Category Archives: ethics

Yes, Virginia, there are moral agents.


Required Online Etiquette for Businesses 101

We make a lot of fuss about when a commenter or blogger is violating some spoken or unspoken rule of conduct, but MAN do we let companies off the hook for some obvious things that are just terribly rude and inconsiderate!  Here are some of the worst, IMO:

  • If you take an order / allow sign up online, you must allow canceling an order or unsubscribing online.  Giving someone a convenient way to give you money and making them switch to a less convenient one to get it back is just pure shady.  And don't give me shit about how it costs *you* more money somehow — no it doesn't.  If you have the infra to take an order, you have it to cancel one, and if you won't cancel it the same way you took it, you're just a jerk.
  • If you allow customers to deal with you online, and they contact you online, do not ever ever call them, but most especially do not call them a) during business hours, when you know damn well you're interrupting their work, or b) over any simple or easy question that could easily be resolved by using the email address you almost certainly have.  We know it's rude when you call to ask a company a question and the next day a door-to-door salesman shows up uninvited at your house; why don't we ream companies for forcing conversations onto the phone for no good reason?  My phone is on in case people who know me want to use it to reach me, thank you; and even they know better than to call me when I'm working unless it's important.
  • Your security measures should be as obnoxious as needed and no more; if in doubt, let your customers pick the level of protection they want. If one more little retail site forces me to create a hardened 16-digit two-factor-auth password, I'm going to seriously slap a techie.  (Might be any techie, so look out.)
  • And for gods' sakes treat online customer service like customer service.  It's fine if Billy Teenpunk turns into a raging shithead when given a difficult email to answer, but he's not being paid to do it.  The number of snide, terse, flippant, or outright rude online exhanges I've been subjected to from various companies is truly shocking.  You know you'd fire any employee who acted like that to a customer's face…so what's the deal?  Not paying attention, perhaps?  THEN SELL YOUR COMPUTERS and stick to business you're actually willing to do the work for.

…Yes, I'm having a tough day, but come on, all of that needed to be said.  ;)

Here's to relaxing times later!  (It's underwater hockey night!  That usually beats all the tension out of me pretty well.)

I Swear (Open-Minding Your Manners)

I'm so grateful to my father for teaching me to not only be polite, but to get more polite when confronted with rudeness.  

(Note:  I do this much more consistently in person than in writing.  When writing I love to inject color and a little lightning where I can; it's like enjoying spicy food I guess.  Personally and professionally, though, I'm the person who says "please" and "may I" consistently, who holds open doors for strangers and always excuses myself for interrupting.  I was taught well, but I've also expanded on it in later years by modifying some of my well-intentioned American tendencies to be more like my European and Australian friends, who tend to think of things I never would have learned about from my Midwestern family — things like saying "May I please have the…" when ordering food, rather than "I'll take a…" or "Give me a…", which is both normal in my experience and pretty annoyingly rude once you notice it.  But I digress.  Shockingly.)  

This habit my dad ingrained in me is a heck of a weapon, for a couple reasons:

1)  Rude people–or even average people who are trained to respond to the emotional stimulus of anger by turning rude–get flustered and stupid when confronted with quiet, professional mannerisms, giving me an instant edge in a blow-by-blow argument.

2)  Onlookers to an argument where I'm the one being composed and polite, even if I'm obviously angry or disagreeing, are predisposed to agree with or at least hear my point.  Corollary:  In a workplace or other professional or formal environment, I'm much less likely to break a rule that either loses me future credibility or lands me in trouble with some authority (i.e. HR).

3)  Mobs of dumb-ass dissenters, as one tends to get in, oh, say, the Midwest, are less likely to get nasty or violent towards someone who's being calm and "nice" (even if the content of my words is not "nice" at all).  Good manners are a sort of armor against unruly groups of 'Mericans; they can still be icky to deal with, but are generally hesitant to attack someone they perceive as being a "good sort", even if it's not "our" sort.

and my favorite, 4)  Being known as someone who generally stays gentle and sticks by the rules of decorum in most circumstances means that when I cut loose, it packs an extra whollop*.  And there are some circumstances that I firmly believe are best handled with loud swearing and an instantly aggressive demeanor — the biggest example being when confronting sexual harrassment, which I consider to be the far end of the Bell curve of rudeness — it's rudeness escalated to a form of psychological (or even physical) attack, really.  So I actually approve of anyone — of any gender** – responding to unwanted sexual attention or discrimination (against themselves or anyone else) with a loud WHAT THE FUCK IS YOUR PROBLEM?!   Those behaviors are, I would argue, too often treated as deserving of tolerance — Oh, you know, that's just how Bill is — and, like overt racism (another way-out-there form of rudeness), are best headed off with loud, forceful objection that both throws the unacceptability of their conduct directly in the offender's face, and also forces them and everyone else who witnesses it to take a stand one way or the other.  Don't get me wrong; there are times when it's better for that response to be served ice cold — if you've got everyone's attention already, a nice icy glare and a hissed, "What did you just say, boy?" or "Did you really just put your goddamned hands on me?" are awfully nice — but on the whole, I prefer volume and swearing because they get attention and don't allow people to easily gloss over or dismiss what's happened.  

