For Ten Days, I Shall Be Italian

“Where is that Ferrett boy on the Internets?” you ask.  Well, as of this afternoon, he’s going on vacation.  To Italy.  For ten days, with his family.

And he has no idea what his Wi-Fi situation will be. Or his free time.

So if I’m slow to get back to you, well, I’m not apologizing, but I do feel I owe you an explanation.  I’m off on vacation, and while I often unwind by dorking around with social media, who knows what things will be like when I’m hanging with the Pope?

So I wish you well.  I hope you wish us well.  We will be the prototypical tourists, not speaking a lick of the language yet brimming with enthusiasm, and we will be gawking like stooges, half-drunk on Italian wines and getting ripped off by merchants.

And, hopefully, loving it.

Love to you all,
T.F.

One Final, And Fascinating, Article On Israel vs. Palestine

Andrew Ducker tipped me off to this amazing article that details John Kerry’s last attempt to negotiate a peace between Israel and Palestine.  It’s a long article, but that’s because it has to be, showing exactly how complex it is to work with two sides that don’t trust each other in the slightest.  And two sides that each have external pressures of their own, where even the act of negotiating erodes their power base.

The last paragraph sums it all up quite nicely:

“I see it from a mathematical point of view,” said Avi Dichter, the former chief of Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence agency. “The American effort will always be multiplied by the amount of trust between the two leaders. So if Kerry’s pressure represents the number five, and then Obama’s help brings the American effort to ten, it really doesn’t matter. You’re still multiplying it by zero. The final result will always be zero.”

But still.  The article’s well worth reading, if only to see exactly why simple solutions almost always fail. There’s a lot of things that these experienced men could have done better in hindsight, but with all of the factors converging on a high-stakes situation, who could tell at the time what was going to be the fracture point?  Especially when people were looking to fracture it?

The Gaza Strip, Staged (Real) Photo Ops, And My Ignorance

So I haven’t said much about the Israel/Gaza situation for two reasons:

1)  It’s a complex situation with a long history, and I am largely ignorant of much of it.

2)  People have super-intense emotions on either side, and venturing an opinion puts you in the middle of a withering crossfire.

3)  I’m in the least popular opinion (at least among op-eds) that both sides are being dicks.

Which is to say that if I had to tug both Israel and Palestine aside at a party, I’d probably say this:

“Hey, Israel, I know that as a Jewish nation you’re internationally hated and constantly under threat of being nuked. And yes, you’re living next to some people who create terrorists who walk into your nightclubs and bomb you – I know that’s happened.  But you’re a nation that exists largely because America sees you as morally superior and more worth protecting than the other nations we ignore – and you’re eroding that right now by bombing kids on beaches.  Even accounting for the danger you’re under, from my standpoint you look  lot like a bully, taking their space and shoving them back into the sea and giving civilians such a small space that even if Hamas didn’t use civilians as shields they’d still be crammed in like sardines at a shooting range, and that is not cool. The fact that you’ve been persecuted throughout history doesn’t give you a magic pass to do whatever the heck you want, and what you’re doing right now looks a lot like what you’re afraid people will do to you, given the chance.

“If you keep this up, eventually America is going to stop supporting you – and then where will you be?  So yes, they’re going to shoot missiles at you periodically.  But as long as you keep overreacting like we did when we got hit in 9/11, you’re going to look like an even bigger jerk and exacerbate the existing hatred.  And also murder a lot of kids.”

And then:

“Hey, Palestine, I know you’ve been dicked over.  A lot.  By everyone.  But at this point you’ve internalized so many lessons of hatred that you’re reacting to everything with the assumption that ‘fuck it, might as well go to violence’ – and if a genuine peace ever did get offered, I’m pretty sure you’d blitz right past it.  I think way too many of your politics revolve around distrust – and though it’s not like Israel has been particularly trustworthy, eventually all peaceful solutions involve some measure of good faith.  You’ve got zero.  And yes, you can say that you’re justified in that, but it’s like my friends who kept picking fights with the cops – yes, he got beaten up a lot, but he also got into scuffles he could have avoided.  At some point you gotta get out of this bunker mode, or you’re never getting out of the bunker.

“Also, you have this unfortunate issue that when people support you, they start airing their open hatred of the Jews, and that is really not cool.”

