Noted without comment: Cars and Biology

We understand automobiles. There are no homeopathic automobile repair shops, that try to repair your car by putting infinitesimal dilutions of rust in the gas tank. There are no automotive faith healers, who lay their hands on the hood and pray. People reserve such superstitions for things that they don’t understand very well, such as the human body.

–Leslie Lamport, July 2003

I don’t understand people

So, as many of you readers of this blog already know, one of the many things I do is write erotica. The most popular thing I’ve ever written by far is a BDSM/non-con story, the Training of Eileen series, which concerns a woman who’s trained as a sex slave by her partner.

Now, of course, it gets a lot of emails. So many, in fact, that I detailed analysis of hundreds of emails I’ve received about the story, much of which were quite positive and some of which were, as could reasonably be expected with erotica in general and consent-play BDSM erotica in particular, negative.

None of that is terribly new.

However, what IS new is the email that landed in my inbox today.

The person who emailed me, who identified himself as male, wrote at great length about how the Training story shocked and terrified him. He relates, in the email, how the descriptions of the sex were so terrifying to him–more terrifying, he said, than anything else that he has ever experienced in his life–that the story now “haunts” him and has changed his life.

He seems, according to his email, to be so horrified by the story, and by the way the main character’s experiences are described, that he feels traumatized, and he seems to feel I bear some responsibility for what the story has done to him.

Okay, so different folks have different expectations and desires about sex, and what some people find titillating might be disturbing to other folks. I get that. In fact, many’s the time I’ve been quite shocked and horrified by graphic descriptions of unsatisfying, unfulfilling sex in the dark with the lights out between folks who are so ashamed of their sexual desires that they can’t muster the courage to ask for anything else, even though they don’t like the sex they’re having. But, hey, as long as we’re all adults, well, it takes all kinds, right?

But here’s the bit that baffles me.

The email demonstrates a knowledge of the entire story, or at least near enough to it so as it makes no difference. The story, taken as a whole, weighs in well north of 200,000 words, if I recall correctly.

So this suggests that a person has found a story that terrifies, horrifies, and traumatizes him, one which in his words sounds plausible enough that it has changed his perception of sex (for the worse, presumably, though he doesn’t quiiiiite say so directly)…and, once he realized what he was getting into, kept reading.

And reading. And then, read some more.

So: what am I missing? If this person really found the story to be that traumatizing, surely he could…stop reading it?

Is this why there are many folks who want to pass laws banning the things they see that offend them–because once their attention has been caught by something they don’t like, they can’t look away? I feel like I’m missing something here.

If you’re making that much of the question, the answer is probably ‘yes’.

Last week, I went in for another round of regular STD screening. I recommend that anyone who’s sexually active do this, of course, particularly before taking on a new lover or when a lover’s partner status has changed. In polyamorous relationships, it seems like basic common sense.

It will probably never win any awards for fun things to do; I don’t see Carnival Cruise Lines adding it to the featured activities on any of their vacation packages, for example. Generally, it’s one part filling out paperwork, one part having a needle inserted in one’s body in a non-erotic context, and one hundred and fifty-seven parts sitting in a waiting room playing with one’s smart phone or, barring that, staring at a crack in the linoleum that looks just a bit like Richard Nixon’s face.

And listening to the person behind the counter answer the phone.

It’s the phone part that was, for me, interesting enough to warrant a blog post. Now, mind you, whenever she answered the phone, I could only hear one part of the conversation, so what was going on on the other end of the line is a matter of pure conjecture. Still, on one occasion, the conversation (or at least the bit of it I could hear) hit a wall, to such an extent that if it were a scene in a movie I was writing a snarky review of, I would say that the dialog…wedged. It’s one of the few occasions I can think of dialog wedging in real life.

The conversation seemed to be going so well at first, until it hit the wall. It went something like this:

“Good afternoon, how can I help you? [pause] Yes, you need an appointment to come in. [pause] I have an opening at 11 AM on Friday. [pause] Later? Sure, no problem. I have another opening at 4 PM Friday, how does that sound? [pause] Okay, great. What will you be coming in for? [pause] Normal screening? No problem. Are you male or female? [pause] Okay, and are you under 24 years old? [pause] No? Okay, great. Are you having any symptoms? [pause] No symptoms, just checking. Right. Have you ever had sex with another man? [pause] Sex. With another man. [pause] Yes, that’s right, have you ever had sexual intercourse with another man? [pause] With a partner who is also male. [pause] Have you had a sexual partner who is a man? [long pause] Have you had sexual activity with a partner who is male. [pause] Yes, sex. With a man. Have you had a sex partner who is a man. [long pause]

At this point, I was called in for the sticking-with-needles bit, so I never learned if that conversation eventually unwedged itself or not. I do admit, however, that there is a bit of me, deep down inside, that suspects that if the question poses that much of a puzzler, the answer is likely something along the lines of “Yes, but I don’t want to admit to it.”

