13 Reasons Why: How to Make a Movie (and maybe Write a Novel *) without acknowledging the Elephant in the Room 

So I’ve just finished watching 13 Reasons Why (Netflix) and am struck by the completely unacknowledged elephant in the room.  Not one character acknowledges that almost all of the problems leading to Hannah’s suicide stem from sexism and its many tumours – misogyny, male entitlement, male privilege, hypersexualization, objectification, the rape culture, etc., etc., etc.

Consider:

Justin – Being a man is all about getting sex, using women for sex, and bragging about it afterwards to get points, to improve your status (among males).  Exaggerating and lying about your ‘achievements’ is, well, standard operating procedure if you’re a guy.  ‘Bros before hos’ — even if it means letting your girlfriend be raped (because hey, what’s mine is yours) (and women are just property, after all) (otherwise, it wouldn’t even have occurred to him that what he ‘owed’ Bryce could include Jessica).  That said, (weak) applause for his eventual decency, especially given his relative-to-Bryce lack of privilege and the pull of moral obligation for reciprocity (albeit disgustingly overgeneralized, as mentioned).

Jessica – Men are more important than women.  One, getting a boyfriend is the most important thing you can do, being someone’s girlfriend is the most important thing you can be; your status, your value, depends on your relation to a male — which is why as soon as she and Alex hook up, Hannah is dropped like a second-class piece of shit.  Two, what men say is to be believed, they are authorities, about everything; when they open their mouths, truth tumbles out like little golden nuggets — which is why she believes what she’s told by Alex et al about Hannah.   Three, she’s a cheerleader.  Her actual ‘job’ is to cheer and applaud men when they do stuff.  (In fact, many of the girls in 13 Reasons Why are cheerleaders, and many of the boys are jocks.  A whole 90% of the student body is missing.  Why?  Give you one guess.)  (Actually, on second thought, strictly speaking, that’s not true.  Of the eight boys listed here, only three are jocks.  So why did I get that wrong impression?  Because they appear as a group, wearing uniforms.  They appear as a team, a gang, a team, an army.  That’s why they seem more … powerful.)

Alex – Women are to be evaluated solely on the basis of their body parts, on whether their body parts please you/men.   Again, (weak) applause for his regret and guilt, and his speaking up, but, yeah, men like Alex who confront men like Bryce will get beaten up.  Thus, his limited confrontation and his suicide attempt can also be traced to the fucked-up patriarchal culture.

Tyler – Women’s bodies are public domain; ergo, photographs of women’s bodies are public domain.  It’s not like there’s a person inside or anything.

Courtney  – Being lesbian in public means you risk ‘corrective rape’; can we blame her for hiding?

Marcus – When a girl agrees to meet you for a milkshake, she’s really agreeing to have sex with you.  At the very least, she’s agreeing to have her genitals fondled by you.  In public.  In broad daylight.  And certainly in the presence of the bros you brought along to witness your conquest.  If she objects, well, your outrage is justified.  Because you’re entitled to touch her.  In fact, you’re entitled to touch any woman.  Any time, any place.  Simply because you’re a man.

Zach – She doesn’t particularly like you?  She rejected your advances of friendship?  Well, yeah, FUCK HER!  Because men are entitled to the affection of all women.

Ryan – Sure it’s okay to publish someone’s work without their permission, without crediting them, perhaps especially if they’re a woman and you’re a man.  Because you, men, know best.   What’s best for her, women.  (Oh, and thanks for carrying on the great tradition of ‘Anon’…)

Sheri – Perhaps the only episode that doesn’t implicate the elephant.

Bryce – Women don’t know what they want, but you, you, a MAN (well, a boy), you know what they want.  (And they all want you.  They all want your penis inside them.)  (At least, you “assume so.”)  (And that’s good enough.)  Thanks to the patriarchy, you can be appallingly deluded about your knowledge and your appeal.  You can lie to yourself about it.  Again and again.

