Archive for the ‘ Current Events ’ Category

Those Cap Feels

CN: Mention of the Holocaust, Nazis, and the current political climate; mention of anxiety and suicide.

For all that warning, this post is actually about saying thank you.

Backstory: Over in my capacity as a blogger for The Ace of Geeks, I wrote this piece on why we will not be covering Marvel Comics’ Secret Empire crossover event. I’d love it if you read it, but tl;dr: because I think making superheroes into secret fascists of any stripe, but especially secret Nazis, is too tasteless to give the time of day beyond saying I won’t give it the time of day.

I posted this yesterday, and the cloak of dread immediately descended on me. Being anti-Nazi shouldn’t be a controversial stance; but, it being 2017 in the Darkest Timeline, Secret Empire has had a legion of apologists standing behind it, insisting we need to give the story a chance, that we’re exaggerating how bad it is, and of course that old chestnut, that we’re just as bad as them if we infringe on their freedom of speech (which of course we are doing by not listening to them). And riding in the sidecar with that dread was the other dread that every artist feels sometimes: the one where you’re afraid that this stand, right here, is the one that torpedoes your career — a feeling that lingers no matter how small or basic the stand is, no matter where in your career you are, because it’s hammered into every artist that any stand at all is career suicide. (A feeling that my dude anxiety only amplifies.)

But it needed to be said (my editor-in-chief and I both agreed), and so said it was, and so dread I did. And sure enough, the initial comments were critical of the decision to varying degrees, most of which I could respond to with “did you read the article?” or “we go into that in the article.” I focused on my day job and just tried to accept that people are going to be people. But then, we got into the comments that inspired this post:

People thanked us. People supported us. People — and I want to say, largely women, people of color, LGBT+ people, people whose families fought against and/or died to the Nazis in World War II — said that it meant a lot that we made this decision. These voices rather vastly outweighed the ones that felt we had done wrong, and they definitely spoke with more emotion than the critics. We had — my words had — touched them, and we had made a difference for just a little bit. It wasn’t the end of The Dead Poets’ Society or anything, but it was enough to make it feel like taking a stand of any kind was worth it, and almost as important, that my words have power.

Being a writer is lonely business, and you spend a lot of time feeling not good enough — the nature of the industry is that you get rejected, a lot, and that successes will tend to be modest, and even when you get a taste of the rarefied air, it’s been so difficult getting there that you can wind up feeling you don’t deserve it, because how could you after all that? But then sometimes, you touch somebody and you feel like things are worth it; and that is how I have felt every time I’ve gotten to approve a comment these past two days.

So thank you, friends and loved ones and anonymous Internet commenters, for making me feel loved and supported and like I did a good thing. I hope I continue to do good things in the future. Let’s all do good things for ourselves and each other, yeah?

How Night Vale Made Me Less Scared


(I’m abandoning the “On [TOPIC]” format for my titles…it’s a little too precious for me.)

CN: Anxiety, violence, profanity, mention of electoral politics

This past Monday night, I had the privilege to accompany Sonya to an author appearance by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, best known as the creators of Welcome to Night Vale; they were in conversation with Mallory Ortberg as part of a publicity and speaking tour for the new collections of WTNV scripts, Mostly Void, Partially Stars and The Great Glowing Coils of the Universe. The conversation was funny, insightful, incisive, and full of very deep thoughts about the life of a writer; all three participants were charming, and I highly recommend you see any of them any time you get a chance to do so.

What this post is really about, though, is the big inflection point I experienced early in the talk. The exact quote escapes me, as does who said which part, but it should surprise no-one that with these three on stage, they started talking about anxiety, and this brought Ortberg around to the topic of Welcome to Night Vale‘s overall theme: the weird, scary, dangerous nature of this little desert town, and the way its inhabitants think of it as normal. The creators of the show agreed, and said that they felt this was a reflection of real life: That the world is full of some really scary shit you can’t control, and you have to just find a way to live your life. Specifically, that you have to say “OK, I can’t do anything about Donald Trump’s Twitter account…[or] about stomach cancer…” This would have been mind-blowing, but this year of all years it was really important for me to hear that.