But again, that’s just my impression.  I’m not educated on this topic, really.  I present that to you not as part of a cogent argument, but rather in the interests of being open about where I’m coming from.

What I do find fascinating, however, is this essay here on Hamas, which suggests strongly that many of the civilian injury photo ops are staged.  Which is bizarre, when the deaths are real.

The fascinating thing is that he’s not arguing that people weren’t killed or hurt, but rather that Hamas took them aside and did some makeup tricks before taking the photos given to reporters.  And there’s some evidence: side-by-side comparisons of a guy with his face washed, his hair blow-dried, and his hands neatly cleaned.

I’m not sure how I feel about that.  Would it be wrong to stage the photos to make them more media-friendly, assuming that there was an actual horrific death behind it?  What goals would be achieved?  (David Frum, that conservative thinker, believes it’s because unstaged photos would show too much truth about why those civilian killings occurred, but I can’t see how that would happen.)  Or is this some sort of bizarre, self-selecting stupidity like the Republicans picking faked victims of Obamacare to parade around when they have actual victims they could find?

Or are these faked at all?  Certainly, the writer of this essay is dickish (“Look, the guy’s got no tears!  He can’t be really in anguish!”  I didn’t cry at Rebecca’s bedside when she died, man.)

If it’s true, what’s the point?

The answer is that I don’t know, and I’m curious.  Maybe you know.  As mentioned, I’m not super-educated on the topic, and I expressed my opinions on Israel and Palestine above not to try to sway you, but rather to be completely open about how I view the issue, as a full disclosure of “Here’s my biases, refute or unpack them as you see fit.” I’m open to education from either side.

In any case, I’m going to trust to my usual smart and courteous commentors and see if y’all have any opinions on the faked photos – opinions based not on the ZOMG MY SIDE IS SAINTLY THE OTHER SIDE IS BEASTLY LOOK AT THE HORRIBLE CANNIBALS. And, if you can debate politely about the issue without a) getting personal or b) flouncing off angrily when someone makes a point about your side, then please comment with each other.

But if you can’t do that, I’ll swing the banhammer.  Or maybe take this entry down.

I’m taking a chance here.  Validate me.

In Defense Of Naked Selfies, Sent Unwisely

“Revenge porn”: two words in the English language that should never go together.

Alas, those two words are shackled together by malicious idiots looking to ruin the people who had the misfortune to date them, and this weekend we had another outbreak of dickery.  Twitterpurge had a bunch of angry exes posting nudes of their ex-girlfriends in an attempt to shame them.  As it turns out, there are no laws protecting you from people posting naked pictures of yourself against your will – aside from paying $35 to copyright the photos and filing a DMCA takedown notice.

Some will say that anyone dumb enough to send nudes of themselves to their lovers deserves what they get. To me, that’s along the lines of saying “You should have known not to dress like that, going to that club!” when someone gets raped. Yes, if one never sexts or sends naughty pictures then one can avoid this, but I think that’s a way of suppressing a quote-unquote “shameful” act.

If someone recorded all your arguments over the phone when you were breaking up and then released your crying breakdowns as a podcast, I’m pretty sure the response wouldn’t be, “Well, then stay off the phone.” If after a bad breakup, someone wrote a humor piece published in the local paper on how foolish you looked when you had an orgasm, the answer would not be, “Well, don’t have sex.”

The truth is that we as society deem certain activities acceptable (and thus worthy of protection), and put other activities in the “You knew you were doing something shameful, so really, you deserved that, didn’t you?” And fuck that noise.

Yeah, I’ll say it: there’s nothing wrong with sending naughty photos to willing recipients. (“Willing” being the key word, here.  Don’t Anthony Weiner yourself.) In relationships the naughty text is often a form of foreplay, like dressing up in lingerie, a way to ensure your partner is ravenous for you when they walk through the door.  Or, in long-distance relationships, a way of bridging the loss of physical intimacy that happens when you’re in separate states.

And whether you think it’s wise or not, pretty much everyone does it.  (I was once told by an ex-Genius Bar employee that yeah, pretty much every person dating has a naughty selfie or two hanging about, so they had to be super-careful when checking someone’s phone.)  It’s a super-common activity, something that we may not like to admit happens, but does.  A lot.