Mr. Porter – Yes, he goes to regretted sex first, then to alcohol and drugs, but when he gets to rape, Hannah says she didn’t tell Bryce to stop, she says she didn’t tell him ‘No’ – so what’s he supposed to think?  He suggests she may have consented then changed her mind (which she’s certainly entitled to do) (and which still leaves the door open to rape), then asks whether they should get her parents or the police involved, but she says ‘No’ – again, what’s he supposed to think or do?  And of course, he can’t promise that Bryce will go to jail.  Guess why.  He tells her it may be ‘best to move on’ (but only after he clarifies that Hannah won’t give a name, she won’t press charges, she’s not even sure she can press charges), showing that he too is caught in the mire of our fucked-up patriarchy.

Clay – Clay buys into the Prince Charming shit: he blames himself for not saving Hannah.  (He doesn’t blame himself for not saving Alex – though perhaps he doesn’t know yet…)  Near the end, he says something like ‘We need to start treating each other better, we need to start caring about each other.’ Well, as Bryce would surely tell him, caring about others is for sissies – females.  And in a patriarchy, male values trump female values (and yes, in a patriarchy there’s a difference).

Hannah – She exhibits a lot of passivity, a persistent denial of agency.  She wants Clay to kiss her; why doesn’t she want to kiss him? (She wants to be kissed; she doesn’t want to kiss.)  She wants Clay to ask her to dance; why doesn’t she just ask him to dance?  She wants him to be her Valentine; why doesn’t she just tell him that?  She tells Clay to go away, but then expects him to stay.  Not only is he not a mind reader, but it’s that kind of shit that got us to ‘no means yes’.  (Tony had it right: she asked him to go, he should go, end of story.)  Standing outside Mr. Porter’s office, she waits to be saved, for him to come running after her.

And of course as soon as Bryce, whom she’d seen rape Jessica, gets into the hot tub, she doesn’t get out.  She probably didn’t want to appear rude.  You know, hurt his feelings.  Once he begins, she doesn’t scream STOP; she doesn’t scream NO.  She just … accepts it, endures it.  (And ‘it’ looks like it might have been sodomy, not ‘just’ PIV rape.)  That’s what women, girls, are supposed to do.  That’s what we’re raised to do.

If the girls wore alarm necklaces (instead of short little genitals-easily-accessible skirts) she could’ve pulled its pin (like a grenade) when she saw Bryce start to rape Jessica …  And again when she was in the hot tub …  And, backing up a bit, why do we keep our teenaged girls so clueless, so desperate for … what? that they get into a hot tub at a party at a rapist’s house in just their bra and panties (let alone go to a party at his place in the first place)?   Not to mention, of course, why do we keep our teenaged boys so clueless the moral wrongness of patriarchy, sexism, misogyny, male entitlement, male privilege …

So the thirteen reasons why pretty much boil down to one.

And it’s not even acknowledged.

Feminists have exposed and fought against patriarchy, sexism, misogyny, male entitlement, male privilege, hypersexualization, objectification, rape culture – hell, we named most of that shit – for decades.  Not acknowledged.  Not once.  Not even a little bit.  It’s like Jay Asher was born yesterday and has remained oblivious of such women’s voices.  Ironic.  To say the least.

(I cheered when ‘the male gaze’ was actually mentioned by the girls – but then they got it wrong, they made it sound like it just describes the attracted look on a guy’s face.  Oh for the love of God!)

There are no doubt hundreds of 13 Reasons Why novels written by women.  Have any of them been published?  Made into a movie?  Received great critical claim?  No.  But a man writes about what it’s like to be raped, what it’s like to be subjected to misogynistic shit every fucking day, well, world, PAY ATTENTION!  Asher is himself a shining example of the male privilege his novel criticizes so unwittingly.  Again, the irony.

Furthermore, how many more Sylvia Plaths do we need to see?  Why must we keep seeing women kill themselves because of this shit?  Why can’t we see as many, if not more, saying FUCK THIS SHIT!?  Yes, okay, Jessica was drunk, and Hannah isn’t a cheerleader, but why couldn’t Asher have reversed that?  Because, hey, if a girl can do four back handsprings (without mats even), she surely has the strength (shoulders, abs, legs) and the courage (without mats, remember?) to fight back at least a little.  Why didn’t we see a sober cheerleader, or two or three, bustin’ Bryce’s ass when he tried his shit.  Why don’t we see more movies like Jodi Foster’s The Brave One?   Give you one guess.

