The John McCain Sex Scandal: The Blowfish Blog

I have a new piece up on the Blowfish Blog. It’s about John McCain’s record on issues having to do with sex… and what it says about his trustworthiness as President, on any issue.

It’s titled The John McCain Sex Scandal, and here’s the teaser:

Sorry for the inflammatory headline. No, I’m not going to talk about John McCain’s purported affair with lobbyist Vicki Iseman. There’s not enough evidence, and in any case, I just don’t care all that much.

No. The scandal I’m talking about today is John McCain’s record on issues having to do with sex.

Which is, in a word, scandalous.

Let’s break it down, shall we?

To find out exactly what John McCain’s record is on issues of sexual liberty, sexual civil rights, sexual health, and access to sexual information — and to find out why it makes him a less trustworthy leader in any arena — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

“The Most Vile, Radical Liberals in America”: Anti-Atheist Bigotry in the Senate Campaign

I suppose it was bound to happen.

Football
With the newly- galvanized atheist movement becoming increasingly visible and increasingly vocal, we were pretty much destined to become a political football, the subject of a fear- mongering campaign flyer depicting us as vile despoilers of the American Dream… and using an association with us to smear an opponent. (And the early 21st century being what it is, we were pretty much destined to then to become the subject of a YouTube campaign video, doing exactly the same thing.)

So here’s the thing I find fascinating.

It’s not the fact that the flyer and video in question told lies about us. It’s not even the fact that they insulted us in bigoted, hateful language that, in this day and age, would not be tolerated from a major political candidate about any other religious group.

What I find fascinating is this:

Our very existence is being presented as an abomination. The mere fact that atheists exist, and speak, and express political views, is being presented as part of the package of our vileness, and is being used to frighten voters.

Elizabeth_Dole_official_photo
For those who haven’t heard already, here’s the story. North Carolina Republican Senator Elizabeth Dole — yes, that Elizabeth Dole — is in a re-election campaign against Democratic opponent Kay Hagan. Dole had been ahead, but like a lot of Republican incumbents this election, she’s been falling behind.

So her campaign sent out an anti-Hagan flyer — centering on the fact that Hagan attended a fundraiser in Boston, hosted by atheist activists and leaders of the Godless Americans PAC, Wendy Kaminer and Woody Kaplan.

In which atheists are described, among other things, as “the most vile, radical liberals in America.”

And the National Republican Senatorial Committee then put out a YouTube video, also centering on this fundraiser, and saying that, because she accepted campaign donations from atheists, “We can’t trust Kay Hagan to defend our North Carolina values.”

Here’s the video. And here’s a copy of the flyer. You can click to enlarge if you like. (Pages 2 and 3 are presented separately here, but are meant to be read side by side as one page.) Please note the quotes from my atheist blogging homeboys at Friendly Atheist and Daylight Atheism on Page 4. Both of whom, of course, have blogged about this.

Godless 1
Godless 2
Godless 3
Godless 4

Now. Here’s what I’d like you to do. Read the flyer again. Watch the video again. And in the place of the word “atheist,” substitute the word “Jewish.”

From the flyer:

Plot
“Liberal Kay Hagan flew to Boston to pocket campaign cash from leaders of the Jewish American PAC.”

“Jewish Americans Political Action Committee is a left-wing organization based in Washington, DC — dedicated to ‘Mobilizing America’s Jews for Political Activism.'”

“They actively support political candidates who are Jews.”

“And they want Kay Hagan in the U.S. Senate.”

“We can’t trust Kay Hagan to defend our North Carolina values.”

From the video:

“Kay Hagan attended a Massachusetts fundraiser hosted by a leader of the JEWISH AMERICANS PAC.”

“DaylightJudaism.org: ‘Kay Hagan out to be rewarded for inviting Jews onto her platform.'”

“And what’s THEIR platform?”

“And what does Kay Hagan have to say? ‘North Carolina deserves leadership that advocates on behalf of North Carolinians, every day, every week, every month, and every year.’ Apparently except when Jewish donors in Massachusetts invite you over.”

Star_of_David.svg
If there were a campaign flyer or video saying that? The candidate would be excoriated by the mainstream media, up one side and down the other. They’d either be distancing themselves from the people who made it so fast it would make your head spin… or they’d be resigning in disgrace. A resignation called upon, not only by every major news organization in the country, but by their own party. And rightly so.

But apparently, not so much with the atheists.

So I never, ever want to hear again that there’s no such thing as anti- atheist bigotry, or that atheists aren’t discriminated against in this country.

But again, here’s what I’m finding really interesting.

It’s not the lies and deceptions (thoroughty detailed in the Friendly Atheist and Daylight Atheism pieces). It’s not about the transparent fearmongering about how atheists are out to destroy Boy Scouts and Christmas. (It sounds like a joke, doesn’t it?) It’s not even the fact that they can’t seem to spell the word “Atheist” right.

