Choice. A good thing?

I came across two wildly different pieces of information, and their juxtaposition sent my brain into cartwheels on the subject of having choices.

choiceConsider having no choice. I read the Economist most weeks, because it is one of the better ways to keep informed about the world outside my home country. If you’ve read my books, you’ve noticed that I am fascinated by the rest of the world. I also consider myself somewhat informed, so I read the following from the Feb 25 2017 issue of The Economist three times.

In a 2012 household survey … more than half [of Indian women] said they could not visit a shop, or even a friend, without someone else’s approval … and 52% thought it normal for a husband to beat his wife if she ventured out without telling him.

2012? Half the population? But I know women from India who live in the US, and my writing and the internet have combined to introduce me to women who live in India now as well. This doesn’t sound like their reality. The article adds

For wealthy and middle-class Indian women, freedoms have steadily grown.

Oh, right.  Those are the women with whom I have contact. In fact, those are generally the women with whom I have contact here as well. Both education and the influence of others work to increase a woman’s freedom. I wonder what percentage of poorly educated women in remote rural locations live a similarly constrained life here?

Then I came across this.

While people like having choices, too many options makes settling on one specific choice difficult. There is a technical term to describe this problem: the excessive choice effect (ECE). The ECE refers to the inverse relationship between the number of options and the ability of a person to make a choice. It is most famously related to a study involving jam. Authors Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper found that consumers more likely to purchase jam when presented with six choices than when they were presented with 24 choices.

jamIt was part of a newsletter from the American Association of Independent Investors. If you’ve read d4 you know that I handle stock investing for myself and other family members, and so I’ve subscribed to a wide variety of newsletters on the subject over the past decade or so. Most make money, but mostly for the people who write them.  However, the AAII aims to provide “unbiased, actionable investment education” often playing the role of a sort of “Consumer Reports” for the individual investor. Here, they were trying to help the non-professional navigate their way through mutual funds. (There are an awful lot of them out there.) So I checked out the jam story, and apparently it is true.

I have always believed that having no real choice about what you can do is the very definition of misery. The essence of happiness is the freedom to choose the alternative you believe is best. You may choose to defer your happiness, or to forego it altogether to aid or please another. You may choose to do something difficult; you may choose to take a nap. When circumstances beyond anyone’s control give you a lousy set of choices, that might make what you pick all the more valuable to you.

growing-bolder-8To artificially restrict anyone’s decisions (visit a sick friend and get beaten, or don’t) is to artificially limit their joy in life. No, you can’t study to be a doctor because we say so. No, you cannot try to run a marathon, because I don’t like the idea. This exertion of control, this limiting the potential of others with arbitrary rules, is of course not confined to the experience of women. However, women have far too often been on the losing end of it. On this blog and in my life, I cheer on the women who have found a way to regain their options.

But what an interesting idea that we also don’t like to have too many choices. At least when it comes to something trivial like what cookie to eat, a half dozen options are good. More important decisions like what career to pursue or what mate to choose presumably warrant having more than six to pick from. But can we suffer from choice overload even then?

Maybe what we all want is enough meaningful choices, in all aspects of our life. We don’t like being forced to pick among things that don’t matter that much to us. Ask anyone who has recently had to plan a wedding and pick from dozens of nearly identicle type-fonts. And yet, we rebel deeply against not being able to choose the things that matter most to us. Of course we do.

Funny creatures, aren’t we?

One Great Idea From the Misogynist Wing of the Alt Right

Like almost everything you can imagine, and a whole lot of things you can’t, it exists on the internet. The same wonderful, amazing tool that fuels my stories by letting me see locations I’ll never visit and open doors into the minds of others I will never meet, also allows me to find voices that repulse and frighten me. In fact, it allows me to find them easily.

Like most people, I avoid the dark corners of the internet, until my desire to make a character or incident more authentic drives me back to some putrid place. This time, I was trying to do something that seemed pretty safe. I was trying to learn more about Argentine women, because I was writing about one. Flipping through sites, I landed on a blog about how to get laid in Argentina. It seemed to be part of series of posts advising men about how to obtain casual, consensual and free sex in every country on earth. Crass but harmless.