Never mind the elephant.  13 Reasons Why is a trojan horse.

 

* I’ve just watched the movie, so don’t know how much of this applies to the novel.

 

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Gwynne Dyer (along with half the species) misses an obvious point

I highly recommend Gwynne Dyer’s Climate Wars, but I must say he misses an obvious point, especially evident when he says “There are almost seven billion of us, and it is almost impossible to imagine a way that we can stop the growth before there are eight and a half billion” (p.268) — because it’s very possible to imagine a way: men just have to stop ejaculating into women’s vaginas.

Just think: the devastating climate changes that have already begun to happen (i.e., the beginning of the now-inevitable end of life as we know it) could’ve been avoided if we’d kept our greenhouse gases to under 350 ppm — which would have been so easy if we’d kept our population to a certain level.

So it begs the question: why is not ejaculating into women’s vaginas so unimaginable for men?

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Noise Trespass

We need a noise trespass law.  At the very least, the concept of noise trespass should be as familiar among the general population as physical trespass.

Why is going onto someone’s private property without permission (physical trespass) considered a wrong?  Because doing so is intrusive (presuming a right to privacy) and potentially damaging.  The same goes for sending noise onto someone’s private property.

Noise is intrusive because it—the sound of machinery, loud music, screaming kids, even conversations (having to listen to someone have an extended cellphone conversation, for example)—detracts and distracts from whatever one is trying to do, whether that’s watching tv, listening to (one’s own preferred) music, writing an essay, filling out income tax returns, sleeping…it doesn’t really matter.  Surely we have a right to privacy concerning our attention; noise hijacks our attention—it coerces us to pay attention to something we don’t want to pay attention to.

Noise is potentially damaging in a number of ways.  Depending on a number of factors (of which dB is only one), noise “damages hearing [at least 20% of teenagers now suffer from slight hearing loss], disturbs communication, disrupts sleep, affects heart function, intrudes on cognition…, reduces productivity, provokes unwanted behaviors, and increases accidents” (Mitra).  It can also cause or contribute to “anxiety, stress, nervousness, nausea, headache, emotional instability, argumentativeness, sexual impotence, change in mood, increase in social conflicts, neurosis, hysteria, and psychosis” (Noise Free America).

Noise produced by industry, airports, and so on is already being monitored and regulated.  I’m talking here about the noise caused by individuals in residential neighborhoods.  Various sound charts put city traffic at around 80dB, the subway at 88dB, a garbage truck at 100dB; lawnmowers and leafblowers can also be as high as 100dB, and chainsaws, dirt bikes, ATVs, boat motors, and PWCs are louder still, at around 110dB.

But, one might object, although we own our own property, and so have a right to object when someone trespasses on it, we don’t own the air over our property, and sound travels through the air.  There are several replies to this: we shouldn’t own the land either (and yet physical trespass might still be wrong, merely because of occupancy); we should also own the air over our land (in which case, noise trespass is as wrong as physical trespass); we collectively own the air (and that’s sufficient to consider noise a trespass); ownership is irrelevant altogether (occupancy is sufficient).  People get upset when a neighbour’s dandelion seeds travel through air and land on their property; is there not similar justification for getting upset when a neighbour’s sound waves travel through air and ‘land’—ah, but they don’t land on one’s property.  No, but they ‘land’ on one’s eardrums: sound is not perceived until the sound waves ‘hit’ one’s eardrums.  Surely that’s even more intrusive: the sound waves actually touch our body, not just our property.

In any case, smoke from burning tires travels through air, and if it travels from your neighbour’s property through the air onto your property, or, more accurately, into the air over your property, perhaps even through your open windows into your house, you would, I think, cry foul.

In addition to the intrusion and the damage, most of the annoying noise caused by individuals is avoidable.  Manual lawnmowers, rakes, and clippers have enabled people to take care of their lawns for almost a century.  I suspect that dirt bikes, ATVs, and PWCs can be redesigned to be quiet; for starters, could they not use electric motors rather than two-stroke gas-powered motors?  They certainly don’t have to be modified to increase their noise (as they often are), and they can be driven in a fashion that minimizes their noise (as they often are not).  And, of course, people could use instead bicycles, kayaks, canoes, and so on.  And earbuds or headphones.  And landline phones inside buildings.

