On My Being, Political

It is once again the time of year when people in my social media feeds start posting about Not Removing Friends Over Politics. I’ll paraphrase here, but given the content is pretty much of a piece, I’m all right boiling it down to variations on one or more of these:

Friends are more important than simple politics.

We have to be able to have intellectual discussions about political issues.

If you ‘unfriend’ people, you’re choosing to cut off thought in favor of emotion.

The problem with all of these is that they insist on characterizing “politics” as an emotionless, intellectual debate. If it’s political, it’s just an idea, after all. Except that in this case the ‘idea’ up for debate is the actual humanity of another person.

I’m not sure if this “politics is ideas” thing is intentional gaslighting or a profound lack of understanding, but it’s infuriating in either case. If it’s the latter, I have serious concerns for the posters’ ability to navigate the world, since apparently they think people are severing ties over things like interstate highway routes and the taxes on a fresh strawberry. Which means they’re completely missing the part where people’s RIGHT TO EXIST is up for debate. In which case: yes. We need to be talking to those precious little flowers, because there is a whole lot of reality that’s not getting in.

In the former case, however, someone is well aware that one side of the debate is “I exist and deserve the same level of humanity as everyone else,” and the other is “It makes me uncomfortable if you exist, so could you maybe stop doing that?” I mean, yes, one side is existential, but the others side is an actual person. Saying that someone who is already fighting madly to gain or retain their humanity must also put up with having that humanity turned into something to be puzzled over like it’s choosing which Jenga piece to pull is just gross.

Trust me, I wish that the very fact of my gay existence weren’t political, but right now it is. People are debating whether I deserve service, whether I deserve employment, whether I deserve to marry, raise children, inherit. For a lot of people of marginalized identities, politics isn’t something they get to choose to enter or exit. Everyday interactions, from going to work to just holding hands, bring their very self up for scrutiny such that daring to draw breath becomes a political act.

Look, I absolutely agree that, in the case when the marginalized have the emotional energy to engage, that engagement is invaluable. However, it is also profoundly unfair to insist that people who are already assaulted by the world must engage, and must engage in all venues and on all platforms, and must engage with the same emotional distance that someone whose humanity is a given has the luxury of maintaining. That kind of insistence, whether willfully or ignorantly blind to the reality of the imbalance at work, winds up being just another abuse. It’s one more damn thing someone who’s struggling to survive has to worry about before they try to scrounge up the resources to actually enter the fray.

And anyone who’s standing around making pronouncements about understanding ought to make sure they understand that first and foremost.

This Isn’t About Uma Thurman

I’m not going to post a link, because first: it’s all over the place, and second: none of it deserves the three people I’d send it in traffic. “It” is another deluge of articles speculating on an actress’s purported plastic surgery. This time it’s Uma Thurman. The headlines range from relatively neutral (“Did She Have Plastic Surgery”) to vaguely supportive (“…Sports New Look”) to flat out mean (“What Happened to Her Face?”).

And, as it was with any number of actresses who’ve been the subject of this kind of thing before, despite liberally using images of Thurman, this story isn’t about her at all. It’s about the writers and the readers and the people tweeting and posting to Facebook.

There’s a lot of “why would she, she was beautiful before?” going around, I notice. Which infuriates me on a number of different levels. First of all, it’s rather willfully ignorant. Why would an actress in her forties, whom other people know in part for her “beauty” feel pressure to do things to maintain that? I’m pretty sure every single person posting those before and after jpegs has answered that question by asking it: you feel the way Uma Thurman looks, the extent to which she fits in your definition of beautiful, is significant. To her career. To her value to you as an actress and entertainer. To her, I guess, integrity as a human being.

That people are invested in how an actress looks, in how “beautiful” she is rather than how talented or eloquent or hard-working or devoted to her craft — you know, the parts that go into the act part of actress — and that this investment drives clicks and sells magazines, is exactly why an actress might feel pressure to undergo procedures to extend her ability to fit in that stupid box you’ve put her in. Every person who’s asking that asinine question is part of the problem.

The assumption, too, that Thurman has to spend time answering to people about her motivations as regards what she does with her own body doesn’t help. Thurman’s a grown up, folks. She’s sane and educated and independent. She can get a haircut or a new lipstick or a nose job or whatever the hell else she feels like doing. Do we really think the people asking will suddenly go whoops, my bad if she gives us a good answer? Why are we assuming a successful woman like Thurman wouldn’t have one? What the hell is a “good” answer, anyway? Whatever it might be, Thurman is obligated to disclose a grand total of zero reasons to us. Why should she?