(Begin election stuff) Look, I have made no secret of the fact that I am terrified of this year’s Presidential election in America. I’m not here to claim Hilary Clinton is any particular thing (I am in favor of her but recognize she is not perfect), but her opponent absolutely horrifies me. I believe that electing him will do genuine harm to the people of my country, especially people of color and LGBT people, and will set us back decades of progress toward equality of any kind, not to mention possibly kill a lot of people. I, personally, may not be seriously affected, living in California and being an able-bodied white man, but that doesn’t mean I am not scared, because there is no telling what a loose cannon with well-documented racist, sexist, and fascist ideologies will do with the power of the White House (especially if he also maintains a cooperative Congress).

(End election stuff) . I have not even been sure how to keep breathing day-to-day while waiting for this to be over, and I’m not sure if it will even be over in November. And that is on top of my normal everyday anxieties: My worry about police shootings and how they seem to keep getting worse. My worry that my diabetes is going to go back out of control. My worry that I might get cancer. My worry that tomorrow my wife and favorite person in the whole world could get clipped making the left turn she makes after dropping me off at the train. My worry that I’m going to be fired. And on, and on, and on. I get told not to worry about these things, and I get help calming down, and then I get right back on the big, fire-breathing horse. But somehow, hearing it from these two — from these two great creators — made dealing with it feel real and possible. Not because I needed to not be scared, but because I needed to learn how to live my life despite that fear.

There is a movement toward empathy in art over the past couple of years; toward the idea that it’s OK to feel things, that emotion, even negative emotion, is alright and that you don’t need to stop feeling it. You see it in Steven Universe teaching us it’s OK to feel. You see it in Jessica Jones‘ titular character being the second character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to wrestle with anxiety attacks. You see it in the heroes of Stranger Things being scared, confused, and angry, but still coming back together and being friends not despite it, but with it. It’s in Brooklyn Nine-Nine, it’s in The Mighty Thor, and it’s in Welcome to Night Vale…and those words coming from that stage are what made two things crystallize for me:

1. We all have to decide to live our lives, despite how scary and overwhelming the world can be.

2. You can measure your privilege by what events are easy for you to decide to live your life through.

I am very lucky with the privileges I have been handed, and I owe it to the world to use my own ability to live through fear to help others to do the same, whether it’s people who need help coping with their anxiety, people who need shielding from the excesses of a certain spray-tanned politician, or people who just need someone to say “it’s OK to be scared of that.” And I owe it to myself to look fear in the face and accept it as a part of me, and figure out how to find the blooming flowers in the middle of the war zone that is life. Thanks to this weird podcast from the East Coast, I feel like I’m not alone in that mission.

So, that was my Monday.

On Stagnation, Entropy, and Other Change-Related Things

This post is in response to this other post, by my friend Leslie. She has a huge brain full of important thoughts, and you should be reading her posts and everything else that goes up on Black Nerd Problems. In my neverending commitment to progress, I am trying to make sure I boost the range of under-privileged voices, so I would really appreciate it if you would read the entirety of her post first. This is crafted assuming you have done so.

OK, we good?


(Full disclosure: We do actually know each other IRL and spend time in each others’ company in a friendly capacity. Take note, ye hoary trolls of the Intertron.)

So, first off: I 100% agree with her.

This is a pet peeve we both share; that a community that is explicitly supposed to be about celebrating creativity and inclusion and being weird is so very, very committed to keeping things how they always were.

More particularly, it bothers me that nerds claim to be outcasts, to be the “weird” people, to be against the exclusionary behaviors of the “jocks” or whatever the popular group du jour is, but that the type of “weird” nerd culture is so committed to preserving is a “weird” that is actually a very specific subset of traits and behaviors, that were enshrined in days of old and have not been allowed to change since.

This already erupted, albeit briefly, on a Facebook thread, so I will say it here: no, nerds are not the only people who are afraid of change. No, nerds are not the only people to behave in an exclusionary manner. But we are focusing on them because a. they are a culture that claims to be about embracing that which is fringe and different, but which on the whole does anything but, and b. because that is the topic that is at hand right now. This is not a witch-hunt nor is it a rejection of the idea anyone else ever excluded somebody. Capice?