It’s not even the fact that we were called “vile.”

It’s this.

Read again, please, the quotes being used on this flyer from the Friendly Atheist and Daylight Atheism blogs.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever been to North Carolina besides driving through, but I just donated (to Hagan’s campaign).”

“Kay Hagan ought to be rewarded for inviting nonbelievers onto her platform.”

Pretty inflammatory stuff, huh? Lock up your children, people — the atheists are going to donate money to a political candidate they support!

Monster mask
The very fact that we dare to exist at all — and that some of us are daring enough to want our voices heard in the political arena — that is the monster under the bed. The fact that we expect to be treated as citizens, that we see ourselves as a political movement, that we want our elected officials to be aware of our concerns and to represent us… that, just by itself, is what is being presented as the wicked, terrifying, “vile” threat that must be stopped at all costs.

But you know what?

I actually feel sort of flattered. And I definitely feel encouraged.

Because you know what this means?

It means we’re getting through.

Scarlet letter
If atheists are becoming visible enough that we’re the centerpiece of a fearmongering Senate campaign? We must be doing something right.

So if you’re an atheist — or an atheist- positive supporter — here’s what I want you to do.

If you can afford it, donate some money to Kay Hagen’s campaign. Even just $25. I know the economy sucks. I know this is a huge election, with a million candidates and initiatives that need donations. And I know I just got through begging you to support the No on 8 campaign to protect same-sex marriage in California. But if you can have it to spare, make a donation to Kay Hagen. Again, even a small one would help.

And then write to her campaign, at myvoice@kayhagan.com, letting her know that you’ve made a donation, and why. Write to her, and let her know that you’re atheist or atheist- positive, and that Elizabeth Dole’s anti-atheist bigotry is why you made your donation.

Here’s what I wrote:

Hello. My name is Greta Christina, and although I don’t live in North Carolina, I just made a donation to your campaign. I wanted to let you know that I did so prompted by recent posts on the Daylight Atheism and Friendly Atheist blogs.

I am appalled by Elizabeth Dole’s open bigotry and hatred towards atheists — a bigotry and hatred that would not be tolerated towards any other religious group. And I am encouraged by Kay Hagan’s recognition that atheists are citizens, who have a right to have our voices heard in the political arena.

My funds are limited (especially since I’ve been donating to other political campaigns this year), so my donation was small. But I plan to write about this on my own blog, and encourage my readers (some who are atheists, many others who aren’t but support atheists’ rights) to support your campaign as well. Thank you again for your recognition of our growing community, and please know that we are grateful and will not forget it.

Because you know what would be cool? What would be even cooler than being a newly- visible, newly- vocal movement?

Being a voting bloc. Being a political force to be reckoned with. Being an interest group that political candidates can’t afford to openly smear and insult, because if they do we’ll mobilize against them.

And having a U.S. Senator who know that she’s in the Senate, at least partly, because of the atheist and atheist- supportive community.

That would be super-cool.

The Eroticism of Exercise

Please note: This piece discusses my personal sex life, in a certain amount of detail. Family members and others who don’t want to read about that stuff will probably want to skip this one. This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.

Dumbbell
I really wish I’d known about this years ago.

If I had, I would have gotten my ass to the gym long before I finally did.

I wish I’d known it years ago. Which is why I’m telling all y’all. It’s this:

Working out is hot.

I don’t mean that it makes you look hot and attractive: i.e., gives you a firmer body, better posture, a healthier and more attractive appearance generally. It does, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

And I don’t mean that it makes you feel hot and attractive: i.e., increases your libido, gives you better energy, makes you feel more comfortable in your own skin. It does, but that’s not what I’m talking about, either.

I mean that the activity itself is hot. Arousing. Sexually pleasurable.

Or it can be, anyway.

Gym
For one thing, if you’re at all into kink, there’s a wonderfully kinky flavor to working out. The weight equipment at the gym especially. The one that forces your legs apart and makes you squeeze them together? The one that puts you on your back with your hands and your chest pinned down? The one that presses your arms back and pushes your tits out? Yum. And there’s a toppy aspect to it, too: a feeling of forcefulness, of power, of pushing against resistance and making it yield.

Even if you’re not into weights, the soreness and endorphin high you get from pushing your physical limits a little bit more each day will be immediately familiar to anyone who’s enjoyed a good spanking. (Although you have to be careful with this — I actually did myself a mild injury from bench pressing too much weight, because it “hurt so good.”)

But it’s not just about kink.

Sports bra
There’s also the whole “being in a room full of healthy, athletic people, many of whom are dressed in skimpy or tight- fitting clothing” thing. Personally, that often doesn’t do much for me: I tend to go into my own little world when I work out, and I don’t usually pay much attention to the other gym patrons. (In fact, I once lost points in the “lust” section of a “seven deadly sins” morality quiz because I didn’t think of the gym as a cruising ground.)