All of which begs the question: why don’t we consider noise trespass to be trespass?  Are we so unable to consider the invisible and the intangible?  It we can’t see it or touch it, it doesn’t exist?  Despite its obvious effects?

Or is it that men like noise?  (After all, for the most part, they’re the ones making it.)  And it is the male view, male interests, male values that dictate law and custom, make no mistake about that.  This is the view presented at Manly Power Tools.  It’s also the view endorsed by a certain electronic composer who, when asked why he writes such loud, dense music, replied “Besides the obvious?  The desire to fill all this space with sound?”  Perhaps men are still being led around by their primitive brain, and all their noise is just a sublimated roar, mistakenly believed to be necessary for survival.  (Which begs the question: when will they evolve into homo sapiens?)

 

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Blind to Natural Beauty

Living in a world in which most people are blind to natural beauty is so painful.  What little beauty there is left so often gets destroyed, irrevocably, without a thought.  After polite requests and rational explanations, I simply beg, Please don’t, but they just smile at me, with incomprehension, perhaps amused by my apparently baseless hysteria—and carry on, tearing me apart as they cut down all the trees in one of the few remaining untouched coves and park a dirty aluminum boat right in the middle of the now decimated, and ugly, shoreline, as they put up gaudy halogen lights lakeside ensuring I will never again be able to gaze at the glimmering moonlight on the dark water, as they park a bright yellow floating raft ruining yet another view of nothing but trees and water.

I want to write a victim impact statement, I want to make them see what they’ve done, I want them to appreciate the full extent of their obliviousness, their negligence, at the very least their lack of respect for something they cannot see that is, so clearly, of such great value to another.  I don’t ‘get’ men’s love of cars, but I get that they do love them, deeply, and on that basis alone wouldn’t spray paint someone’s truck with pink polka dots.  I don’t get women’s love of shoes, but I get that they do love them, and, so again, would not drag them through the dirt.  But I swear I am sorely tempted.

(Even though that wouldn’t make my point because they could simply repair the truck and replace the shoes.  Options not available to me.)

 

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Life as We Know It

So I noticed this morning the birds are gone.  They used to wake me up every morning around five o’clock and since I’d just gone to bed at two or three, I’d roll over, put in my earplugs, and go back to sleep.  And I just realized that I haven’t had to do this for…must be a week now.

And it occurred to me.  This is how it will happen.  This is how it is happening.  I’ve been hoping for, waiting for, some catastrophic event, some wake-the-fuck-up change that will make the world sit up and take notice and finally, finally, do something to fix, to save, the planet.

But that’s not going to happen.

When’s the last time you saw a frog?  A bee?  Fish swimming in the water?

In March, it’s 80 degrees in Canada and 30 degrees in Greece, food prices have increased 25% because of droughts, and still people drive their cars into town several times a week, still people go on vacation by plane, and what’s on tv?  Nonstop coverage of the Olympics.  Of people trying to run a little bit faster than someone else or throw a ball a little bit further than someone else.

So I’m pissed off again at everyone.

And I’m pissed off at the scientists.  The point of no return has been moved from 2040 to 2017.  It’ll take just 2 degrees.  We’re at 1.6 degrees.  And what have they done?  Quietly, politely, filed their reports.  Just continued to publish their papers in journals that only a dozen other people read.  They should be taking political leaders hostage!  They should be—I don’t know, isn’t there any way they can force someone to do something?  Students organize protests against higher tuition, larger groups made the Occupy Wall Street movement happen—where are the scientists storming Ottawa and Washington saying “LOOK, YOU MOTHER FUCKERS, YOU HAVE TO DO SOMETHING NOW!!”?

And why isn’t the rest of the world boycotting us?  Telling us they won’t buy any of our shit until we get our act together about the environment?

So, this is how it’ll happen.  First the frogs, then the bees, then the fish, then the birds…  Life as we know it will end while everyone in the States and Canada is watching tv.  Probably some new reality show.

 

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Opinions, Judges, and Juries

Why is it that a prerequisite for being a jury member is that you have no opinion about the case—in particular or in general.  Those “who may have strong prejudices about the … issues involved in the case, typically will be excused” (uscourts.gov/FederalCourts/JuryService).  Only airheads need apply.

