Ladies, Stand Your Ground

Warning: Controversy Ahead.

I wrote this a couple of months ago, after considering the notion for many more, but there never seemed to be a good time to post it. I thought about posting it when I heard that someone was planning a rally in support of legalizing rape; I’m still not sure if that was a real thing, but it seemed a monumentally stupid idea — what next, rallies to legalize robbery and burglary and other crimes? Then a GOP Presidential hopeful mentioned abortion in the context of self-defense against incest or rape, and was criticized for it, and now another made thoughtless, asinine comments about punishing women who have abortions.

Maybe there is no good time to post something like this.

This post is about self-defense, and abortion. I advise you to leave now if you don’t want to be offended, because something I say here will almost certainly offend you — no matter where you stand on these issues.

Use of Deadly Force Authorized

(Image: “Use of Deadly Force Authorized,” by Brian Reynolds, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

 

First, an observation: I believe the decision to abort a baby must be one of the most difficult decisions a human being may ever make. I do not intend to second-guess anyone who has made that decision, nor do I intend to criticize or vilify them.

Second, another observation: I recognize that some people believe that I should not express my opinion on abortion (or perhaps even that I should not form an opinion) because I am a man and not a woman. Obviously, I disagree.

Now, to the root of the matter: It seems to me that, regardless of one’s personal views on either issue, logical consistency requires that our view of abortion should align with our view of self-defense, especially where the latter is covered by various “stand your ground” laws. To that end,

  • It appears logically inconsistent to support using deadly force in self-defense — often related to “stand your ground” laws — and at the same time oppose abortion.
  • It appears logically inconsistent also to support abortion and at the same time oppose using deadly force in self-defense.
  • Logical consistency would seem to require either supporting both, or opposing both, abortion and using deadly force in self-defense.

I do not think it is necessary to like self-defense killing or abortion, or to be in favor of or advocate either one, in order to recognize that they rest on the same premise: that we have the right to defend our lives and property using force, up to and including deadly force.

If a homeowner has the right to use deadly force to protect their life and property, or the lives of others in the home, then a woman has the right to use deadly force to protect her life and person — say, in the case of defending herself against rape. By extension, a pregnant woman has the right to use deadly force against an attacker if her baby is threatened. But in a similar fashion a pregnant woman also has the right to use deadly force against her unborn baby — to remove it from life-support, if you will — if she believes that the baby poses a threat to her life and/or person.

Coming at the issue from the other direction, if a pregnant woman has the right to use deadly force — or, in the case of a seeking an abortion, to contract for the use of deadly force — to protect her life, her lifestyle, or her property, then homeowners or citizens have the right to use deadly force to protect their lives or property or the lives or property of those they love. However, if a pregnant woman has no such right, then neither does anyone else have the right to defend themselves against threats of violence or loss.

Self-defense, after all, is based on the individual’s perception of the threat. The threat may be direct or indirect, and perceptions may be clouded by a variety of factors, but the decision to act or not rests with the person who is threatened at the time the threat presents itself. We may, from a different perspective or at a different time, disagree with the homeowner or the pregnant woman on the degree of the threat; or we may disagree with the decision they made when faced with the threat; but the decision was theirs at that time, not ours at some other time. And to support one and refuse to support the other appears to me to be logically inconsistent.

We can make a similar case about abortion and the death penalty. That is, we can make the case that if the death penalty is a just punishment for certain crimes, enacted after weighing the evidence and coming to a verdict, then abortion may be considered as a death penalty in itself, with the potential mother as judge and jury, possibly as both prosecution and defense, and in some tragic cases even as executioner. For me, that is a much more difficult concept (and following it too closely may lead to considering abortion as a form of justifiable homicide), but I still can consider it somewhat equivalent.

I say “somewhat equivalent” deliberately: I do not mean to say that killing in self-defense is exactly equivalent to abortion, only that they are similar. (Others have tackled that subject in far more depth than I can here, as noted at the end.) One case is more often a quick-reaction response compared to the other. One is more often a direct confrontation than the other. One clearly involves acting against an agent capable of independent thought and action. On that score, advocates of abortion often argue that the unborn child, by virtue of being fully dependent on the mother, should not be considered fully human; rather than argue that matter here, except to note that such a dehumanizing mentality is something pro-abortion advocates have in common with armies facing enemies, it seems clear that an unborn child at the very least has the potential to grow into an independent agent (as the pregnant woman was considered above a potential mother). On that basis, we can say that both self-defense killing and abortion involve terminating with prejudice the future potential of a human person.

Again I must emphasize that it is not necessary to prefer or to approve of either of these mechanisms. It is possible to wish for every unborn child to be wanted and to be cared for, in utero and beyond, just as it is possible to wish that there might be no thugs, no rapists, no burglars, no threats against people’s lives, persons, or property. Wishing for these things, however, does not make them come to pass, and so we are faced with difficult decisions that have far-reaching consequences.

Therefore, as someone who supports the right of an individual to protect their person and property with any means at their disposal, up to and including deadly force — whether homeowners defending themselves against burglars or women defending themselves against rapists — I must support the right of any woman to protect herself against an unborn life she is supporting if she feels threatened by it, up to and including the use of deadly force. Ladies, stand your ground.

I do not have to like it. I may wish for any number of alternatives. But it seems to me that I cannot support one and not the other without being logically inconsistent.

I could be wrong.

