Monday, December 20, 2010

The Talented Mister Assange (Warning: Adult Content)

So, I've got to talk about Julian Assange and the rape allegations against him.

I've got to get some sarcasm out of the way first. Are you consenting? I'm not going to use protection in this article. You are free to stop at any time, but I'm going to keep going.

I once had a woman tell me that she kind of liked waking up to sex. In other words, she gave me "permission in advance," telling me that if I woke up and felt the urge, and could manage to get something going while she was still asleep, she thought that was hot and thought that she'd love to wake up to... well, you get the idea. This woman enjoyed sex and was not shy about that fact. She once climbed on me and initiated sex while she was still asleep. In other words, she acquaintance-raped me in her sleep. She then woke up, realized what she was doing, and started screaming and grabbed the phone to call the police to report herself. I'm lying. Of course she didn't do that. She woke up, realized what was going on, and rode me like a god-damned circus pony until we both fell back asleep in a sweaty heap. Fuck, that was hot. Excuse me. I'll be in my bunk.

Technical question: if she tells me the night before that she likes this, and I wake up before she does and manage to stick it in her while she's still asleep, and she seems to be getting into it in her sleep, but she's actually having a dream in which the two of us are having sex, and she asked me to use a condom in the dream, but the condom breaks, and she asks me to stop in her dream, but I don't stop in real life, am I guilty of real life dream rape? Or is she guilty of real dream coitus interruptus, which is a crime in Sweden? I'm just asking. They're just questions. In answer to your query, Leon, they're written down for me. It's a test designed to provoke an emotional response. Shall we continue?

Have you seen that wild movie... what's it called, Intromission? It's about multiple levels of reality. Interruptus? Intercession? Well, I'm sure it'll come to me.

What if she doesn't remember her dream the next morning and cooks me a bitchin' breakfast of deep-fried blintzes with applesauce and herring? I'm just trying to clarify things so I know what to expect during the trial.

Like, when she texted her friend and said "guess who I did last night," what she really meant to type was "HELP ME I WAS HORRIBLY ASSAULTED AND I AM A SOBBING WRECK." Or we find out that she texted "guess who got off last night but didn't seem to care that I didn't," she'll be able to bring me up on charges under the very progressive "failure to bring your partner to orgasm first" law.

Yes, I'm being flippant. Rape is an extremely serious subject. That's why I'm being so god-damned flippant at this god-damned circus.

Also, who breaks condoms? Are they using silicon abrasive carbide for lube? Are they buying expired condoms at the dollar store? They can slip off, yes, but break? You know you can blow these things up to the size of a refrigerator, right? You can stretch them down a broom handle to the bristles, and that's a real test the manufacturers do. Someone's doing it wrong, I think, and it isn't me. I mean, there's lube, right? And if it's so rough that you're going to tear the thing, perhaps a little more foreplay is in order? I need less caffeine. Maybe it had something to do with those crayfish at the party. Those claws are sharp.

But seriously. What the hell am I getting at?

There is bad faith all around in this matter. There are agendas all around in this matter. I wasn't in the room and wasn't in the heads of the people involved, but what I'm hearing makes me very unhappy. Let me just throw out a few points.

1. If your consent revolves around your faith in, or the integrity of, a piece of latex, you're not actually taking responsibility for your sexual behavior.

Lots of people would love to live in a utopia where we could all screw each other at will without risk of disease, without risk of pregnancy, and without messy things like jealousy and bad sex. When we're young and our bodies are lithe and sexy and no one has indigestion or a headache, this all seems possible. It's an illusion. You can't eliminate risk entirely. Condoms aren't magical. You should not trust your life to them. That's idiocy. If avoiding pregnancy is really of paramount importance to you, as opposed to maybe something you'd just prefer, well, you know what to do. And sleeping with International Man of Mystery there isn't it.

I'm not saying that anyone who consents to sex with a condom has then consented to sex without a condom, or consented to having the man continue after a condom breaks or slips off, or consented to getting poked in the middle of the night without one after he agreed to use one -- if in fact he did, or if it was really discussed in detail.

But condoms are not magical, and a lot of feminist critics are speaking as if the condom somehow magically enabled her consent and the consent somehow vanished when plan A didn't work out, and suddenly it became rape, and I think that's maybe a little silly.

2. Screwing two groupies who are already friends, and who are likely to compare notes, is not really advised, unless you manage to nail both of them at once.

