Social Justice Warrior

“…but, you know, you have that whole thing you do on Facebook where you stand up for women and the poor and different races and stuff…”

This was actually said to me quite a while ago; and it has bothered me sufficiently that it has stuck with me for several weeks. My first draft of this opening actually implied that I wasn’t initially upset by it, that it grew to annoy me; that characterization isn’t true, though. I was sufficiently off-put by it the first time that I heard it that it prompted me to whip out my notebook and jot it down for later review. We’ll see if enough time has passed for me to remain relatively dispassionate as I attempt that review.

Let me begin by describing what I perceive this “whole thing I do” to be. I dislike internal inconsistency and find blatantly hypocritical behavior to be profoundly irritating. I am annoyed by broad applications of injustice, but don’t usually give a shit about fairness. I hate a dishonest defense of a position whether that position is defensible or not.

Too vague.

I don’t stand up for women—I think that women are actively excluded in a variety of systemic ways in our culture and I try to make sure that I’m not directly contributing to those.

I used to think that the above was enough, but now I also try to call out when I see others directly contributing to those systemic abuses. As it turns out, my ability to turn a blind-eye to those things if I choose to because it doesn’t have an immediate impact on my life is ALSO directly contributing to those systemic injustices. Remaining silent is effectively giving consent to such behaviors.

I am of the opinion that you can substitute “the poor”, “people of color”, “immigrants”, “gays”, and dozens of other subjects into my first statement in place of “women” and have it remain true.

I do not believe that joking about these things means that I take them any less seriously—humor has many purposes, but shouldn’t be taken as diminishing the gravity of an issue. I do not think that my jokes about an issue suddenly make me a hypocrite.

I do believe in trying to make sure that when I’m joking about these things, I’m punching up rather than down. It’s not solely that punching down is weak comedy and shows weak character; it is more that the sort of people that find me funny when I’m punching down are the sort of people I don’t want finding me funny.

The most important thing that I believe, however, is simple: I believe that the majority of my actions should try to improve things in some way for those that would benefit most from improvement—and further, that all of my actions should strive to not make things worse for those same people.

These things that I “do on Facebook” are a natural result of the above points of view. I’m not donning a costume. This isn’t some kind of an act meant to gain me—I guess that’s the question—what would this gain me? What is the benefit? There are no social justice warrior ranks. There aren’t points, there isn’t a cabal of folks that assign jobs or prizes to people that are correctly outspoken. There is literally zero benefit to me to be loud about these things.

That’s not true—it implied an altruism that I don’t genuinely believe in. Let me try again…

Here is what I get from that: I get to be a person that I approve of more often than not. That person gets the respect of peers that I actually respect and wish to be more like. That person gets to help make the world the place that I want to inhabit. That person gets to feel as though he has made a contribution of value to those around him; not simply to himself. That person—one I want very badly to exist—gets to exist for just a little while when I am guided by these principles.

I guess the question I wish I had asked—the question I’m asking now—is “why don’t you have the same sort of thing? Why isn’t this your thing?”

Path Finding

Seth Godin wrote an interesting post about path finding a little while back and it struck me that I get very easily frustrated by the two path-finding extremes.

Those that never look for a new path—the typists rather than the writers—stagnate and mire themselves in complacency’s stationary momentum. I’m sure there are people for whom such quiescence is comforting, but for me it is maddening.

Alternately, those that find themselves constantly in the weeds trying to find a new path are an energy sink—they (we, at times?) are draining emotionally and mentally to those around them with the constant, rigorous pursuit of improvement at all costs.

I tend to err on the side of the latter, and have to remain vigilant that I’m not sacrificing completely acceptable progress in pursuit of marginal gains. I do often ask myself though, since I mostly find a path by trial and error, is there a faster way? Are there better ways to see if the path I’m on is at least close to optimal? Right now I simply use observation of those around me, is that the best way?

So many questions.

India: Food

I don’t think we realize what a finely balanced relationship we have with food until we’re completely divorced from our typical culinary comforts. Any traveling I’ve done in the past (even the very modest amount of international travel I’ve done) has never caused a significant departure from the habits and cuisine that I am used to. While in Korea, I was able to sample heavily from the local food while still returning daily to my “safe space” foods on-post. Even when having to be careful to avoid certain foods or to eschew unbottled water, it was still less a functional change to my habits than a brief food adventure–quick to visit, quick to return.