And of course, it's just icing on the cake if I've spent the whole evening minding my manners before I scream obscenities and throw something at that jerk, really.***

Thanks so much, Dad!  



*I love words like this, which can kind of be spelled any way it suits you.  You can find this one as whallop, wollop, wolop, walop, whalop, etc. everywhere and they're all pretty much equally right.  Hm, I should write something in Middle English, yeah?  

**Gender or age — If anyone harrasses or threatens my daughter that way, I want them to be met with a loud, angry, FUCK YOU!  (from her, her friends, or anyone who witnesses it).  I think that's both likely to deter an attacker, and likely to draw the attention of bystanders, coming from a kid.  She's known that loud swearing (and if they put their hands on you, physical violence) is an appropriate response to threatening adults since she was about four — and yes, it does inadvertently make it sound a little exciting to have to defend herself, but I'm hoping that makes her more likely to react swiftly in such a situation.  Not that it's her responsibility to react swiftly to protect herself, but if it could make the difference between trauma and escape, I see no reason not to encourage it.

***Oh yes, in case you're wondering, I have done it.  I've also dropped my briefcase and straightened my suit-jacket before yelling things across the street that would make a sailor blush, and I've gotten right in the face of huge beligerent drunks and threatened to beat them senseless and send their remains home to their moms.  I comfort myself regarding the state of women's rights by vowing to, if things haven't improved, get louder and nastier about it the older I get.  I'm sure the effect when I'm grey-haired will be terriffic. 

Oh yes, it’s a post about second-order meta-intolerance, and I make no apologies.

As a big ol' sci-fi nut and occasional producer of it myself, I felt I ought to weigh in on the Orson Scott Card kerfuffle.  (There are many links on this; here's one.)

I don't have clear answers, actually; but I'm good at questions and I'd love to hear others' input.

Let's start with the basic (and, I think, obvious and/or easily argued) assumptions that a) OSC's views are both batshit and morally repulsive, and b) that intolerant people begging for others to be tolerant of their intolerance is fucking stupid.

With regards to things like boycotting movies, I think the question becomes:  Should we be tolerant of other people's tolerance of intolerance?  The studios (at least) are claiming that they don't deserve to suffer financial damage just because the person who wrote the book they're adapting to film is an asshole.  Is that true?  

It's a tricky one.  If we say no, then essentially every immoral asshole out there can hide behind one layer of other people, all waving their hands and claiming they don't deserve to suffer for other people's dickishness.

But if we say yes, then we may be running the risk of mob rule, of people with unpopular viewpoints being cut off from society; or of society losing access to tons of awesome stuff produced by asshole people.  (Neither this blog nor any other has the room to list all of the known horrible traits of creative people who produced excellent work.)  

It's inarguably vital that people who believe in things like equality, freedom and Not Being An Asshole stand up for their beliefs — largely because the people who believe in the opposite certainly will, and the world will be the worse for their going unchallenged.  And standing up for good things is certainly aided by not giving money to those who uphold and work to advance awful views like OSC's.

But, Ender's Game is, while maybe not the highest of high art, at least a good story, especially compared to the movie industry's average fare.  Should the people who made the movie not be rewarded in measure with the success of their efforts?  Should everyone be deprived of what might be a proper awesome film because the script originated from a book written by someone with (at least) one utterly awful personality-flaw that he uses to hurt other people?  Is it more important that everyone have access to a (assumedly) cool piece of art, and that the hundreds of other people who worked to make it earn some compensation; or that one jerk not get a few more dollars in sales (which may or may not matter to his overall financial situation, being that he's already successful)?  

Is it at all likely that a boycott of the movie will slow or stop OSC's anti-LGBT activities?  If that's our goal, are there other, more useful things we could do, besides not paying for (and/or not watching) the movie?