In other words, jealousy exists. Also, revenge is a powerful motive. That ought to be self-evident.

3. Rape victims don't generally cook their assailants breakfast, throw him a party the next day, invite all their friends, and then host him for a few more days.

Or maybe they do. Who understands kids these days?

4. Decent human beings don't generally take advantage of their momentary fame to bang hot chicks.

Or, to put it another way,

5. You can't spell Assange without first spelling Ass.

He's 39. He ought to be over the wild oats stage. I admire his work, I admire his contributions to the open source community, but let's face it, he's no role model. He's Eurotrash. Usually, we get to admire our heroes for a while before we find out about their Achilles heel. In this case his rise to momentary fame and the rape allegations are emerging, in the overall scheme of things, almost simultaneously.

Which brings us to:

6. Wikileaks should consider investing in a new spokesmodel.

Seriously -- if he considers himself a journalist, he should be aware that most of the great investigative journalists and whistleblowers I admire from years past generally took at least some care not to allow themselves to become the story. I mean, the media always tries to make them the story, but it helps if you don't give anyone obvious blackmailable activities to work with, right?

And, I'm sure the slutty Assange knows this, but his slutty playmates apparently did not:

7. Attempting to rewrite your history by deleting blog entires, or tweets, or whatever, is impossible in the age of Google.

This is almost all I have to say on the matter. I'm not defending Assange per se. What he did or didn't do is almost irrelevant at this point. I suspect it did not rise to the level of what most of us would consider rape, even those of us who consider ourselves to be enlightened and feminist to one degree or another. Unsatisfying sex is not rape. Awkward sex is not rape. Confusion or miscommunication during sex is not rape. Failure to set clear guidelines is not necessarily rape. Failure to follow someone's unclear guidelines is not necessarily rape. It's what we used to consider in my wild oats days an evening to regret, especially since alcohol was involved all around, and not a way to join the media circus and get paid to do interviews. Just because a guy is what used to be called a cad, and sleeps with your best friend, that doesn't mean you were suddenly retroactively raped. When you're playing around at this, acting at 39 the way I might expect more reasonable people to get out of their systems 20 years earlier, you're playing with getting hurt. The stakes may be a lot higher, especially if you've come to believe that you're entitled to be 19 forever. Mixing slutty behavior and regret and entitlement and confidence and anger and jealousy and desire for revenge and dishonesty and hungry lawyers and bad law and bad feminist legal theory is not going to end well for anyone. Except for the media earning money on page views.

Seriously, no one looks good here. His accusers have already shown their willingness to change their stories by deleting evidence. I suspect I will never have confidence that we know what actually happened. The political and financial incentives for his accusers to lie are simply overwhelming. So all we can do is stick to our principles and watch what unfolds -- but keep these points in mind, and watch with a very, very skeptical, even jaundiced, eye.


Cornered, Blessed, and Stressed

So, ummm. Hello. What was I talking about again?

Tomorrow is the darkest day of the year, so as usual I'm spacey, teary, and easily overloaded by just about any stimulus more stimulating than sitting quietly with one child on my lap, practicing guitar, or reading in a corner. Naturally what I get is three of them having a screaming contest, or taking turns slamming doors.

This year has seen the Potts family go through a lot of stressful transitions.

We've moved from Ann Arbor to Saginaw. We bought a huge old house with good fundamentals (a sturdy foundation and roof) but lots of issues. Expensive issues. The initial round of home improvements went far over budget, but it was one of those situations where the damage was not all visible until everything was torn out.

We were blindsided with some emergency issues we had to dump money into, in order to avoid having our homeowner's policy cancelled (and mortgage jeopardized).

I don't have a figure for our December gas and electric bill, but I'm anticipating that it will be upwards of $750. We have most of our windows and one fireplace covered in plastic sheeting but we were really late in getting everything weatherized. We're new to this. Maybe the January bill will be lower. Or maybe it won't. Anyway, it's freezing in here. We have the thermostats set at 56. I'm wearing layers and layers and fingerless gloves to keep my hands warm enough to type as I write this in my home office.

Speaking of home office, transitioning to working at home has been more difficult than I anticipated as well. In some ways it is great. In others it just feeds into my tendency to feel isolated, and the natural tendency towards isolation that comes when an introvert does programming work to begin with. Do it for enough days, and fail to leave the house in the evenings, and soon I become afraid to leave the house, almost paralyzed.