Spending more than just a couple of days completely apart from my normal dining habits has been a really cool experience. You can tell, because aside from perpetual exhaustion, it’s the number one thing I’ve been plastering on my social media! It has been eye-opening though. I don’t normally put so much consideration into my meals, and that’s not an option here. That said, most of the consideration is because I’m enjoying something of a food adventure.

I don’t think I would have been as eager to dive into all of the various facets of the food and beverage experience that Nagpur has to offer were I able to comfortably return to “home base” in the form of a recognizable burger-and-fries sort of meal. Instead, I am confronted with the choice to either experiment with foods entirely foreign to me or to play it safe with local approximations of food that I’m used to. Often, the latter seems a dicier proposition than the former.

Breakfast for me at home typically consists of some sort of sausage and egg meal–breakfast quiche, fried eggs and sausage, egg-white omelete with sausage and cheese, etc. Here, I have a broad assortment of traditional (and somewhat less traditional) dishes from which I can choose each morning. The biggest difference in breakfast is the relative blandness of my usual breakfast compared to what I’m having here. Every single dish is spiced uniquely and aggressively, which doesn’t always mean that the food is spicy-hot; it does mean that it is reliably strongly flavored. Few things here are as bland as a fried egg at home.

For other meals, we have been splitting our time between the local interpretations of meals that we might find at home–masala pizza might be my new favorite pizza, which is going to be very disappointing when I get home and there is no such thing–and going out for more traditional local fare. In my typical ignorant way, I pretty much just classified “Indian food” as one monolithic thing. In my head I recognized that there was some difference between northern and southern versions of it, but I assumed there to be about the same amount of division as there is between a dinner in Alabama versus a meal in Connecticut. That is to say, I assumed we were talking about essentially the same things, but with a ton more butter.

Instead, the variances between the native foods of the different states is pronounced. While our hotel serves a mixed selection of foods, I’m told that it is mostly southern Indian in nature. At one lunch, we enjoyed Rajasthani cuisine–a selection of curries and bread-like products that was completely dissimilar to food that I would get at an Indian restaurant at home. It was here that I found the only way I’ve ever enjoyed cauliflower: mashed into a very spicy curry and picked up with a piece of hot chapati. I am warned that one of the regional foods of this area–Saoji–is far too hot to try; I suspect that unless I happen into some, I will probably take that advice. When people that eat spicy food regularly immediately say “bad idea,” I take it about 30% to heart!

As it stands, I can rest assured that most places around here that I eat will be able to give me naan, chapati, paneer, masala, daal, and about a thousand dishes that I can now pick out by sight but probably never name. Secure in that knowledge, I find it pretty easy to find something to eat here. I stay slightly wary of meat of unknown provenance (I mostly eat vegetarian unless I was referred to the place by those from the area), avoid the water, and do a poor job of avoiding dairy and the only gastrointestinal distress I’ve encountered was from the anti-malarial drugs.

India: Shopping

We arrived in Nagpur late on Saturday night after around 30 or so hours of travel (around 17 hours of which involved sitting in an airplane), so Sunday was a day to recover from travel and make preparations for the week. Since I am in no way a grownup, for me this meant going shopping for collared shirts to go with my three pair of long pants.

We ended up at the Nagpur Central Mall. Picture a 4-story department store with roughly infinity employees there to help you. After exploring for a bit, I ran into a snag: the largest size we could find in a male shirt was an extra-large, and even that was barely more generous than a large by my estimation.

I more or less gave up on the mission entirely. As I was busily working out n my head the complicated relationship I was going to have to adopt with the hotel laundry service, a store clerk brought over a shirt slightly larger than the largest I’d seen so far. It still clearly was not going to fit me, but it was, in fact, larger.

Now as an aside, I would like to point out that I am 100% stereotypical male when it comes to shopping. I am straight out of a cheesy 80’s standup comedy bit—I hate shopping, I don’t enjoy trying things on, and I’m not especially comfortable being waited on. I bristle at it. I don’t enjoy it. I avoid it at all costs.

So it was that I allowed myself to be convinced to step into a changing room and try on a shirt that I could tell just by holding it wasn’t going to fit. I flounced in, attempted to squeeze my body into what was essentially a button-down sports bra on me, then came out to report the poor fit.