For my part, like many sci-fi fans I think, I was a big fan of OSC's work when I was younger, i.e. before I found out anything about him as a person.  Besides some proper stories, he wrote a very useful book on character-development that was one of my favorite instructional pieces for a while, and his blog used to be a great writing-resource for me as well.  He is, whatever else he is, a good writer.  However, learning that he's also a bigot certainly stopped me from giving him any more money, or reading any more of his advice, writing-related or otherwise.  I might watch the movie if I get a chance to for free sometime, but I certainly won't be paying for it, simply because paying for art is something I do when I'm a fan of it, and I stopped being a fan of OSC's art years ago.  

However, I think that all that makes the question much easier for me, personally, to settle than it is for the philosophically-relevant "all / random persons".  Regarding them, I'm afraid I don't have a clear answer — but I hope that everyone thinks hard about it, because it's an important type of question for sure.

Scream, clap, laugh, win: Humor makes a great molotov cocktail

Luke McKinney's new article — a follow-up to his infamous piece on "straight white male" being sexuality's lowest difficulty setting (you may remember John Scalzi's still-famous article expanding that idea) – on 5 Gamer Comments That Give Straight White Guys a Bad Name had me screaming and clapping while simultaneously laughing coffee out my nose.

As Scalzi points out in his blog today, this IS written on, so it's got a marvelous left-handedness where you know that some of the people being called assholes in this article — in lovely metaphor-laden smackdown style — are going to be reading and commenting on it…and boy, do they.  I've stayed off the comment thread myself, mostly because all I really want to say is fuck yes, Luke.  Way to hit a second home-run just to prove you can! 

…It's really impossible to pick a "best" part of this to quote, but…

"People want to bang you = easy life" is the worst sexual equation since David Carradine's work with knot theory.


But seriously?  I think it's incredibly important that topics like this one be handled with loud, raucous, stabby humor whenever possible.  It's hard to speak accurate truth to power, sure; but it's even harder to make power hear it, and those people who can take truths and wrap them in you-can't-ignore-me linguistic molotov cocktails are treasures of humanity.  It's precisely why comedians and satirists are so vitally important to every movement, and I'm chest-burstingly proud that the No More Forced Pregnancies-related movements have voices like Luke (and Scalzi) on their side.  <3!

Whip, chair, t-shirt rack

I'm moving this week, so pardon my invisibility (I'm actually getting a TON done — like the final edits for the Second Edition; finished! …which means that if you'd like to preorder and get the discount, now is a great time, ahem…but most of it isn't visible, unless you happen to be peeking in my windows looking for an accumulation of boxes).  

However, the moving has raised an issue, an opportunity for improvement, that I might not have noticed otherwise:   I have too many clothes.

Not because I love clothes, mind you — I like comfortable, well-fitting clothes that meet the needs of my activities, but beyond that I'm all about the simple, cheap and easy.  However, I did learn to shop the way I think a lot of modern people do:  When you, say, realize you need a pair of pants, you go get one — or two or three — that meet the need you've discovered, and add them to your collection.  Which then means that eventually, even with some regular culling (which I try to do), after years of doing this, you wind up with a huge collection.  Mine filled four garbage bags!  I know I don't wear 75% of them hardly ever, but don't want to throw them out because they're perfectly functional, and I'm used to keeping them.

Well, that's enough of that — I've decided that I like an alternate clothing-system much better:  One decides of an acceptable amount of clothing, and then as things need replacing or one's needs change, clothing is replaced with better items.  Prefer black pants now?  Great, buy 1x black pants and let go of 1x other pair.  The wardrobe may change — and if you're lucky, the quality keeps increasing, as you let go of the least item while obtaining the best you can — but it doesn't grow.  You have a set amount that you need / want, and you stick with that.

So that's my plan — once I'm done with the basic unpacking, I'll decide how much clothing I need, and pare down to that; then, as I upgrade, I'll ditch the least/lowest item to keep the numbers constant.  

(Think I can do it?  Could you?) 

Here's my preliminary stab at a list of what I think I'd like to keep around.  I'm in no way suggesting that everyone should have the same size list here – this is just what I think (initially) might work for me.  And it's not all practical — note the high allowance of knee-socks! — the point is that it's finite.  If this list doubles but I can keep to it, I'll be happy.  (And still have less clothes than I do now…oy.)

PANTS:  5 pair jeans, 2 utility/not-jeans-with-pockets, 2 dress pants, 3 yoga / workout pants, 2 sleep/sweatpants, 1 fleece layer, 2 waterproof/camping pair, 3 technical/underlayers, 1 running shorts

SHIRTS:  7 t-shirts, 3 button-downs, 3 long-sleeves, 2 fleecy/hoodies, 3 workout tops, 2 technical/underlayer, 1 bulky sweater, 2 tank tops/sleepwear

FANCY:  3 dresses, 2 skirts, 2 business jackets, my silk taiji uniform, 1 pair nice pyjamas

UNDERTHINGS:  14 pants, 5 reg bras, 3 workout bras, 2 swimsuits (this category is already in line, I think; this is basically a listing of what I have)

SOCKS:  7 wool, 7 fun knee-highs, 3 cotton, 1 dressy, 2 pair tights

Give Me A DRM-Free World

Lulu Blog » Living in a DRM-Free World.