I know what major depression and anxiety and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder feel like; I've been on medications -- several of them, a whole series and litany of them, years of them, with a whole checklist of disturbing side effects -- in the past. Anxiety and depression have been pretty much  my lifelong companions. A psychiatrist I worked with briefly said something that I will always remember: that in his experience, people don't actually suffer from episodes of depression (unless they are actually bipolar, I suppose). Depressives are depressive. It's just better or worse.

I know how it feels when it gets truly debilitating. I know what it's like to spend nearly entire weekends sleeping, and what few hours I spent awake, crying. I'm not there anymore, for which I am grateful. Nor am I hitting the whisky too hard; I want a glass of whisky now and then. Perhaps three nights a week, I'll have one. Perhaps one night a week, I'll have two. It takes the edge off a houseful of screaming kids and a to-do list I will die before finishing. If I start wanting one too badly I decide that I'd better not have one, and so I've managed to avoid actually "needing" a scotch. I've emptied three bottles since I moved up here the last day of May. Only three bottles.

I know what helps: quiet socializing. Writing. Playing music. Reading. Socializing. Usually it's the thing I feel least like doing. Exercising. Which I also don't feel like doing. But I've gradually learned to make myself do the things I don't want to do. Because it helps.

None of my friends have come to visit us in our new home. Actually, that's not quite true. One did, but then he decided he was angry at me because I didn't get a message that he had called, and told me I was never to speak to him again.

Grace has been going to school to get her Montessori certification. I'm happy and excited about that. It means he's gone every other weekend, but I can do the Mister Mom thing and even enjoy it, at least with Isaac's help. But what I don't enjoy is when the checks go through, especially if she wrote some that she didn't tell me about. I was blindsided this morning by $350 in checks that I had not planned for.

It's the Monday before Christmas and our bank balance is a big negative. I get paid again in a few days. I've dumped every bit of our savings into our checking account but we'll still hit our line of credit for almost the last remaining available balance. Our credit cards are in the freezer. They are both quite small as credit cards go, and we've been paying down modest balances of perhaps $2500 in total. There's a loan against my 401K. We have to finish paying off the no-interest loan on the flooring. And we have a line of credit against our checking account that has crept up to about $3,000.

There's really nothing else. So we're going to be starting 2011 without a net. I'll be suspending all retirement contributions. We don't want to take out a home equity line, not six months after moving, but if we want to get on top of some issues like a refrigerator that is failing, we may have to.

My mother-in-law's furnace broke and she was without heat. Her prescription health care policy was cancelled and she had to start rationing her heart medication while they scrambled to find some other kind of drug coverage. She had another heart attack and wound up in the hospital, and had to come home to a cold apartment. She asked us if we could help her pay for a new furnace. We couldn't. I'm expecting at some point she will also need help for this latest round of medical bills what haven't even been billed yet. They will be astronomical. I think we're already helping pay down, very slowly, some of her bills from a previous hospital visit. I don't think we'll be able to help any more than we are.

My paycheck deduction to my work-provided health care plan is going up, at the same time that they are migrating to a cheaper plan. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan announced that premiums on our old plan are going up 41%. Five years ago, when I started this job, there was no paycheck deduction; it was fully covered by my employer. Now, we will be paying more, our co-pays are going up, and fewer services will be covered. Welcome to health care reform. It sure is great that we got that bill passed. Thank God we don't have a single payer system, like all those other countries where it doesn't work.

Everything is going up, except I haven't had a cost-of-living increase or raise of any kind in five years.

Our food expenses have gone up, and we can't find decent meat that we feel comfortable feeding our children. We have to drive farther and pay more. We've been buying meat from sources we trust on our trips down to Ann Arbor. That's not really sustainable.

The school we decided was acceptable for our oldest son is 16 miles away, so we're driving an extra 64 miles a day. It now costs over $40 to fill the gas tank on the van. Between this and Grace's twice-a-week travel, we're spending at least $400 a month on gas. I could add it all up and figure it out, but I can't bring myself to do it. When we put all the basic budget numbers together, based on what seems to me to be a not-terribly-luxurious lifestyle, it's a little more than I take home.

I took the kids movies twice this fall; that felt like a luxury. Searching out eggs and meat that we feel we can safely eat does not feel like a luxury. We mostly cook at home from raw materials. When we do eat out, which is infrequently these days, it's been the Chinese buffet lunch (four kids plus dad for under $25; the teenager can put away several plates, which at least slows him down).

