Friday, November 27, 2015

Electronic Hollering

The time of year has come -- as it always does (except when it doesn't) -- for the Holiday Holler.

If you want an electronic copy of this silly annual missive, rather than having it come by snailmail, please do let me know. I can send PDFs to those of you who haven't had enough punishment yet by getting on my Mailing List of Doom.

(And no, you didn't get off the mailing list last year. I didn't actually send out a 2014 Holler. What can I say... I wasn't at peak performance, what with illness and job loss and such. This year should be better.)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The body on the roadside

But [the lawyer] .... said unto Jesus, "And who is my neighbour?"

And Jesus answering said, "A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.

But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, 'Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.'

Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?" And he said, "He that shewed mercy on him."

Then said Jesus unto him, "Go, and do thou likewise."

-- Luke 10:29-37
Some interesting background information on this parable: Jerusalem was a holy city, the place where the temple was located. Jericho, near the Dead Sea, is some 846 feet below sea level. So when Jesus says that a certain man "went down" from Jerusalem to Jericho, he means it literally as well as figuratively. Priests and Levites were considered very holy men, people who presided over sacrifices and other rites in the temple. Samaritans were a people related to the Jews, but whom the Jews went out of their way to shun, mostly because the Samaritans had intermarried with other people from the region and were thus considered half-breeds.

When I first heard this story as a kid, I was confused. Why would the priest and the Levite have gone past without at least stopping to check on the man lying there by the roadside? I later learned that priests and Levites, because they were meant to be ritually clean and separated from all corruption, were not allowed to touch the dead. If the man on the road looked dead, perhaps they were erring on the side of caution by choosing not to touch him -- but even so, they were not wholly justified. As long as there was any possibility the man was alive, it was their duty to check on him and render aid if necessary.

Just recently, though, it's occurred to me what else the priest and the Levite might have been thinking when they left a man for dead.

The parable indicates that the man "fell among thieves," who took him for everything he had and nearly killed him. I can't help wondering whether the priest, having walked this road before and knowing its dangers, thought to himself, "Look, a body on the roadside. I suppose I should help -- but what if it's a thief, pretending to be dead, waiting for me to get close so that he and his band can attack and rob me? No, it's too dangerous. I shouldn't get involved." And so he walked over to the other side of the road, avoiding any potential danger.

I wonder whether the Levite thought to himself, "No, I'm not going to stop. After all, it's not really my problem, is it? He doesn't look like anyone I know. He might not even be a Jew. And I have responsibilities to attend to in the temple. Someone else will come by here eventually and take care of things." And he too walked to the other side of the road, carefully sidestepping any feelings of guilt, and continued on his way.

Then along came the Samaritan. Perhaps he also considered that the man by the roadside might be a thief poised to attack him, or he might have reflected on the idea that coming to the aid of a Jew -- a man who likely despised him -- was not his concern. But all Jesus says is that the Samaritan "had compassion on him," and went above and beyond the call of duty to get the wounded traveler to safety and nurse him back to health.

I guess I've been thinking about this particular parable in the wake of recent news stories about how numerous Americans -- many claiming to be Christian -- have been pushing hard against the notion of the United States taking in any Syrian refugees. "It's too dangerous! They could be terrorists! They're Muslims, and Muslims aren't like us! Anyway, it's not our problem; let someone else do it!"



Some Americans claim that, had they lived during World War II, they would have stepped forward to save European Jews from the Holocaust. Do we now sidestep the opportunity -- the duty -- to help other people bleeding on the roadside because there's a possibility that they might be dangerous? Does America, the Mother of Exiles, the land of "Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," try to pretend that these refugees are someone else's bailiwick? Are we afraid to take them in because they are different, because too many Americans openly despise these people of an unfamiliar faith and culture?

And are we using the fig leaf of "security issues" to cover our hatred and cowardice?

No. I refuse to believe that this is what Americans have become.

Worried about security? Fine, then let's get to work at putting some screening measures in place -- not allowing ourselves to say, "That's impossible," but to say instead, "That's going to be difficult. Let's figure it out."

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Thank you

If you are a veteran of any of the U.S. Armed Forces, I want to thank you sincerely -- today and every day -- for your service to your country.

And if you've ever wondered why the poppy has become the symbol of Veterans Day, a little illumination from the Modern Farmer website:
Papaver rhoeas, also known as the common poppy, corn poppy and red weed, among other names, is considered a nuisance plant by European farmers and often grows in areas where the soil has been disturbed. In the warm spring months beginning in 1915, with World War I in full swing, across many of the shell-blasted, trench-strewn battlefields in Belgium, France, as well as in Turkey, poppy seeds (which can lie dormant for more than 80 years) began to germinate in the newly turned earth, and poppy flowers were soon dotting the war-ravaged landscape, including the frontlines where John McCrae, surgeon for the First Brigade of the Canadian Field Artillery, was stationed.
Lt. Col. McCrae, of course, was inspired by the sight of these blood-red poppies -- more so by the recent loss of a friend -- to write what has become the most famous poem about the war, "In Flanders Fields."