It doesn’t help that this isn’t actually even about whether Thurman did or didn’t have surgery. It’s about the fact that she looks different in one picture than she does in another. That she isn’t maintaining whatever look it is We associate with her. A look, more importantly, of which this collective, judgmental We approves.

We have no reason to believe Thurman did or did not have “work done,” whether that’s an eye lift or a chemical peel or just a fucking fad diet and a personal trainer, prior to this. Until We noticed, no one gave two shits what the actress was or was not going through to look the way she looked. We approved of the results. We deigned to judge her beautiful, and so long as she maintained this, We didn’t ask.

Then something happened that We noticed, and she didn’t fit in the box We built for her. We no longer approved. Only then did Thurman’s life choices suddenly, supposedly, matter. Though even then, that’s just a Macguffin. It’s ultimately inconsequential if the change was due to surgery or a lack of eye makeup or just from the fact that people’s faces change as they age. Our picture got ruined because We saw change that struck us wrong.

People aren’t pictures, even if we take millions of pictures of them. They grow, they change. There is no scenario by which they don’t or won’t. So how about this: if the eternal immutability of Uma Thurman’s — or anyone else’s — face is so central to your life that you feel shame and fear and anger and doubt at the prospect of losing it, I suggest you take a picture. Any picture that makes you feel warm and safe with this person you don’t know and probably never met. Then you and that picture should go into a safe, dark room and lock yourselves away from time and external stimuli. I wish you a happy, healthy forever.

Just make sure you don’t look in a mirror with the light on. You might notice something different in your face, and we wouldn’t want you subject to any more of that kind of trauma.

Pay No Attention to the Man Peeping Behind the Curtain

A little preamble: I’m a big fan of the Linoleum Knife podcast. I’ve been stalking following Dave White and Alonso Duralde off and on since they were djmrswhite and moroccomole over on Livejournal, for goodness’ sake. They’re insightful and funny and an adorable couple and you should just listen to them because I’m surely doing a poor job of pimping them.

Listening was exactly what I was doing today, to this week’s episode, when Duralde and this week’s guest, Sean Abley, came to a bit of an impasse on the question of Edward Snowden and NSA domestic espionage during a review of Citizenfour.

It started as a discussion of whether Snowden is a traitor. I have opinions on that score, but I recognize I’ve not done a lot of deep reading on the subject, so I’m willing to lay that one aside and let folks present arguments in either direction.

Then the discussion turned to questions of NSA spying, specifically, at which point … Abley’s exact words were “I have nothing to lose.” If I’m skewing Abley’s position too much, I’ll apologize right here. I mention it at all because his statement acted as the catalyst for my responding to something that’s rankled me for a while, as–to my mind–it fell right in the space of the “it doesn’t affect me / I have nothing to hide” mentality on these issues. About that, I have some much more deeply held beliefs:

It is not now, nor has it ever been (all the way back to before we even had a Fourth Amendment), about whether someone has something to hide. First, of course, is the implication that the only reason someone would want to keep something private is because it’s incriminating or evil in some way. Which is so much bullshit I can’t even see straight.

By this logic, it should be perfectly all right for the police to knock on my front door whenever they like, toss my apartment until it looks like a tornado came through, then be on their way. They should be able to stop me on the way to work and rifle through my car on a whim. Hell, my nosy neighbor who’s been dying to get a look at my apartment should be able to walk on in at 2 a.m. and have a look so long as he doesn’t steal anything. I mean, I don’t have anything to hide, right?

That the side effects of the virtual rifling of one’s life aren’t as physically apparent doesn’t mean they don’t exist. How many times have we been told not to share our passwords, because then we’ve lost our ability to control our accounts? Every time my information is collated and shunted around to somewhere I didn’t ask for it to go, the net effect is the same: it’s out of my control, and since I didn’t set the controls on the new access, I have no idea what may or may not happen.

But you have nothing to hide, right? So there’s no harm!

Think about that bit of gossip back in high school, where someone got hold of some half-truth left lying in the open (or nowhere near the open) and turned it into the scandal for the day. Write it larger by using the same model for any number of gossip mongering “news” sites.

No harm? Somebody tell that to Jennifer Lawrence. Or Felicia Day. Or Anita Sarkeesian.

Information is power. Power can be abused.

But this is the government, not some reprobate!