___
Some Notes:
1. The first GOP contender alluded to above was Chris Christie. See Chris Christie Faces Criticism for Saying Aborting a Baby After Rape is “Self-Defense” for Women. The second was Donald Trump, in his more recent MSNBC interview that, as much as it presented his egregious thinking on the subject, lent credence to the idea that he thinks very little of Republicans and is merely playing at being one.
2. The idea of abortion as self-defense was discussed in 1971 by Judith Jarvis Thomson in her article “A Defense of Abortion” in
Philosophy & Public Affairs. She wrote, “I should perhaps stop to say explicitly that I am not claiming that people have a right to do anything whatever to save their lives. I think, rather, that there are drastic limits to the right of self-defense…. But the case under consideration here is very different. In our case there are only two people involved, one whose life is threatened, and one who threatens it. Both are innocent: the one who is threatened is not threatened because of any fault, the one who threatens does not threaten because of any fault. For this reason we may feel that we bystanders cannot interfere. But the person threatened can. In sum, a woman surely can defend her life against the threat to it posed by the unborn child, even if doing so involves its death.” The entire article is online here and elsewhere.
3. This short BBC article also covers the topic of abortion as self-defense.
4. A Harvard Law blogger asked in a 2012 entry, Is the Self Defense Exception Consistent with the Belief that a Fetus is a Person? Their conclusion was that “the belief that a fetus is a person with the full complement of rights leads to uncomfortable positions in relation the self-defense exception.” Indeed.
5. The tendency of armies to dehumanize the enemy, in order to make it easier to kill them, was covered quite well by Robert O’Connell in
Of Arms and Men.

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In Defense of Slower Government

Are you more likely to make a mistake when you’re being hasty, or being deliberate?

There’s a reason the old saying is, “Haste makes waste.” It’s “measure twice, cut once,” not “cut wherever you want to, who has time to measure?” And speaking of cutting, there’s a reason I have a chunk missing from my right thumb — tip: don’t rush the process of slicing onions with the mandolin, thinking that you have plenty of room before you need to use the little safety attachment.

If your personal experience is anything like mine, then you can point to specific instances when you made a snap decision — or just a swift decision — and had that decision turn out badly. Perhaps not with the bloody results that my kitchen mandolin incident produced, but I’m confident that at least once you’ve looked back at a mistake and thought, “I wish I’d taken more time with that.”

But how about our government? Is it also more likely to make a mistake when it’s being hasty?

We the People

(Image: “We the People,” by Chuck Coker, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

 

Our personal decisions usually affect only a few people: maybe just us, maybe our family or friends, maybe coworkers or even some strangers. So our personal mistakes have limited consequences. But government decisions usually affect a great many people — even all of us — and therefore government mistakes can have far-reaching effects.

Aside from natural disasters and enemy attacks, governments generally do not face emergencies that require immediate or even especially fast action. Particularly where legislative bodies are concerned, urgency is usually contraindicated. Legislatures are built for deliberation — their strength is in studying issues, building consensus, reaching compromise — and they should be loath to abandon careful consideration, reflection, and caution.

You may be able to think of an example or two of a hasty government move. Very recently, for instance, a few miles from where I live, the North Carolina legislature staged a late night raid to combat a Charlotte city ordinance; they seemed to be working against a deadline, but the fact remains that by acting swiftly they perhaps worked less well than they would have if they had taken more time to think through what they were doing. In some instances government leaders act quickly in order to capitalize on perceived crises or fleeting majorities; in at least one prominent case, highly complex legislation was passed before everyone was cognizant of everything in it, exemplified by the enigmatic “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”

It is true that Miyamoto Musashi encouraged readers of Go Rin No Sho (The Book of Five Rings) to train themselves “day and night to make quick decisions,” but he was writing about life-or-death situations in which failing to act would be disastrous. When the clock is not a factor and the decision is less crucial, taking time to deliberate before making a critical choice often results in a better outcome.

And when decisions become more momentous, when they affect more people, and particularly when they entail significant controversy, it seems that longer and longer deliberation might be in order. From that perspective, the government that operates slowest may in the long run be the best.

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Do You Prefer Your Socialism Voluntary, or Mandatory?

Recently there’s been a lot of social-media talk about socialism, what it is and what it isn’t, if for no other reason than one of the candidates to be the Democratic nominee for the Presidency is a self-described Socialist.

Now, before we get to the question posed above: in the hopes of improving communication let’s take a moment to define a few terms. At the very least, we might ensure that we are not confusing socialism with other -isms. According to the online version of Webster’s:

  • socialism is “any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods”
  • communism is “a theory advocating elimination of private property; a system in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed”
  • capitalism is “an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market”
  • fascism is “a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition”
  • altruism is “unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others”

From the dictionary definition, it would seem as if there could be no such thing as “voluntary” socialism except in the context of voluntary adherence to the dictates of government and collective society. But socialism seems to have come to mean something different in common usage, which is why I included altruism among the defined terms.

So far as I can tell, a lot of the people who advocate for socialist policies do so out of personal altruism — i.e., out of concern for others’ welfare — and not because they believe that the government or other collective entities should own and operate factories and businesses. That is, in some respects “little-s” socialism has come to be understood in terms of social action (or even social “justice”) and thereby in terms of caring for members of society, as opposed to its dogmatic, collectivist big brother: systematic, capital-S Socialism. In other words, from what I’ve observed some people look at socialism not as an economic theory, but as a form of human tribalism (defined by Webster’s as “tribal consciousness and loyalty; especially, exaltation of the tribe above other groups”) where the “tribe” consists mainly of the downtrodden as opposed to the related.

altruism makes you more attractive

(Image: ” altruism makes you more attractive,” by Will Lion, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

 

In this manner of thinking of socialism, the question posed in the title distinguishes between two possible modes of implementation: voluntary or mandatory.

The first is voluntary socialism, practiced primarily through personal social action: giving of one’s excess treasure, time or talent to help the less fortunate. This is the socialism of charity, of personal altruism, of expressing one’s individual concern for one’s fellow man by actually doing something — writing a check, building a house, cooking a meal. This is the socialism of the soup kitchen, the homeless shelter, the sanctuary.