I found myself rapidly buried in a veritable avalanche of clerks.

Upon exiting the fitting room, there were two more clerks with a few more shirts amongst them. We bantered back and forth a bit—me not wanting to try more shirts on, and them politely and firmly suggesting that I do—until I went in and tried another shirt. Upon exiting, there were several more clerks with several more shirts in a ever broadening array of styles, sizes, and patterns.

Listen; I think that it is fair to say that I am prone to humorous exaggeration in my anecdotes, so please know that I am in no way embellishing when I say that at one point I came out of this dressing room and there were no less than 8 people all with an opinion as to how I should dress. And each of these opinions were undoubtedly factually more accurate than my own.

Once I settled in, I found that I was having fun. I have been unable to adequately describe the difference between this experience and a similar one back home, but the same number of people pushing shirts at me in the US would have felt like I was being pressured relentlessly into a sale. This was not that; this was a group of people quickly and efficiently trying to figure out what will make me happy, then provide me tons of those things from which I could make my choices. For all of my disdain for the idea of shopping in general, there is something really awesome about having a group of people actively trying very hard to help you find something you’ll like.

Especially if you’re a loutish American who hasn’t a clue what he likes.

I tried on a ton of things, found several shirts that did fit (the largest size available in the store…a size 6 that could best be described as a very stylish tarp), learned that linen shirts are about a million times more comfortable in warm temperatures than my cotton shirts (as in: seriously, I might just buy a score of these things to wear back home), and found a collar style for button-down shirts that I far prefer to the very broad and annoying American style that I’m often forced to wear (narrow, low collars that remain the same size all the way around—I was told it was called a ‘short spread collar’ or ‘abbreviated spread collar’ locally).

In the end, I’m looking forward to doing some more shopping this coming weekend; a sentence I never thought I would actually say. We did not get a chance to visit the huge array of street vendors downtown, and I now find myself really looking forward to that.

But this doesn’t mean I’m going to stop buying all of my clothes on Amazon. I haven’t completely lost my mind!

Traveling to India

For the next two weeks, I’ll be in Nagpur, India meeting with my teammates there (here?) and planning ways for our work together to be smoother, more productive, and as free from frustration as work can be. At least, add free from frustrations as work that spans cultures and timezones can be.

The process leading up to the trip was daunting; this is probably the only time that being swamped has paid off in so tangible a way, as I didn’t have time to fret over the details. For the last six weeks, I’ve methodically plugged along performing tasks as they come up. Honestly, had we not used a travel service for the Visa application, I cannot imagine how I’d have gotten along. Poorly, I suspect.

The trip here was great. I’m traveling with one person from my office and two from our Milwaukee office, and all have proven to be excellent travel companions. That’s saying something, as I’m a considerable pain in the ass: I have no opinions on most details, but on those about which I do have an opinion, “strong” doesn’t even begin to cover it.

I’m not suffering from jet lag, however, I am suffering from the fact that I just don’t sleep well in hotels—actually, anywhere not my home to be more accurate. The first night, exhaustion from travel translated into about 7 continuous hours of sleep, but last night was more like 4. Today will be a long day, and I suspect I will feel it before the end. That’s okay, it appears that while Monster isn’t readily available, Red Bull is plentiful…so I’ll just dose up!

I’m looking forward to meeting the Nagpur team here shortly, and I’m sure I’ll have a lot more to write then.

The Company You Keep

As a leader, I have been unbelievably lucky to be surrounded by some pretty amazing teams, and my current team is no exception. I have consistently asked a great deal of them, and they have always found a way to meet my lofty expectations; they have treated each other with respect, even when things are difficult; and they have remained reliably focused on our goals, even when the pace of a project and external forces work to bump us from our path. Nothing that I could do at work could have done a better job of making me look good than the excellence of my team.

I think, at times, it’s easy to look at your successes and assume them to be of your own making—it’s important to me to remember that most of mine relate more to the company that I keep than the actions that I take.

