administration every second until 1/20/21, 1/20/25, or his impeachment. But we’re not there today. Not sucker-punching evil fucking nazis is not appeasement. Sucker-punching nazis is closer to the definition of conceding principles in favor of political expediency. That isn’t righteous. That’s a different form of authoritarianism. And if you want to require this fight continue until 1/20/25, sucker-punching nazis is a great way to create the lawlessness excuse Trump wants in order to make that a reality.

¹ Power expects compliance from everyone, not just women. This is why emphasis on “patriarchy” is so weird to me. I’ve yet to encounter an instance of someone saying “patriarchy” in which saying “power” wouldn’t be more precise. I’m open to explanations and/or scenarios for why that isn’t true.

² Destruction of property is violence. Someone has to clean it up. Someone has to pay for its repair or replacement. That requires work, so destroying someone’s property necessarily involves forcing someone to do something they wouldn’t otherwise need to do. It is force.

³ Non-therapeutic genital cutting on a non-consenting individual is unethical. All human beings are equal, with the same rights. I’m a feminist, including on that principle. But some feminists don’t believe this right is equal. So sure, I’m a feminist, but the label isn’t enough for me to know that we agree on human rights.

Teaching through condescension doesn’t work

I love stuff like this, “16 Questions For Men That Reveal The Casual Sexism Women Experience Every Day“, in the sense that I despise it. Human interaction is messy and too often hideous. That isn’t a shaky limb to walk on. However, in my experience, “gotcha” as a teaching tool is unlikely to convince people who don’t already agree. It is built on challenging smug assumptions by making its own smug assumptions. It strengthens defensiveness rather than opening doors.

The list opens with this (links omitted):

Sexism can be hard to point out when it’s so engrained in our everyday lives. Clementine Ford, however, found an awesome way to highlight casual sexism with a simple hashtag.

Even though I disagree with the tactic, which is mostly (but not entirely) on how Huffington Post packaged these questions, the goal of challenging sexism deserves answers. First, the two tweets from Clementine Ford that kicked this off:

Question to the male writers/speakers etc out there. Is it common for you to be called an ‘attention seeker’? Or do just women get that?

A: Common? No. Men and women have told me this in debate, though.

#QuestionsForMen: When you have a hostile disagreement with someone, is it common for them to say you’re angry because no one will fuck you?

A: Common? No. Men and women have told me this in debate, though.

And 16 of Huffington Post’s favorite #QuestionsForMen tweets (source article has the links):

Q1: Have you ever been told your business ideas are cute? #QuestionsForMen

A1: No.

Q2: #QuestionsForMen Are you comfy with the federal government & Christian conservatives holding decision making parties in your “boy” parts?¹

A2: About thatThis routinely happens with “boy” parts. So, no, I am not comfy with others holding decision-making parties for my “boy” parts. Yet, others already made my decision.

This question is why the smug, closed-mind “gotcha” approach is stupid. You want me to think outside the box² you think I’m in? Think outside the box your question shows you’re in.

Q3: #questionsformen do you walk home with your keys placed in between your fingers? are you constantly looking over your shoulder?

A3: No.

Q4: @clementine_ford #QuestionsForMen how often do you have to fake laugh at stupid/cringey/creepy/sexist things older men say regarding you?

A4: I’ve experienced those comments based on me being a ginger. I doubt the things said were as stupid/cringey/creepy/sexist as what is said to women.

Q5: #QuestionsForMen have you ever been late to work because you’ve had to change streets 5 times in 5minutes to avoid being catcalled by women?

A5: No. Again, I have had people bother me with rude things about being a ginger as I’ve walked. But I doubt the things said were the same. Nor has it happened a lot.

Q6: Do women jump into your face calling you fat, ugly, or that you “should get raped” for expressing an opinion online? #questionsformen

A6: I’ve been called names equivalent to fat and ugly for expressing an opinion online. I have not had threats of violence, sexual or otherwise. I have witnessed (and challenged) threats of violence against women and their children for expressing an opinion online.