The author advised me that women in Argentina were far too high maintenance and that I would be better off just heading over to neighboring Brazil. Something about the general tone started to bother me, and I filed it away for a possible future blog post of my own.

geniusBecause I’m a news junkie, over the last few days I’ve heard a lot about Trump’s new campaign chief executive Stephen Bannon, who also heads up Breitbart News. I had not heard of Breitbart News before, but according to a wealth of sources it is part of an alternate reality known as the alt right, in which a wide variety of paranoid white-centric ideas are held as truths. I checked it out for myself, and found headlines like “Obama Golfs as Louisiana Floods” and “Texas Voter ID Case Compared to Area 51 Alien Conspiracy” (two actual headlines used today). Okay, I’m going to go with the talking heads.

I also went back to the how-to-get-laid-in-Argentina blog, thinking I might write about it, and lo and behold I found another post there entitled “If Trump Doesn’t Win We’re Screwed.” Hmm. Seems like this guy writes about more topics than effective pick-up lines. It didn’t take much in the way of looking around to find a post called “Ugly Minority Girls Are Winning Beauty Pageants To Satisfy The Diversity Agenda” and to find comments like (I quote the exact words and apologize in advance for any offense) “overweight and obese girls have more sexual partners on average than girls who are in shape, because the same lack of impulse control that leads them to stuff their faces with food also leads them to hoover up cocks left and right” and “homosexuals and bisexuals are more likely than heterosexuals to be mentally ill: their malfunctioning sexual impulses lead to their entire personalities being dysfunctional.”

By this point I was looking for some bleach to clean out my browser. Ick. Yes, people can believe anything they want and they can also share those thoughts with others. But does this blogger seriously believe what he writes, or, like much of the alt right, does he just enjoy shocking people with outrageous statements?

I decided to look further into this. The blogger has a name, Daryush Valizadeh, and he achieved a small amount of infamy when he wrote a post in 2015 suggesting that rape be legalized on private property. His argument was that such a law would coerce women into becoming extremely careful (or paranoid), to the point of never being alone with a man with whom they did not want to have sex. Thus rape would be eliminated. After a lot of criticism, he claimed that he was being sarcastic.

sungazing5The Southern Poverty Law Center follows him due to his “specific examples of misogyny and the threat, overt or implicit, of violence” and you can read their latest on him. (I am happy to provide a link to the SPLC site, but will not link to his blogs.) According to the short Wikipedia entry on him, he is against female promiscuity, which seems a rather odd stance for a man who writes books with titles like Bang Lithuania: How to Sleep with Lithuanian Women in Lithuania and Don’t Bang Denmark: How to Sleep with Danish Women in Denmark (If You Must). I  have no idea what he has against Danish women.

Another odd contradiction is that along with his clarion call for men to be sexually aggressive, he has recently begun to rally his followers to reject globalism and adhere to nationalism. It seems a strange stance for a man who is the child of two immigrants, who has lived in multiple other countries and who writes travel books. Perhaps he is trying a little too hard to merge his philosophies about sex with the politics of the alt right.

I do confess to reading one of his posts from start to finish. It was titled something like “don’t have sex with feminists” and it advised men that the feminist movement could be seriously diminished if males would simply refuse to become intimate with women who held unacceptable ideas like wanting equal pay. (I’m serious, equal pay was the horrible feminist idea that he used as an example.) His plan for stopping feminism is for every man in every bar to respond clearly and firmly to every such statement with something like “then forget it, I’m not attracted to feminists.” He thinks this would make women feel so rejected that they would rethink their silly ideas.

I almost wrote the man to say “Please get all of your followers to do this. Please. What a service this would be.”

Imagine the scene in the bar. He says “Forget it, lady, I’m not attracted to feminists.” She says “Thank you so much for telling me. I’m not attracted to assholes.”

And everyone leaves the bar happy. See, even I can find one idea from the misogyny wing of the alt right movement with which to agree.

 

 

 

Because she could ….

bolder6A couple of months ago I wrote about March as Women’s History month, and the corresponding wealth of sites celebrating songs that empower women. Buzz Feed, The BoomBox, and vh1 all had their lists complete with best lines from the song, the reason the song is great, and a video to enjoy. I concatenated the lists together to create my own mega celebration of female power.

However, I felt like the songs were mostly recent and in certain popular genres. The only one that could be considered an oldie was the all time classic “Respect” by Aretha Franklin. Country-western songs were nowhere to be found, even though I had discovered plenty of them when I was writing c3, and needed one to include in my story. (I settled on “Because I Can” by LeAnn Rimes and, I’ve come to really appreciate it even though I’m not a CW fan.)

An old friend of mine who is an expert on Classic Rock and Roll read my post and he agreed that too many older songs that qualified were left off of the list. He proposed twelve more additions. They are all good, but the three that simply have to be included are given below in chronological order.