I don’t believe there are such prerequisites for judges.  So either the system is just inconsistent (ho-hum) or judges are trained to set aside their prejudices in order to render a fair judgement.  (Some judgements certainly constitute evidence to the contrary, i.e., that judges are not so trained.)

Yes, the word ‘prejudice’ is usually intended to mean something negative, but really, isn’t a prejudice just an opinion, perhaps a very strong opinion?  In ordinary contexts, the ‘pre’ in ‘prejudice’ suggests you’ve established your opinion before considering the individual facts—you’ve prejudged a person, for example, on the basis of their skin color or sex, without knowing anything about the individual person.

But in this context, if I have formed an opinion about, say, the issue of abortion, before considering the individual facts of the case (let’s assume it’s an ‘unlawful termination’ case or some such), why should that exclude me?  Isn’t it a good thing that I have thought long and carefully about various issues?  Apparently not.  When it comes to juries, only airheads need apply.  (Pity, ‘opinionated’ has become such a dirty word.)

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Private Property and Visual Intrusion

There should be regulations about what people can put on their private property that will be in view of their neighbours.  Even more than in public spaces, visual material on private property is not easily avoided.  If you put a swastika or a pornographic image on your garage door, and that door is right across from your neighbours’ living room window, they will have to see it every time they look out their window.  Asking them not to look out their window is unreasonable.   If they were there first, they have a right to ask you not to put the image on your garage door.  If you were there first and had the image on your garage door when they were looking for a place, they could have chosen to not move in (and so don’t have the right to ask you to remove it) (maybe).

But it’s not even, or not only, so-called ‘offensive’ images that I’d prohibit.  It’s anything the neighbour doesn’t want to see every day, anything that’s an unwanted intrusion on their consciousness.  It could be a ‘Jesus Loves You’ sign (unwanted by the atheist), the Canadian flag (upsetting to someone who is well aware of Canada’s environmental record), or even an inoffensive and non-upsetting image of an infant playing with building blocks.  Who knows?  It doesn’t matter.  The people who are forced to see your house every day are the ones who get a say in how it looks.  From the outside.  To them.  What you put in your back yard doesn’t affect them, so they don’t have a say.  What you put inside your garage, or inside your house, doesn’t affect them, so they don’t have a say.  But what you put in plain view?  They should have a say.  A reasonable say.

Obviously the effects of such a prohibition increase the more visible you are.  If you own a penthouse apartment that can be seen by thousands, guess what.  If you own a house on a lake that can be seen by everyone on the lake, guess what.

To provide just one example, I live in a cabin on a lake in a forest and several people consider it appropriate to ‘decorate’ their property, lakeside, with solar lights that can never be turned off.  Some are arranged in a runway fashion to mark a path from their house to their lake; some are arranged in a row along their frontage.  Needless to say, the lights really ruin the beauty of the lovely moonlight glimmering on the water, the otherwise dark forest…  I claim that such lights shouldn’t be allowed.

First, my right to revel in the natural beauty every night trumps their right to ‘decoration’ that isn’t even being appreciated (if they’re weekenders, they’re back in the city during the week and so don’t see their lights; if they live there, they’re typically asleep in bed after midnight and so don’t see their lights).  Second, my right to revel in the natural beauty trumps the marginal utility of the lights even when they are there or awake because there are alternatives (one can use a flashlight or install motion sensor lights that go on only when one needs to see the way).  People with lakeside solar lights are imposing their conception of decoration and utility on everyone else, and they are preventing others from appreciating their own conception of beauty (the dark night, the moonlight glimmering on the water).  If your property is in the middle of natural beauty, you have an obligation not to ruin it.  And if you don’t see that, you shouldn’t live there.  Similarly, people who don’t appreciate Beethoven shouldn’t go to concerts and talk all the way through.

And if those lights are blinking, it’s even worse: given the way our brains are wired, our attention is coerced.  No one has a right to force me to pay attention to something I don’t want to attend to, and blinking lights do just that.