Nerds are exclusionary about a great many things, and they react poorly to change in general, and they actually have a tendency to pigeonhole certain pursuits as “not nerdy.” You can see this in the “Edition Wars” that crop up whenever a new edition of a roleplaying game comes out (look up arguments about Third, Fourth, or Fifth Edition D&D, or the condemnation of the switch from the Old World of Darkness to the New), or at your board game night, when your group will not play Eurogames or “Ameritrash,” or when someone wants to play Munchkin or Fluxx and people roll their eyes (this happens to my wife on a regular basis).

They also have a tendency to declare media “ruined forever” whenever there is a major shift in their franchise of choice. And there are unfortunate implications, and just outright unfortunate statements, that come up whenever this happens in reaction to media with increased diversity: stories focused on people of color, or women, or LGBT people. And especially stories where those underrepresented parts of humanity replace a white/male/straight version of a character. Like, say, when someone made Marvel’s Thor a woman, or when someone decided to do a new Ghostbusters movie with an all-female cast. There’s even backlash about having non-white characters in fantasy novels at all, saying that somehow it is “not fantasy” if there are non-white people in the story. Yes, really.

It seems so weird to me, and actually enraging, in fact, that, in a culture that has a well-known problem with excluding people, to the point of not excluding toxic and dangerous people, we are so quick to exclude people who do not conform to far less harmful behaviors. And while it’s bad that we try to say someone is or is not a “real nerd” or “real gamer” or whatever based on the weirdest judgments, and that we treat all change as something to shun, it is worse that we are also often being racist and sexist in the process.

Now, the most common defense I hear when these arguments are called out is that race/gender is not the issue. It’s about the change. This argument takes a great many forms. And I would like to go over the most common ones right now, because I want to discuss the ways in which the argument looks problematic, and in which it is possible the argument is a result of problematic cultural programming.

So, without further ado:

Argument #1: The “We’re Past All That”

But there are established female/PoC/LGBT characters in this franchise already; why did we have to add another one/replace a white/male/straight character with one of those?

Why is it a bad thing if there are more now? Why do the majority of characters have to be white, and why can’t non-white characters adopt some of the mantles previously held by white guys? Why does Captain America always have to be white? Why can’t Thor, who has previously been turned into a frog and also had his hammer wielded by an alien horse-man, also be a woman? Why can’t women bust ghosts? We are not erasing the fact that character was white/male/straight before. Why is it a problem for that to change? This goes double if you were also complaining that they have run out of stories to tell with the character in question.

Argument #2: The Appeal to Tradition

This character/franchise is a classic, and to change it is to undermine the original.

Why does having a new version diminish the old one? We’ve done a million spins on Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth and the Ring Cycle, and no-one (well, no sane person) is arguing we have ruined Shakespeare. What is it about Ghostbusters that makes it immune to the same kind of cultural adaptation?

Argument #3: The Capitalism Shield

This change is just about boosting sales and getting ally cookies from the “PC patrol”

So? Comics and movies have done far stupider things than add a black person to boost sales. Also, if adding a black person reliably boosted sales, wouldn’t everything just be black people, all the time?

Or is what you’re saying that they are trying to expand their market to include people who are not represented in the old version? If that’s the case, why does their buy-in have to preclude your own or vice-versa? Why does reading about people who are not you insult or offend you?

Argument #4: The Fascism Parallel

This change is just about the “PC patrol” forcing us to adhere to their views.

We’re actually not asking you to conform to any view; we are asking you to be willing to read about people who are not like you. That’s not really a “view” so much as “a natural byproduct of a global community, and of everyone getting an equal chance to write about/read about/see people who are both like them and different.” See Item #3.

(Also, eat me, Hypothetical Interlocutor; “politically correct” is only a bad word to bad people.)

Now, I did my best to not be inflammatory up there, and knowing myself, I probably failed. So please, if you are still feeling vehement about not wanting the new version of Cap, or the Ghostbusters, or DuckTales, or whatever…please take a deep breath, understand that I am not mad at you, and ask yourself this series of questions:

Is it really about liking the old version better? Are you sure it is not because you have been taught that media becoming more inclusive must necessarily come at the expense of inclusivity toward the people who are represented by the old version? Are you sure it is not because of some other belief you have been raised with, unquestioned, that you may not feel is correct once you do examine it? I have those too, believe me, and it’s a struggle to parse them all out and stop letting them control you. You are not a bad person for all that; you are a person. I just want to help you see what might be going on that is fueling your reaction.