Lesley Gore’s 1963 hit “You Don’t Own Me” predated the idea of feminism but it got the attitude right.The chorus features “And don’t tell me what to do, don’t tell me what to say”.

Yes, you can find a video of a song from 1963. Here it is.

“I am Woman” performed by Helen Reddy is a 1972 feminist’s anthem, with lyrics that begin with “I am woman, hear me roar!” It has had plenty of satire over the years but no one has put a more blunt statement of feminine power to music before or since. The Billboard Book of Number One Hits describes the typical DJ reaction to the song in 1972 as “‘I can’t stand this record! I hate this song! But you know, it’s a funny thing, my wife loves it!”

Enjoy this 1975 version performed by Helen Reddy.

Gloria Gaynor’s 1978 “I Will Survive” has gotten some recent attention when it was featured during the credits at the end of “The Martian”.  Yes, it is a song about human survival, but also one specifically about a woman finding the strength within her.  This video of Gloria Gaynor singing will have you standing up and yelling “yes” by the end and you’ll feel better, I promise.

“Because I Can”

beautiful life6Not sure when women got March as Women’s History month, but I’m glad they did. Her story isn’t told nearly as often as history. It is a little surprising, though, that along with this attempt to add more balance to our knowledge of the past, there is suddenly a wealth of sites celebrating songs that empower women. Buzz Feed offers 17 Empowering Songs By Female Artists To Boost Your Self-Esteem, The BoomBox has 20 songs to celebrate the superwoman in you, and vh1 has The 15 Greatest Girl Power Anthems. Each site features best lines from the song, the reason the song is great, and a video to enjoy.

I thought it was interesting that only three songs showed up twice.  The honors go to “Independent Women” by Destiny’s Child, “Stronger” by Britney Spears and the all time classic “Respect” by Aretha Franklin. It is worth checking out all three sites, but if you are just curious which songs were chosen, an alphabetical list of all 49 songs is at the end of this post.

Do you have one or two of your own to add? Of course you do. We all have our personal favorites.

I needed to find an anthem celebrating female power when I was writing c3, but because my hero was a fan of country music, I needed to find it in that genre. Country music isn’t my own first choice for listening, so I couldn’t think of a single one. I did a search and was surprised at the number of contenders. I finally settled on a song commonly called “Because I Can” by LeAnn Rimes and after listening to it and writing about it, I’ve come to really appreciate it. Here is how it got used in the book.

Teddie returned to her room mid-morning and pushed herself to stay awake through the rest of the day’s classes. Most of her life she’d been a good student, and she was trying to accept the fact that this year would be the exception. While kids back home were already stressing out about college applications, Teddie could only trust that her sense of adventure in spending a year abroad was going to count for something.

LeAnnShe was hoping for a nap before dinner, but Haley was already in the room, happily singing along to one of Teddie’s favorite country songs. Haley preferred pop and rock, but she had slowly warmed to some of Teddie’s music. Right now she was belting out the empowering words to song often referred to as “Because I Can”. It was impossible not to ask what was going on.

“One blogger called it ‘Barbie climbs Everest,’” Haley laughed, “and you know what? Even though I am not climbing Everest, I wasn’t offended.”

“Can I assume that means that you are part of the expedition again?” Teddie asked.

Haley’s wide grin was answer enough. “’Cami girl’—that’s my other name—‘set to climb Kanchenjunga.’ That was the other big blog’s headline. I can’t believe that it is really going to happen. You do know that this means that I am out of here in less than a week?

“What? Why? You don’t climb until May,” Teddie said.

“I know, but I’ve decided that I’ve got to spend more time adjusting to a higher altitude. We’re only at 6,700 feet here, so my dad is coming in a few days. We’re going to drive up to Lachen. It’s only about fifty miles from Gangtok but takes six hours to drive. It’s supposed to be gorgeous, and it’s at almost nine thousand feet. After a few days there we’ll drive up to Thangu at thirteen-thousand feet, and I’ve decided that I’m going to live there until the climb. I’m even going to let my dad do all the last minute coaching and training that he thinks he needs to do, because if I’m going to do this I have got to stack the deck in my favor every way that I can.”

Haley gestured to the pile of schoolwork on her desk. “I’m bringing my schoolwork with me, even though I’ll probably have to take incompletes in everything.” She looked hard at Teddie. “Are you going to be alright here by yourself?”

Teddie had to laugh. “Haley, you are about to go do something where people actually die, and you’re worried about me?”

“Well, there’s a lot going on here too.”