The second is mandatory socialism, practiced primarily through government-led social action: empowering the government to take everyone’s (and particularly other people’s) excess — most readily in the form of treasure — to help the less fortunate. This is the socialism of confiscation, of redistribution, of assigning responsibility to the government to take care of one’s fellow man and thus absolving oneself of the need to act. This is the socialism of the tax office, the entitlement check, the welfare line.

So, do you prefer your socialism to be voluntary, or mandatory? Do you prefer to volunteer your contributions to social action, or to be made to contribute to it?

Generalizations always exclude those who do not fit them, but I have observed that, in general, many people who regularly practice voluntary social action oppose mandatory social action, and many people who promote mandatory social action don’t seem to engage in much voluntary social action (other than perhaps organizing people into promoting more mandatory social action). That is, many people who frequently donate their time or money to charities they deem worthy oppose efforts to empower the government to exact donations from them, and many people who support the idea of the government providing and expanding all of the social safety nets do not often seem quick to engage in personal acts of charity. I find that curious, but I admit my observations are limited and perhaps flawed.

But which do we emphasize: the voluntary, or the mandatory? As with most dichotomies of this sort, most continua, I think that everyone favors a little bit of volunteer action and a little bit of mandatory contribution. I’m not sure I’ve ever met someone so dyed-in-the-wool that they did not accept some of the alternative approach. (Perhaps the one Trotskyite I’ve met, though we have not discussed this in any depth. Perhaps a Libertarian or two.)

When we emphasize the voluntary, we allow ourselves to practice socialism — to contribute to social action — to the degree we feel comfortable, and we allow others also to practice it (or not) to whatever degree they want.

But when we emphasize the mandatory, we may ourselves end up practicing socialism to our preferred degree but we almost certainly require that others practice it to a greater degree than they feel comfortable. And when we enforce contribution through coercion via the rule of law, we should not be surprised when those others bristle, and balk, and even prepare for battle.

Where do you fall on the continuum between voluntary and mandatory contribution? If you tend to take the burden of helping others onto your own shoulders, with no thought of reward and no expectation of other people pitching in, then you probably fall closer to the voluntary side. If you sometimes think “someone ought to do something about that” and sometimes think “can I do anything about that,” then you probably fall somewhere in the middle. But if you tend to think “those other people ought to do more to help” more than you think “what can I do to help,” then you probably fall closer to the mandatory end.

I’m not here to pass judgment; in the end, I think in some way we will all pass judgment on ourselves. But I know who I’d rather have as my neighbors, if I ever find myself in a pinch. And I know what kind of neighbor I’d like to be.

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A Serious Question for Trump Supporters

I’m not going to ask you why you’re a Trump supporter. I’m not sure I want to know the answer.

Donald Trump Backyard Photo Sign at Night - West Des Moines, Iowa
(Image: “Donald Trump Backyard Photo Sign at Night – West Des Moines, Iowa,” by Tony Webster, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

 

I will ask this, since it’s been reported that he’s unlikely to show up to the Fox News Channel debate:

Since Trump postures and preens and presents himself as a hard-nosed negotiator, a savvy dealmaker, and a “uniter,” how can he be unwilling to face a particular female reporter (Megyn Kelly) as the moderator of a debate?

Note that I didn’t say he was unable to face her, nor did I say he was afraid to face her — although it does appear that way despite his campaign’s protestations to the contrary. But at the moment he certainly appears unwilling to face her. In addition, he has been rather vocal in the past about not liking the way she asked him questions, even though it’s her job to ask questions and most reporters who take their jobs seriously ask tough questions. How does his unwillingness — or even his complaining about her being one of the moderators — show him as anything but weak, and petulant, and maybe a little pathetic?

Oh, hell, I will ask the question anyway. In all seriousness, how can you support Trump?

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Political Lessons, and … the Hugo Awards?

I ran for elective office this year, and lost. (For the record, I spent about 0.41% of the total that all four candidates in my district spent up until the election, and I got 3.5% of the vote. Not close to winning, but a good return on my meager investment.)

I was also nominated for a Hugo Award this year, and lost. The story behind that has been chronicled on this blog and elsewhere, and I won’t go into it in this post. (For the record, and as nearly as I can tell from trying to figure out the preferential voting numbers, about 9% of the 5100 novelette voters selected my story as their first choice. I ended up in fourth place . . . two spots below “No Award.”)

I introduce the fact of my being on political and literary ballots this year because I observed two things in the recent Town Council election process that seem pertinent to this year’s Hugo Awards. Specifically, that the political parties inserted themselves deeply into what was supposed to be a nonpartisan race, and other players also wielded considerable influence; and that a lot of voter information was readily available for the candidates to use.

Now, with the caveat that this post is very long, I’ll try to make those connections.

Parties, Power Brokers, and Influence. I ran for Town Council in a single district here in Cary, North Carolina, and though the race was ostensibly nonpartisan the parties definitely made their presence known. The Republican Party endorsed one of the three of us who identified as Republicans — though not this particular candidate — and the Democratic Party endorsed the fourth candidate. The party endorsements brought with them not only some cachet, which those two candidates used to their advantage, but also party money for advertising as well as organized volunteer efforts for canvassing neighborhoods and working the polls.

In addition to the parties, several civic and professional groups were quite interested in the campaign. Some invited the candidates to meet with them in interviews or to fill out interview questionnaires; some sponsored “meet the candidate” social events; some even sponsored debates between the candidates. A few of those groups also endorsed candidates — again, not this candidate — and encouraged their members to support that person who they felt most confident would represent their interests if elected.

What relation does this have to the Hugo Awards? Simply, fandom has developed its own “parties” and thus the Hugo Awards have their own sets of power brokers (or would-be power brokers).

