Take Back the Night!

This evening, I participated in a candlelight march on Brandeis campus to Take Back the Night.

Right as we started, when we all went around the circle to say why we had come to the march, all I could think of to say is that that was where I needed to be. And I'm incredibly glad that I did decide to go. I have never been sexually assaulted myself, but I honestly believe there is no one on this earth who can say that they don't know anyone who's been sexually assaulted. Before tonight, I would have said this: not that I did not know anyone who had been sexually assaulted, but that I had not known anyone who had been willing to trust me with their story.

I am truly awed by the courage and determination of the people that did speak over the course of the march, and I am honored to have been a part of that group, to have been accepted as a part of it and trusted with those stories. Though every word that I heard tonight was worth hearing, I will share but one of those stories here, for only my own story is mine to tell.

As a junior, I went to study abroad in Japan. (My time in Japan is chronicled in an earlier blog of mine.) Commuting - in my case to and from school - is an almost unavoidable part of life in Japan, and so it was for me as well. Returning to my host family's home from school meant a forty-minute train ride, followed by a fifteen-minute walk from the train station to that home. The only way to avoid that walk was to take the bus, an expenditure that I preferred to avoid.

And so I would walk. Fifteen to twenty minutes. Depending on what day it was, sometimes my class schedule would mean walking after sunset. The road was mostly unlit and usually completely deserted. And I would make that walk without hesitation, without fear. My host mother would say that I would be fine - and unsaid every time, that there were some people who wouldn't be. That even though I could walk that in safety, some people - had I been a young woman, rather than a young man, perhaps? - could not count on being safe in such conditions.

My story is a story of nothing happening. Of making that walk in safety, three or more times a week for seven months of my life. And at the end of the march, as I shared that story, the only thing I could think of to say is this: I went this evening so that I could do something. So that I could help in some small way to build a world where everyone can make that walk in safety and without fear.


Reports from Festival of the LARPs 2012

I'm the president of Brandeis University's gaming club - and by gaming, I mean non-traditional board games and role-playing games, all the way up to theater-style live action role-playing. As a result, it fell on me to help run an event we like to call Festival, a weekend-long convention at which quite a number of awesome LARPs were run over the last weekend. (That word "help" is important; I wasn't in charge, but I was on the event staff.)

I'm not by any means a dedicated LARPer, but I have played in a few before (most notably at Festival two years ago) and certainly I enjoy the unique fun of entirely pretending to be someone else for a little while. Tabletop RPGs are fun, no doubt about that, but it can be hard to maintain the verisimilitude of role-playing sometimes when all you've got are some dice. And theater-style LARPing, in which combat is adjudicated through some kind of mechanic (such as drawing a card to produce a random number), and in which character interaction comes to the forefront, usually produces an enjoyable few hours of conversation and intrigue.

Of course, I wasn't just helping to run Festival. I took almost every chance I got to play in games over the weekend as well. I can't say too much about any of them, because I don't want to reveal spoilers about the games, but I'll share what thoughts I can.

Over the weekend, I played in four games. I only actually signed up for three, but the game on Friday evening needed another player, and I ended up filling in for that slot. And on that note, my first game of the weekend was Venezia. It was a historical game set in 15th century Italy that gave each player wide latitude to affect the way the game played out; major decisions shaped the events that occurred both for one's own player and for others. For a game that I wasn't planning on playing, I had a great deal of fun; the character sheets were extraordinarily long, but absolutely worth the time and effort to deal with, and my character was a joy to role-play as. (Also, the level of effort that the GMs put into decoration and setting up the scene was nothing short of amazing.)

Following that, I made the mistake of daring to sign up for three games on Saturday. What this meant in practical terms was that I was committing myself to 12 hours of gaming, on only about six hours of sleep. Given that all three of the games I signed up for required a high degree of mental engagement (there weren't any fluffy LARPs on my schedule that day), I was kind of setting myself up for a crash. It did come... but I'll get to that in due time.

First up on Saturday was The Stand, a Western-themed LARP. It gave me the excuse to go looking for a Western-themed costume, which ended up being awesome, and now I own a new hat. So yeah. Past that, it was a perfectly solid LARP. I feel like I didn't do as much as I might have liked to accomplish, and looking back on the game I definitely ended up kind of missing the point of what my character was trying to accomplish. (I still succeeded in his goals, though! Just kind of inadvertently.) It's not like I didn't get things done, but I feel like very little of it was overwhelmingly important.

Unfortunately, the length of game wrap-up (which was worth it anyway to figure out what I was supposed to be doing) meant that I pretty much skipped lunch break and went straight into the second game of the day, Dance of Flame and Shadow. It was my favorite game of the weekend anyway. Just to make this clear, it was a game set in the world of White Wolf's Vampire: The Masquerade, and I now have my own (legally purchased PDF) copy of the rule book for that game. Draw your own conclusions.

