Friday, September 2, 2011

The joys of motherhood

There's a post over at Jezebel - and I'm given to understand that these kinds of discussions happen often on fem blogs and such - where Tracy Moore is too cool to come right out and bitch about the generally anti-baby vibe in the public sphere. Apparently people make mothers feel like pariahs for daring to take their babies outside of the house. You know, the house with the kitchen and the bare feet.

The discussion in the comments has more or less divided itself into two camps. One says that Moore and her procreating ilk are spoiled, selfish, and just butthurt because for the first time in their lives, people aren't making a big deal out of approving of their Really Big Life Event. The other camp says that the first camp just isn't aware of, or is perhaps (unwittingly or not) a part of, a massive, shadowy contingent of anti-feminist, anti-baby haters. The merest suggestion that a silent, well-behaved baby might be within 100 yards of one of these haters is enough to send them into conniptions of rage.

I think everyone is missing the point.

Babies scream and cry and bang silverware and (above a certain age) run up to people and get in their business. I understand that this is the nature of babies, and I would venture that most people do. I am also aware that everyone used to be babies, and that mothers love their babies, and that having or not having a baby is every woman's right and that it's none of my business*. Even more than that, I totally concede that sometimes (often) a mother has no option but to take her baby to places that are not exactly intended for baby patronage. This is common sense.

However. Let's be honest. Nobody likes screaming. If I, Alexander Kraft, was at the bar, or a fancy restaurant, or the supermarket, or Disneyland, or fucking Baby Depot or whatever, and I was screaming for all I was worth, you would be displeased. Your displeasure would likely extend to whoever brought me there, especially if you found out that they knew that I would act like this. Last week, I was in a bar. Also in the bar was a guy with a flat-billed baseball cap. He was screaming at the top of his lungs, knocking drinks over, pounding on the bar, and uninvitedly interacting with and getting in the personal space of other bar patrons. Guess what? Everyone hated him. Everyone hated him, and they hated his better-behaved friend for bringing him there and not doing anything to stop it. They hated him because he was being an asshole. Now, with apologies to Patton Oswalt, imagine that asshole with a bag of his own shit strapped around his waist. Should I feel like a terrible person for wishing for that be-shitbagged asshole to be removed from my immediate vicinity? I venture not.

So mothers, when people on the internet try to advise you against bringing babies somewhere, or when people in real life adopt pained expressions or roll their eyes when your baby starts acting like an asshole, realize that they are neither conceptualizing you as some narcissistic snowflake demanding our praise and sulking when you don't get it, nor are they haters who revile any evidence or suggestion of reproduction or of femininity being released from its prescribed enclosures.† And if they look with wariness or skepticism on a baby who isn't being an asshole at the moment, please recognize that this is precisely because they understand your predicament: they have an inkling of how tough it is to be responsible for a baby - because babies are assholes, and liable to suddenly start screaming and throwing things at any moment.

That guy I was talking about earlier with the lifted truck and the clothing company logo tattoo eventually got ejected from the bar, along with the guy who brought him. This is as it should be; that guy was old enough to be held responsible for his actions. As a society, we recognize that babies are not old enough to take others into consideration when they start screeching and vomiting. Thus, the vast majority of people tolerate the presence of babies in public places. But don't demand that they do so with a smile and a thumbs-up, and don't pretend that having someone in my immediate vicinity acting like a baby somehow doesn't affect me or the enjoyability of my outing, or that people who have chosen not to have babies are somehow obligated to go through the same tribulations with the same patience as those who have.

*Due disclosure: I actually think that an American's choice to reproduce on a planet with a population of 7 billion people and a carrying capacity of 2 billion people (who live like Americans) is selfish and irresponsible. But I don't act on that opinion, and it isn't really very strong to begin with.

To be fair, people like this do exist. But in a society where between 81% and 87% of people reproduce, I'd imagine that people who are enraged by the very existence of babies are few and far between.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Some incredibly specific shit

So I'm tangentially related to the historical re-enactment and interpretation [scene? industry?] in San Diego. Old Town San Diego State Historic Park is publishing this pamphlet about chicks shooting black powder guns in goofy outfits. Since the intended audience for this pamphlet is so astoundingly tiny, I don't really expect that the review of this pamphlet that I for some reason wrote has much of a chance of being published anywhere. Thus, I will post it myself. Enjoy!