But sometimes, it just can’t be helped. I don’t like to cruise at the gym — if you’re not a gay man, I think it’s kind of rude — but I’ve definitely spent some of my time at the gym pumping my thigh muscles and surreptitiously admiring other people’s… um, tattoos.

But that’s not the main thing.

The main thing is this.

I am:

(a) a person who tends to live in my head, and

(b) a person who tends to be horny.

So anything that pushes me out of my head and into my body will usually get me thinking about sex.

Trapezius
And being at the gym does exactly that. It forces me to pay attention to my body, to feel what’s happening in my flesh and joints and bones. And that almost always gets me turned on. Not in a generalized, “being in touch with my body” way, but in a very specific, immediate, “firm nipples and hard clit” way. It gets me paying close, careful attention to my thighs and my ass, my back and my chest, my hands and my feet.

Which gets me hot.

And which keeps me going back every week.

So consider this a public service announcement. People talk a lot about exercise as a natural anti-depressant… but it’s also a natural aphrodisiac. And I think if more people knew this, a lot more people would be getting their asses to the gym, and keeping them there.

The gym per se might not be for you. I personally find weightlifting to be totally hot, but I’m also a firm believer in the idea that the best exercise is the one that you enjoy and will therefore stick with. So if weights and treadmills don’t do it for you, then try basketball or fencing or synchronized swimming.

But if you’re trying to find inspiration to get more regular exercise, and if you’re also a horny person who lives too much in your head, you might find that this works for you as well. Working out is hot. It doesn’t just make you healthy and energetic; it doesn’t just reduce stress and depression; it doesn’t just improve your sleep. It also turns you on. It gives your body something it loves and is hungry for… and your body pays you back in sexual pleasure.

Election Snippet: The “Real” America

Well, the main purpose for today’s election snippet is to show you a very funny clip from the Daily Show… which, as usual, is both laugh- out- loud funny and dead-on accurate. But first, a little introductory rant.

I am so sick of this “real America” line I could spit.

Sarah Palin has been trumpeting it. John McCain senior advisor Nancy Pfotenhauer has been trumpeting it. Other Republican politicians, from Rep. Michelle Bachmann to Rep. Robin Hayes, have been trumpeting it. It’s clearly the line of the day; the trope that they think is going to flatter/ fearmonger the moderate swing voters into voting Republican.

The line goes, roughly, “Sure, maybe Obama and the Democrats are ahead in the polls. But in the real America — small-town America, patriotic America, the America that counts — we’re winning.”

And I keep thinking:

What the hell are the rest of us? Robots? Androids? Replicants?

Millions and millions of Americans live in big cities. In fact, most Americans live in big cities and suburbs. When Palin and McCain and the Republican party bash big cities, they’re bashing the majority of Americans. And I’m not just talking about the Americans in the standard wicked metropoli of New York and San Francisco and Los Angeles. I’m talking about the Americans in Minneapolis and Chicago; in Dallas and New Orleans; in Seattle and Salt Lake City; in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

Country first
That’s real patriotic of you, folks. That’s a real good case of “Country First.”

Jon Stewart makes a point in this video (coming up in a moment, I promise) that I’m kicking myself for not having thought of myself. It’s this: The Republicans love, love, love to play the 9/11 card. They love to talk about the evil terrorists who tried to destroy America in the 9/11 attack, and how we have to do everything in our power — lie, oppress, conquer, torture — to crush them once and for all and make America safe again.

But where, exactly, did the 9/11 attack take place?

Washington DC… and New York City.

Which now, mysteriously, isn’t the real America.

Honestly, I think what they’re doing — apart from trying to whip up divisive fervor and make half of America hate and fear the other half in order to score political points — is denial. They can’t accept that Americans might actually like this Obama fellow better than them. So they’re re-defining America. America, in their eyes, is now de facto “the people who vote for us.”

And guess what? By that definition, they win. By that definition, 100% of the “real Americans” will vote for them.

Even when they get their asses handed to them by the rest of us replicants.

Now here’s the video. Enjoy!

[Read more...]

Support Our Marriage — Support the “No on 8″ Campaign

Formal portrait
Today, I’m going to do something I normally don’t do.

I’m going to use shameless emotional manipulation to persuade you to support a political cause.

In California, there’s an initiative on the November ballot — Proposition 8 — that would ban same-sex marriage. In fact, it would amend the State Constitution to do so. In May of this year, the California Supreme Court said that banning same-sex marriage was a violation of the State constitution, and that same-sex couples had a constitutional right to marry. Proposition 8 would take away that right, writing discrimination against gay people into the Constitution of the state.

Until a few weeks ago, No on 8 had a slim but steady lead in the polls. But in recent weeks, the right wing — especially the religious right, and even more especially the Mormon Church — has been pouring an enormous amount of money into the campaign to ban same-sex marriage in California. They’ve been running a series of campaign ads that tell flat-out, outright lies about same-sex marriage: saying, for instance, that legalizing same-sex marriage will force schools to teach that same-sex marriage is just as good as opposite-sex marriage, and that churches who refuse to perform same-sex marriages will lose their tax-exempt status.