I think I ended up playing my character a little oddly, but there's not exactly anything I can do about that now. Besides, I'm pretty sure it all worked out in the end. Unfortunately, there's very little I feel like I can say about the game, because spoilers. I found the game wrap-up to be awesomely hilarious (in a "ha ha I win" way), and I can't even talk about why that is. *sigh*

Moving on, I did manage to score myself some dinner (yay first actual meal of the day! ... no, it didn't end well) before moving on to Interesting Times. I was attracted to this game by the promise of singing in public. No, really. The game was essentially a vaguely steampunky musical turned into a LARP. I was freaking out over my level of preparedness before the game, because I hadn't listened to my songs all that much, but in the end the music side of things went off pretty much without a hitch. I loved having an excuse to sing my thoughts to the world, and the songs were fun and enjoyable to play with too.

Unfortunately, I've been alluding to an impending crash all through this post? Yeah, at this point it's getting close to midnight. The character sheets for Interesting Times were decidedly unlike any others I've dealt with (mostly in that they lacked a clear accounting of people you know, and also didn't define goals clearly either), forcing me to pay a lot more attention to what I'm trying to do. Essentially, I spent at least the last hour of the game entirely disengaged, as a result of being both exhausted and confused. The songs made it all worthwhile, really, but...

So yeah, that was my weekend. I have missed LARPing; unfortunately it's not an activity that one can do anytime you like, and I keep moving around and not really staying in one place long enough to really get into a LARPing community. I mean, I'm acquaintances with a lot of the people here in Massachusetts, but I don't know how much longer I'll be sticking around...

Well, I'll keep an eye out wherever I do end up, because I do like playing LARPs. And anyone that is in the broad New England area? Festival's running again at Brandeis next year, of that I have little doubt.

(Note on comments: If people would like, I have no problems with discussing the games that I played in detail in comments. Given that, I won't even attempt to avoid spoilers in the comments.)


Voices Worth Hearing

Transitioning into an introductory women's and gender studies class has proved to be an interesting experience for me, this semester. Oddly enough, my introduction to feminism was Shakesville, a blog that quite explicitly does not prioritize basic introduction to feminism, and I think that's certainly shaped the way I think about feminism and about progressive issues.

Particularly, we ended up having a spirited debate in class today about consideration of other cultures and viewpoints. Intersectionality has been a critical part of the class pretty much from day one, and I think the best point that came out of today's discussion was that American culture is not in any sense monolithic, and that there are wide racial and class divisions that can't and shouldn't be erased with broad references to American culture.

One thing that I heard in the discussion, however, particularly stuck with me. What does it mean to consider those differences, either between cultures or within them? To me, intersectionality means taking care to ensure that we do not repeat the mistakes that created this culture in the first place - mistakes such as speaking "down" to other perspectives or ignoring voices that should have a place at the table.

I think it's important to say, though, that that doesn't mean every voice deserves equal consideration.

I am a man; I will lose something if the culture that I seek to create is brought to fruition. That doesn't mean I'm being treated unequally; it means that I already have the advantages of male privilege, and that part of creating an equal society will mean erasing those advantages. I accept that as the cost of creating that equal society, because I consider the alternative (the persistence of the existing unequal society) to be worse.

Needless to say, not all men agree with me. There are no small number of voices who denounce what they view as the growing damage being done to men by the feminism that I and others champion. There are no small number of voices who jealously defend their male privilege, whether unknowingly as something they have earned, or knowingly as the proper place of men in the world - and the same could be said of any other privileged group defending its privilege.

The point? Some voices are worth hearing, and intersectionality is the reminder to all of us not to shut out such voices. Some voices can testify to their own personal experiences and provide important perspectives on issues that would otherwise be an unknown to the rest of the participants. Such voices must be respected, honored, and heard.

Other voices, such as those like the ones I discussed in reference to male privilege, seek to defend the privilege they possess. I am under no obligation to show deference to such views. The best I can offer is this: I can take one shot at explaining why such views are harmful, why clinging to privilege is counterproductive. And if it turns out that that voice is not receptive, I will not continue slamming into a brick wall of futility - I'll shut that voice out without a shred of regret.

Intersectionality is the reminder to listen to those voices worth hearing. It is not a demand to respect voices that are better shouted down.


Transportation Issues

Today has turned out to be a rough day. And the worst part is that there was absolutely no reason for this to have happened.

When I have breaks and want to go home, I usually take Amtrak. Train travel is almost always superior to air travel in my opinion, mostly because of two reasons. First of all, the train system doesn't have the same odious, overly-invasive security that the airports do; that alone would be reason enough. On top of that, though, trains are usually more comfortable, providing a power outlet at every seat and much better food.