The song is also called “One Way Ticket.”  LeAnn Rimes gives the lyrics everything she’s got in this well-made video of her and her band performing it live. Enjoy.

Here are the songs from the other three sites.

  1. A Woman’s Worth by Alicia Keys
  2. Body Of My Own by Charli XCX
  3. Bust Your Windows by Jazmine Sullivan
  4. Can’t Hold Us Down by Christina Aguilera (ft Lil Kim)
  5. Conceited by Remy Ma
  6. Control by Janet Jackson
  7. Doo Wop (That Thing )by Lauryn Hill
  8. F**kin’ Perfect by P!nk
  9. Feeling Myself by Nicki Minaj (feat Beyoncé)
  10. Fight Song by Rachel Platten
  11. Flawless by Beyoncé ft Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
  12. Fly by Nicki Minaj Feat Rihanna
  13. Follow Your Arrow by Kacey Musgraves
  14. Freedom  by Queen Latifah, Yo Yo, Lisa Left Eye Lopes, MC Lyte, Nefertiti, Salt-N-Pepa
  15. Girl Talk by TLC
  16. Girls by Santigold
  17. Goodbye by Kristina DeBarge
  18. Hair by Lady Gaga
  19. I Look So Good (Without You) by Jessie James
  20. I’m Every Woman by Chaka Khan
  21. Independent Women by Destiny’s Child
  22. Ladies First by Queen Latifah Feat Monie Love
  23. Love Me by Katy Perry
  24. Love Myself by Hailee Steinfeld
  25. Man! I Feel Like a Woman by Shania Twain
  26. Milkshake by Kelis
  27. No More Drama by Mary J Blige
  28. No Scrubs by TLC
  29. None of Your Business by Salt-N-Pepa
  30. Obsessed by Mariah Carey
  31. On My Own by Miley Cyrus
  32. One In A Million by Hilary Duff
  33. Pretty Girl Rock by Keri Hilson
  34. QUEEN by Janelle Monae Feat Erykah Badu
  35. Respect by Aretha Franklin
  36. Run the World (Girls) by Beyonce
  37. Satellite Call by Sara Bareilles
  38. Shake It Out by Florence + The Machine
  39. Stay Beautiful by Taylor Swift
  40. Stronger by Britney Spears
  41. Try by Colbie Caillat
  42. Unpretty by TLC
  43. Video by India Aire
  44. Wannabe by Spice Girls
  45. Whatcha Think About That by Pussycat Dolls (ft Missy Elliot)
  46. Who Says by Selena Gomez
  47. Who’s That Girl by Eve
  48. You Can’t Play With My Yo-Yo by Yo-Yo Feat Ice Cube

 

I’ve waited my whole life for a woman president, but

I saw this on Facebook, and you can imagine how the rest of the post went. Because I have remained politically undecided up until now, I was surprised by how sad this post made me.

time2I considered that all manner of male politicians have come and gone over my lifetime, but only one qualified woman has ever been a serious candidate for the US presidency. That alone means that I would like to see her win.  And I have to ask, is this discrimination? Or just plain foolish? Well, let’s look at some facts.

As a disclaimer, I consider myself a pragmatic, slightly left-leaning moderate who wants to live in a safe and fiscally responsible country in which the rules are fair, or at least are becoming more fair and not less so. I would like to see compassion triumph over other concerns.

As you might guess, I like a lot of Bernie Sander’s politics. I don’t particularly like him, however, because I don’t see him being an inspiring leader of all Americans, or a particularly effective representative to the rest of the world. I’m not sure I want him to be president, even though I like some of his ideas.

On the other hand, at one point in my life, I was a Republican. It was long ago, during a time when one could believe that the GOP was really on the side of the small business owner (which my parents were) and on the side of personal freedom (which I was and still am.) Over the years, the party has split into those who fight for advantages for big business and those that have turned their social agenda into a justification for inserting government control into life’s most personal matters. I’m sad that the sort of Republicans I once respected are not running for president.

True, some of the remaining candidates are less scary than others, but that is a low bar to cross. Rand Paul’s sense of the importance of most liberties (not just those valued by the far right) inspires my respect. John Kasich has yet to say anything terribly unreasonable (that I’ve heard), and in this strange year that is worthy of commendation. Carly Fiorina (yes, I realize she is a woman too) lacks qualifications for what is arguably the the most important political office in the world, and she has failed to show the sort of leadership abilities that would make me want to overlook her lack of experience. (Railing against Planned Parenthood based on a falsified video does not constitute leadership to me.) So it is hard to imagine a scenario in which I am voting Republican in 2016.