This year some people were very open about exercising their power. The “Sad Puppies” campaign was a party of sorts and encouraged people to consider specific works (mine included), while the follow-on (and aptly named) “Rabid Puppies” campaign flatly admitted that they intended to wield whatever power they could. When they succeeded at placing their preferred stories and people on the ballot — beyond my wildest imagining, if not others’ — a less organized but much more vocal cohort coalesced to wrest the voting power back into the hands of long-time WorldCon members (i.e., the traditional Hugo nominating-and-voting fans).

That is not to say that Hugo Award power brokers have only been active in recent years. Key figures in the science fiction and fantasy industry have long enjoyed considerable influence within the relatively small community of WorldCon fandom. Whether by their positions in publishing houses or the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), their notoriety, or the force of their personality; whether by their knowledge of the field, their literary achievements, or the number of people who read their blogs; or whether by other factors entirely, clearly some people became movers and shakers in fandom, and perhaps even kingmakers in terms of placing their favored selections on the Hugo ballot.

There was, for instance, considerable electronic weeping and wailing this year over whether, in the past, some “cabal” of industry insiders exercised deliberate and coordinated control over the nominating process. Accusations were levied with no proof beyond some statistical correlations, and despite the relatively weak charges they were at times denied with enough stridence that the old phrase “the hit dog howls” came to mind.* But from a group dynamics standpoint, a cabal was never necessary in order for insiders to have influence over the process. In the same way that a CEO or other leader can forget how much power they have over their employees and followers, people with informal power can forget that even a casual suggestion or question — “Have you read the new novel by [beloved author]? It’s marvelous” — can have an outsized effect on those who hear it.

Pillars of Influence
People can exert influence accidentally as well as intentionally. (Image: “Pillars of Influence,” by David Armano, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Taking that a step further, people can in some ways grow comfortable with or even addicted to the power they wield, even if that power is informal. They can come to enjoy it, to depend on it, and therefore to resent when it seems to have been taken away from them. In response, they could resort to making veiled (or not so veiled) threats, or to levying personal accusations that are demonstrably untrue. Again, the hit dog howls.

I will say at this point that I doubt there ever was a super-secret cabal directing Hugo-related fandom. But I know for a fact that insider politicking is as real in SF&F as it is in electoral politics, because I was faced with it in mid-April. Shortly after the nominations were announced, a friend of mine who has won Hugo and other awards and is generally well-known in SFWA and the SF&F community approached me, unsolicited and unexpectedly, to encourage me to withdraw my story from consideration.**

My friend wrote,

I think that you are a talented writer and that this is not going to be your only good story. . . . I think that if you made a statement withdrawing your story from the ballot, that you would get a bump next year and land on the ballot again. Not guaranteed, but I think that you would get a lot of good will.

My friend rightly pointed out that in some ways my nomination made me a pawn, a human shield, in the great Hugo fracas. My friend somewhat glossed over the point that I was destined to end up in someone’s bad graces no matter whether I let my nomination stand or withdrew it, but my friend was unceasingly gracious and pledged to support me no matter which decision I made. I very much appreciate that friend’s concern and their willingness to share their point of view while respecting mine; I count myself fortunate to have such a friend.

Now, a concerned friend reaching out like that would not by itself constitute insider politicking, even when the friend is nearly as deep inside the SF&F community as is possible to go. But when that same friend sends pretty much the same message to other nominees (a fact I verified from other people contacted), then . . . well, it certainly seemed to fit the description of a relatively powerful insider trying to exert influence over the process.

When one of the other nominees asked my friend about the fact that they had approached several of us, my friend wrote,

I was talking with a bunch of you individually . . . and started cutting and pasting from one email to the other. . . . I should have thought of how that would look. Please convey my apologies to whoever you spoke with.

I give my friend the benefit of the doubt, but I saw much the same thing even in the little Town Council race: insiders and special interests approaching candidates to see if we agreed with them or could be swayed to their positions. Some were more open and obvious about it than others, and their motives were clearer. As for my friend, I believe they were genuinely concerned for me and the other friends they contacted, and concerned for what the schism appeared to be doing to the community of fandom.

Looking back at what my friend proposed, it seems somewhat ironic to think that by withdrawing after being nominated I might improve my chances of being nominated in the future, not because anything else I might publish would be better than my 2015 nominated story, but because I would have engendered “good will” with the traditional fan contingent. As I wrote in reply,

. . . from a pragmatic standpoint I’m not sure whether withdrawing would really earn me the good will you speak of. I hope it might. But if good will garnered in that fashion is more important than any qualities inherent in my work . . . then the award really is more than just literary.

Consider this: If some of those who did withdraw — such as my friends Annie Bellet and Edmund Schubert — are nominated in the future, will they wonder if factors besides literary merit influenced the outcome? Since the primary complaint against my story and others was that they were nominated for reasons having little to do with their relative merits, it’s hard to see much of a difference with regards to receiving a friendly “bump” to “land on the ballot again.”

But in addition to the influence (deliberate or incidental) of insiders and power brokers, the other thing I observed in electoral politics that has some bearing on the recent Hugo unpleasantness is

A Plethora of Voter Information. Very early in my run for Town Council, I learned that the Wake County Board of Elections had available a comprehensive database of registered voters. I downloaded it as a huge Excel spreadsheet and narrowed it down first to Cary and then to just my district. In the end, I still had a lengthy list of around 24,000 registered voters that included names, addresses, party affiliations and other information, up to and including whether (and by what method) they voted in recent elections. The only thing missing was exactly for whom they voted.

How does that relate to the Hugo Awards?

During the WorldCon business meeting, when changes to the nomination-and-voting procedures were being proposed and debated, the membership passed a resolution calling for the convention organizers to release anonymized nomination data. The convention committee agreed to do so, but shortly thereafter appeared to back away from fulfilling that agreement because, as I understand it, they were finding it too difficult to produce the data without giving away the identifying information.

Why would the nomination data be interesting?