I suppose there are many take-home lessons that could be learned from that. For me, the one that seems most obvious is “this is one of many reasons it’s stupid to shame folks based on who they have sex with.”

Computer Security: Enormous Twitter Attack

A while ago, I received a spam email. The email came from an obviously hacked attack, and contained nothing but a Web URL.

This usually means either a phony pharmacy spam or a computer virus. Since I am interested in these things, and since I keep virtual machines with redundant backups so I’m not too concerned about malware, I followed it. It lead to a GoDaddy site which redirected to a PHP redirection script living on a hacked Web site which led in turn to a fake antiviurs page–a page that throws up a phony virus “warning” and prompts the mark to download an antivirus program to “fix” the problem. The supposed “antivirus program” is, of course, actually malware. Pretty run-of-the-mill stuff. I reported it to the Web hosts and moved on.

Then, a few days later, I started seeing Twitter posts that were just a URL. These posts led to a hacked site…which led to the same redirector, which then led on to the same malware sites.

Then I started seeing more. And more and more and more. And still more.

I did a Google search. Just one of the hacked sites, an Indian site called, had over 257 **MILLION** mentions on Twitter, which some quick investigating shows were coming from at least 500,000 Twitter accounts that were being used to blast the URL far and wide. 257 million searchable mentions for just a single attack URL!

This is a huge scale attack, flooding Twitter with hundreds of millions of mentions of hacked Web sites that in turn redirect to a traffic handler which then sends visitors on to computer malware.

I did some more investigating, mapping out the patterns of redirections, visiting the sites again and again with my browser user agent set in different ways, watching what happened. After a while, I was able to build a map of the attack, which looks something like this:

And I found some really interesting things.

More technical details, as well as screen shots of the malware sites, under this cut. If you’re interested, clicky here!

Movie Review: Snow White and the Huntsman

As a kid, I never got a lot of exposure to all the usual Disney fairy tales. Most of what I know about them is through cultural osmosis; I know that Rapunzel has long hair, Sleeping Beauty had to be wakened by a prince, Cinderella is the one who ridea round in a gourd and is inattentive of her footwear, Bambi is the one whose mother got killed, and so on. But the finer details of the storybook princesses are largely lost on me; they're kind of a blur in my mind. One of them has something to do with a spindle, but I'm not sure which one, or why. I had thought that the poisoned apple was a Sleeping Beauty thing, but apparently that's not the case. Is Rapunzel part of the same story with Rumpelstiltskin in it? I'm not quite sure.

So when we walked into the theater last night, I was more nearly a blank slate than the average bear. I knew only the sketchiest outlines of the Snow White story–that it involved dwarfs and a mirror–but that's about it.

I am not, therefore, terribly qualified to speak as to whether the reboot is a better story than the original. I'm not quite sure about the whole scene where James T. Kirk almost runs his car into a giant canyon that has, for some inexplicable reason, opened up in the middle of Iowa, but…oh, wait, sorry, that's a different reboot I'm thinking of.

What movie was it I was going to talk about? Oh, right, Snow White. The one with the evil queen in it. (Aren't there other evil queens? I seem to recall an evil queen in Sleeping Beauty, at least. Or am I confused?)

The movie goes something like this:

Good Queen: I just pricked my finger on a rose that was growing out of season. That gave me an idea. We should have a baby!
Good King: lol wat?
Good King Okay.


Prince From Another Castle: Hey, Snow Rapunzel Sleeping White, do you want an apple?
Princess Sleeping Rapunzel Beauty: Sure!
Prince From Another Castle: Psych!
Princess Sleeping Cinderella: I have found a bird with a broken wing.

Princess Cinderella Beauty looks at the BIRD with INNOCENT WIDE-EYED WONDER.

Good Queen: We will take care of this bird.

They TAKE CARE of the BIRD.

Good Queen: My work here is done. I think I'll die now.