Q7: #QuestionsForMen When out having a few beers, have you ever said “no” to a woman & then been hassled by her for the rest of the night?

A7: No.

Q8: #questionsformen In a job interview have you ever been asked how you will juggle work and home?

A8: No.

Q9: Do you get told ‘you’ll change your mind eventually’ when you say you don’t want to have children? #QuestionsforMen

A9: No. I have been told I should be thankful to my parents for having me circumcised as a healthy infant, even though I oppose it for myself. Similar in the sense that my opinion about myself isn’t relevant to what society may expect of me?

Q10: #questionsformen anyone not hire you on the basis of “you’re a man – you’ll be having a family soon and need to devote time to that.” ?

A10: No.

Q11: Do you send your mates a message to let them know you’ve gotten home safely? #questionsformen

A11: No.

Q12: If you take a leadership position, do you worry about being seen as bossy? Are you called bossy? #questionsformen

A12: No. No.

Q13: #questionsformen when you achieve something great, do you expect the female reporter to say, ‘give us a twirl, who are you wearing?’

A13: No.

Q14: #QuestionsForMen Have you ever been basically told that going home with a woman means that she’s entitled to rape you?

A14: No.

Q15: @clementine_ford #QuestionsForMen How often are you expected to provide an explanation for why you didn’t change your name to your wife’s?

A15: Never. (My wife didn’t take my last name. I couldn’t care less.)

Q16: Have you ever had a coworker refer to you as sweetheart? #QuestionsForMen

A16: In the context implied here, no.

Sexism exists. In many ways it’s systemic. We need to fight it. I don’t have all the answers on how. I’m not perfect. I’m paying attention.

¹ This person responded to someone who answered the question with the same point. She wrote:

[@…] Circumcision is NOT in a federal or state law book as a mandate, but is rather a parents’ religious or cultural #choice.

This is how to miss the point, to be inside the mental box the original question demonstrated. 1) Why should a boy care whether it’s his parents or his government imposing non-therapeutic genital cutting without his consent? 2) The state violating a child’s rights is bad. The state permitting parents to violate a child’s rights is also bad. And looking the other way matters when Congress (and states) legislated that “parental choice” is gendered. 3) Read the BBC link from my answer above. A German court found circumcision to be a violation. The German Bundestag, with support from Chancellor Angela Merkel, passed legislation to permit circumcision to continue. Twenty members of Congress publicly supported this.

The only valid choice (i.e. #choice) involved in circumcision must be the individual who would be circumcised. Thisgotchaneeds rethinking.

² I’m not saying I’m outside (or inside) that box. I want to deal with this honestly. I think I’m good at not perpetuating sexism. I don’t ass
ume I am to the point I don’t need to consider it regularly.

I Prefer FPS Over MMORPG

I’m not a fan of privilege as a foundational argument. It’s confining and limiting. It’s focused on generalizations without regard for the individuals involved. It establishes a hierarchy for problems with the result, if not purpose, of minimizing any X that is less severe than Y according to the person wielding the argument. It’s claptrap that eventually resolves to “Shut up”.

Such is the case with John Scalzi’s recent post, Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is. From the beginning it sets out the argument’s flaw as a definitive, justifiable rule that allows anyone who agrees with it to “prove” that the person who disagrees commits an error. Usually being dense, or something similar. It’s a way to shut down debate rather than start or continue one.

I’ve been thinking of a way to explain to straight white males how life works for them, without invoking the dreaded word “privilege,” to which they react like vampires being fed a garlic tart at high noon. It’s not that the word “privilege” is incorrect, it’s that it’s not their word. When confronted with “privilege,” they fiddle with the word itself, and haul out the dictionaries and find every possible way to talk about the word but not any of the things the word signifies.

It starts with condescension. Straight white men need to be educated, and if you challenge the argument, you’re proving your need to be educated. It’s stupid. It signals that there are default rules, either implicitly or explicitly assumed, that no one may disagree with. The only real question it allows is who’s next in needing to be educated about their privilege with respect to someone else under a simplified set of rules: straight minority males or non-straight white males.