If you’re not comfortable with that, I support your unwillingness to participate.  But when you shift to shaming and going, “Well, you knew the risk!” I hear you basically saying, “To avoid all risk of pregnancy or STDs, don’t fuck anyone ever.  Otherwise, well… you knew the risks!”

All actions with other people have risks.  But again, as society, we think certain people deserve to be punished for taking those risks.

That noise can be fuckenated.  Especially in a committed relationship.  There is especially nothing wrong with sending naughty photos to someone who has actually seen you naked, who is someone you’ve committed to as a partner, who at the time of the sending is someone you love and trust and care for.

What is wrong is when after the relationship sours, that person posts those pictures as revenge.

The problem is not the person who sent the photos, but the sick fuck who has weaponized them.

By shaming the victim here, you degrade the idea of privacy.  What you say or send to someone in the course of a relationship is, and should have, a reasonable expectation of confidentiality.  We’re still adjusting to the techno-shift of “Oh crap, what we say is on the record,” but at some point people will be able to dig up really fucking awful stuff about you at any time, and you need to look at the larger picture:

Is anything we do open to the public, where if anything you say happens to get captured anywhere then it’s fair game to be thrown open to millions of people?

Or is there a place where what you say to someone can – and should – reasonably be expected to stay between you two, where you don’t have to live a life constantly asking yourself, “Would I be comfortable with this statement being broadcast on ABC News?”

HINT: Politicians are trained professionally to act as though their every word will be broadcast, and they still fuck it up on a stunningly regular basis.

This is not a “stupid women” issue. It’s actually asking the larger question of “Who’s the jerk – the person who expected privacy, or the person who broached it?”  And I think as a society, we really want people to exude that cultural pressure to say, “No, some things were meant to be seen by one person only, and anyone who breaks that seal of trust is a dick who needs to have his ass handed to them.”

So it’s not about naked selfies, in that light, it’s about asking yourself whether you’d like to lead a life where every conversation you have with your friends might one day be Google Glassed out to an audience of millions.  This starts, as it always does, by picking on people who we as a society has agreed pretty much deserve it – and hey, that eternal punching bag of “slutty women” never gets a whole lot of respect, why not justify their disrespect?

Or you could – and should – switch your point of view away from “They knew the risks,” which actually is a synonym for “We’re not going to bother to protect your rights,” and move towards “Those guys broke an implicit contract, using what was given in private to try to ruin their lives, and we should do everything we can to stop these sick fuckers.”

And for the record, I think this applies pretty much everywhere.  Ben Stein just got outed by a call girl who released screenshots of his texts, and I’m really not fucking comfortable with the excuse of “He’s a celebrity, he should have known.”  Even celebrities should be able to have awkward relationships and breakups without people exposing their private data.  And even though I think Donald Sterling is a racist nitwit who’s done a lot of harm, I am not comfortable with his ex recording their conversations and releasing them into the public arena to fuck him over.

Yeah, in the case of Donald Sterling, his removal has done a service for the NBA.  But I think that sets a dangerous precedent, saying that “Well, we got rid of a racist, so any angry ex is perfectly justified in taking all the embarrassing shit they’ve gathered on their old partner and putting it out for the Internet’s entertainment!”

I think there’s a lot of bad exes out there – and though I’ve never gone on a racist or homophobic tirade during a breakup, certainly I’ve said some shit that sounds horrible in some end-of-relationship arguments.  And here’s the thing: if you’ve had a breakup, you almost certainly have too.  Breakups are often where courtesy goes to die.  Which is why I don’t think “Well, I wanted to get back at someone who was mean to me” justifies breaking the seal.

We do stupid things in relationships.  And some of those stupid things, yes, reflect who we really are, but what’s said when a relationship is ending is rarely flattering or a full picture.

What happens when you’re dating should, largely, stay between you.  And a mark of maturity when breaking up is not involving your friends, not airing every bit of dirty laundry, and not violating past intimacy by revealing everything you think would fuck them over.  (Unless that person is a rapist, an abuser, or other hazard to the community, naturally.  I’m not arguing for “Never break the seal,” but rather “To do it rarely and with greater concern than merely revenge.”)

What happens between you as a couple should stay between you as a couple.  That’s something I think should continue even in an Internet age.  And yes, there’s always a risk sending dirty pictures or having nasty arguments that have you say stupid things or revealing the embarrassing stuff you do during sex – but rather than shaming the person who took the risk, we should overwhelmingly shame the person who created the risk.  We should shame them for maliciously leaking the information entrusted to them.