And if, after all that, your argument is that it changed, and now it sucks, and race or gender or orientation don’t enter into it…why is change at all bad? Why does something changing undermine your ability to enjoy what came before? Why can’t you just go back and read/watch that other version that you like better, and let other people read the new thing? Or, perhaps even more important, why can’t the new thing be given a chance to be good just because it is new? As Leslie wisely said, if we took that attitude all the time, we’d still be living in caves.

So this is me saying — nerds are supposed to be about inclusivity. Maybe we should consider actually behaving that way.

Now excuse me, I am going to go read about the new Thor and Captain America while I play Fluxx.

On Censorship

The backstory of this little tirade is well-entrenched in the recent memories of the Internet, so I’ll sum up via links. We’re about to talk about the Matt Inman/Charles Carreon debacle, so if you’re sick of hearing about it, I recommend you check out the most recent most by The Bloggess instead. She’s funnier than I am.

It all begins with Matt Inman, aka The Oatmeal. Inman discovers a site is posting content stolen from his site, gets annoyed, posts about it, and is sued by the thieves for daring to say that the site hosts stolen content.

So Inman does what any decent, red-blooded American would do: He tells the site to fuck off, publicly, and says he will instead give the $20,000 he would have needed to raise for the suit to charity instead.

Then the site’s lawyer sued Inman for defamation, attempting to stop the money from going to the charities. He also sued Inman’s hosting company and the charities themselves. Read all about it at Lowering the Bar and Popehat. Then, suddenly, when Inman did not carry through with photographing himself with all the money he’d raised, the lawyer declared victory and ended his lawsuit. Check out the quotes from him at the Washington Post.

I was scared to say anything the entire time, because this lawyer was clearly dragging everybody he could grasp at into the lawsuit (he sued the American Cancer Society!) and what if this guy somehow really did have standing and could put me and my little blog post up on a meathook until I paid him more money than I have ever seen, just for daring to say something?

Then I thought about that, and I realized: this is what Charles Carreon wants. For the Internet to shut up. For people to get scared and not say mean things about him. For us to let him feel powerful. We call those people bullies.

I do not know anything about Charles Carreon as a person. What I do know is that I find his behavior throughout the entire altercation with Matt Inman despicable. I think the FunnyJunk lawsuit was frivolous bullying at best and that he should not have taken it on unless contractually obligated (which he may very well have been), and I think that his personal lawsuit epitomized what is wrong with our legal system. His statements, especially those made in response to the EFF providing Inman with counsel, suggest deliberate harassment and intimidation of Inman, and his publicly stated reasons for terminating the suit made him seem arrogant and childish. The implication throughout it seemed to be was that Carreon was doing this purely for personal, emotional gain; that he knew he lacked any real standing and that the lawsuit was frivolous; and that this was about scaring people who are willing to speak their minds, not about compensation for damages, emotional or otherwise. I sincerely hope the states where he is licensed to practice law investigate the situation thoroughly.

I am perfectly willing to be civil in my discussion of what I see as bad behavior. I will not, however, be reduced to not speaking out about bad behavior. Threats and intimidation designed to make somebody shut up are worse than bullying – they’re attempts to prolong bullying, along with a host of other bad behavior. Censorship may not seem as bad as murder, or racism, or any of the other stuff everyone decent agrees is bad; but if it allows people to get away with that other stuff, if it encourages that other stuff and makes it seem OK, doesn’t that make it, in some ways, worse?

On Reactions

This discussion is germane to writing (well, editing, which is germane to writing), but it starts with LARPing. Also this is unexpectedly germane to some stuff going on in video gaming, so I guess we’re just getting our fingers in a multitude of pies.

For those who do not know, I am part of the San Francisco chapter of the Alliance LARP.  If you don’t have time to click the links, we pretend we’re orcs and elves and stuff and hit each other with big padded weapons.  It’s good fun and pretty good exercise and I recommend you try it, you complete nerd.  This past weekend I was up in the mountains, swinging pipe; and as naturally happens, after I got back down the hill I started talking about the story of what had just happened. Without getting into details and being one of those guys who spits drama everywhere like some kind of passive-aggressive dilophosaur, there was an event at the game that many players complained about, that members of the group running the game defended as having had “reasons for happening.” Being a gossip-monger curious person interested in the human condition, I listened to what I could get of both sides without stirring the pot, and I came to a conclusion that I realized applies not just to LARPing, but to all forms and permutations of the Spooky Art of writing:

Writers who are writing for an audience need to think about what the readers will see, not just what they see when they write it down.