One may counter by claiming that surely one is allowed to do what one wants on and with one’s own property.  Well, no.  For example, you shouldn’t be allowed to dump oil on your property because it will seep through the soil into other people’s property and into the lake.  When your actions affect others, there are limits to what you can do.

In short, even though your property is ‘private’, what you put on it is not: as long as it can be seen by others, it’s public.  And it should therefore be subject to restrictions: you don’t have a right to coerce other people’s attention, especially if what you’re forcing them to pay attention to is something they don’t want to pay attention to.

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Comedown (a short short story)

Millions of us watched, eyes glued to the nearest television.  At school, at play, at work.  Everywhere.   We held our breath. 

“Coming down nicely…  Picking up some dust…”

They had less than 30 seconds of fuel left.

“Houston, Tranquility Base here.  The Eagle has landed.”

The Eagle has landed!  We did it!  We landed on the Moon!  People cheered!

Then we saw Neil Armstrong going down the stairs.  And then those words, for all the world to hear, and remember, forever. 

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

And then Buzz Aldrin bounded  in slow motion across the surface.  The surface of the Moon!

 They took samples of the dust, collected some rocks, drilled for core samples.  And planted the flag.  The American flag.  There on the Moon.

 

It was such a—comedown.  All those years, SETI watching so closely, so persistently, people everywhere excited every time they thought they saw a UFO, and then this.

A surprise visit.

No one saw it coming.

Suddenly there was this small ship out there, heading our way.  Well, not our way.  It looked like it was going to land in the States.  Washington, probably.

So everyone scrambled to meet it.  The President, of course, with lots of security.  Men with guns.  And some sort of first contact team.  A linguist?  An anthropologist?  A biologist?  Robert J. Sawyer?  Of course not.  More men with guns.

And press.  Lots of press.  And aides pushing last minute speech revisions at the President.

And people.  My god, Americans like to crowd.  If Woodstock had 500,000 people, there must have been ten times that there in Washington.  Five million people.  Waiting.  For what?

Well, that was the question, wasn’t it.

 

Every time people watched the now-famous footage, they stopped talking when the flag was planted.  It was a sacred moment.  They’d stand and put their hands over their hearts.  If someone didn’t, well…

“Hey, aren’t you proud to be an American?”

“I guess.”  An awkward silence.  “I’m glad to be an American, sure, but—”

“Well, stand up then.  Show some respect.  That’s our flag.” 

 

The ship landed neatly.  Uneventfully.  After a while, the door opened.  A ramp unfolded.  It was just like all the sci-fi novels said it would be.

A figure appeared.  Humanoid.  It looked out at all the people, then focused on the ones nearest to him.  All of whom were just staring.  Stunned, I suspect.

“This is yours, yeah?”  It did something to the clipboard thing it was holding and the American flag wavered in the air, projected as a hologram or something.  “I’m in the right place?”

The President took a step forward then, and launched into his speech, in the  stentorian voice that got him elected.

“We greet you, we welcome you, to this great nation, the United States of America.  A nation of which we’re proud—”

“No—”

“A nation strong and—”

“Well, that’s all very good, but—”

“And free—”

“No, you’ve got it wrong, I’m—”

 

National pride, my ass.   That’s what the American public was supposed to think.  Either that or that it was a victory thing.   They were competing with the Russians, and they won.         

But every government in the world knew otherwise.   It was a claim to ownership, pure and simple.  This was the U.S., remember?  Capitalism? the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of profit?  It was like in Far and Away, that movie with Nicole Kidman, when the pioneers raced across the land trying to be the first to get to the section they wanted so they could put a stake in it, so they could claim it as theirs.  It was like during the gold rush, when miners would stake a claim wherever there was something promising, just in case. 

 

“I’m Collections.”

“And—”  The President stopped speaking.

“You’re in arrears?”  It consulted its clipboard.  “Fifty years, actually.  Comes to—oh my—967.3 trillion.”  It looked at all the blank faces.

“U. S. dollars,” it added helpfully.

They still didn’t get it.

It tried again.  “Property taxes?”

In the long and awkward silence that followed, one of the aides suggested that they retire to the Oval Office.  Or the nearest Tim Horton’s.  Well, actually, they don’t have Tim Hortons in the States, but you know what I mean.  Somewhere where the world couldn’t watch whatever was about to happen.  Because, the aide correctly surmised, it wasn’t going to be pretty.  Let alone glorious.