War is evil and ugly, but a few things are worse. Living in subjugation to dictators and tyrants ranks high on that list. So to those of you who put your own lives on the line to preserve the freedom of others: I cannot thank you enough.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015


Woke to smoochas from my honey (always appreciated) and the Feed Me Dance from Roxy-cat (less so, but Captain Midnight took care of it). Shrugged into my caftan and drove CM to the bus stop. Wonderful fog this morning; the end of my street was a complete mystery, and the trees planted in the median strip only revealed themselves slowly and in misty layers as we drove.

Having returned to the house, I'm pondering the specifics of today -- what I might do with the first few hours of my 46th year. Thinking that getting horizontal for a few more hours sounds like a good plan. Will update later. zzzzzz

All right, enough of that, UP AND AT 'EM, ATOM ANT! Dressed for the day, fed Roxy again, had a nice long chat with my mom, did some visiting teaching, came back to the house to find a grumpy cat who made it clear she was displeased by my leaving her to her own devices, even for an hour. Also, a mysteeeeeeeerious bag was hanging from the front door; it held a container of mini-roses. Thank you, Sarah! They are lovely! Then had a late lunch -- mostly a nosh; CM and I are going out for Korean barbecue tonight. (You think I'm cooking on my birthday? HA! Not likely! But I think I will clean the kitchen.)

Partially cleaned the kitchen. Was interrupted by the advent of our delightful mail lady, who said, "Happy birthday!" as I opened the door. Just as I was wondering... wait, how did she know? she added, "It was on the box!" The box in question turned out to be a giftie from my in-laws, a wax warmer which is even now perfuming our kitchen and front room with apple-cinnamon goodness. (Thank you, Mom & Dad!) The mail also brought a spiffy new T-shirt, which I put on immediately. Finished loading the dishwasher, sat down to write a letter, and then CM came home (yay!). He needed some quality time to scheme and plot out my birthday chase, so I ran errands for about an hour and returned to receive well-wishing phone calls from several family members. CM had hidden the clues during my errand-running, so I am currently following them around the house.

Finished the chase! At the end was a green quad-ruled Moleskine which will become my new bullet journal in January (huzzah for CM! and more huzzah for plans to Git Stuff Done!). After that we swept off in the car to cook and eat ludicrous amounts of Korean barbecue. Now returned, happily full of kimchi and banchan and meat (oh my!) and probably redolent with the scent of barbecued goodness. Roxy is meowing her displeasure at us because we didn't bring her any.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Why objectification sucks

I just finished listening to an interesting podcast about the Piers Anthony book A Spell For Chameleon, and what the two podcasters found objectionable about it (short answer: A LOT).

A Spell For Chameleon - cover image
They're probably discussing the best way to get into a teen girl's pants.
I took a Vow of Anthony Abstinence some time in the early '90s, so I haven't plowed through the content of the approximately 5,000 titles he's written since then, but I did read A Spell For Chameleon in high school, and I agree with the podcasters -- in addition to the painful puns, clunkily-written logic puzzles, and reams of bad exposition, Anthony's writing features rampant sexual objectification of all its female characters.

Then I started thinking about how often some people use the word "objectification," to the point where no one seems to hear it any more. The word sails in one ear and out the other without disturbing anything in between. So what exactly is objectification, anyway, and what is it about the act of objectification that people find so despicable?

Short answer? Objectification is treating people as though they were objects.

Long answer? Well, I tend to think in terms of analogies, so here we go: Let's say you really, really love chocolate -- the warm rich dark scent of it, the artfully molded sheen of it, the way the sections of a chocolate bar softly give way when you snap them, the bittersweet silkiness of melted chocolate on your tongue -- oh yeah. But you're trying to lose weight or keep your blood sugar down, or have some other very good reason not to eat chocolate right now. So when confronted with the sweet temptation of a chocolate bar, you have two paths to consider: should I give in and eat it, or exercise self-discipline and leave it alone? Whether you choose to deny your urges or indulge them, it's all your decision. No one in her right mind would ask you to consider the chocolate bar's feelings on the subject, because chocolate bars don't have feelings. They are lifeless objects, and you can pretty much do whatever you want with them.