This is probably obvious to a lot of people, and it may even be part and parcel of those Public Speaking and Creative Writing classes I didn’t really have the chance to take when I was doing the school thing.  Let’s pretend it’s not so the other half I realized today makes more complete sense.

When you put something out there for public consumption – more particularly, when you put something out there you actually intend for people to read – you need to be cognizant of the fact that the conditions under which your work will be consumed are not the conditions under which they were written. People aren’t inside your skull any more than you let them be, and so if you are assuming everyone else’s reaction is going to be the reaction you intended, you will be sorely disappointed. I majored in Literature, the human brain is really good at finding patterns and inferring intent where there really was none, and what looks like a metaphor for the German invasion of Poland to you might look like a metaphor for sexual assault to someone else (like my unforgettable gaffe in thinking Kipling was being ironic when he said all that stuff about the white man’s burden).  Similarly, what you think will scare your audience and get them “into it” may actually annoy your audience and take them “out of it” (like my reaction to jump scares, which I despise and which are not horror I’m sorry guys but really).

And it’s fine to not care. It’s fine to keep on writing what you want to write and hang the reactions of the readers and the critics and the whoozits. Some of my favorite works (Neon Genesis Evangelion, Ulysses, Barton Fink, The Road ) are deeply obtuse in places and do not attempt to give you any kind of guide to how to interpret it, and all four of those have devoted fans and one or two of those even saw commercial success, so obviously it’s not like “writing what you want to write” is bad advice (on the contrary, it’s good advice). But, if for some or all of the length of your work, your desire is to trigger a certain reaction – if you need the audience to be disgusted by something for the step after that event to work right, if your hope in the next scene is that the reaction will be awe or shock or what have you – you do need to do what you can to ensure that is actually the reaction, and that includes getting out of your own head a little bit.

Semioticians refer to it as the ground of interpretation – the particular grouping of experiences and knowledge bases that define the connections a person’s brain makes when presented with a sign or a symbol.  Everyone’s ground of interpretation is unique, though there are some common experiences we can more or less count on across all of humanity (getting dumped, fighting with your parents), within a widespread culture (being stuck in traffic when you have to go to the bathroom) or within the subculture that is your target audience (hearing shoehorned-in Firefly jokes at a sci-fi convention).  The key, the Spooky part, is to be sure that your reaction-dependent parts are working from parts of your ground of interpretation that will be similar in other people.

An example I remember from one of my numerous How to Write Gooder books from my childhood is the name of the eponymous villain in Dracula: If Stoker had chosen to call him “Count Cuthbert L. Gooch,” there is a good chance our count would not have seemed that terrifying, even if Stoker had done everything else the same way; but if Stoker had been hospitalized by a beating from someone named Cuthbert L. Gooch, to him that is actually scary.  In my own writing, something that is causing me no end of grief in Done with Mirrors is realizing that two scenes which I wrote months apart actually occur within twenty or so pages of each other and use a very similar method to get to their end narrative result, so what I had written intending to evoke a sense of the main character running out of ideas would actually just be mind-numbing and boring for the reader.  (This second one is actually something I think every writer really needs to be careful of – don’t be repetitive and call it “artistic,” because to your readers it’s just going to look redundant; I need to listen to that one, especially.)  In the LARP example I cited above, there was a disconnect in what the people running the game thought they were constructing and how the PCs construed it when the scenario was executed (which is not to say either side is wrong, only that there was most definitely a disconnect).

So, we’ve talked about LARPing and about writing, now we get to the part where this becomes relevant, right?  Right.

Given the particular cross-section who tends to read this blog (at least the ones that aren’t spambots), I wouldn’t be shocked if you have already heard about the kerfuffle over the ending to gaming juggernaut Mass Effect 3.  The links about the controversy are many and varied, so I’m not going to attempt to link them all here.  The spoiler-free bottom line is: a lot of fans disliked the ending and felt it did not deliver on the promises made by the series, narratively speaking (though at least one person is taking that more literally and attempting to nail BioWare for false advertising). There’s been a huge fan outcry all over the Internet, rebuttal after rebuttal-rebuttal, use of TV Tropes buzzwords in an effort to sound erudite, the works.  There’s even a subset of that screaming horde who has asked BioWare to change the ending and make it better.