Mr. Scalzi’s argument on privilege is easy enough to understand:

Dudes. Imagine life here in the US — or indeed, pretty much anywhere in the Western world — is a massive role playing game, like World of Warcraft except appallingly mundane, where most quests involve the acquisition of money, cell phones and donuts, although not always at the same time. Let’s call it The Real World. You have installed The Real World on your computer and are about to start playing, but first you go to the settings tab to bind your keys, fiddle with your defaults, and choose the difficulty setting for the game. Got it?

Okay: In the role playing game known as The Real World, “Straight White Male” is the lowest difficulty setting there is.

As a generalization with no context, sure. But that’s shallow thinking. It’s meaningless. We don’t live our lives as generalizations. Our interactions are more complicated and messy than simple identifying characteristics. Mr. Scalzi’s argument rests on the basis that sexual orientation, skin color, and gender are the three supreme defining characteristics and life should be judged accordingly. All else being equal, would I encounter an easier, harder, or indistinguishable challenge in working with Mr. Scalzi as a Straight White Male than a Gay Minority Female would? I bet on indistinguishable.

He acknowledges other characteristics within the metaphor but makes them subordinate to these three:

Likewise, it’s certainly possible someone playing at a higher difficulty setting is progressing more quickly than you are, because they had more points initially given to them by the computer and/or their highest stats are wealth, intelligence and constitution and/or simply because they play the game better than you do. It doesn’t change the fact you are still playing on the lowest difficulty setting.

I disagree that these three are the complete, highest characteristics. Is a straight white female born with genius-level intelligence, a trust fund, and a respectable family name playing on a more difficult level than a poor, stupid straight white male? What’s the scenario, fixing a flat tire on the side of the road? Being treated respectfully at the Mini Mart?

A later argument demonstrates the largest hole (emphasis in original):

And maybe at this point you say, hey, I like a challenge, I want to change my difficulty setting! Well, here’s the thing: In The Real World, you don’t unlock any rewards or receive any benefit for playing on higher difficulty settings. The game is just harder, and potentially a lot less fun. And you say, okay, but what if I want to replay the game later on a higher difficulty setting, just to see what it’s like? Well, here’s the other thing about The Real World: You only get to play it once. So why make it more difficult than it has to be? Your goal is to win the game, not make it difficult.

My goal is to “win” the game? According to whom? Judged by what criterion/criteria? By whose criterion/criteria? In which game? The argument fails because it neglects the reality that straight white male, gay minority female, and everyone in-between are people with unique, complex mixes of characteristics playing – or not playing – the game to which Straight White Man is the lowest difficulty setting. There are many games. There are different players. And there are different game masters. Context matters. Generalizations bludgeon.

Teaching Compliance, One Traveler At A Time

On Thursday I experienced the new TSA screening procedures for the first time. The security line I went through had both a metal detector and a backscatter X-ray scanner. (Two lines fed to these machines.) A TSA employee “randomly” directed citizens to one of the machines. My informal count suggested that approximately two-thirds of the lines were directed to the backscatter X-ray scanner. The randomness seemed to be more about time. Observationally, as the line for the backscatter filled, overflow was directed to the metal detector.

I got the backscatter X-ray machine. I opted out. After confirming that I wished to opt out, the TSA employee directed me to the individual screening area. As I stood on the mat, I told him that I wanted to let him know upfront that I would cooperate with his search but did not consent to having my genitals touched, and that if he touched my genitals, I would file a complaint. He stared at me dumbly for a moment before going to get his supervisor.

I repeated to the supervisor what I’d told the first agent. I told him I’ve had skin cancer and do not wish to be exposed to more radiation than necessary. That’s true, though incomplete. I’d rant about the 4th Amendment, but that wouldn’t be any more productive than the implication of my statements already.

He seemed mildly surprised but remained focused. He asked me to clarify, telling me what they would be doing. After I repeated my position, he asked if I was refusing to be screened. I told him that, as I said before, I would cooperate but do not consent to having my genitals touched and would file a complaint if anyone did so. I also stated that I understood he did not set the policy.