Message Awards

Some thoughts about a new genre fiction award proposal in no particular order…

  1. If you are complaining about fiction that is overly politicized (especially so far as to call it “message fiction”) but fellate the weary corpse of Heinlein, I have to assume you’ve completely forgotten The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Stranger in a Strange Land, Starship Troopers, Farnham’s Freehold, or pretty much his entire catalog! (And I say this as an enthusiast of Heinlein’s work; an enthusiast that owns nearly everything that he’s written—come on now!)
  2. If you complain about the burdensome message of horrible books that you’ve never read, I have less than no respect for your position. I managed to gut my way through some absolutely abhorrent tripe this Hugo season to be able to vote in an informed manner—it’s intellectually dishonest to make such claims from utter ignorance.
  3. At all costs, avoid following behind multiple years during which the Hugo awards were bombarded with claims of  nominations and votes governed by an empowered clique (without any evidence to support those fantastic claims) with an attempt to create a new award that will literally: have overlords in the form of a board of directors; have a rank of judges to disqualify works unilaterally based on perceived politics; and gate-keep nomination and voter membership by virtue of a trust web that can only be described as an algorithmic clique (unless you immediately acknowledge the almost-but-not-quite-funny irony of the proposal.)
  4. If you do the above and fail to call your award “The Cliquies,” you’re fucking dead to me.
  5. You cannot honestly and fairly make the claim that the only reason a convention would invite (for numerous years) a Hugo-winning, Nebula-winning, multiple other fucking award winning author is because of a shift to some kind of political correctness—especially in spite of NUMEROUS FUCKING EXAMPLES of honored guests of the opposite variety (and an equally ponderous amount to indicate that they’ve always invited “lefties”).1
  6. I will also accept, as a name for your award, “The Morissettes” (because it is, in fact, a little too ironic, dontcha think?)
  7. If you rail against “message fiction” because it replaces “good story” with “boring message,” then applaud the creation of a slate of replacements that includes “The Parliament of Beasts and Birds” and consider that to be completely reasonable behavior among adults, then not only do I hate you for clearly having failed to read Wright’s piece of shit, but I doubly hate you for forcing me to gut my way through that sack of message-laden drivel. Seriously, every fucking one of you that put that load of shit on the ballot should be ashamed of yourselves; that’s just fucking mean.2
  8. Another good name for your award is the “Message Awards” I’m not sure what the award would look like for this one, honestly, but I’m looking forward to seeing it.

On a more serious note; I am a huge fan of the idea of anybody who feels that their point of view (or their community’s point of view) is underrepresented by a given set of awards making their own awards. If nothing else, it stands a reasonable chance of encouraging more folks to read, and to read more widely. But don’t piss in my face and tell me it’s raining—if you want to make a symbolic middle-finger to the Hugos, own that shit. Pretending that you’re not creating a new clique to replace the clique from which you feel excluded while doing precisely that so transparently—well, it’s just insulting to all involved really.


1 I say this as Jer, a person who has been attending the convention in question for over a decade. My views are not those of Jer, member of the board of directors, nor do they in any way represent the views of Penguicon, the convention committee, or the board of directors.
2 I’m not kidding, I’ve read scriptures more compelling and Chick tracts with less blatant message.

Upgrading to Windows 10

I upgraded to Windows 10 this weekend on the only Windows system I use, my gaming system. I had it on good authority that the games that I’ve been playing occasionally were well supported (pretty much Guild Wars II) and that it was an improvement over Windows 8 (which, unfortunately, came on my system and I was too lazy to downgrade it).

Overall, I’m pretty happy with it. They got rid of the fullscreen start menu replacement in favor of a much more user friendly option that is a natural extension of what they had right in Windows 7. There are, however, some pretty significant privacy concerns, so right off the bat I did the following (most of which I document here in case it’s not exhaustive and for later reference):

  1. Privacy Settings
    1. General: Turned all off
    2. Location: Limited to only those apps that I want to see my location
    3. Camera: Limited to only those apps that I want to have camera access
    4. Speech, etc: Turn off “Getting to Know You”
    5. Contacts: Turn off “App connector”
    6. Calendar: Turn off “App connector”
    7. Feedback: Set to “Always” and “Basic”
    8. Background Apps: Turn off all but apps I actively use and want running in the background (Twitter, Dropbox, etc)
  2. Wifi
    1. Wifi Sense: Turn off “Suggested” and “Contact” connection
  3. Cortana
    1. Turn off Cortana
    2. Turn off search suggestions
    3. Turn off popular news
  4. Edge
    1. Save passwords: off
    2. Save form entries: off
    3. Do Not Track request: on
    4. Search suggestions: off
    5. Block all cookies
    6. Media licenses: off
    7. Page prediction: off
    8. Set Chrome or Firefox as default browser then never open Edge again