The lies are so blatant that even a Mormon scholar has written a detailed analysis pointing out how deceptive and misleading the campaign is, and saying that, “Relying on deceptive arguments is not only contrary to gospel principles, but ultimately works against the very mission of the Church.”

But the ad campaign has been extremely effective. Largely as a result of it, the Yes on 8 campaign has pulled ahead in the polls. The No on 8 campaign is running ads to counter this campaign… but they need money to do it.

So here comes the shameless emotional manipulation part.

Aisle
Readers of my blog have been unbelievably sweet and supportive about me and Ingrid getting married.

If you want to translate that sweetness and support into a practical form — please support the No on 8 campaign.

If everyone who reads this blog donated even a small amount — say, $25 — to the No on 8 campaign, it would be a substantial amount of money. It would go a long way towards countering the fear- mongering lies of the religious right… lies that they’re telling to try to undo our marriage.

If you can’t donate money, there are other things you can do. You can talk to your friends and family. You can volunteer. You can help spread videos and links. And of course, if you live in California, you can vote.

And if you have a blog? Please, please, blog about this. Spread the word. Get your readers to donate.

Nobody knows for sure what will happen to existing same-sex marriages in California if Prop 8 passes. Chances are good, actually, that our marriage will be fine… and we will then be in the unenviable position of being legally married while our friends can’t. (Much the same position that our straight friends have been in for years.)

VowsBut if you want me and Ingrid to stay married for sure — and if you think we had the right to get married in the first place, and want to support that right, not just for us but for other couples like us — please support No on 8. Thanks.

12 Step for Atheists: An Interview with “Get Up” Author Bucky Sinister

Drug_cocktail
If you’re an atheist, and you have a problem with alcohol or other drugs, how do you get help?

The most widespread, most easily- accessible help available to alcoholics and other addicts is 12 Step programs, originally and most famously Alcoholics Anonymous. But while 12 Step groups are open to people of any religious persuasion — including atheists, agnostics, and other non-believers — the language of the program is heavily based in religion, and people who don’t believe in God may feel that they’re not welcome, or that the program doesn’t apply to them.

Getup
If that’s your excuse for not getting help — tough beans. Atheist author and poet Bucky Sinister has written a 12 Step guidebook with a clear message: You’re welcome into 12 Step, and the program applies to you. Get Up: A 12 Step Recovery Guide for Misfits, Freaks & Weirdos is a smart, funny, enlightening, eminently readable guide to 12 Step programs for anyone who feels like they don’t belong in 12 Step programs — including, although by no means limited to, non-believers.

Bucky is an atheist with a background in both fundamentalism and cult religion, and his atheism pervades his book in ways both overt and subtle. The philosophy in the book is surprisingly useful even if you’re not an alcoholic or addict, with an approach that’s both empathetic and hard-assed, and with helpful and entertaining analogies ranging from Joseph Campbell to the A-Team. We spoke recently about the book — a conversation that included higher powers, skeptical problems with 12 step, the war on drugs, Britney Spears, what makes good writing good, and more.

(Quick conflict of interest alert: Bucky is a friend and former co-worker of mine, and the company I work for, and where he used to work, sells the book.)

Greta: First, for people who aren’t familiar with your book, tell us a little bit about it — and what inspired you to write it.

Bucky: “Get Up” is the book I wish I’d had during my first year of sobriety. I revisited what all my fears, insecurities, and misconceptions of 12 Step Recovery were all about. The same problems I had a lot of other people have, and will have, therefore, it’s a good subject for a self help book.

Scarlet leter
Your atheism is very much present throughout this book. It’s not just in the section on The God Problem — it comes up again and again, and it seems like it’s one of the book’s central foundations and inspirations. Can you talk about that a bit? Did your atheism present any special challenges when you were first getting sober — and how does it work for you now?

12 Step is not a religious program, although the word “god” is used all over the place. The problem is that it was designed by Christian-minded people, and they didn’t have the vocabulary to describe it properly for the atheist. It’s like when someone says, “now don’t take this the wrong way,” then say something horribly offensive. The 12 Step pioneers really were trying to make things open to everyone.

In that vein, I’m curious: Why wasn’t “atheism” or “atheist” in the title? Again, the atheism is so pervasive throughout your book, so much a part of what informs it, and I’d think you’d want it to be the first thing that comes up when people Google “12-Step + atheist.” Why wasn’t it called, say, “Get Up: A 12-Step Guide to Recovery for Misfits, Freaks, Atheists, & Weirdos”?

The titling process was long and weird and I can’t remember the process. Sorry. We went over a bunch of them. I like your last title.

The main idea for the book, is that it should appeal to anyone who feels a bit like an outsider, or that the current programs don’t speak to them.