Consider that, within hours of the Hugo Awards ceremony closing, the io9 blog published an article with the title “This Is What The 2015 Hugo Ballot Should Have Been” in which the author put forth a vision of what the award results might have been had the “Sad Puppies” and “Rabid Puppies” entries not been nominated. The author began with this:

Based on the newly released statistics, Brandon Kempner of Chaos Horizon has a good analysis of the Hugo vote, (as does Nicholas Whyte in From the Heart Of Europe)—they estimate that the Rabid Puppies bloc was composed of 550-525 voters, while the Sad Puppies bloc made up 500-400 voters: around 20% of the 5,950 total voters. Of those numbers, around 3500 likely voted “No Award” out of principle, objecting to the lockstep nomination process of the Puppies.

and then made the leap from the number of voters to the idea that the SP/RP entries might not have been nominated at all. To me (the former engineer and nonstatistician), that seems to be trying to produce orange juice from a bag of apples. The question of what would have been nominated requires delving into the nomination statistics; the voting statistics are irrelevant to that question, because it turns on how many SP/RP nominations there were, not how many votes there were after months of competing rhetoric. With only the raw nomination figures, i.e., without the data that would provide insight into nomination patterns, it seems unsupportable to conclude that none of the stories and people on the SP/RP lists would have been nominated.***

Returning to the example of voter rolls that do not reveal voting results, it seems reasonable to imagine that if the Board of Elections can record votes and yet produce a database of registered voters that contains everything but those voting results, then it should be a simple enough — or certainly no more complicated — database management task for the WorldCon committee to produce records of the Hugo nominations without including identifying information, whether name or membership number or IP address.

Along those lines, if the WorldCon committee’s IT experts — and it’s a committee of geeks, surely they have ready access to a number of technology, computing, and database experts — cannot find a way to produce the promised data, then perhaps they could turn to the local Board of Elections for assistance. I doubt my local Board of Elections is that much different from any other in the country; it seems that their local board in Spokane should be able to provide some guidance.

Conclusion: Heinlein May Be Right.

Robert A. Heinlein maintained in Double Star that “Politics is the only sport for grownups — all other games are for kids.” As someone who enjoys other games and sports, as a spectator and participant, I’m not so sure about that; maybe I haven’t “put away childish things” in that respect, but I’m generally in favor of practicing youthful exuberance in order to stay young at heart. So I suggest a corollary to RAH’s observation: Politics is the sport people play even when they don’t intend to.

All human organizations, from churches to businesses to science fiction and fantasy conventions, are suffused with politics, some of it practiced openly and some of it practiced surreptitiously. It would be disingenuous to claim that the Hugo Awards were ever without politics and politicking; indeed, during the run-up to this year’s awards many thoughtful commentators acknowledged the awards’ political past, though the degree to which politics overshadowed this year’s award was unprecedented.

Perhaps I’m uncomfortable with Heinlein’s assertion because I obviously have not played the political game well, but I’d like to suggest that another of his observations may be more apt, more relevant as we move forward. From Friday: “It is a bad sign when the people of a country stop identifying themselves with the country and start identifying with a group. A racial group. Or a religion. Or a language. Anything, as long as it isn’t the whole population.”

We continue to see this play out in electoral politics, as small groups band together in solidarity over their specific interests. And we’ve seen it in genre politics as well, whether the rallying cry is “Diversity Now!” or “Golden Age Forever!” or something equally narrow in scope. The implication is that the way we think about the subject is right and all other ways must be wrong, which is a peculiarly limiting viewpoint in a community that enjoys speculating about all manner of fantastic encounters and possible futures.

From my perspective it seems that part of the issue from the beginning of this year’s Hugo Awards melee was a difference in outlook among people who love genre fiction in all its forms, but who placed themselves in one of two groups: one that loves genre and also loves fandom itself, and considers fandom the ultimate expression of its love for the genre; and another that loves genre but for which fandom and the fan community is an adjunct, an addendum, rather than a critical component of their genre experience. That is, one group was devoted to fandom as well as genre; the other was devoted to genre but not (or less) to fandom.

And as long as we divide ourselves, or in the case of fandom subdivide ourselves; as long as we separate ourselves into (virtual or actual) walled-off enclaves and echo chambers, and associate only with those who look like us, act like us, and believe the things we do; we will find it harder to understand, relate to, and get along with one another — in civil life as well as in the SF&F community.

I think we would be well-served as a fannish community if we talked more about what we love and why we love it, without implying that those who do not love it as we do are ignorant or contemptible. And I think we would be better off if we recalled another RAH observation, also from Friday (emphasis in original): “Sick cultures show a complex of symptoms . . . but a dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot.” I believe the pithy advice that bears ST:TNG alumnus Wil Wheaton’s name sums that up rather well.****

I had several e-mail exchanges with the friend who encouraged me to withdraw my nomination, and my friend helped me refine this statement of what I would like to see in our discourse: I’d like to have less shouting and more talking; less gloating, more humility; less blaming, more acknowledgement of different points of view; less name-calling, more self-deprecation; less rage (but no less passion), more acceptance.

It is possible to disagree without being disagreeable; if it were not, I would have far fewer friends in this field. It may not be easy, but it is possible — and if Heinlein is right, it is actually necessary if the community (whether the SF&F community or the larger polis) is to survive.

I hope, for my part, I have succeeded in doing so. But that is for others to judge.

___
*If you prefer something more eloquent, perhaps “doth protest too much” would fit the bill.

**I do not intend to identify the person, because I do not want them to face any recriminations; I realize that makes some of the usage here awkward. If my friend wants to self-identify, that’s up to them.

***For example, I perused the 2015 Hugo Award Statistics and it appeared to me that both Annie Bellet’s “Goodnight Stars” and Kary English’s “Totaled” might well have been nominated even if they had not appeared on an anathema list. If that’s true, I’m not sure whether that would make their Annie’s subsequent withdrawal of the stories her story more ironic or tragic. (Whether other listed works would have fared so well is more difficult to tell.)