Count me among the authors who feel that DRM did nothing to benefit us, and who're frankly relieved that it's on the way out.

Has the book been torrented?  Yup.  Does this upset me?  HELL no.

Think of it this way:  The Internet is the biggest communications medium in the world.  If you were an author and you went to the biggest public library in existence, where everyone was talking about and handing around books 24/7, and you found that yours hadn't been mentioned or shared at all, what would you think?  That it must suck, right?  

As an author, or really any kind of artist, you get attention and money and rewards for your work when people like it and tell other people about it.  Being that they're talking to each other in the real world, they have a much better idea how much of your work should be shared, and what should be said about it, to interest the person in front of them, than you and a zillion marketers could ever have.  If they think loaning a copy to their friend is the best way to make you a new fan — or that thumbing through it themselves is the best way to determine if they want to be your fan — then who the heck are you to argue?  

It's a sort of Taoist truth of sales:  Let people do their thing, and only intervene when needed.  I intervene, usually by being nice about it, when I run into someone who's borrowed by not bought my book, and almost always they turn into a buyer.  If I intervened by being a jerk, or prevented them from getting ahold of my work in the first place, guess what they'd be?  Yeah, not a fan, for sure.

Fortunately we're not alone, we authors-who-pay-attention; as this article demonstrates, publishers like Tor and distributors like Lulu are catching on that penalizing readers – especially penalizing all readers for something a tiny percentage of them do — is just plain stupid, and a world without DRM is hopefully right around the corner.


No More Forced Pregnancies

This is kind of a big post for me:  I'm coming out of the closet, as it were, with my stance on a big issue.  I also intend this post to be a jumping-off point from which I do more with this issue, because I really feel that more needs to be done.

The issue is forced pregnancy.  And my stance on it is that I think it exists, in most societies including the modern American ones, and I'm sick of seeing it, and I'm sick of it not being called out for what it is.

I started to mentally identify forced pregnancy as an overarching issue some years ago, but I wasn't comfortable speaking up about it, especially in such loaded terms.  But having given it considerable thought, I believe that:

  • Many smaller societal issues are in fact part of this larger picture; and
  • People need to start pointing at the bigger picture and calling it what it is, because recognizing what it is will be key to gathering the motivation to fix it.

And I'm willing to do that now, scary or not.

I'll make more arguments, and in more detail, later — probably, I think, as part of a new section of the site, as there's a whopping amount to talk about and I don't want to confuse the already arguably pretty eclectic webpage I've got going here.  Here are some of the basics of what I'm thinking and where I'm going with this, though:

  • The core assumption of sexism, that women are lesser than men, is most directly and forcefully denied by womankind's ability to bear children (or more pertinently to the warlike mentality in play here, womankind's ability to end the fucking human race in one generation if we chose to not bear children).
  • The only way that sexist people can feel safe, therefore, is by ensuring that "the spice must flow", as it were — by ensuring that reproduction continues and continues to be as controlled by not-women* as possible.
    • You might expect these people to be more interested in using science to remove women from the childbearing equation, then, but there are several reasons to not go about it this way:
      • It's hella difficult and expensive to do.
      • Someone then has to raise those children, an incredibly time-consuming (life-consuming, in fact) and expensive process itself, and one for which no substitute for actual motherhood has been or is likely to be found.
      • Bearing children is itself a great repressor of women:  Childbearing women spend nine months physically vulnerable; undergo a major surgery for which the complication and mortality rates are fairly high; and then feel mortally obligated to sacrifice their goals, careers, health, and finances for the rest of their lives to care for those children.
      • As a result of the above, women with children are far, far less politically and socially dangerous than women without them.  So if your goal is to keep women oppressed in society, then ensuring that they have children, and especially that not much exists in the way of social and financial help for them in having and raising those children, is a great tool for you.
  • Therefore, the vast majority of all sexist activities are in fact some version of the same story:  Get as many women as possible to become pregnant as often as possible.
    • So if you've ever wondered why the more overtly sexist branches of society are staunchly against all forms of birth control, no matter how safe, and no matter how much knowledge they have of the glaring overpopulation problem the human race faces…now you know.