One of the things that struck me most strongly about “Get Up” is what a good read it is — funny, engaging, a real page- turner even if you’re not an alcoholic or an addict. Was that intentional? Were you hoping to illuminate this experience for non-addicts, or were you aiming solely to create a guide for alcoholics and addicts?

Oh, good. I wanted it to be a good read.

Without getting specific, most of my program’s official literature is poorly written. It’s an ordeal to get through. The reason for this is that people who are not writers wrote the books. It’s like reading someone’s first novel. It’s not that bad, but it’s not good either.

Chuck-klosterman-iv
I’ve read a lot of nonfiction about subjects I know nothing about. If it’s written well enough, it doesn’t matter. I recently read Chuck Klosterman’s IV. It’s all music writing, and it transcends the subject matter. His Britney Spears article is amazing, and I’ve never listened to one of her songs unless it was playing at the gym. I also read about sports I’ve never watched; I’ve read more pieces about boxing than I have seen boxing matches.

So yes, it’s intentional. The mark I wanted to reach is for the writing itself to be good, entertaining, enjoyable to read. That’s what keeps a self-help book from sounding preachy. It’s like what Bill Cosby used to say at the beginning of the Fat Albert cartoon: “This is Bill Cosby coming at you with music and fun, and if you’re not careful, you might learn something before it’s done.”

And I was surprised at how useful a lot of the advice was… even if you’re not an alcoholic or an addict. I’m not an addict or in recovery, but a lot of the advice for struggling writers and artists was dead-on, stuff I struggle with all the time. (The stuff about being consumed with envy of more successful writers really hit me: I do that, and it’s such a waste of time and energy.) Again, was that intentional? Or were you just aiming at an audience of people dealing with addiction?

All of the stuff in 12 Step programs is good advice. There’s a lot of things that seem obvious to well adjusted people. They learned it as children, or during the teenage or college years. I didn’t. I had abnormal parents and as soon as I should have been developing my teenage sense of socialization, I was getting loaded. Most addicts and alcoholics are missing some important part of development. 12 Step programs are diagnostic in the sense that in the course of following steps, you will find out what your Big Problem is. I think the step work would be good for anyone to do, but it’s hard, scary, and against your personal instinct. The only people who are motivated to go to such lengths are those of us who have hit bottom, and even then, most people don’t get through them.

Now for the hardball. There are a couple of questions that I know the atheists/ skeptics/ science- lovers reading this blog are going to want to see asked.

Addictiondependence1
The first: One of the criticisms of 12-Step is that so many of its proponents are so resistant to having it rigorously tested, to see how effective it really is. If alcoholism/ drug addiction really is an illness, the argument goes, then any treatment of it should be subjected to the same kind of careful scientific testing that any other medical treatment of any illness gets. Otherwise, you just have a lot of anecdotal
evidence, and confirmation bias, and counting the hits while ignoring the misses. But many 12-Step proponents are strongly resistant to this, and carefully- gathered statistics about what percentage of people who go into 12-Step stay clean and sober are lacking. What are your thoughts about that?

First off, I think addiction and alcoholism are symptoms of a greater problem. I don’t have any hard facts for this, it’s just my opinion. So I disagree with the idea that it’s a disease as such. But I can’t discount the disease angle either, so I usually don’t mention it.

I do think that there should be research into drugs that would reduce physical cravings for all the substances. There should be a new Methadone, an anti-crack, an anti-amphetamine. In just about every major city it will take you about two weeks to get in a Methadone program, but about half an hour to score heroin.

US_incarceration_timeline-clean
The war on drugs wasn’t on drugs, but on drug addicts and the poor. It only hurt those that used and the low-end dealers. That’s another rant. Do you know how hard it is to get into rehab and sober living environments? If half the war on drugs money had been spent on these two environments, San Francisco would have a tiny fraction of its homeless problem, and petty crimes would disappear. No one is smashing car windows for food money. Ugh. I’m ranting now. Back to the subject.

Okay. So one more in a similar vein: Another criticism of 12-Step that I’ve seen a lot in the skeptical community is how resistant so many 12-Step proponents are to the idea that any other treatment might be effective. What are your thoughts about that? Do you think 12-Step is the one best technique for recovery, or do you think different recovery techniques might work for different people?

Getting sober is one thing. Living sober is another. Living sober is much harder. You have to change your whole way of looking at life. 12 Step is free and accessible. That’s why I stuck with it despite my initial hesitations. I could afford nothing else. It’s a community-based healing system. I like that.

Clinical rehabilitation is the best way to get sober, under medical supervision. But once you leave, you need to live a different life. Your friends and loved ones likely don’t know what you’re going through or how to help you. I am much less of a burden on my friends with a community I’ve found to help me.