Which brings me to Hillary Clinton. Am I rooting for her just because she is a woman? She is ridiculously qualified. She is intelligent and she sharers much of my politics. I believe that she has a good heart. I was very impressed with her testimony in front of congress and I believe that she would at worst do a decent job of governing this country.

But she isn’t perfect. In my case, I’ve held back on my support because she’s too hawkish and her ties to established politics and to big money in this country are closer than I’d like. She has yet to charm me, to melt me with her sincerity or warmth. She’s not perfect.

However, I’ve voted for nine men for president, and none of them were close to perfect in my mind, or in reality. I didn’t expect them to be. I’m pragmatic, and election after election I picked the person I thought could win and also best represent my desires on how this country should be run. I had no use for Ralph Nader or his supporters late in the 2000 election, when the chance to be noble and alter history for the better was cast aside for hubris.

sungazing3So why am I now anguishing over this particular candidate’s lack of perfection? Maybe my issue isn’t supporting her because she is a woman at all. Could it be that I am holding her to a higher standard because she is one? Have I really bought into the belief that I will follow a good man or a nearly perfect woman? Deep down, do I think that a female can only lead us well if she is a head and shoulders above all the males who could lead instead? I sure hope not.

So back to my question. Am I guilty of discrimination? Inverse discrimination? Is this whole discussion just plain foolish? It’s time for me to make some decisions.

This is it. I’m thankful to Bernie Sanders for pushing the conversation and the democrats away from the status quo. I would love to see him play a role in the new administration. I hope many of his ideas receive serious consideration. But now that he almost won Iowa, I have to say that I really, really hope that he doesn’t march his way to a nomination. It would be unfortunate enough if he got there on enthusiasm for his outsider’s ideas, without due thought on the part of his supporters as to how good he would actually be at the job of president. But it would be particularly sad if part of his successful march was an ingrained tendency on our part to demand more of a female candidate.

So tonight, I’ve made my decision. I think that we have a chance to make history as a nation, and a chance to elect a decent leader at the same time. I think it’s high time for girl to be president. I’ve waited my whole life for it, damn it, and I’m voting for Hillary Clinton.

A December 1st baby: born to give back?

It’s my birthday in 2 days, and I always felt that being born on the first of the month was a bad deal.

Anyone else: “Hey, isn’t your birthday some time this month?”
Me: “Yeah. It was last week.”
Anyone else: “Oh. Well, hope you had a good one.”

But this year I am feeling pretty special. Someone (who ever decides these things) has decreed December 1 to be Giving Tuesday. What??? Well, according to the Giving Tuesday website

“We have a day for giving thanks. We have two for getting deals. Now, we have #GivingTuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back. On Tuesday, December 1, 2015, charities, families, businesses, community centers, and students around the world will come together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give.”

Think about it. This is a totally cool idea. I mean I know people born on Global Wind Day, Australia Day, International Lefthanders Day and Free Money Day*, but a day dedicated to celebrating generosity kicks butt on all of those if you ask me.

So what am I going to do about it? If you read my posts at all you know that I’ve struggled for the past few months to get the sixth and final book in the 46. Ascending collection moving along. I took a year long break from writing, expecting to emerge at the other end of a cross-country move and job change fully refreshed and ready to create another novel. Instead, I’ve found the blank expanse in front of me more daunting than any blank screen in a newly opened word document ever was.

laotzu121075My advice to others seeking to ground themselves and move on has always been to stop thinking about yourself and do something for someone else. What good is advice if  you can’t follow your own? So tomorrow I have an appointment with a volunteer coordinator in the area who is going to help place me at one or two local agencies who are willing to train me and then use my time and expertise. I’m excited.

If you know anything about my novel c3, you know that I have a particular passion for women’s issues and a strong desire to see my sisters free and confident enough to follow their dreams. No surprise then that I will be looking at volunteering with agencies that deal with some of the worst problems that women face. I’m not naive on these subjects (have you read c3?) but I do understand that I may find myself well outside of my comfort zone. I hope to grow in strength while I help others do the same.

Does the idea of focusing on generosity for a day appeal to you as well? I’m told that one can log onto Twitter and follow the hashtag #GivingTime to join the conversation and learn more. Or go to the official website and check out their video.

Whatever you do, happy December 1.

*If you’re curious, Global Wind Day is 6/15, Australia Day is 1/26, International Lefthanders Day is 8/13 and Free Money Day is 9/15 and yes this day does involve giving away money, so it is sort of about generosity too.