I’m about to get loud and opinionated, so please consider yourselves warned.

This is stupid.  Not the part about disliking the ending; the part about people calling for the ending to change.  This is worse than the people yelling at George R.R. Martin to stop working on projects that were making him money (money which he may in fact need badly and need now) to finish books they personally cared about.  In the words of the folks at Penny Arcade’s CheckPoint series, the fans are asking BioWare to do to Mass Effect 3 what they complain about George Lucas doing to Star Wars.

I hate the remastered Star Wars trilogy. I rank the newer three movies in the sextology (or whatever you call it) as among the worst I’ve ever seen. I’m also mad at Michael Bay for making what I consider retarded movies out of my beloved Transformers franchise, I couldn’t make myself finish reading the Twilight series, and I can’t seem to make myself finish the final boss fight in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword because I’m so frustrated with the motion controls. I have seen my share of head-slappingly bad media, and I have known people who I felt (deservedly) asked for their money back after watching part of some movies.  But I have never known anyone who participated in an attempt to get a creator to change their creation, and that’s a good thing, because I probably would have had a massive, spit-flinging, hate-geysering fight with them.

As I said above, the author should consider their audience’s reaction when they look at a scene that depends on the audience’s reaction to work; but the author’s creation is, ultimately, their creation, as flawed or as glorious as it may be.  The audience has every right to worship a story or to despise it or to just not really have a strong feeling about it; however, they have no right to ask the creator to change their creation.

The artist’s contract with the consumer is very limited and very simple: If what they are doing does not cause whatever effect it is you want it to cause, you can stop giving the artist money, and that is your right.  If the work was a commission and not up to your expectations, the contract between you and the artist may include the right to ask for your money back.  Heck, if you bought the art retail you might be able to get your money back anyway.  The artist can maybe whine about it on their blog (though that might not be the best course of action), but that’s it.  Similarly, once you have stopped giving money and/or managed a one-time reversal of the transaction, you can give bad reviews on Yelp or say nasty things about the artist on your blog, but that’s it; your rights end there.  This is about as close to justice as the artist/consumer relationship is going to get, and both sides will still have times they feel screwed by it. I’m afraid that’s what compromise and equality feels like sometimes.

BioWare made a game that had an ending many didn’t like.  I’m not going to argue about the emotional reaction to the ending (for one thing, I haven’t seen it and for another, that’s beside the point).  But the people who claim they are “reclaiming” Mass Effect and demanding BioWare change the ending are working under the worst kind of hubris.  The world of Mass Effect is not “theirs,” no matter how much they may have felt a part of it.  The world, the story, the characters, the bad parts and the good parts are the creations of BioWare, and they have a right to that because they have worked their butts off to produce it.  You don’t have to like it, and if you don’t like it you absolutely should say why, because creators need criticism to become better creators.  But you are stepping vastly out of bounds if you think you have a right to make them change what they already made because you don’t like it.  Someone out there liked it; I know, I’m friends with them on Facebook.  To claim that your dislike, however common an opinion it may be, is somehow an edict is ludicrous.

Art is not government; you aren’t stuck with whatever the majority says they like (though they may affect artistic trends), and that’s part of the beauty of it.  If you want to reclaim something, focus on something that is actually mandatory, actually unavoidable, might actually harm you.  The worst Mass Effect 3 is guilty of is producing a reaction that you did not like, and if you want art that caters to your every reaction, you are going to have to make it yourself.  In which case Mass Effect 3 is guilty of the best crime of all: Inspiration.

Think about that the next time you post vitriol on the Internet.

On Being Up Against the Wall

(I’m experimenting with shorter blog posts more often than two weeks apart. You like?)