We should shame them flagrantly, consistently, gratuitously, until that risk is as small as any possible risk associated with sex.  Which is also not shameful.  And anyone who tells you it is should be ashamed.

Sick People Can Be Dicks, Too

Being chronically ill is like having a part-time job you hate but can’t quit. It’s a constant suck on your resources that healthy folks don’t understand – overseeing the never-ending battle between your insurance and the pharmacy and the doctor who forgot to call in your fucking scrip again, finding a physician who actually listens when you tell her there’s something wrong, a rocky employment record because on any given day you might collapse.

Dating while being chronically ill? Even harder.

It takes a special kind of partner who’s going to be okay when you’re too sick to go to that fun party, to drive you to the doctor’s office six times a month because the medications make it dangerous for you to take the wheel, to deal with the fact that sometimes you’d like want to do the kinky-kinky but dammit your legs just aren’t up to that today.

So a lot of sick and/or handicapped people are also terribly lonely. You have to find a partner who fits the craggy edge of this life you didn’t choose, and hunting down someone that generous is difficult at best.

If you’re dating someone who is sick like that, and are sticking by their side when the “in sickness” part consistently outweighs the “health,” let me offer you a personal word of thanks: you’re on the side of the angels, here. Your empathy is an inspiration.

Make sure to take care of yourself, too.

See, the reason I say this is because sick people can be jerks, too. It’s not like the doctor comes along and says, “You’ve contracted a case of lupus and also, sainthood.”

Sick people are, well, people. And some folks who get sick were abusers before they got ill.

And in the very rare circumstances when a chronically ill person is an abuser, they can do a lot of damage. The guilt-hammers they can drop are devastating, because yes, they’re dependent, and yes, they’re often needing other people to help them along…

…but most chronically ill people don’t use that as a way to shape your life to their convenience.

I say this because I’ve watched some friends who stayed with someone ill, a person who was actively corroding their self-esteem and taking advantage of them – and yet didn’t feel right about leaving this clearly toxic environment because “S/he needs me.”

So they stayed while their partner cheated on them, and spent their money, and dispensed their affection in carefully-calculated slot-machine doses of “neglect today, insult tomorrow, but maybe a sweet word this weekend.”

But they couldn’t leave, because that would make them a bad person.

So let’s be clear here: There’s no reason to endure constant abuse. Ever. You’re not a bad person for leaving someone who treats you badly. Even very sick people don’t get a “get out of responsibility free” card which enables them to treat you like shit all the time.

…which is not to say that the chronically ill won’t snap at you, from time to time. I think of my Uncle Tommy, a hemophiliac with such terrible arthritis that if you listened to his shoulder you could hear the bones rubbing against each other like stale crackers – and while I loved him dearly, he was not always a ball of fun. He had really angry days. He had surly days. He had withdrawn days.

The difference was, he didn’t justify his angry and surly and withdrawn days by telling me they were my fault. He had them, but never blamed me for them or used them as an excuse to take out his frustrations on a nearby target. He apologized, when he was in a better place – and sometimes when he wasn’t. And even towards the end of his life when he was in constant pain, he still devoted what limited resources he could towards worrying about my well-being, making sure I took care of myself, squeezing my hand to let me know that he loved me.

My Uncle Tommy, in the middle of all that pain, wanted me to be happy.

Sometimes, someone’s just depressed or chronically ill or handicapped, and yes, they need your support. They don’t mean to be a pain in the butt – and they’re doing their best to be functional human beings despite some soft spots.

So you should not be too eager to pull that switch. Sick people need love, too, often much more of it.

Yet some sick people chew up love and spit it out, always expecting more and not caring how they get it. (Or, more accurately, some people do this, and some of those people happen to be sick.) Some segment of the depressed and the chronically ill and the handicapped will callously treat you as though you were a medicine-and-money-and-support-dispensing machine, filleting your self-esteem to do as they please.

And when you hit your limit, they’ll jam hard on the “But what will happen to me if you go?” guilt button.

Yet again: It’s not wrong to leave someone who abuses your kindness. Even caretakers get to set proper boundaries. And if someone keeps violating your trust in ways that hurt you, then they’ve sent you a clear message: I don’t care about you.