And there's a lot more to it than that:  I've seen nuances so layered and sneaky that it'll make your guts churn — television shows, modes of dress, turns of phrase, everything; a whole societyful of physical, political and psychological manipulation to make and keep women pregnant — details that would make Margaret Atwood's head explode.  And I intend to talk about them all, and loudly, because in all seriousness I have had it with this truth hiding under everyone's noses and nobody saying it.  

Nobody (that I've heard**) says "that's forced pregnancy" when a state limits or outlaws abortion, or when a major religion flexes its political muscle to keep women from having access to birth control.  

Nobody talks openly about what a nightmarish concept forced pregnancy IS and how unforgivable it is that our first-world society is still doing it and still acting like it's somehow OK.

But from now on, *I* will say so.  It probably won't make me popular.  I don't care.  Readers of my site, whom I love dearly and have no wish to piss off, are entirely free to skip the posts on this topic if they really don't want to hear about it.

But I hope they won't.  Because it's true, and it's important.

No peace without justice, and no justice without truth.

Thank you.


*I'll use phrases like not-women (instead of just saying "men") now and again, and though it may seem silly to you at first, please bear with me; I have a reason.  The relevant polarization in issues like this is between those who are sexist (who believe that women should be subjugated as part of how the human race works) and those who are not.  We live in a sexist world, where over 90% of all possible societies we could grow up in are sexist and have been sexist for as many generations back as we could count.  Therefore, due to upbringing, tradition, and culture, many women are sexist.  (I used to be, so I know this firsthand.)  Also, of course, just to complicate things, there are men in the world who are not sexist (just like there are white people who are not racist; just because you benefit from oppression doesn't necessarily mean you're in favor of it (though it does make it harder to understand why you shouldn't be, of course.)  Because of these factors, I hate referring to the conflict of sexism as one between "women" and "men", because it isn't.  It's between a large oppressed portion of the population, and their oppressors.  I don't think that the people fighting to end this centuries-long, globe-spanning oppression can really afford to lose the support of the men who are with them, or to ignore the damage done by the women who are not, by framing their battle as a "battle of the sexes".  It isn't a battle between the sexes.  It's a battle against discrimination and really horrible treatment based on sex, and what side you're on depends on what you believe and how you act, not what's in your pants.  So I apologize if my language-bending to keep that point clear gets annoying to anyone.

**It feels important to say right in this first piece that I'm not any kind of scholar or expert on women's studies — quite the opposite, in fact, as I have a degree in Super Logical Western Analytical Dead White Guy Philosophy.  So when I say things like "Nobody's saying this!", I'm referring to society and the media, at large and how I encounter them, with my only-slightly-deeper-than-average penetration into things International, fringe, feminist and forward-thinking.  It's extremely likely that people working in the trenches and typewriters of the sexist battle have been crying "forced pregnancy" for years or decades or even longer — and as part of my pledge to start crying it where I see it too, I'll be doing more reading on that as well.  But please don't take my enjoinders on the society I live in to be commentary on the body of work produced by feminism, women's studies, or trench-fighting anti-sexists, because I've had very little (more in recent years, but still relatively skimpy) contact with those groups and their writings.  This project is something I came to myself, gradually, and decided recently was something I had to do and say, regardless of what else others have done (because obviously more needs to be done, and having recognized that and recognized that I'm probably a capable person to pitch in, I feel that I have to).  

And I’m a lucky one

Mine is brief, because I felt weird sharing more of my story that that.  I also feel that the details of how we're different matter less than the many broad ways in which we're the same:  We are ALL suffering because our government, in spite of claiming status as the biggest and best democracy in the world, won't provide us decent health care, reasonable safety-nets, and protection from the people who, before we had a strong socialist* government, had no problem treating the 99% as straight-up slaves, including withholding access to education and weapons as a way to control us. 

The answer is not "less government" — but it's not surprising that the supporters of the 1% want it to be.  They've lamed the horse, and now they want us to let them shoot it, so they can go back to being lords and having serfs and never having to worry that "the rabble" will have any real influence.  These are people who want to use most of humanity as their own personal cattle, to buy and sell and work and kill as they see fit.  A government they don't own gets in their way.  So first they own it, then break it, then try to get people cheering for abolishing it altogether. 

But the 1% should fear the 99%, not the other way around.  Maybe it's been too long since we reminded them why.


*Socialist = with public works, public health, public schools, public emergency services and public courts that enforce the law evenly among everyone.  All things that level the playing field, and which the 1% are of course eager to do away with (except when they can work it so the public pays for those services, but the 1% benefit most from them).