The supervisor opted to perform the pat-down. He asked if I’d like to have the screening performed in private. I declined because I wanted everyone to see my objection. Once underway, he informed me of each step he was going to take before he proceeded. He ran his hands over my clothing but did not press into my body. When he finished the pat-down, he asked if I wished to file a complaint. I declined because, as I told him, he behaved reasonably within an unreasonable policy. He showed a level of professionalism that I have not encountered in any other encounter with TSA (c.f. August 2008).

I will engage future TSA experiences the same way, even in the inevitable likelihood that someone will be unreasonable and deny me access to my flight. I would have filed a complaint if he’d touched my genitals, regardless of his professionalism. He did not touch my genitals. I did not believe a complaint would be a useful means of protest in the context. I want more people to object, as I explained to the woman receiving a pat-down next to me. But dumping on the TSA employee wouldn’t convince him I’m right that he’s wrong to continue violating other’s rights by following unreasonable policy. Our representatives are the ones we should be blatantly and repeatedly antagonizing.

The kicker is what demonstrates the stupidity of this: to get to the individual screening area, I had to walk through the metal detector. It didn’t buzz.

Gun Violence: Method versus Reason

The murders and attempted murders in Arizona yesterday at Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ constituent gathering doesn’t need any specific comment from me. Nor am I much interested in the partisan nonsense that predictably followed. My only response was to wield a clumsy, permanent “Unfollow” hammer on Twitter on anyone who blamed someone other than the (alleged) murderer for his crimes. Productive for nothing other than my sanity, but that’s something for me.

I am, however, interested in one inevitable angle of the aftermath that I think is worth discussing. Two comments that crossed my Twitter feed. First:

It is unacceptable to defend the legality of firearms. It is both irresponsible and horrifically misinformed. Guns kill. Fuck guns. End of.


“England, where no one has guns: 14 deaths. United States…23,000 deaths from handguns. But–there’s no connection…” ~Bill Hicks

To be fair to both persons, they are Brits, so an American perspective has a way of slanting away from their understandable sentiments. But, both are still flawed, regardless of the cultural difference.

The obvious reason is the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. As long as that is still valid, guns will be legal in the United States. Simply pretending that it’s not would fight chaos and lawlessness with chaos and lawlessness. Neither of the comments above implies that America should ignore the Second Amendment. We still need to explicitly accept its existence.

Details on why the murderer felt this was justifiable are still unclear. (Mostly, but I’m not going to speculate.) Lost on too many is the idea that guns aren’t the only way to kill people. Sure, it’s a simple process, but plowing a car through a crowd would have similar results. We recognize how stupid it would be to outlaw cars, so it’s reasonable to me to expect that level of thinking applied to guns, as well. Whatever the underlying motivation, the cliche is true: guns don’t kill people. People kill people.

The second Tweet above is slightly off, since the U.S. has approximately five times the population of the U.K. The difference between 14 and 70 is trivial when compared to 23,000, but it raises the question of adequately comparing countries. (I’m ignoring the context of the 23,000 figure and its validity because it’s tangential to my point.) Too many cultural differences exist to compare directly. What are the underlying issues? Why do people shoot/kill other people? And so on.

For example, whatever the percentage, I’m sure much of that number is related to the drug war in the U.S. Other countries are fighting the same war, but the consequences are influenced by culture. The U.S. tried the same war with alcohol prohibition in the early 20th century. We’re now recreating the same results. To mangle another cliche, you can’t legislate for the country you wish you had. You must legislate with the country you have. The human response to prohibition is predictable. But the U.K. and its gun prohibition isn’t the U.S. and its Constitution. What to do isn’t as simple as the seductive “no guns, no murder” mantra.


I have a final point, which I’m separating to hopefully avoid the perception that I’m engaging in a logical fallacy. Understand that this informs nothing other than my personal experience and is not meant to prove me any more an authority or voice in the discussion.

My father died of a gunshot wound when I was three-years-old. He and a friend were playing a game of quick-draw in the front seat of his friend’s car. My father’s friend apparently didn’t realize his gun was loaded. Upon pulling it out, it discharged a fatal blast into my father’s chest.