Praise
You have an interesting take on the whole “higher power” concept in “Get Up,” and I’d like to hear a little more about it. You make an interesting point in the book: that in 12-Step, the “higher power” theoretically isn’t limited to one religion and can be anything… and yet, as you put it, “The problem with all this is that all of the qualities ascribed to the 12-Step God only describe one God ever in the history of theology: the Protestant Christian God.” Can you talk about that for a bit? How much tinkering did you have to do with the steps to make it genuinely applicable to full-blown atheism?

I don’t believe in a deity. That’s the basis of my atheism. Very simple.

Like I said before, it [12-Step] was designed by Christian people, at least culturally they were. They exclude everyone but themselves if you take everything literally. Even Catholics are supposed forego the priest and other spiritual intermediaries, if you look at it from their viewpoint. They say god can be anything you want, but the qualities of god are such that you can communicate with it directly. That precludes (excludes?) a lot of religions.

If I were to believe in a god, I would not be so pretentious as to assume that I had direct contact with it or that it was even aware of my existence, much less was reading my thoughts on a continual basis.

There’s a few things that I have to translate, namely prayer.

Prayer. This to me is self affirmation. I’m talking to myself. Each time I “pray,” I’m reminding myself that I have resolved to lead a new life, even if it’s suddenly more difficult than it seems. For example, when I feel like I’m about to lose my temper, I say the serenity prayer to myself. It reminds me that I have to change the way I live to have a new life. Blowing up emotionally is directly related to my old life of being unhappy and miserable. I have to learn how to control my temper if I’m going to be the person that I want to be… who is my “god” in the prayer. Like I’m asking myself from the future to help me.

So on that topic: You talk in the book about how you personally interpret the “higher power” concept in 12-Step — for you, your “higher power” is your better self, your ideal self, the person you would most like to be. Can you talk about some other conceptions and interpretations of the “higher power,” ones that have worked for other atheists and non-believers?

Irony
Irony and metaphor have some kind of rule in my life. Irony, such as going to church basements for help with my addictions that rose from trauma suffered in church buildings, pops up throughout my day to day life. Metaphorically, I see things like a pigeon pecking at a cigarette butt, and think, that’s me, and suddenly I have an insight to how my day should work, or I get out of an emotional funk or whatever.

So I consider irony and metaphor higher powers as well. They exist outside of me, but not without my perception of them. Does that make sense or do I sound like a tinfoil hat wearing man now?

You don’t. I wouldn’t have thought of irony and metaphor as higher powers, but I can see how that might work.

And finally, a quick practical question: How do atheists find an atheist- friendly 12-Step group? And if they can’t — if they’re in a part of the country, say, where that’s really not an option — how would you suggest they deal with the religion question if they want to go into the program?

Be patient with the religious people. I think in a few hundred years, religion won’t be any more serious than what your favorite TV show is now. But we’re still in a phase of existence in which most people still aren’t ready to let go.

For those with some 12 Step experience, I’d strongly suggest starting a meeting. There are men’s meetings, women’s meetings, GLBT meetings, young people’s meetings… why? Because there are specific needs that can be met this way.

Not that you should exclude the religious from these meetings. You should just exclude the talk. And hold it somewhere that’s not in a church basement, please.

Bucky_Sinister_photo
Bucky Sinister is a spoken word artist who performs about 40 times a years at comedy clubs and theaters, primarily on the West Coast, but also around the country. He has published nine chapbooks and three full-length collections of poetry, the most recent being “All Blacked Out & Nowhere to Go.” His first full-length CD, “What Happens in Narnia, Stays in Narnia” was released in 2007. “Get Up: A 12 Step Recovery Guide for Misfits, Freaks & Weirdos” is available at Powell’s, Amazon, Last Gasp, and other fine booksellers everywhere. He can be contacted through his website, buckysinister.com. He also has a MySpace page with some good, funny audio clips of his stand-up comedy/ spoken word. “Get Up” is published by Conari Press, an imprint of Red Wheel/Weiser.

Election Snippet: John McCain and Corporate Lobbyists

Today’s election snippet:

John McCain has worked hard to create an image of himself as an independent politician who isn’t connected with, or beholden to, the big- money, big-corporation special interests that are making American politics such a nightmare. He has said, “I’m the only one the special interests don’t give any money to.”

This piece on the Mother Jones blog details the deep and wide connections between John McCain and big corporate- interest lobbyists… in particular, lobbyists for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, late of the subprime mortgage debacle. Including several campaign staffers. Including a campaign staffer who was Fannie Mae’s head of lobbying. And including his actual campaign manager, who served as president of a lobbying association that fought to protect Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae from regulation.

And if you prefer your information in video form, here’s a video, also detailing the deep and wide connections between McCain and big corporate lobbyists. (Video below the fold.)

[Read more...]

A Patchwork of Income: Making a Living as an Artist

Writing
I had this revelation recently about making a living as a writer. It came to me kind of absurdly late in my career, given how obvious it’s now seeming. And it’s occurred to me that, if it took me almost twenty years to figure this revelation out, there might be some other struggling writers and artists who haven’t figured it out yet, either.