Edited to Add: Apparently Regretsy and PayPal have started chatting and PayPal is going to try to make it right. This may be ass-covering, though, so I am still hoping for something to break up their monopoly. Also I’m hoping for that because I don’t think monopolies are a good thing. (Said the quasi-socialist…)

So, by now, most of you are probably aware of the Regretsy/PayPal debacle. tl;dr version: PayPal froze the account of a business attempting to help buy Christmas presents for children, forcibly refunded a bunch of the donated money, and royally dicked around with the Regretsy employee who took it upon themselves to call customer service.

I’m not saying anything new by saying I am disgusted by this behavior. This is post-on-your-blog behavior, for sure, make no bones about that; it’s also boycott-the-company behavior. But that is where I’m saying something, well, semi-new, because that’s the worst part of this: if I do that, I set off one part of a one-two-punch Conscience Trap.

See, PayPal is and remains revolutionary, a high-profile, trusted, third-party method of making transactions online, available to anybody who cares to use it.  It allows me to pick up miniatures from my friend at Friday game night and pay him for them when my check clears.  It lets me donate to a dear but distant friend’s birthday present. And it allows me to purchase handmade goods from the lovely people on Etsy and thus support small businesses, even if PayPal is wetting their beak (which, to an extent, is their right as the provider of a service–I emphasize to an extent).  If I stop using PayPal, I punish PayPal’s revenues, in a small way but also the only way available to me; but I also divorce myself from the community of skilled artists on Etsy, from the ease of pitching money into that dear friend’s X-Box fund, and from a host of other small businesses that are able to do business solely or in large part because PayPal is available to them.

Yes, I can and should buy local. And that’s great, if I want produce from the farmer’s market or a very small selection of crafts. But otherwise, it’s off to Big Box Land to spend my dollars on groups that may or may not be donating to political causes I really don’t agree with, and that probably aren’t sharing their profits with their retail-level workers in any meaningful way.  (Yes, I realize that I may be buying items from individuals on the opposite end of the political spectrum from me, but the amount that an individual can sway politics with their money is a lot less than a corporation and even beyond that, individuals have the right to a voice in politics.)  As a lower-middle-class person with a penchant for creative jobs, I will probably never have enough money to shuck the Targets and Safeways of the world in their entirety, but I can at least try.  But unfortunately, to at least some degree, my ability to do that means I have to route my money through–who else?–PayPal.

To some capitalistic degree, high market share is deserved here–PayPal figured out how to make the system work and pushed it in a way that got a lot of adopters. Fair play. But the fact that they now seem to have a monopoly, at least of the trust and consciousness of the consumer, is a problem. Because monopoly breeds exactly the kind of behavior seen above, and monopoly over something as vital to commerce as the point of sale means that they have a stranglehold few other large companies can imagine.

I bought something via PayPal today because I knew I was supporting a small business, nobody had the item I needed at a price I could afford locally, and the business had no other payment option available. But for every second of the time I was doing it I found myself grinding my teeth and cursing PayPal. It felt like extortion.  It felt like middle school when I was dealing with bullies I couldn’t run fast enough to catch and who never got bored nor punished.

That’s what you are now, PayPal.  You’re a bully.  Here’s hoping you get called in to the principal’s office.

On Penn State

Okay, I tried to contain my boil over, but the Internet wouldn’t let me take as deep a breath as I needed.  This post deals with some very ugly subjects and I would encourage you not to read it if you can’t handle me talking about it.  Summary: Joe Paterno should have been fired and I hope he goes to jail.  There, you know all you need to know if you don’t want to read the rest.

Edited to add: I have been informed the student who caught Sandusky in the act was a) younger than I thought and b) was told by his father to tell Paterno.  My apologies for attacking him; he panicked.  But his father’s behavior is cause for concern, and the culture that led to that statement should be looked into and reported on.

Now for the more polemical statement: Anyone who said that Paterno shouldn’t have been fired is at best blinded by the worst kind of fanaticism and at worst an idiot and in both cases should be ashamed of themselves.  The blame, however, doesn’t stop there.

Step 1 of my issue here: A man finds another man in the act of raping a child in the shower.  Said other man is a part of the Penn State football program.  He reports the problem to the college authorities.  He doesn’t try to stop the man.  He doesn’t call the police.

My analysis: Investigate.  Find out why this man did not report the crime himself, and resolve it.  Whether you have to educate him or have to punish him or have to investigate Penn State, police should do everything in their power to avoid this happening again.