The Good Queen DIES.

Good King: Wait, what?
Cut for spoilers

Thoughts from BayCon: Polyamory, kink, community, divisiveness, and us vs. them

I’m just back from BayCon, an annual science fiction convention in the San Francisco Bay Area. I quite like cons, and I’ve been going to cons of various flavors for more than two-thirds of my life, though this was a bit unusual in that it was a much more businesslike trip than most of the other cons I’ve attended. My expenses were paid by a group of folks who really wanted to see me present (which was awesome, and I’d like to say “thank you” to the con organizers for helping make that happen), and I spent three days on various panels talking about everything from polyamory to creativity.

There’s quite a lot of interesting stuff that came up during those panels, some of which I’ll no doubt be blogging about for the next several days or so. One thing in particular that I want to talk about, though, concerns the way those of us who are active in alternative lifestyles tend sometimes to create and foster–sometimes deliberately, sometimes unintentionally–an atmosphere of exclusion and ostracism that perpetuates the very same kinds of things that we claim to be working against.

One of the panels I was on concerned the topic of defining alternative relationships. Throughout the panel, several folks, both on the panel and in the audience, referred to people who are neither polyamorous nor into BDSM by terms like ‘mundane’ and ‘muggle.’

And this is, I think, a huge problem for those of us in the kink and poly communities, or indeed in any sort of non-traditional social or relationship community.

Now, it seems to me that the problem with doing this should be self-evident. It’s self-congratulatory and divisive. It creates a completely unnecessary schism. It lumps everyone who isn’t into whatever we’re into in together as though they are all part of one great undifferentiated lump, which is just blindingly stupid; there are lots of folks who are neither kinky nor poly but who nevertheless are anything but normal. (I’ll warrant that the life of folks like James Cameron, who designed and built the world’s deepest-diving submersible because he wanted to check out what was going on at the bottom of the Marianas Trench, or Elon Musk, who designed and built the Falcon/Dragon successor to the Space Shuttle entirely privately on a shoestring budget because he thought that starting a private spacefaring company might be a cool thing to do for a living, are rather more interesting than the life of the average sci-fi fan even if those folks never once lift a flogger or date more than one person at the same time!) It does exactly what kinky and poly folks complain they don’t want others to do to them–it judges other people based on stereotypes mostly ridiculous and assumptions mostly baseless.

And, all those things aside, it’s simply bad policy.

I am a pragmatist. I tend to be less concerned with how people “should” behave and more concerned with what sorts of behaviors actually work.

And I think that every single derisive use of words like “mundane,” “vanilla,” “muggle,” and so on actually ends up hurting the folks who use them.

The problem with describing people outside of one’s community this way, aside from the fact that it’s arrogant, dismissive, and inaccurate, is that it recognizes no distinctions between all those “normals.” To someone who dismisses anyone not kinky or poly as a “mundane,” a Unitarian who works for acceptance, sex-positivity, and compassion is no different from someone who belongs to Westboro Baptist Church, America’s most well-known trolls.

And not only is that stupid, it’s counterproductive. It alienates potential allies. It pre-emptively antagonizes folks who are simply neutral. It creates an us vs. them mindset which, at the end of the day, the “us” is almost certain to lose; when the “us” is a single-digit, or perhaps at the most optimistic a low double-digit, percentage of the size of the “them,” fabricating an us vs. them mentality is simply bad tactics.

It is also exclusionary. A lot of folks who are poly, or kinky, or both, tend not to be part of the kink and poly communities, because this “us vs. them” mentality subconsciously shapes attitudes and opinions in ways that limit participation in the community.

When I lived in Tampa, I was for a number of years a regular host for PolyTampa, which appears to be as of this writing the longest-running polyamory support group in the country that’s still ongoing.

Anyone who’s been part of the community for any length of time has probably noticed that a disproportionate number of folks in the poly community tend to be geeky, middle-class, pagan, gamer…the stereotype of the “bi pagan poly gamer geek” is prevalent for a reason.

But it might not be the reason that people think.

I’ve watched a lot of folks talk about why the poly and kink scenes are so overwhelmingly gamer geek pagan bi (and, though it rarely gets mentioned, white and middle-class), and the explanations I hear usually fall along the lines of “Well, once you’ve started questioning monogamy and relationships, it follows naturally that you’d question other things, like religion and culture and stuff too. It’s because we’re so openminded and unconventional!”