In which case – sadly, tragically, and hopefully avoidably – you are not required to care for them. It’s kind if you do, of course. (And slightly different if you’re dealing in terms of end-of-life care, of course, which is brutal but at least has an end date baked into it somewhere.)

Yet if you’re consuming your own mental health in order to take care of someone who doesn’t give a crap about how you feel, then remember that your kindness is a gift. You deserve to give that kindness to someone who genuinely appreciates it on whatever limited level they can.

There’s one person you must be kind to above all others, in the long run – and that’s you.

Thanks For Being Kind To Me

I had a very nice time at DetCon this weekend; I was worried I’d melt down from all the people, but the people were kind.

No, seriously.  Folks kept squeezing my shoulder, asking, “How are you doing?”, giving me hugs.  Checking in with me.  And yes, I’d asked for that, but nobody had to do it and yet you all did.

So thank you.

DetCon was a very nice con, but very awkward for what it was – it was held in the vast, sprawling area of GM headquarters, so big it took me twenty-five minutes and five floors just to find the convention.  It was so big that they were holding another convention in there, a Netroots con – which foiled my usual plan of “follow the pasty backpack-wearing guy to the action” – and the place still often felt empty.

So even though it was the largest fan convention that Detroit had held (and go Tammy for running a hell of a con), it was hard to find people, as there was no central place where everyone just washed up.

I remain fascinated by how a hotel affects a con’s feel – if you have a central bar everyone has to pass through on the way to the panels, then you see everyone gathering there, washed up like a culvert of happy people.  If you have a large layout full of hallways, then people tend to choke the hallways, leading to little clots of informal gathering that get pushed on as crowds pile up behind them.  And if you have a large area like DetCon had, you have a con that feels very nice but not coherent, because I ran into people at various places but had no strong sense of “Here is where I want to go if I want to watch my friends turn up.”

But regardless, my friends did turn up, and many of you were much nicer to me than you had any right to be.  And since you often find out how I’m doing in this public space, I should thank you in this public space, and say it clearly: Thanks for helping a grieving man find a bit of normality.  Thanks for being there.

Thanks for proving to me, for the ten thousandth time, that the world is generally full of extremely nice people.  Of which you are one.

If You See Me At DetCon, Say “Hi” (Special Freaky Weasel Edition)

So at around 3:00 today, I’ll be leaving to go to DetCon in Detroit.  I have my usual set of convention nerves (What if no one wants to talk to me? What if everyone secretly loathes me?) that come with having social anxiety, but they’re worsened this year by grief.

Which is weird to me; it’s over a month since my goddaughter Rebecca died, and I’m still experiencing fallout from that.  It feels like I should be – well, not moving on, but rewiring around the damage, if you will.

And yet the aftereffects are still strong, and one of those aftereffects is a fear of crowds.  I’m told this is not unusual, particularly not after the trauma of a week-long Shiva mourning period.  But my introvert batteries are redlined easily, and I’m having difficulty recharging them.  Going to a convention seems like running a marathon now… but it’s a necessary marathon, something I must do to struggle back to normality.

So.  If you see me at Detcon, and you feel like doing a writer a mitzvah, please don’t be afraid to say hello to me.  I’m often told, “You looked busy!” when I wasn’t at all, I just had Resting Busy Face.  And while you are by no means responsible for my experience at DetCon – that would be me – it would be kindness to break the ice with me as opposed to having me gather the strength to say hello to you.

For I want to say hello to you.  And discuss books, and silliness, and All The Things.

If you’d like to see me yammer on at panels, DetCon let me off light this year, and so I only have three:

Friday, 7:00: Worldbuilding
I’ll probably be discussing some of the techniques I used to devise some of the magic systems in FLEX as examples, thus putting me down the inevitable primrose path to becoming That Guy on panels.

Saturday, 11:00 a.m.: Plotting vs. Pantsing
As anyone who’s read me knows, I’m a pantser who wishes he could plot.  But I have many techniques to help you finish your story when you don’t know how the heck to end it!

Saturday, 7:00 p.m.: Writer’s Groups: The Good And The Bad
I need writers’ groups to function, so I’ll doubtlessly be opinionated.  That’s what you wanted, right?