As a final note on the statistics, it would be interesting if the Hugo Award record-keepers would report the number of works that received ANY votes in a given year; in other words, to show that, out of the entire universe of eligible short stories or whatever, X received at least one nomination. The total number of nominating ballots is given in the statistics, but knowing how many unique works were on those ballots might give a glimpse into how homogeneous the reading tastes of the nominating cohort were.

****Wheaton’s Law: “Don’t be a dick.”

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Post-Campaign Blues: What I Learned, and What’s Next

Or, how less than 0.86% equaled 3.5%.

The voters spoke two weeks ago today, and declared that I was not their choice to represent District D on the Town Council of Cary, North Carolina. C’est la vie.

I am grateful to everyone who voted for me, and a little pleased that I garnered 3.5% of the vote while investing less than 0.86% of the total money spent on the District D campaign. How much less than 0.86% I’m not sure, since the other candidates haven’t filed their final reports (and two of them are continuing to spend money on a runoff); that figure is based on their reports from 2 weeks before the election, and I know one candidate in particular spent a whole lot more money on mailings and robocalls and such right up to election day.

Prepare for the Worst: Political Ads are Coming!
(“Prepare for the Worst: Political Ads are Coming!” by Jeff Gates, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

I do wonder how many more votes I might have gotten if I had mailed out a postcard or two, or put up a few signs, or advertised a little. I think I might have made it competitive, but it’s hard to do when you spend less than $100. But, to paraphrase the song,

I’d like to run for [office] and play the political game
But I don’t have very much money to wage a big campaign

“I Think I’ll Run for Congress”

So, besides the obvious lesson that you have to be willing to spend a great deal of money — either your own or someone else’s — to get elected, what other lessons did I learn, or have confirmed? I’ll catalogue a few:

  • Cary, NC, is not a small town — just the district I ran in has more registered voters in it than the entire combined populations of three of the towns I’ve lived in: Georgetown, SC (my hometown); Seneca, SC; and Plattsmouth, NE — which, as a small-town guy at heart, was a bit overwhelming
  • There is no such thing as a nonpartisan race — the parties came out in force, even at this lowest level of government
  • Board of Election rules are hard to interpret — so hard, in fact, that the State Board still hasn’t answered my question about one of them
  • Changes in polling places cause problems — I was told that some people got frustrated and drove away from the old polling place without coming to the new one to vote
  • Word of mouth is good and useful, but limited in its effectiveness unless the message is really compelling
  • Being noncontroversial — and especially being quiet and deliberative instead of raucous and divisive — doesn’t attract much in the way of attention
  • People who are content, and think things are pretty much okay, don’t vote in large numbers

So what’s next for me in politics? Not much.

I will continue my Anti-Campaign: Anyone, anywhere, can write me in for any office at any time. I remain the Anti-Candidate, and continue to approve that message. (I have it on good authority, for instance, that at least one person wrote me in for Mayor of the Town of Cary. But since the Board of Elections doesn’t release the tallies for write-in votes, I have no idea how many people might have done so.)

Will I ever run for office again? Maybe.

That is to say, I could be convinced to run if enough people wanted to recruit me. You’d have to be willing to handle the campaign management — the paperwork and reporting, the scheduling and coordination, the fundraising, advertising, and so forth. Why? Because I’m more than willing to serve, and willing to stand in the arena and talk about issues and experiences and qualifications, but I don’t have any desire to work on another campaign. (Not even my own.)

After all, as the song says,

I just want your money, I just want your cash
I just want all your treasure, whatever’s in your stash
It’s strictly voluntary, it’s not highway robbery
I just want your money … and that’s why politics is for me

“The Anti-Candidate Song”

But rather than just hold my hand out for you to drop money in it,* I prefer to offer a little something of value. So I’m happy to sell you some CDs or other merchandise, or stories when I can get them published, or to write a speech for you or help you edit something. I will continue to try to produce content that people want to buy and to provide services that help people tell their own stories in the best possible way.

So … let me know if you have any questions, or if I can do anything for you, and sign up for my newsletter (using the form in the right sidebar) for periodic updates and info!

And, if you happen to have voted for me (or written me in), thank you very much!

___
*Don’t get me wrong, if you want to send me money I’m okay with that. If any of this has been entertaining for you, we’ll call it a fair trade. Send me a note and I’ll be happy to give you my PayPal information.

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Campaign Chronicle: Election Day!

Okay, sports fans, get out and vote!

If you can see your way clear to do so, I’d like you to vote for me* — but from the standpoint of the society we live in, I hope you’ll at least get out and vote for someone. As Robert A. Heinlein wrote in Time Enough for Love,

If you are part of a society that votes, then do so. There may be no candidates and no measures you want to vote for, but there are certain to be ones you want to vote against. In case of doubt, vote against. By this rule you will rarely go wrong. If this is too blind for your taste, consult some well-meaning fool (there is always one around) and ask his advice. Then vote the other way. This enables you to be a good citizen (if such is your wish) without spending the enormous amount of time on it that truly intelligent exercise of franchise requires.

I quote that by way of explaining that I don’t mind if you vote for me because you think I’m a swell guy or you appreciate my record of service or you like my sense of humor … or if you just happen to cast your vote in my general direction because you’re voting against one of the other folks. (This also applies if you live outside Cary’s District D, outside Cary itself, or even outside North Carolina, and you just want to write me in for some other office.)