Building a Theocracy: Step 1

My social media is fairly bipolar. By any rational standards I’m fairly centrist in my views, which leaves me appearing fairly liberal in an America that keeps trying to skew itself radically to the right. By virtue of being a pretty mixed bag of liberal and conservative views (on a Nolan scale I tend to land fairly consistently near the center of the bottom edge of the north-east quadrant) the folks that I read and that I follow are all over the map. So when some ignorant bigot named Kim Davis has opted to “follow a higher law” than the SCOTUS and not give marriage licenses for religious reasons, it has made the divide amongst those I read even more apparent than usual.

This is troubling, because there are some pretty simple concepts at work here, but the most obvious one is stupidly simple: this is protecting you, you fucking religious nutbags!

Freedom of religion not only doesn’t give anyone the freedom to foist their religious beliefs off on others, but it very specifically prevents the government (or officials acting on behalf of the government) to foist their beliefs off on patrons of the government’s services. Let’s think about it this way: would it be acceptable for a person of Muslim faith to deny liquor licenses for religious reasons? Or one of Jewish faith denying a business license to a restaurant serving bacon? Or one of Catholic faith denying a marriage license to a divorced person (*cough*)? Or one of Hindu faith denying a business license to a restaurant serving beef? These are also the purview of the same sort of government officials that you want to have the ability to not fulfill their duty on religious grounds.

So you, Christians who were so inattentive in grade-school social studies as to believe that our founding fathers—who fled religious persecution and who specifically separated church and state repeatedly throughout the formation of this republic—actually had the intention of making it a Christian nation, are being saved from having to kowtow to the whims of anyone with any other religious beliefs by the very law this woefully under-informed elected official is publicly flouting.

It is BECAUSE of our separation of church and state that the Sharia Law that conspiracy-theorists claim is poised to be shoved down our throats can’t take hold. If we weaken the separation of church and state—perhaps by allowing some braindead bigot to ignore it in favor of spreading her very Christian message of hate—then we are doing precisely what is necessary to allow for religious law, for some form of theocracy, to start to happen.

And let’s make no mistake, there are almost as many Muslims and Hindus in the world as Christians, and their numbers are growing far more rapidly than yours. I have little doubt that if religious zealots manage to wedge their beliefs into our legal system, it won’t be solely based on your mythology.

So, ignore the fact that the hatred you espouse is far from Christian. Forget, for a moment, that your Christian religion specifically indicates that you are to follow the laws of your land. You can even put aside the concept that you are cherry picking the pieces of your own book of rules that suit your views and ignoring those that do not. Instead, consider the consequences of continuing to flail about in ignorance and judgement—I suspect that your bigotry and hatred has perhaps made you act outside of your own best interests. Again.

Adopting the Proper Stance

Something like 20 years ago, I found myself in the position of standing in a wide open parking lot with my then-girlfriend attempting to hit me with her pickup truck. (Why I found myself in this position is not especially germane to the story. Suffice to say that I was not then a particularly good decision maker, and even by those standards that this was not a particularly good decision—but I digress.) So there I was, standing in a parking lot, faced with the certainty that I’m going to be hit by a pickup truck driven by somebody who is interested in doing me a tremendous amount of harm.

I did what I felt at the time was the only thing I could do. I charged toward the truck, rather than away from it. Immediately before getting hit, I leapt back in the direction the truck was traveling, I curled my body into a ball, and I tried to aim mostly non-soft and non-squishy bits toward the oncoming vehicle.

The net result was that I was bounced clear of the vehicle—very sore, pretty scraped up, and with a fairly badly injured right arm and shoulder—and took an opportunity to run to safety while she tried to turn the truck around.

Sometimes, you can’t avoid something terrible that’s going to happen; in fact, I think it’s fair to say that a LOT of the time you can’t avoid something terrible that is going to happen. What you CAN do is turn into it, take it head on, and meet it on your terms. Getting hit in the back by an oncoming truck driven by a lunatic could have been a pretty tragic moment for me. By setting at least some of the terms of the engagement, I turned tragedy into a pretty uncomfortable bone bruise and some scrapes and bruising.