Step 2 of my issue here: Paterno informs his superiors and–in his first now-public act of asserting moral authority–punishes Sandusky by taking away his keys to the shower room where he raped a child.

My analysis: Paterno is now officially a scumbag.  I almost would have understood more if he had just done nothing for a while; if he had been paralyzed while he tried to parse the idea that his friend could be a pedophile, if he had a crisis of morality.  But he did the bare minimum to shift responsibility off himself and moved on, and that suggests he did not struggle; he merely tried to sweep it under the rug.  At this point in the process, Paterno becomes as culpable as the grad student, and only one degree less culpable than Sandusky.

Step 3: It comes to light what Sandusky did, and the threads of the cover-up unravel.  Testimony of what was seen and documentation of the buck-passing begins.  Paterno comes out and–second act of assuming moral authority–says he will resign at the end of the football season rather than have the heads of Penn State discuss what to do.

My analysis: This is all the proof I need of the kind of culture involved here.  Paterno assumes moral authority over judging himself, while simultaneously giving himself the softest sentence ever and trying to pass it off as doing the university a favor.  This drives home what his behavior in relation to the shower incident already told me: Paterno wants to not have to deal with this and is doing this half-assed, bare-minimum job of handling it and trying to come out without having to face any consequences.  This more than anything riles me.

Except maybe Step 4: The announcement is made that Paterno will be fired.  A journalist says the university will burn.  Students riot, saying they are sticking up for the school and for “JoePat” and that it’s ridiculous.

My analysis: OH MY GOD REALLY?

People want to blame this on organized sports.  They want to blame this on lack of spending in education.  They want to shove the buck in front of whatever their hate was already on for.  The problem here is not sports, not schools, not anything so specific.  The problem is that we cannot separate tribe from humanity, as an article I linked to yesterday put it.

Joe Paterno was part of something that marketed itself by encouraging people to see it as part of their identity–“Penn State football fans” was a tribe, and Joe Paterno, as a successful coach, was one of their chieftains (or gods, if you want something more extreme).  Because he too fed into this tribal image, he thought he had the power to weasel out of moral culpability; and because he had made their tribe great and powerful and successful, the idea that he was also flawed did not sit well in the stomachs of his people.  His people want his image untarnished, as though somehow the fact that he is a reprehensible scumbag who was willing to let boys be raped and try to dodge blame diminishes his accomplishments on the field.

Roman Polanski is a great filmmaker.  He also raped a woman.  Michael Vick is a great quarterback.  He also participated in dog-fighting rings.  H.P. Lovecraft was the father of modern horror.  He was also a racist and a layabout.  All of these are separate facts, and none of them affect each other; Michael Vick’s play on the gridiron is no less spectacular, and Chinatown is no less a fantastic film, and “The Call of Cthulhu” is no less seminal.

But because all of these people have been marketed into parts of tribal identities–film buffs, Falcons fans, nerds–there is dispute.  The tribes that worship them fear the possibility that because their idols have committed these heinous acts, they will be seen as condoning them.  So they fight the idea they even existed, or try to downplay them, push them under the rug.

And in doing so, this behavior is condoned.  The idea is publicized that if one becomes famous enough, one can get away with crime.  That one can rape, or beat, or slander in whatever way one desires, and it will be alright.  That these are gods, not men, and that their behavior is the behavior of myths, to be one day joked about in Comparative Religion or Anthropology courses, not to be dealt with now in courts of law.

Paterno, from all I understand, was an accomplished football coach.  He also did not inform the police of a rape on campus, tried to shift blame, slapped Sandusky on the wrist as though that were punishment enough, and tried to punish himself (lightly) rather than let a governing body punish him.  He had moral failings, failings that led to others being hurt; and for that reason, he should be fired.  Those who are defending him on the basis that he succeeded as a football coach are failing to divorce the man from his accomplishments, and that is a dangerous path to tread.

So, in short: Penn State was right to fire Paterno; Sandusky should be tried for his molestation charges, and Paterno and the grad student should both be investigated for their behavior; and Penn State should be investigated for encouraging buck-passing rather than calling the police on a felon.  And those who flipped news fans, threatened the university’s authorities, and called the charges against Paterno “ridiculous” should be forced to spend a long time living down this shame.

After all, it’s not like they’re a football coach or someone else without moral culpability.