To go along with my tongue-in-cheek approach to all things political — and especially to my own campaign — you can also vote for me for one simple reason:

vote no1
(“vote no1,” by Sean MacEntee, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

That fits, doesn’t it? After all, on my first album I sing,

Politics, that’s the life for me
It fits my arrogant, megalomaniacal personality
I’ll get my name in the papers and my face on your T.V.
And take good care of myself, my friends and my family — yes, that’s the life for me

“I Think I’ll Run for Congress”

And on my second album I follow that up with,

Politics, politics, the life I want to lead
To make sure I get what I want, and you get what you need
I may be arrogant and megalomaniacal but it’s just because I’m great
Come out and join me any time — fifty bucks a plate

“The Anti-Candidate Song”

You don’t mind a little arrogance and megalomania in your politics, do you? At least I’m honest about it.

Anyway, today is the day! so I should probably be a fraction more serious.

Since it’s time now to stand and be counted, don’t worry any more about spreading the word about my campaign, unless you want to pick up the phone and call your neighbor to encourage them to vote — or pick up your neighbor and bring them to vote! And if you need a reminder about what I really stand for, I wrote a few weeks ago that

  • I believe the fundamental purpose of government is to preserve your (and my) rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness;
  • I believe that our rights, both individual and collective in the form of the government, should not infringe on the rights of others;
  • I believe that government action intended to help anyone should be carefully evaluated on the basis of who it is likely to hurt in the process, and rejected if the benefits do not justify the cost;
  • I believe in being accountable, by which I mean being “able to give an account,” i.e., able to explain one’s reasoning for actions taken … and not taken;
  • I believe that many if not most people who present themselves as politicians take themselves far too seriously; and
  • I believe that serving in office is more important than running for office.

If any of that appeals to you, I hope you’ll consider voting for me.

___
*For today’s election in particular, I’m on the ballot for Town Council in Cary’s District D.

Spending Disclosure: As of this date, my campaign has spent a total of $84.

This blog post was “paid” for, at the cost of $0 and whatever time it took Gray to write and upload it, by The Gray Man: Service, Leadership, Creativity.

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Campaign Chronicle, 1 Week to Election: Vote Early, Vote Often!

I’m only partly kidding with that title, and in a second I’ll explain why.

First, two important notes regarding the 2015 Cary Town Council election:
– TODAY (the 29th) is the last day to request an absentee ballot. Your request needs to be in the Board of Elections office by the close of business.
– TOMORROW (the 30th) is the first day for early voting in Cary. You can vote at the Herb Young Community Center from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, but only from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday.

So, vote early if you want to!

VOTE
(“VOTE,” by Theresa Thompson, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Now, about that “vote often” bit, remember that even though I’m on the ballot for the District D seat on the Cary Town Council, I’m also the Anti-Candidate, available as your convenient write-in vote for any office, anywhere, at any time. So whether you live in Cary or not, whether your election is on October 6th or in November with all the normal elections, if there’s a “write-in” slot on your ballot and you don’t have any strong feelings about the people vying for the office, put me down for the job! Just be sure to spell my name right: G-r-a-y R-i-n-e-h-a-r-t. Don’t confuse the election officials.*

I think it would be hilarious if, in addition to getting votes for District D, I got a few write-in votes for other offices on the ballot. So spread the word:

  • tell your friends;
  • share the link to this post on social media;
  • forward the link to a friend (or even an adversary);
  • print a flyer in either color or black and white and put it up somewhere;
  • hire a skywriter to put “Vote for Gray” up among the clouds;**
  • stand on the streetcorner and encourage people (but don’t harangue them; nobody likes to be harangued) to vote and even to write me in.

Vote for Gray, for everything!

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*The fact that there are two “Gray Rinehart”s in the world may be confusing, but I’m the only Anti-Candidate.
**Fair warning: If you do something silly like that, be prepared to send LOTS of paperwork to the Board of Elections.

Spending Disclosure: As of this date, my campaign has spent a total of $84.

This blog post was “paid” for, at the cost of $0 and whatever time it took Gray to write and upload it, by The Gray Man: Service, Leadership, Creativity.

For additional updates and info, sign up for my newsletter using the form in the right sidebar or visit the election page on my website.

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Campaign Chronicle, 2 Weeks to Election: Taking the Pulse of District D

We’re getting down to the wire in the Cary Town Council election. Early voting starts this Thursday in Raleigh, then next week in Cary, and the local election day itself is the 6th of October.


It’s a fair question.

In advance of the election I’ve been out canvassing nearby neighborhoods, asking two open-ended questions to see what people like and don’t like about Cary. I’ve hit only a tiny fraction of District D — the district has over 20,000 registered voters in it — but here’s what the people I’ve talked with have told me about their top issues.

First I ask people, What is your favorite thing about living in Cary, or the thing about Cary that you think works the best? The top answers have been:

  • Parks & Greenways (24%)
  • Location: 4 Seasons; Proximity to RTP, Raleigh, Conveniences (18%)
  • Security / Public Safety (11%)
  • Established Neighborhoods / Good Family Environment & Schools (7%)
  • Small-Town Feel (7%)
  • Town Services / Attentiveness to Needs (7%)

A few people mentioned other things like the town’s friendliness, its cleanliness, its people, and even its emphasis on recycling. But consider those top results for a moment.

For many people the thing that sets Cary apart is the care the town has taken to ensure a variety of green spaces for recreation and relaxation — and as someone who walks the greenway around Bond Lake several times a week, I feel the same way! But for nearly a fifth of the people I talked to the best thing about Cary is not what the town does but rather where the town is. “Location, location, location,” as they say.

What those top results tell me is that the resources we put into keeping the town livable and safe are likely to pay dividends in the form of a continued high quality of life for Cary residents. That’s been a priority for the Council as well as the town staff, and should remain so.