If guns were illegal, it’s unlikely they would’ve been playing quick-draw knife throw. But there’s also no way to know that they wouldn’t have been playing quick-draw with guns. Life happens. There are legitimate reasons to detest guns and legitimate reasons to value them. There’s a large measure of subjectivity in each of these. It adds nothing to simplify the discussion into a belief that 300,000,000 Americans should fit one mold of thinking, or that an opinion in favor of gun ownership implies a desire, preference or acceptance of gun violence.

(My) Marriage and the State

At The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, Jason Kuznicki asks questions about marriage under three scenarios. Two of those scenarios are relevant to me, and they’re interesting because they correlate closely with my personal life.

The first scenario:

1. The United States government, at both the state and federal levels, peacefully dissolves into anarchy. The functionaries all read David Friedman, agree with him, and close up shop. Are you still married? Or not?

My short answer is, “of course we’d still be married.”

My long answer is more complex. Danielle and I have been in a relationship since the latter half of 2003. More than six years later, we haven’t yet married, but we have a shared mortgage. That’s enough to me to signify my commitment that I’m not going anywhere. When we’ve talked about this, she’s agreed. Our relationship is what matters, not the approval of others.

In a bit of coincidental timing, we decided last week to get married. There was no traditional popping of The Question. It came up because of specific, values-based legal nonsense that makes it significantly cheaper – free versus many thousands of dollars – to have the state’s sanction. After discussing it in rational terms in our kitchen, we decided it’s time to jump through the state’s hoops.

The engagement will be short-lived, because we’ll be married soon. Neither of us wants a religious ceremony, so we have none of the time-constraining obstacles that involves. The courthouse will suffice. Packing family and friends traveling great distances into a courthouse for a “Do you? Yes. Do you? Yes.” ceremony seems rather much a waste of everyone’s time and resources. There will be plenty of time to celebrate, as if we haven’t done that by being committed for so long already.

Also, I’m not big on symbolism, in general, so adding the state’s approval means nothing. While I won’t get into the martyrdom of saying I won’t get married until everyone in my state commonwealth may enjoy their right, the fight for marriage as a way to be approved by the good opinion of others led to me evaluating state approval from minor into nothingness. If my neighbors – representing whatever boundary one wishes to draw and call the “state” – think they need their god’s judgment and blessing, that’s interesting. If they think I need their god’s judgment and blessing, and the discriminating hand of the state is the only way to achieve this, then I don’t think much of their god. And I won’t care about the state that enforces these subjective, unprovable rules.

As unromantic as it may appear, Danielle and I became married long ago through our choices, with no definitive anniversary date. The state had nothing to do with that. If it disappeared tomorrow, maybe we’d continue celebrating whatever the official wedding date turns out to be, but we’d continue on unchanged by its influence.

3. Your entire family, on both sides, and any children if you have them, all reach a consensus: You and your wife are all wrong for each other. They’re not going to recognize your marriage, no matter how happy you are, and regardless of how you conduct yourselves. Still married? Or not?

Again, my short answer is, “of course we’d still be married.”

My long answer depends on the opposite scenario. It’s the traditional story. After a couple has been together beyond the family’s opinion of long enough, the hints start appearing. Direct questions follow. If you still don’t marry, the pleas begin. Danielle and I reached the pleas some time ago.

Or, to be precise, I reached the pleas some time ago. As the man, I’m expected to take the traditional role. But I missed the script. Not intentionally or consciously. (Mostly not consciously, since I’m not oblivious.) I know and trust Danielle enough to reasonably expect her to say something if our relationship needed to change. Since she shares my opinion on marriage as well as two individuals probably can, especially when one of those people is me, she didn’t try to force anything when the hints or questions or badgering started. As unromantic as it seems to outsiders, since it doesn’t fit the frame inside which we’re supposed to place it, we decided together to get married, without a bended knee or a diamond.