So I’m going to share the wealth. If you’re a writer — or any kind of artist — trying to make a living at it, here’s the advice I wish I’d gotten ten or fifteen years ago.

OceansEleven
For years, I’ve been thinking about making a living as a writer in terms of the One Big Score. The major- publisher book deal. The regular gig for the big-name magazine. That sort of thing.

And as a consequence, I’ve had a tendency to think of littler scores — moderate bits of income from smaller publishers — as a low priority. I’ve always been happy to get them, of course; but I’ve tended to look at the littler scores as stepping stones, ways to get my name more widely recognized, so I could make bigger and bigger scores… which would also be stepping stones, on my way to the One Big Score.

(I should know better. I’ve seen enough crime/ adventure movies to know how dumb it is to stake your life and career on One Big Score…)

But I realized recently — somewhat to my surprise — that I’m actually making a fair living as a writer. I’m not yet working full- time at it, or making my full living off of it. But I am making something that vaguely resembles real money — a substantial portion of my income, money that I use to pay actual bills and stuff — from my writing.

And it’s coming from lots of small and moderate -sized payments, from lots of small and moderate -sized publishers and sources.

In no particular order, it’s coming from:

Advertising income from my blog
Donations and subscriptions to my blog (thanks, everybody!)
Regular columns for online periodicals
One-time projects for anthologies or other publications
Royalties from book sales

(And I’m not counting the fact that about 75% of what I do in my day job is copywriting and book editing.)

Calculator
No one piece of this is hugely substantial. But it all adds up: not quite to an income, not yet anyway, but to a genuine part-time job. (And a nice side benefit of a patchwork income is that, if one piece of it falls through, it’s not a disaster. It’s a temporary annoyance.)

Oh. One more essential thing. (She said sneakily, saving the zinger for last.)

Many of these little pieces?

I wouldn’t have them if it weren’t for the blog.

Money
And not just the obvious pieces, either: the ads, the donations. Both of my current regular gigs for online publications — the Blowfish Blog gig and the FriendFinder/ Alt.com gig — I got, at least in part, because publishers or friends of publishers knew about my blog. Some of my anthology pieces and other one-time paid gigs are reprints of blog posts… and that’s becoming increasingly true as I build a larger body of work here. And the blog — and the fact that I can do ad trades with other blogs — is becoming one of the primary ways that I promote my books.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: If you’re writing, you have to blog. You just do. I — don’t look at me that way. Point that gun somewhere else. Get off the window ledge. I know that blogging is a time suck. I know that it feels like you’re giving away for free what you’re trying to make a living at. I know that a blog takes a lot of work to do right… and an insane amount of patience to stick with for long enough to get any kind of traffic and traction out of it.

But here’s what I’ve said before, and will say again: If you’re a writer in the early 21st century, and you don’t blog? It’s like being a pop musician in the mid 20th century, and refusing to let your songs be played on the radio. You’re denying yourself what is probably the single most powerful outlet currently available for publicizing your work.

That’s all something of a side point, though. It’s an important side point, and one I’ll continue to evangelize about; but it is a side point. So let me get back to the main point.

Which is this:

Patchwork quilt
Building a writing career, or any sort of artistic career, is very rarely about getting the One Big Break, scoring the One Big Score. It’s more like sewing a patchwork quilt. No one piece of a patchwork quilt is going to keep you warm… but all of them sewn together can do a pretty decent job of it.

By all means, keep trying for the Big Score. But don’t neglect the little scores while you’re at it. If you can get enough of them, the little scores can add up to a genuine career.

Brief Blog Semi-Break/Open Thread

I’m going out of town for a long weekend, leaving Thursday and coming back Sunday. Our neighbors are looking after our home and our cats while we’re gone, but I may or may not have reliable Internet access. If I do, I’ll do a blog post or two; but if you don’t see me until Sunday or Monday, don’t be surprised.

In the meantime, talk amongst yourselves. Let’s pretend it’s a job interview. Where do you see yourself in five years? What do you think is your greatest weakness? And if you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?

Tee Hee, You Said “Bonk”

BonkThis review was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.

If ever a book was tailor- made for me to enjoy, this is it.

I’m a huge science nerd. I’m a huge sex nerd. How could I not love a book called Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex?

Well, let me tell you how. Exactly.

First, I should disclaim for a brief moment: Bonk is not a terrible book. The subject matter — the history of the scientific study of sex, and some of the more interesting examples of its current state — is a compelling one, loaded with fascinating ideas both about sex itself and the appallingly/ entertainingly conflicted attitudes society has about it. And the author — Mary Roach, celebrated author of Stiff and Spook — is no slouch. She’s a thorough researcher and a clear, fun writer, adept at taking complicated and potentially boring scientific ideas and making them accessible to the lay reader.

Beavis_and_Butt-head
Please note that I refrained from making a childish, Beavis and Butthead- esque sex joke about the “lay” reader.