OK, let's jump to another level: consider our cat, Roxy. Barring greater understanding of animal thought and behavior, I would classify Roxy as sentient, but not sapient. In other words, she is a living being with thoughts and feelings, but she does not display a capacity for human-level intelligence or reasoning. Roxy can show us by voice and body language that she is happy, sad, scared, hungry, playful, loving, or standoffish, but she cannot tell us directly that she has an ear infection, nor can we explain to her why we have to take her to the vet or that the ear drops she hates will make her feel better. Because we love Roxy and took her into our home, we have a moral responsibility to care for her -- more than just the fun of playing with her and petting her. That means giving her good food and fresh water, clipping her claws, cleaning her litter box, tidying up the hair she sheds everywhere, taking her to the vet, and keeping her out of danger. Because she isn't sapient, and because we can't explain things to her, sometimes our judgment calls override her desires -- so she goes to the vet whether she likes it or not. But if she shows us she doesn't want to be petted right now, we don't force her to take our affection; we stop petting her. Frankly, that's the least we can do.

Now, on the final level: an adult human woman... me. I'm a living being with thoughts and feelings, and the ability not only to express them, but to understand and think about similar expressions from other beings -- so I'm both sentient and sapient. As an adult, I have full bodily autonomy and the ability and right to make decisions about my own life, even when those decisions are imperfect. To wholly objectify someone like me -- to treat me like a chocolate bar, a brainless object to be consumed solely for any desirable physical properties I might have, or to be cast aside if I'm not physically perfect -- is deeply evil. Even partially objectifying me -- occasionally recognizing my rights, but overriding my choices whenever you think you can do better -- is to treat me as though I were an infant or some kind of pet, which is horrifying. The only way to show you recognize my humanity is to treat me like a human being -- not as an object, nor as a child, but as a person.

There are a number of ways we, as a culture, choose to treat people as objects.

Headless fatty
Image borrowed from a liposuction website.
This is one way -- what Charlotte Cooper calls a "headless fatty," an image of an overweight-to-obese human being (usually, but not exclusively, female) photographed from the neck down.

Headless skinny
Borrowed from a weight loss clinic website. (That's not how you use a tape measure, BTW.)
Interestingly, this image is just as objectifying as the other one. When you can't see someone's face, look into her eyes, catch something of her individuality, it's easy to focus on that person as a simple collection of body parts, to choose to accept or reject that person based solely on the relative attractiveness of those parts.

Engraving of the United States slave trade
Yet another example of objectification in U.S. history. If you stop thinking of people as fully human, it becomes very easy to treat them as chattel.

One form of objectification is the use of female bodies in advertising. There are probably a bazillion sports car ads featuring attractive women, their gazes either sultry or vacant, their bodies artfully splayed across the hood of a new red car. The suggestion is obvious: if you buy this car, women like this will be sexually available to you. (Maybe it also suggests that the woman comes standard with the car, or is some kind of optional extra. Better check the trunk.)

Journalists pride themselves on their objectivity, but even they fall prey to the practice of objectification. News stories about famous men who appear in public tend to focus on what they have to say. News stories about famous women who appear in public tend to focus on such key issues as their makeup, hairstyles, clothing and jewelry. (When Emma Watson arrived at the United Nations in September 2014 to announce the HeForShe gender equality campaign, an embarrassing number of news outlets wasted precious inches of text cooing over her Dior coat dress. Really, people?)

The process of inuring children to objectification begins early. How many fairy tales, for example, use some version of the following trope? "And to the brave knight who did this deed, the king promised half his kingdom and his daughter's hand in marriage." As a girl who loved fairy tales, I was usually so involved with the story that I didn't stop to think: How was the princess supposed to feel about that little arrangement? But the story isn't structured to encourage us to empathize with the princess as a human being, only to accept her status as a thing, a prize for the hero to win.

One of the alarming personal traits of a certain current presidential candidate -- and one of many reasons why I will never vote for him -- is his casual objectification of women. The man claims he loves women, but I notice he goes through them like chocolate bars. He has shown over and over again, in his private life and in his public comments, that he thinks of women as desirable objects to be used and discarded -- and it is particularly telling that the highest, and indeed the only, form of praise he can give a woman is that she is beautiful. Not intelligent, not capable, not kind, not loyal, not generous, not funny. Only beautiful. That word, in his mouth, becomes an insult -- and I don't want a man who treats over half the population of the United States as things, rather than people, ever to be in charge of this nation.

I believe that all human beings, male and female, were created in the image and likeness of Deity. That belief alone should inspire in us a basic respect for other people. But even if you have no particular faith tradition, you should consider the practice of objectification as a terrible waste. Each time you do so, you are making the world a poorer and more unsafe place. You are robbing yourself of the chance to get to know an amazing, richly complex, multifaceted individual whose like has never existed before and will never exist again. And you are failing to find your own humanity.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A crackpot Back to the Future theory

So we're watching Back to the Future tonight (because OF COURSE we are!), and I had a rather crackpot "Great Scott" moment which I shall now share with you all (because OF COURSE I shall!).