“Sorry, but no thanks,” the Collections Agent said to the invitation, “I’m on a schedule.  So—how would you like to pay?”

“Um, ah, we don’t have that kind of money,” the President stammered.  Unpresidentially.

“Oh, well, then, we’ll just garnish your…” it tapped away on its clipboard, “loan repayments.”

“Excellent,” the Finance Minister stepped forward.  “I’m sure you’ll find that will cover the amount in full.”

The agent tapped on his clipboard … then tapped some more…

“Actually,” it seemed to be scanning a long list, “none of your creditors appear able to pay in full.  Not the way you’ve calculated their interest.”  It looked up then.  “I’ll just collect the principals and consider the loans paid in full,” it said cheerfully.

The Finance Minister fainted.

“There are 500 American billionaires,” someone called out.  With uncertain pride.   “If each of those donated a billion dollars…”

“You’d still be short,” it called back.  “By 966.8 trillion,” it added.  Helpfully.

Again, silence.

“What about your natural resources?” it asked.

“What do you mean?” the President said.  Stupidly.

The agent had resumed tapping.  “No, I can see you…you’re getting your water from Canada?  But—  You used what you had to fill swimming pools in California instead of irrigating crops—food crops—in the Midwest?  Why would you do that?”  It looked up, genuinely puzzled.

Awkward silence.

“And you haven’t figured out how to desalinate?”  It was amazed.

“Actually, sir, m’am, your—” the Science Advisor stepped forward, eager to correct the bad impression that was clearly being made, “we have.”

“And you’re not doing it because…?”

The Science Advisor stepped back.  Quickly.

It consulted its clipboard again, then looked up in disbelief.  “And you’ve already used up all your oil—in just—” it did the math, “ten seconds?”

Embarrassed silence.  Almost, but not quite, guilty silence.

“And you haven’t figured out sun panels?  Not even windmills and watermills?  How the hell did you get to the moon?”

The Science Advisor muttered to himself.  Then left.  Just walked away.

“Look,” the Agent sighed, “I’ll give you a twenty-four hour grace period to come up with a plan for repayment.”  It retreated to its ship for a much needed drink.

The next day, a group of Nobel Laureates presented a carefully prepared plan.  They were willing to engage in a one-way exchange program, to share their knowledge, as payment.

It was a heroic thing to do.  Very patriotic.  The President promised huge rewards upon their return.  But they didn’t do it because it was heroic or patriotic.  They were trying to redeem humanity in the eyes of the alien.

When the Agent told them they’d be perfect for their teaching their six-year-olds, they beat a hasty retreat.

As a last resort, the President offered their weaponry.  Really, what else did they have?  Inventory after inventory was solemnly passed to the Agent.  The pile in its (two) arms grew.  And grew.

“What, have you guys been spending all your allowance on guns?” it quipped.

Yet another awkward silence.  To which it raised his eyebrows.

And it was clear, at least to the only woman on the President’s staff, that the meaning of raised eyebrows was multiversal.

Finally, with considerable ceremony and much-to-do, the President offered the last inventory: one hundred state-of-the-art next-generation brilliant bombs.

“I think you’ll find that covers it,” he said.  Weakly.

It opened the folder and flipped through the specs.

“’Fraid not,” it said.  “The museums won’t pay that much for these.”

“Museums?” he said, then clutched at his heart.

“Hey!” it had an idea.  “We could turn you into a tourist destination.  Sort of a Disney theme park for our kids.”

“Yes, we can do that!” the Vice-President had stepped up.  Over the President’s body.  “We have lots of Disney theme parks!  We can add more!  How many more would you like?”

“No, I meant—you’d be the entertainment.  Just as you are.”

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Chefs and Cooks: What’s the difference?

Used to be women did the cooking and the baking.  Then men starting getting into it.  And in theory, I have no problem with that.  In fact, I’m all for making everything gender-unaligned.  But now that men are in the kitchen, suddenly it’s important.  So important it’s being televised.