Which brings me to the problem.

The problem is this: The author’s attitude towards sex is annoyingly adolescent, bouncing back and forth between giggling and gross-out Especially when it comes to some of the more unusual or extreme sexual variations she’s writing about.

And that really gets up my nose. It’s irritating; it’s insulting to my intelligence… and it leads to some actual misinformation.

Take this. From the introduction, discussing the fact that she injected some of her personal experiences into the book:

My solution was to apply the stepdaughter test. I imagined Lily and Phoebe reading these passages, and I tried to write in a way that wouldn’t mortify them. Though I’ve surely failed that test, I remain hopeful that the rest of you won’t have reason to cringe. (p. 18)

Well… no. Why would I cringe? I’m reading a book about sex. Why would I cringe at descriptions of the author’s sexual experiences, or responses, or participation in sex studies?

In fact, I did cringe when reading this book. Repeatedly. But it wasn’t because the author was being too sexually explicit. It was because she was clearly cringing herself.

Or this:

One research team collected specimens of the expulsion [female ejaculate] and asked outsiders to characterize it. It is a testimony to the generosity of the human spirit that these volunteers both smelled and tasted the specimens. (p. 198)

Smart girls guide to the g spot
Hey, you know what? I have both smelled and tasted female ejaculate. And it didn't require any “generosity” on my part. I was, to put it mildly, happy to do it. Admittedly it wasn’t in a laboratory setting… but the point remains that not everybody would need to search for the generous spirit in their hearts in order to take part in this experiment. If Ms. Roach is grossed out by female ejaculate and would need to buck herself with a spirit of volunteerism in order to smell and taste it, that certainly doesn’t make her unqualified to be a sex writer… but her blithe assumption that everyone shares her reaction is a pretty big strike against her.

Or this:

I’m not saying there’s a link between Catholicism and sex toys. I’m just saying I’ve got a brand-new interpretation of Isiah 49:2 (“The Lord… hath made me a polished shaft”). (p. 216)

Tee hee. You said “shaft,” Beavis.

And my final example before I move on:

In one of the sections on erectile dysfunction, Roach has a fairly long and detailed discussion about cock rings. But the discussion focuses almost entirely on cock ring mishaps — trips to the emergency room and whatnot — resulting from too-tight cock rings made of too-rigid materials.

Cock ring
And nowhere in this odyssey of penile disaster does she mention that the majority of cock rings are flexible and removable: made of stretchy material such as leather or rubber, and fastening with snaps or laces or Velcro or some such for easy removal. If you read Bonk and had never heard of a cock ring before, you wouldn’t come away thinking, “Hm, interesting, that could be a nifty alternative to Viagra.” You’d come away thinking, “Who in their right mind would do something that stupid?” And you’d come away misinformed. I don’t know if Roach didn’t know about flexible/ removable cock rings, or if she simply chose not to mention them because the disasters were funnier. And I don’t much care. Either excuse is, well, inexcusable.

I understand that she’s trying to present her subject with humor. That’s not the problem. I’m all in favor of the humor, and have even been known to apply it to the topic of sex myself from time to time. But there are varieties of humor available to a writer other than adolescent fits of grossed-out giggles. And they’re rather more appropriate to sex writing… both for an adult writer, and for an adult audience. I hate, hate, hate sex writing by writers who seem embarrassed by their topic.

Technology of orgasm
It might be easier to talk about what this book does wrong by comparing it to a book that does it oh so right. The Technology of Orgasm: Hysteria, the Vibrator, and Women’s Sexual Satisfaction is hilarious. It had me laughing out loud on roughly every tenth page… a feat that Bonk almost never accomplished. And at no point in the book did I get even a whiff of a sense that the author was embarrassed by her topic. Quite the contrary. Rachel Maines approaches sex in general, and the history of vibrators in particular, with an earthy, blunt, clear-eyed gaze, and no embarrassment whatsoever.

And that absolutely does not interfere with her humor. Heck, it’s the foundation of it. Maines is vividly aware of how laughably absurd sex — and people’s reactions to it — can be. But she doesn’t find the very existence of sex to be the source of the laffs. Her humor isn’t the humor of discomfort. It’s not the unnerved giggle of an adolescent; making light of sex to dilute its importance, and making a show of being repulsed by it to deflect the powerful hold it has.

Roach’s humor in Bonk, alas, is exactly that.

And while it doesn’t make Bonk completely unworthy, it does turn it into an interesting but irritating book… when it could have been a great one. I have rarely opened a book with so much excitement and anticipation. And I have rarely closed it with so much frustration at the opportunity it missed.

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex. By Mary Roach. W.W. Norton. ISBN 978-0-393-06464-3. Hardcover. $24.95.

The Technology of Orgasm: Hysteria, the Vibrator, and Women’s Sexual Satisfaction. By Rachel P. Maines. Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-0-801866-46-3. Trade paper. $17.95.