Those of you who still haven't seen the Back to the Future film series: a) what is wrong with you? and b) best avert yer eyes, mateys, thar be spoilers ahead.

Remember this scene?

Yes, the one where Marty McFly pranks his once-and-future-dad, George, in 1955 by showing up in his bedroom in the middle of the night and introducing himself as Darth Vader, an extraterrestrial from the planet Vulcan.

You may also recall that Marty eventually returns to 1985 to find every other member of his family much improved -- and just in time to witness the unveiling of his father's "first novel," A Match Made in Space:

Now, the McFlys of this timeline have clearly moved from lower middle class to upper middle class (or higher, if they live well below their means), so what was George McFly busy doing all that time between the Enchantment Under the Sea dance and the first novel?

Well, I'll tell you.

After high school, George married Lorraine and started writing short stories and submitting them to science fiction magazines (using a pseudonym, of course; that was pretty common for sci-fi writers during that era). The quality of his writing impressed a new television screenwriter, Gene Roddenberry, and the two briefly became friends, bouncing new ideas for stories and TV pilots off each other. (Roddenberry really latched onto the idea of Planet Vulcan, but felt "Darth Vader" was too farfetched to be a believable alien name.) The two parted ways less than amicably when Roddenberry shamelessly stole some of George's ideas for a new sci-fi series he was shopping around.

After seeing Roddenberry's Star Trek franchise take off, George realized he had more to offer the world than just short stories. He wanted to go bigger. Way bigger than television. So with Lorraine's approval and assistance, he applied to film school and began creating experimental movies, many of them with a science-fiction bent. Eventually he began writing the sci-fi screenplay that would make him famous. But after years of writing under a pseudonym he still wasn't sure "George McFly" would make it in Hollywood, so he picked out a different surname. "Lucas" had a nice ring to it...

This theory also neatly explains all the insane retconning of creatures, characters, etc. into the Star Wars Special Edition; George hasn't fully internalized the dangers of retroactively changing the past.

Yes, tongue is firmly in cheek.

[Please do not write to tell me The Real George Lucas was only 11 years old in 1955. The Real George Lucas lives in a whole different timeline from the Back to the Futureverse, as you can easily verify by searching for the city of Hill Valley, California on Google Maps. Repeat to yourself, "It's just a show, I should really just relax."]

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Please help us find Roxy -- October 16 update

NOTE: Roxy has been found! See below.

Our cat Roxy has been missing since yesterday around noon. I was trying to get her into a cat carrier to take her to a vet appointment, and she slipped away from her collar and bolted out an open window. She is an indoor-only cat who has never been outside for any extended period, and she is very timid and shy of strangers. We hope she is hiding somewhere near home, but have not seen any sign of her since she escaped. She has a collar and tags, but is not currently wearing them; however, she is microchipped. Roxy knows her name, but is probably too afraid to come when called right now.

Here's the rest of the info:

Name: Roxy
Breed: Domestic shorthair (probable mix)
Age: 1 1/2
Color/Markings: Black and light reddish-brown tortoiseshell with "split-face" markings (see photo below), yellow-green eyes
Sex: Female (spayed)
Weight: about 11 pounds
Microchip number: [REDACTED]
Last seen: 12 October 2015, 12:15 p.m., South Redmond, WA neighborhood near the Meadows subdivision

This is our most recent photo of Roxy.
If you have found or seen Roxy, please call [REDACTED] and reference her microchip number. Also, if you happen to live in our neighborhood, please pass this post on to as many people as possible and share on social media (Facebook shares would be especially helpful, as I'm not on there any more). We have contacted Animal Control, have done several perimeter checks on the property, will be blanketing our neighborhood with posters and picking up a humane trap from the shelter where we adopted her, but anything you can do to spread the word to someone who might have seen her would be so appreciated. We are heartsick over losing her.

Thank you.

ETA (10/16/15): Captain Midnight checked the humane trap this morning, and what to our wondering eyes should appear?

YES! Piteously meowing Roxy-cat, who had been lured in there by the siren call of sardines!

Thanks so much to everyone who helped us get this wandering kitty home again. We are so very grateful to have her back safe and apparently unharmed (aside from double the amount of typical skittishness, which should calm down over time).

I love a good happy ending, don't you?

P.S. Roxy is very affectionate on her own terms. She doesn't much like to sit in laps...

...but she still manages to get close to her people. Here she's taking up about half of Captain Midnight's computer chair.