The government is full of people. People are flawed. They do things you don’t expect. Like, you know, Snowden. That I may be sympathetic to Snowden’s actions doesn’t change the fact that he’s a perfect example of the fact that the government’s desire to keep something secret and confidential is no guarantee that it stays that way.

Even if I somehow suffer head trauma that leads me to agree that there are no negative consequences to someone taking information that isn’t incriminating, at the end of the day, I still don’t agree this should grant the government carte blanche access.

I don’t keep my address book in a drawer instead of posting it on my front windows just because who I know is proof of a criminal conspiracy. If I knew any criminals, I’d be as shocked as anybody.

I don’t oppose random drug testing because I’m a junkie. I’ve never used any illicit substances in my entire life. I’ve never even had enough alcohol to get a buzz going.

I don’t even close my blinds when I’m dressing because there’s something criminal or shameful about my naked body. I could stand to lose a few pounds, but we aren’t anywhere yet where that gets me thrown in jail.

There are plenty of reasons why a person might choose not to broadcast one or more pieces of information, and a wide swath of those reasons have absolutely nothing to do with crime or any other “bad” motive. But I don’t even have to catalog those, because the only reason I need is this:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

In other words, the relevant question isn’t “what do you have to hide?” It’s “what the hell business is it of theirs?”

How Long Until Blue Cross Becomes Blue Crucifix?

It looks like Arizona House Bill 2625 is getting some Tumblr attention, and while the sourcing that indicates this law just passed seems to be wrong (it was in fact enacted 2 years ago), the content of it remains disconcerting, perhaps not least of all because it was adopted two years ago without being caught up nationally by news agencies.

People are rightfully upset about the weird language which seems to indicate women of “religious objection” companies would have to submit proof from their doctors if they want to be covered for prescribed contraceptives being used for non-contraceptive reasons (acne and hormone control appear to be the common examples):

A health care services organization, employer or other entity offering the plan may state religious beliefs in its affidavit and may require the enrollee to first pay for the prescription and then submit a claim to the health care services organization along with evidence that the prescription is not for a purpose covered by the objection.

Things get jumbled up here, in that there’s a lot of weird language where “corporation” is being used. So far as I can tell, though, “corporation” is meant to be the insurance provider, not the company employing the women. The very next section makes it clear that an employer still doesn’t get to ask for your medical information.

Quick, knee jerk block: I still think this entire exemption on contraceptives is the stinkiest of cow dung. But before I get into the real nasty bits, I’m trying to get in a fact check on the “your employer can fire you for using contraceptives if he finds out you’re using them for birth control” stuff. So far as I can tell, this is between the employee, her doctor, and the insurance company (because the government shouldn’t interfere with a doctor and patient’s private health decisions; that’s the insurance industry’s racket). An employer insisting on medical records is still off the table, and violates all the same privacy laws it did before.

All that said, the thing I’m far more concerned about is this bit of the law:

Notwithstanding subsection Y of this section, a contract does not fail to meet the requirements of subsection Y of this section if the contract’s failure to provide coverage of specific items or services required under subsection Y of this section is because providing or paying for coverage of the specific items or services is contrary to the religious beliefs of the employer, hospital service corporation, medical service corporation, hospital, medical, dental and optometric service corporation or other entity offering the plan or is because the coverage is contrary to the religious beliefs of the purchaser of the coverage.

Emphasis mine, because folks, remember how I pointed out above that “corporation” was being used to mean the insurance companies? Given that, if I’m reading this right, two years ago, Arizona effectively declared that insurance providers themselves can claim a religious objection to providing contraceptive coverage.

Since the only requirement that needs to be met to get that exemption under this law is that “a written affidavit shall be filed with the corporation stating the objection,” all they have to do to get that objection is write a note.

To themselves.

And just in case we forgot, this law passed two years before the Hobby Lobby case. Who needs doors opened, when state legislators are willing to burn down the whole damn building for you?

Non-Binary Digital Debates

I have to give a lot of thumbs up to the points John Scalzi raises in his recent essay on the Amazon-Hachette public negotiation troubles. My favorite quote:

This is where many people decide to opine that the cost of eBooks should reflect the cost of production in some way that allows them to say that whatever price point they prefer is the naturally correct one. This is where I say: You know what, if you’ve ever paid more than twenty cents for a soda at a fast food restaurant, or have ever bought bottled water at a store, then I feel perfectly justified in considering your cost of production position vis a vis publishing as entirely hypocritical. Please stop making the cost of production argument for books and apparently nothing else in your daily consumer life. I think less of you when you do.