We've had to put Sam on a gluten-free diet. A lot of are old standby dishes (pasta salads, for example) are now verboten and we are confused a bit about that. On the plus side, the reduction in carbs has been good. I've lost at least fifteen pounds since I moved up here. On the minus side, I've replaced some of the carbs with fats. My cholesterol probably isn't up to any good.

We still have a Netflix subscription, but we never get time to watch our DVDs, so I'll be cancelling that. We could do the streaming thing, but I'm afraid of having a computer anywhere near where the kids can reach it. We don't have cable TV. We bought a small handful of DVDs on sale last month. I finally saw Star Wars Episode 3. Wow, was it ever horrible.

The DVDs feel like a luxury. Being able to give the kids a video to watch doesn't; it feels like a way to have a few minutes of sanity. We don't have cable, or want it, except for Internet, and sprung for high-speed; that's so I can keep my build servers and code checkouts with work without taking days to bring down files. So: not a luxury, but part of the cost of working from home. Which was supposed to save us money.

I have bought one or two books a month that I probably shouldn't have. I'm feeling really, really guilty about those Alastair Reynolds and Iain M. Banks hardcovers I bought a few months ago, and even the Stephen King Dark Tower paperbacks look like a bad idea from my perspective today. Especially since Joshua climbed the bookcases, pulled them down, and half-destroyed them.

We do have two cars. They are seven and fifteen years old. Is that a luxury? Having a second car is part of the cost of working from home; on a given day, I might have to drive to one of the other offices, and can't leave Grace unable to get the kids to and from school.

I have a home studio and a bunch of guitars. I'd consider selling some of them, but most of them I bought at very low prices, choosing somewhat rare instruments which have no real cash value now, in the hopes that they will eventually go for more than I paid for them. The market for used instruments is not good now. I'd wind up taking a big loss on them -- if I was able to sell them at all. It would be heartbreaking to have to sell the ones that I play regularly. I wouldn't be able to get much for them, but they have a lot of value to me. No one has any money. That's what a recession is. That's the biggest reason I was able to get most of them so cheap in the first place.

We're going to have a new baby in April or so. I'll probably have to pay quite a bit more out of pocket than I did for the previous two children. Out of the same take-home.

We had a big pile of cash on hand. We dumped almost all of it into the house. We knew it would be a money pit, and we'd thought we were pretty well-prepared. We weren't quite well-prepared enough. I guess it's a case of not quite believing it until you've experienced it.

I was saving up money to help an online friend come out from Scotland so we could collaborate on some music in person. I think we just blew that money. Maybe I can return some of it to savings and we can still make it happen somehow, but it is looking pretty doubtful.

I was saving up some money to finish putting up acoustic panels and foam in the studio room.

I was saving up some money to get the brakes fixed on the van. They aren't dangerous yet but they need some major work in early 2011.

I'm blessed in many ways; we have food on the table; we have a marvelous place to live. I have a job. I earn a good living. Or what used to be a good living. It's complicated. Inflation and increased expenses have made it barely a middle-class living, now. I don't think there is much of a middle class anymore, is there? The "social contract" that I grew up with has had most of the air let out of it, it seems. Basic things, like being able to send your child on a bus to his or her school.

Our water bill is almost $90 a month, which I think is at least four or five times what we'd be paying per month in Ann Arbor. Most of that isn't measured usage, it's the regular monthly fees.

When we were planning this, we determined that our mortgage payments plus insurance and taxes, which are all rolled together, would be less than our monthly rent in Ann Arbor. That seemed promising. We were even talking about being able to pay extra principal-only payments to get our house paid off faster. Maybe we can get there, but we're not talking about it right now. Not until we can get our burn rate way down.

I have a wonderful wife and four terrific children. We're not buying them any Christmas presents, getting a tree, or decorating the house. I spent $25 on a whole bunch of candles, and we put them in the fireplace we can't afford to buy wood for, or have inspected for safety. They are very pretty.

They burn out really, really fast.

Some friends were going to come over for dinner with their kids, and we made a bunch of fancy dishes from the food in our fridge and freezer. We were going to turn out the lights and watch the candles and let their kids play with our kids. They cancelled on us.

I have 232 friends on Facebook.

So why do I feel like such a lonely failure?