Which, honestly, sounds like self-congratulatory horseshit to me.

There’s another reason, though I think it’s more subtle. It’s something I think a lot of folks in the poly and kink communities are blind to; namely, that the communities are hostile to anyone who ISN’T cut from the bi pagan gamer geek cloth.

I don’t think it’s deliberate or malicious, mind you. (At least not usually; there are some exceptions, like one exceedingly unpleasant chap I encountered on Facebook recently who claims quite stridently that all monogamous relationships are abusive, anyone who prefers monogamy does so only because he wants to control his partners or he simply hasn’t broken the brainwashing of conventional culture enough to look at relationships critically…but I digress. Not everyone in the community shares anything like those beliefs.)

During the course of the time I spent hosting PolyTampa, I noticed a fair number of people who would come to a single meeting, hang around for a bit, and then leave, never to be seen again. I also spoke to several folks who talked about being polyamorous but also about how they felt unwanted and unwelcome in the poly community, because they weren’t pagan, New Age, geeky, gamers, or techies.

I don’t think there’s a lot of pagan New Age gaming geeks in the poly community because being poly means challenging accepted social norms about religion, hobbies, or attitudes. Quite the opposite; I think there are a lot of pagan New Age gaming geeks in the poly community because the poly community can be quite unfriendly to folks who aren’t pagan New Age gaming geeks.

Now, let me be clear that (with very, very few exceptions) I don’t believe it’s intentional. Aside from that one unpleasant Facebook fellow, I’ve never encountered anyone in the poly community who would tell someone else “you’re not welcome here.”

However, as I’ve said before, any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.

It doesn’t matter that it’s down to social incompetence more than maliciousness; the fact is, the poly and kink communities do tend to see the world in a polarizing, us vs. them light, and do often make themselves unfriendly to folks outside the pagan New Age gaming geek mold.

It’s subtle–so subtle that the folks who do it are probably totally unaware that they’re doing it. It happens through a process of normalization–of seeing everyone who doesn’t fit the pagan New Age gaming geek mold as a “mundane,” a “normal,” a “muggle,” part of an undifferentiated mass. It happens through tacit, rarely acknowledged expectations that if you’re poly, of course that means you aren’t Christian, you prefer video games to NASCAR, you have the free time and the money to meet and socialize at restaurants, you get the jargon and lingo of the geek crowd.

I’ve had folks come up and talk to me after poly meetings to say that they feel unwelcome because they are evangelical Christian, or because they’d rather go fishing than play World of Warcraft. Like I said, it’s not intentional, it’s subtle, but it shows in a thousand different ways. There are subtle little expectations, occasional barely-acknowledged disparaging remarks about all those other folks who, heh heh, just mindlessly cling to some mainstream religion instead of, you know, something more spiritually thoughtful like paganism, the offhand remarks about how the rest of the world is just stuck in the boring rut of vanilla sex… All of these things create an unmistakeable social subtext: this is who we are, and if you’re not one of us, you’re one of them. The Mundanes. The great boring unwashed mass of People who Just Don’t Get It.

And we’re cleverer than they are, oh yes. We appreciate diversity more than the mundanes do. We understand the value of being our own individual, something all those people don’t. Because, you know, they’re all the same. And they aren’t as smart as we are, or as tolerant, or even able to challenge their own assumptions. You know, the way we can.

It seems that being subjected to unwarranted prejudice and unfounded assumptions tends to make one skilled at doing these very things to others.

During the panel, when a few of the panelists had derisively referred to non-alt people as “mundanes” and “normals” several times, I chipped in that I don’t use that sort of language because I find it unnecessarily divisive and totally inaccurate. It creates a myth of “normalcy” that doesn’t actually exist; the mundanes that the other panelists derided do not, in any real sense, actually exist.

After the panel, a woman approached me to say that she was Mormon and in a D/s relationship, and found the kink community to be quite hostile. The assumptions that came from her being Mormon rather than pagan–she must be politically conservative, she must be anti-gay, she must be a blind puppet of organized religion–were subtle but real to her. When people in the community assume a baseline of pagan New Age gaming geek and talk about “mundanes” and “muggles,” she saw a rejection of her in that–or, perhaps, a rejection of a distorted funhouse mirror picture of her, as rife with unchallenged assumptions as any that poly or kinky people will ever be targeted with.

And that’s a damn shame. We need to do better than that.