Our families and friends had an image of how our relationship was supposed to develop. Speaking for myself, I never cared about that. Their validation (or revoked validation, in Jason’s scenario) is irrelevant to the extent that I’ll allow it to affect my behavior. They’re happy that we’re making it official, and that’s good, but it doesn’t sway my value of the state-sanctioned validation they sought for us compared to our voluntary choices and manner of expressing our relationship.


When I met Danielle five years ago, I was never much of a cat person, preferring dogs instead. Since she had two cats, Linus and Ariel, the decision on pets was already over. I would become a cat person.

Thankfully, Linus and Ariel were perfect for making that transition. They both became friendly and affectionate with me immediately. Where before they were indifferent to strangers, they curled up in my lap whenever possible. I’d become their buddy.

Linus and Ariel couldn’t be more different. Linus was always petite and skittish, while Ariel used her size and attitude to get what she wanted. But when we added two more cats, Emmett and The Smoosh, Ariel always defended Linus when necessary. They’d been together long enough that they were as friendly as they could be given Ariel’s loner facade. Because they entered my life together, and because of the way the interacted, I’ve always viewed them as a pair. Laurel and Hardy, perhaps, but they made sense.

Linus died this morning.

I’ll spare the details because I don’t want to relive them. He’d always had a genetic risk because he died the same way his brother died years ago. But it was unexpected because he’d only rarely shown any signs that he might be prone.

I knew it would be difficult when it happened. I didn’t know it would be this difficult. Putting out three plates of cat food after we got home from the vet this morning was devastating. I will miss being able to call his name and have him come prancing into the room, but only if you called his name in a high-pitched, rapid-fire voice. I will miss the games and having Linus playfully bite my hand. I will even miss the times where he soiled himself and we had to cut the hair off his tail.

I’ll end with my favorite picture of him:


R.I.P. Linus

I’m still here…

…but I’m a little behind in news and writing. I figured this would happen during the adjustment period, and so it has. I’m just trying to readjust to a structured schedule. Sometime this week I think I’ll find the groove again. Until then, I have nothing.

It’s time to step into the confessional.

I left the W2 world and became an independent consultant more than four years ago. Professionally, these have been the best four years, although I haven’t gained significant new skills or progressed higher. As an independent, that’s difficult to begin with because you’re hired for a role with a defined boundary. It’s possible to get more, of course, but you have to be proactive because no one is pushing from behind, or pulling from above. (Pick one.) I wasn’t overly proactive in the roles I had because I didn’t want to be.

I like that, personally. I jumped out of the W2 world because I’m not interested in the “Up or Out” career path. Lateral moves are fine because I like the behind the scenes tasks and mental challenges. Digging in code to find mistakes suits me much better than managing people who will dig in code.

Blogging is a perfect example of this. You don’t see me on YouTube and only a select few of you even know my full name. I don’t blog anonymously because I’m ashamed of my ideas. I just like my ideas more than I care for accolades. There is also the desire to block out my professional life from Rolling Doughnut, although I clearly give enough personal information that anyone who knows me even remotely could place the two together.

Before I go too far on this tangent, let it suffice that I like the mind more than the mouth. That’s probably the most pithy-yet-accurate way to assess my interests. It’s why I intend to be a professional writer at some point. I’m working on it. but I’m not ready. Not because of my words. I know I’m good enough there. I’m still looking for the entryway into a published gig, but that’s also not the problem. More on this in a moment.

This has been the long way of saying that I finished up my last consulting project in April 2007. I took a little bit of time off because I could. And then I took a lot of time off because I couldn’t find a new role. I had a few leads that seemed to die right before fruition. I had another that died a very strange death, though hindsight left me unsurprised. (This is the role that allowed me to buy my MINI before I should have. Rather than a dearth of intelligence, it was an overabundance of faith. Lesson learned.)

So, bottom line: the $40 I earned for my day of jury duty is my sole income in the last 13 months. Don’t fret for me because I saved well enough in the preceding years. I haven’t had to sell blood or possessions or cancel luxuries like Netflix. My mortgage is not delinquent, and my revolving credit card balances are $0. Nor should you read this as an indictment of the economy. I am not caught in that, directly. (Indirectly, probably.) There are market forces at work in my industry that started long before trouble in the economy. I won’t bore you with details.