The thesis of “Women Re-Enactors and the Civil War” is that the demand that biologically female civil war re-enactors in uniform be both documented and undetectable is unreasonable. She presents two warrants for this claim: first, that to be documented, a given female soldier must have been detected, and thus detectable. Second, the idea of a woman in men’s clothing was so incredible to contemporary men (and women) that modern standards of undetectability are unreasonable; civil-war era soldiers couldn’t picture a woman in pants, so they wouldn’t have known one if they saw it. The pamphlet thus advocates that female re-enactors need not be scrupulously undetectable, particularly if they are portraying documented ‘out’ females.
That’s cool, I guess. Within the scope of the re-enactment community, I think that the author’s advocacy is both progressive and, perhaps more importantly, feasible. But holy cow, how can you write this pamphlet without addressing how totally and fundamentally misogynist demands of documentation and undetectability are? It is truly unfortunate that this excellently argued and immaculately sourced pamphlet needed to be written in the first place. Demands of documentation and undetectability are individually problematic, but their intersection is downright offensive. Even if nobody can tell you have a vagina, I know it and so you have to document a bona-fide vagina holder in your unit or you can’t play with us. Why not hang a “No Gurlz AlouD” sign over the door to your clubhouse?
“Women Re-Enactors” does a stellar job of deflating “historical accuracy” as a defense of ‘no girls’ policies, but even if it didn’t, who cares? Even if we had a perfect knowledge that there were never any biological females in the ranks during the civil war, or that the few who did serve were perfectly undetectable to modern eyes, down to the gait and the moustache, it still wouldn’t make it any less fun to dress up in an old-fashioned outfit and shoot guns (which, let’s face it, is the point of the activity) just because there’s a girl around, unless you’re a massive misogynist. But of course, the black-powder patriarchy is going to claim that the problem isn’t the testosterone-neutralization powers of vaginas on the field that concerns them, it’s the negative impact on the educational value of re-enactment that would arise if the public could tell one of the re-enactors had fallen on a hatchet. Shut up.
First, let’s pretend that members of “the public” who weren’t already civil war buffs actually watched re-enactmentsin the first place. This isn’t too far-fetched, as re-enactors often participate in events in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park and other interpretive venues. In these situations, interpreters seek to help the public to “understand and make connections to” history. The presence or absence of machine stitching in clothes does not inherently prevent or facilitate understanding or the making of connections to history. Nor does eating period food at all times, wearing sunglasses, or having the wrong chromosomes. These issues can in fact be safely ignored while focusing on the take-home message an interpreter hopes to impart on the public. In the case that a patron is a tailor, chef, optometrist, or woman, these points can be useful in building connections to history even if they are wrong: by pointing out small inaccuracies in re-enactment, one can help a patron understand history by underscoring how their experiences differ. One should of course strive for accuracy, but simultaneously understand that the goal in doing so is to provide an overall sense of immersion for the patron, not because they will somehow go away stupider if Phil hasn’t been eating hardtack all weekend.
I would say that I would entertain “historical accuracy” as a basis for excluding women from uniformed re-enactment when women in dresses start wearing tight, stiff corsets, when sunglasses are altogether banned, when the ratio of interesting but unusual things and people to boring but common things and people approaches its historical value, and when basically every aspect of civil-war era life that doesn’t involve the oppression or exclusion of half of the population is faithfully reproduced, but “Women Re-Enactors and the Civil War” proves that even then, it wouldn’t be acceptable. On the other hand, we are talking about a group of people that fully half of dresses up and acts like people who were willing to lay down their lives to protect an entire economy based on rape, murder, and subjugation. Maybe my cries, and those of “Women Re-Enactors”, are falling on deaf ears.

Friday, July 1, 2011

A piece published with moneys involved!

Since I've been skulking around with ne'er-do-well Jimmy "the worm" Callaway, I've been immersed in - or maybe just sort of moistened by - the online crime fiction scene. The online crime fiction scene comprises a number of promising authors and fiction blogs, which the magic of hypertext binds together into virtual proximity, though widely distributed geographically.

This scene is great because there are a lot of really excellent writers producing a lot of really excellent writing. Because of the tight-knit nature of the community, these great writers are very friendly and eager to share their knowledge and assist the newbie (me).

The downside, however, is that the online crime scene suffers acutely from a widespread disease of the new electronic media. Online publishing is rapidly pushing print into irrelevance. However, it is difficult for electronic publishing to serve the legitimizing function of print; i.e., since anyone can put up a blog, why should we take your "publication" on a blog seriously? How many blogs do you have to be published on before you can call yourself a "published" author?

There was a form of this disease circulating before the advent of electronic publishing - the vanity press - but the nature of paper printing kept it from becoming terribly virulent. There were (that is to say are, but who really cares at this point) a number of schemes, but they all more-or-less boiled down to an author paying a publisher to print her work, so that she could point at a book and say "I'm published!" In a similar vein were pulp publishers, who, though they published some great fiction, notoriously had lower standards and who it sometimes seemed would print anything submitted to them.