And my god, the drama!  (And they call us drama queens.)  The tension, the conflict… Chefs (yes, men are chefs; women were just cooks) scream with self-righteous anger at their minions, they rush around with great urgency making sure every sprinkle of cinnamon is just right, because, well, it’s so frickin’ important.

The phenomenon defies logic.  Drama, therefore importance?  No, because then the toddler screaming about his toy truck in the shopping mall would rank right up there with nuclear disarmament.

If anything, the reasoning goes the other way around: important, therefore drama.  (Although that’s not necessarily true either.  I tend to present my case calmly and rationally, without drama, but one time, the vet’s wife failed to recognize an emergency, dying or dead fawn in my arms notwithstanding, because I wasn’t screaming.  Another time, the local township council didn’t put up a requested road sign until I called a councilmember shouting at her with anger and distress, since minutes earlier, I’d almost been turned into a parapalegic by a speeding vehicle — my previous half dozen requests, accompanied as they were with just sound arguments, were ignored.)

Or is it that the drama, the tension and conflict, are the consequences of the endeavor now being competitive.

And why is that?  Because men are involved?  Well, yes, men see everything as a competition (except for those who resist their primal brain, their testosterone, and/or their Y chromosome).  Women freely share their favorite recipes.

But it’s not just the cooking shows.  Song and dance, even travelogue shows, they’re all bloody competitions now.  And why is that?  Are we all addicts to competition?  Have we been turned into competition addicts (by male producers) (seeking male sponsors)?

I’m thinking men, therefore important.  Look at what happened to bank tellers: when men were bank tellers, it was important; once women started being bank tellers, it became much less important. Similarly, but in reverse, when women did the cooking and baking, it was no big deal: some were very good at it, some not; sometimes it was a chore, sometimes a joy; it was an art and a skill, yes, but women didn’t make a show — a show — of it.

Actually, food preparation was important before too; doing it the wrong way can be fatal.  Literally.  Which makes it even more irritating that the recognition of importance didn’t occur until men started doing it.

And the bizarre thing is they’ve made the trivial aspects of it important; people don’t die if the cinnamon sprinkle isn’t just so.

Which suggests something else: since they aren’t focusing on the legitimately important aspects, the aspects with intrinsic importance, they have to manufacture importance; and making something into a competition is a way to do just that, a way to make what they’re doing seem important.

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Men, Noise, and A Simple Request, Really

I finally figured it out — why the men in my neighborhood react with such escalated lack of consideration whenever I ask them, politely, to limit their noise.  I’ve asked snowmobilers who are out racing around the lake and having a good time going VROOM VROOM to please just turn around a few seconds before they get to the very end of the lake, which is where I live; I’ve asked dirt bikers to please ride up and down and up and down on a section of road that doesn’t have a bunch of people living there; I’ve asked men who are building new houses to please put the compressor behind the house (so the building acts as a berm) rather than on the lake side (which means, of course, that the noise not only skids across the lake with wonderful efficiency, but also that it then bounces off the hills, echoing amplified all over the place); I’ve asked men to at least close their lakeside doors and windows when they’re using their power tools inside.  (And I’d like to ask them if they really, seriously, need to use a leafblower — we live in the forest, for godsake.)

And almost every single time, not only has the man not acceded to my request, he’s escalated his noise-making and/or responded with confrontational aggression.

Do I live in a neighborhood with an unrepresentative number of inconsiderate assholes?

No.  Here’s what’s happening.  (As I say, I’ve finally figured it out.)  Partly it’s because I’m a woman asking a man to do something.  Most men do not want to be seen taking orders from a woman; even to accede to a woman’s request is apparently too much for their egos.  My male neighbour has made similar requests and the responses have been along the lines of ‘Sure, no problem.’

And partly, it’s because making noise is perceived to be an integral part of being a man.  I’ve long known ‘My car is my penis’ but I never realized that that was partly because of the noise of the car.  I didn’t know that men routinely modify the mufflers of their dirt bikes in order to make them louder.  And then I happened to catch a Canadian Tire advertisement on television (I seldom watch television) and was absolutely amazed at the blatant association of masculinity with power tools, the promise that ‘You’ll be more of a man when you use this million-horsepower table saw’ or whatever.

So the resistance to my requests is because I’m essentially asking that they castrate themselves.

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