It’s one of the things at the heart of digital pricing: the specter of production costs, and the impact these sorts of arguments have on the perceived value of content itself. I won’t for one second pretend there’s not a discussion to be had about the value of content. It’s just that sometimes “lower production costs” winds up as a stand in for “this didn’t cost you anything to make,” which is both not true and tends to overshadow any other discussions.

Favorite sound bite notwithstanding, the biggest reason I’m linking Scalzi’s post when I’ve not really pointed at anything else I’ve seen on these sorts of negotiations is because the essay as a whole actually sounds like an opening for discussion. Just about everything else I see seems to declare that either the publisher or Amazon is Evil and Trying to Screw Us, and by comparison the other party is Totally On Our Side.

Scalzi rather directly makes the point that BOTH Amazon and any given publisher (1) are not evil, but (2) are on their own sides. If you want to have a debate about which position is best for authors and/or readers, I think that’s vitally important. The binary ideology here is a trap, and winds up shutting down real discussion in favor of one spin or another. That in turn retards real progress that helps the people at either end of the production chain, instead of just the corporations in the middle.

Never Lock Your Doors

My father is a retired police officer. Which, let’s start out, doesn’t qualify me as any kind of expert on law enforcement. We’re not playing that game. However, it does mean that I heard more than once the following ideology (paraphrased, because it took a lot of forms, and I can’t promise the veracity of a direct quote): you don’t lock your doors to keep the criminals out. You lock your doors to keep out the honest people.

That’s always stuck with me. Folks can bust in just about anywhere, to get just about anything, if they’re bound and determined to do so. But a reasonable set of obstacles will stop quite a few people from bothering. It’s kind of a compromise with nihilism, I suppose, which may be why I enjoy it1. And with all this NSA eavesdropping nonsense, it’s found itself a new purpose.

I hear a lot of folks just sort of shrugging, admitting the inevitability of data mining both corporate and governmental. If you want to be able to function in ye not so olde Internet Age, you can’t pick and choose your way out of the mining. I get that. And in that case, they’re going to get it anyway, so why bother worrying about it, right?

For the same reason I still lock my doors. Are the unscrupulous going to remain unscrupulous? Of course they are. Are they likely to try to scam what they want from you no matter what? Yes. But that doesn’t mean you have to make it easy for them. You can try to hold a foot or two to the fire. Especially when those feet belong to your government.

Privacy is a massive push and pull, especially in the ever-expanding overshare that is the Internet. But if no one pushes back … let’s just say I’d very much rather read Aldous Huxley and Ray Bradbury and Margaret Atwood than play a part in one of their novels. Which is why I enjoyed The NSA Video

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go visit my Twitter feed…

(via Upworthy)

1. Here I picture Nihilism, locked in a room with his cousins Practicality and Optimism, and told they’ll none of them be getting out until they stop squabbling so much. Which Nihilism says is just fine with him, until he’s heard Optimism’s effusive praise of the decor and Practicality’s plan for setting up a self-sufficient society in the room and a trade agreement with the kitchen, at which point he falls to the floor and begs for mercy.

McMath

There are a lot of points worth discussing in the ongoing debate about the minimum wage, especially as it relates to the nation’s fast food workers. But when faced with questions about wage policies, what’s the response of the company’s president?:

“I’ve been here 40 years.”

Let’s give the man the benefit of the doubt, and take his response as an actual answer. He must, then, be trying to let the 10 year employee asking the question know that the real income growth comes in the next 30 years. So, let’s see: our questioner is making $8.25 an hour. If we assume she’s actually getting a full 40 hours a week, that’s around $17,160 a year she’s making now.

According to Bloomberg, Stratton’s predecessor made a clean 2.15 million for a salary. It’s likely safe to assume Stratton’s making somewhere in the same neighborhood.1

So, good news, Nancy! Over the next 30 years, you should expect raises of about $71,000 a year. Amazing! Everyone needs to shut the stuff up about McDonald’s: they have the sweetest deal ever. Manage to make it through a decade in poverty, and you have super-awesome money just waiting. Jeff Stratton just revealed the real secret sauce.

(via Upworthy)

1. Given that Stratton has the advantage of that extra bit between the legs that earns someone about 25% more each year, he’s likely making more than his female predecessor, but for the sake of argument, we’ll pretend that’s not relevant