This malady has become much worse on the internet because the nature (and one of the great strengths) of the medium is that there virtually no barriers to publication. In print, one needed a printing press, paper, ink, and a substantial outlay of money to bring a work to print. As the story goes, a publisher needed to feel confident that those expenses would be at least recouped, and thus only "good" works by "good" authors would make it to print: being published thus legitimized a writer, since "marketable" is clearly synonymous with "good" and the crucible of capitalism had burned away all of the unmarketable competition. But marketability is more-or-less irrelevant on the internet. Any jerk with a laptop (read: me) can set up a blog and anyone who stumbles across it can read his work. This is a great advantage in that experimental and avant-garde writing that is undeniably good, but that may not be marketable can reach its audience, as can niche markets be developed that otherwise may not be large enough to bother with. But, as the common wisdom goes, these benefits come at the expense of legitimization: without capitalism metering what I can read, how do I know if I'm reading a good author?

There isn't a good answer to that question because it isn't really a question at all. Although I've phrased it in such a way that the answer seems comically clear, it would be naive to expect people to read everything they have the opportunity to read and then decide post-facto whether or not it was "good", if not for the obvious logistical reasons then for the fact that most people are tasteless and stupid (except for you, of course). The answer is actually a bit more complex.

As I mentioned above, the disease of legitimacy is emphatically not new and not unique to electronic media. We aren't printing books one sheet at a time with movable type anymore. The massive explosion of the vanity press, pulp publishers, print-on-demand and hell, even xerox machines all belie the principle that ink-on-paper equals success. Yet we navigate this publishing landscape effortlessly. The compass that we use, or the tonic for the disease, depending on the metaphor to which you are paying the most attention, is reputation. Without even knowing the names of the "legitimate" printing houses, we can spot, at a glance, the difference between a summer bestseller, a serious scholarly work, and a pulpy fantasy novel published by a company that doesn't seem to employ a proofreader (I'm looking at you, TOR). When our mom tells us that she won a poetry contest and will be published in a handsome faux-leatherbound anthology of all the contest winners and she can buy a copy for a special price because she's in it, we know to roll our eyes when she calls herself a "published writer".

It seems clear that over time, the same "reputation principle" will come to be applied to electronic media. We will all learn to differentiate at a glance between Black Heart Magazine and Joe's Crime Blog, and those suckers that don't will continue to be suckered as they always have been.

But this analysis leaves out an important point: money. The old capitalists haven't figured out yet that the internet makes information free. They look to their old models and continue to insist that if people don't have to pay for something, it isn't worth anything. Okay, fine. Until people figure out how to differentiate good writing from bad on the internet, I'll just have to assure you that since the magazine in which my latest story appears is available for sale as an e-book, it must be good. After all, if you have to spend $2.99 to read it, it must be worth at least that much.

TL;DR: My story got published in a magazine, go buy it.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Small business redux

Before I completely erase the original purpose of this blog, I'd like to revisit the subject of the "real small business". One of the reasons I never made as much of this project as I could have - besides the fact that I'm a chronic procrastinator - is that this kind of small business is going the way of the Eohippus. I almost wrote "slowly but surely going the way of the Eohippus", lured by the siren song of the cliché (you know, clichés like "siren song"), but the progress is by no means slow. Real small businesses are dropping like flies.

When I conceived of the idea, I already had a mental list of businesses I would feature; of those businesses, about half have closed. The first place I featured would have been Wahrenbrock's Book House, downtown on Broadway. Next very likely would have been Hillcrest Stationers. APD Business Machines, who shared the title of "only places in town to get typewriter ribbons" with Hillcrest stationers was another. These places all have something in common with each other and most of the used book stores in town. Can you guess what it is? Off The Record still exists, kind of. When I go in there now, I'm mostly just depressed by the memory of what Off The Record once was. Likewise, San Diego Hardware isn't really San Diego Hardware anymore, and it's not just because they aren't in the San Diego Hardware building anymore. (But at least we got another American Apparel!)

There are still shops of the sort I had in mind around in San Diego, to be sure. Racine and Laramie Tobacconist*, North Park Hardware, Marie's Café, The Black, Perry's Café, Liberty Tobacco, and undoubtedly many more whose names escape me or that I haven't discovered yet all deserve your business. More than that, they need it. At the risk of sounding sappy or whiney, if you've ever bitched about how things aren't made well anymore, or how the help at retail establishments is incompetent, or how huge, corrupt corporations fuck you or anyone else over, you need to vote with your wallet (thanks cliché sirens) and spend the buck extra to buy a better product from a better shop.

*Due disclosure: I worked at Racine & Laramie for many years.
Alright, fuck the original purpose of this blog. Now it's about me and my writing. Cool shit.