Unfortunately, and perhaps usefully instructional, I must redirect my career in the short-term. I’ve accepted a W2 position. I can’t say I’m overjoyed at the prospect. The opportunity is good because, apart from providing income (!), I will learn new software skills. My software methodology skills are excellent and will always be marketable, but as good as my software skills are, they won’t be marketable forever. Creative destruction is at work. I can’t champion capitalism and not expect to get the (alleged) short end of it. But apart from having to go back to being an employee, calling this the short end would be nothing more than whining that change happens. No, thanks.

Now, back to writing. As I mentioned, that’s where I want my career to go. I’m already working in that direction. But I learned something in the last 13 months. I’m scared. I know I can write, but I don’t know if I can write professionally. While I had free days and nights to toil away at making the blank page not blank, I surfed the Internet. I blogged, which is useful, but not completely. I played video games. I watched television. I did everything but write.

Before I convey too much self-loathing, I’ve enjoyed the last 13 months like no other time in my life. I bought a year of retirement and it was wonderful. I loved not reporting to anyone for anything. I learned not to apologize for being who I am. I learned that I could explain a 13 month absence from the workforce and not feel the least bit of concern for how that truth is received. That will be useful.

I also learned I could live on less money than I thought. I learned where I need to focus my pursuits to be the kind of happy I want. A friend of mine is also unemployed right now. He is a workaholic. I can’t imagine how much the time off is messing with his head. I have no such misfortune. Not because I don’t like to work, but the work matters more than working. And 13 months of being disengaged taught me that in a way I didn’t comprehend before.

What does this all mean? First, the obvious. Blogging here is going to be disrupted for a bit while I readjust to a structured schedule and my new employer. I haven’t posted in a week and I’m telling you that when I have somewhere to go every day, I’ll have to figure out how to make this work. Duh. Seriously, though, Rolling Doughnut isn’t going anywhere. Without it, I wouldn’t have written more than 100,000 words on circumcision in the last three years. That matters to me.

Second, my blogging will probably change a little once I’ve readjusted to having a job. I want to write for publication. I’m interested in policy questions and political theory, for example. I also have a book on circumcision tumbling around in my brain. It needs to get out.

But I also want to write fiction. I have no idea if I can write a novel worth publishing. That can no longer deter me. I listened to that for the last 13 months. Years, really, but I can’t excuse away the last 13 months. I had the time. I have the ideas. The two must meet. Again, I don’t know how to do this, but I will in the coming weeks and months. Perhaps I’ll write nothing but shit. Probably I will. But I can’t edit the blank page.

Finally, as to my career, it bums me out a little. I love the freedom that comes with being independent. The money is great, sure, although Congress takes away much of that gain directly through taxes and indirectly through stupid policies like incentives for employer-based health insurance. But dictating when I take a vacation, within professional bounds, is better than asking. Not worrying about accumulated vacation time is also nice, even though vacation was just unpaid time off. That’s a better-than-fair trade in practice.

Still, I’m not worried. I’ll get back to independent eventually. Not in the short-term because my reputation in my industry is important, so I’m not going to screw over my new employer by treating them as a place-holder. However, it would be silly for anyone to assume I’ll eventually retire from this company. Until then, I’ll learn new skills while providing a valuable service in return for a paycheck. As much as I love independence, I’m not interested in losing my house.

I’ll probably return to independent consulting. But maybe not. I’m going to attempt to pull off a writing career. I doubt I’ll make as much money if when I become published, but I don’t care. The money didn’t drive me before, I thought, but I was wrong. It did. Through the last 13 months, it doesn’t now, at least not to the same extent. Not being able to spend money frivolously has been frustrating. I get the urge to spend just to spend. But material things don’t hold the same sway over me now. I need less. (Last night I went to Best Buy to celebrate my new job with a minor shopping spree. I spent $10 on the new Jason Mraz cd. Hey, big spender.)

That’s what’s up with me, and what will be up with me in the near future.