Then I ask people a contrasting question: What about Cary would you most want to change, or the thing about Cary that you think doesn’t work so well? The top answers have been:

  • “Nothing” / “I Don’t Know” (17%)
  • Need a Better/Revitalized Downtown Environment (15%)
  • Excessive Growth / Density / Urban Sprawl (15%)
  • Crumbling Traffic & Other Infrastructure (10%)
  • Loss of Trees from Excessive Construction (7%)
  • Crowding: Schools, Roadways (7%)

No kidding: When I asked that question, more often than not people seemed to struggle to think of anything substantial that they would like to change or see done differently. One gentleman I spoke with yesterday just smiled and shook his head, as if I shouldn’t have bothered with such a question. I don’t remember his exact words, but they were along the lines of, “We have the lowest taxes and the best services in the county, what else do we need?”

Some people did mention other issues, like the need for clearer rules and exceptions (e.g., about Cary’s infamous sign ordinances), the need for more activities, better broadband access, and more affordable housing, but even some of those responses appeared to be second thoughts rather than immediate concerns. Undoubtedly some citizens in my district are concerned about other issues, but I can only report on what people have told me, and no one — I must emphasize, not a single person — has so far mentioned the kind of things that I expected to hear, like wanting better government accountability, or lower taxes, or public transportation, or even better parking downtown.

In other words, for the people I’ve been talking to, Cary is a nice place and there’s precious little about it that needs to be changed. That’s part of the reason why I wrote to someone recently that I’m not running to “make a difference,” and I’m not on any “damn fool idealistic crusade” (to quote a famous movie character). I’m running because I’m interested in making sure Cary stays the safe, prosperous community it is, and that it doesn’t ruin itself by growing too fast and discarding its small-town feel and charm.

If that appeals to you, and if you’d like someone on the council with an analytical but creative way of thinking, then I’d be happy to have your vote on October 6th … or early, if you prefer!

___
Want to help my campaign? Tell someone about it today! Share this post on social media or forward the link to anyone who lives in North Carolina (especially the Research Triangle area or the Town of Cary). Call your favorite radio station and ask them to play “The Anti-Candidate Song” a few times. Download a Print-It-Yourself Flyer in either color or black and white and put it up in your office or at your favorite hangout. And for occasional updates and info, sign up for my newsletter using the form in the right sidebar or visit the election page on my website. Thanks!

Spending Disclosure: As of this date, my campaign has spent a total of $84. (And that includes the T-shirt I’m wearing in the picture.)

This blog post was “paid” for, at the cost of $0 and whatever time it took Gray to write and upload it, by The Gray Man: Service, Leadership, Creativity.

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Campaign Chronicle, 3 Weeks to Election: My Distant Cousin Founded This Town

As I began my run — okay, my ambling walk — for the empty Town Council seat, I was surprised to find that I am related to the man who founded Cary, North Carolina.

Back in 2011 I wrote about my family connection to the Pages of Williamsburg, Virginia, and at the time I didn’t give any thought to the possibility that those Pages might be related to the Page family here. But they are.

First, it’s important to point out what my friends have known for a long time: the Gray Man was adopted when he was young, which muddies the water a bit when it comes to tracing lineages and such. For those who don’t know the story: I was born Thomas Graham Lipscomb, and my father was Thomas Page Lipscomb. He died when I was three, and my mom later married Herbert Wade Rinehart. Shortly after moving to Georgetown, South Carolina — where I learned about the Gray Man and latched onto the legendary ghost as my alter ego — my stepfather adopted me and I became Graham Wade Rinehart. Or, as most of my friends know me, Gray Rinehart.

I first wondered about the connection when I was on Chatham Street in downtown Cary and noticed a historical marker about William Hines Page (with whose statue I’m pictured below). Oddly enough, before I thought about whether I might be related to him I thought about a friend of mine named “Hines” from grade school. But once the possible Page family connection came to mind, it was easy enough to check out.


(On the Cary Town Hall campus, I’m standing next to a statue of a distant cousin who was Ambassador to Great Britain and the son of the town’s founder. See any resemblance?)

William Hines Page, who was at one time Ambassador to Great Britain — itself something of a nod to the family history, since Colonel John Page originally came from Britain to settle at Williamsburg — was the son of Allison Francis (Frank) Page, who founded Cary and served as its first Mayor and postmaster. He built the Page-Walker Hotel, which stands behind the Town Hall building and is now an art gallery and focal point for local events. Frank Page’s father was Anderson Page, whose father was Lewis Page, whose father was Robert Edward Page, whose father was Mann Page II, whose father was the Honorable Mann Page.

The Honorable Mann Page, it turns out, is our nearest common ancestor.

The Honorable Mann Page had another son, about whom I wrote in that linked blog post: the Honorable John Page, who was friends with Thomas Jefferson at the College of William & Mary. The Honorable John Page’s son was Major Carter Page, whose son was Dr. Mann Page, whose son was Carter Henry Page, whose son was Carter Henry Page, Jr., whose daughter was Katherine Carlisle Page. She was my “Grandma Kate.” Her son was Thomas Page Lipscomb, my natural father.

Thus, as near as I can figure from looking at canon law relationships, Frank Page — Cary’s founder — was my fourth cousin, three times removed.

I doubt that makes anyone more or less likely to vote for me for Cary Town Council. But it’s an interesting coincidence!

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Election Day for the Cary Town Council race is October 6th, but early voting begins on September 24th!

Have you told anyone about my campaign? It’s easy! Just share this post on social media or forward the link to anyone who lives in North Carolina (especially the Research Triangle area or the Town of Cary). Better yet, download a Print-It-Yourself Flyer in either color or black and white and put it up in your office or at your favorite hangout. For additional updates and info, sign up for my newsletter using the form in the right sidebar or visit the election page on my website. Thanks!

Spending Disclosure: As of this date, my campaign has spent a total of $84.

This blog post was “paid” for, at the cost of $0 and whatever time it took Gray to write and upload it, by The Gray Man: Service, Leadership, Creativity.

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