The downside is one that shouldn't even exist. The train takes considerably longer than an airplane does in transit, traveling much slower along a less direct route. Of course, if we had a functioning high-speed rail system (sorry Acela, you're not actually functional as a high-speed rail system, not like the Tokaido Shinkansen is), it would be a matter of an additional hour or two rather than the five or six is is today.

More importantly, though, trains have to be reliable and effective. The aforementioned Tokaido Shinkansen is a real competitor to air travel between Tokyo and Osaka specifically because it runs a metric fuckton of trains between the two cities (count them yourself) that are effectively always on time. The Acela cannot say the same, not even close. Not when they brag (!) about 10 weekday departures (and today is not a weekday), at least one of which, the Acela 2254, was quite severely late today.

They acknowledged it and apologized for the delay on the train, if nothing else, but that didn't help me catch the commuter rail I was planning on getting to. Had I made it, I could have been back two hours earlier than I actually managed. Looking back, I would probably have taken an earlier train anyway if I were to do today over, but the problem was and is that there weren't any other trains that went with my schedule.

The Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, the people running the aforementioned commuter rail, did no better today. The commuter rail that I missed was at 8pm; the next available train? 11:30pm. Two trains in three and a half hours. I have the $4.75 in fares that I would have paid, and I would happily be giving that to the MBTA, but for the fact that there was simply no train available. And they still get the subway fare from me, for the privilege of riding on a two-car train that was overcrowded to rush-hour levels on a Sunday at nine in the evening.

It depresses me greatly that I know exactly why the MBTA or why Amtrak might be having budget problems. And everything I've laid out is not necessarily a strike against those companies themselves, who I honestly do believe are working as hard as they possibly can with the limited resources they are given. All I can say, though, is that until we work up the will as a society to properly fund transportation infrastructure, this crappy evening will repeat itself, both for me and the millions of other people that try to navigate the chaos that is American public transportation.


Reports from Anime Boston 2012

It's kind of interesting. Even when I go to a convention theoretically with a group of people, I end up going off and doing my own thing. Not sure if it's just an "introversion" thing or if it's a special case, given what I usually do at conventions...

Well anyway. Again, I didn't really cosplay, short of the black cloak and Hero of Space god tier T-shirt. Which was enough to get some people thinking I was cosplaying one of Andrew Hussie's appearances in the comic in which he wears a fairly similar outfit. So apparently, I was sort of cosplaying someone without even intending to? Some people assumed one or the other, while others asked if I was trying to go for the cosplay or not. For the record, I wasn't going for that.

The Anime Boston dealers room was surprisingly light on stuff that I actually wanted. For a convention focusing around Japanese stuff, there was a surprising lack of, well, actual Japanese stuff. Translations and English versions everywhere, which I imagine was nice for the majority of people there that couldn't speak Japanese, but for someone who actually wants to read the original Japanese manga, not so helpful. In short, every convention I go to ends up reminding me that there is no substitute for actually being in Japan.

Video gaming was less of a thing this time around too. Mostly because I was royally screwing up. I mean, okay, my definition of screwing up at DDR is getting B's and C's on songs where I'd otherwise be getting AA's, so it's not like I was failing anything, but still. I played one or two of my absolute favorite songs and then found other things to do.

Like karaoke for example. Anyone who was following my old study abroad blog while I was in Kyoto might have noticed how much I love to do karaoke. I took advantage of Anime Boston's karaoke room to fill that particular craving. Sang five songs over the course of two days, too. In order:

First up, the Sakura Taisen theme song. No, I did not do the dance, too. Yes, I should have. I'll try to learn the dance so that I can do it next time. I did, however, do the spoken portion, including the salute at the end, and it got about the same response at Anime Boston that it did in that live performance.

Romancers' Neo, opening theme song to the Nanoha Gears of Destiny game. Asked the audience if there were any Nanoha fans; there was one. Don't know if she recognized the song or not though. (And I can't find a good video on YouTube for that one, sadly.)

Colorful Melody. Again, no dance. Again, I need to learn the dance. Also, I did this one solo, mostly because I could (it's supposed to be a duet), and I said as much before I started. I'm surprised by how well it turned out, actually; there's a section in the middle that's not in that video which I managed to make my way through without even knowing the full lyrics, and usually my attempts to sing songs this thoroughly out of my vocal range sound much worse than it ended up being.

Stardust Dreams. Hilarious because of the reaction from the group of Touhou cosplayers in the room at the time. Also hilarious because two people from that group did a different remix of that song's original right after I finished. They were different enough that if they hadn't said as much, I probably wouldn't have noticed right away.

Finally, No Need to Promise, the Escaflowne theme song. Which had gotten thoroughly stuck in my head since I started watching Escaflowne. I did it with the karaoke version (no vocals in the background) and did surprisingly well considering I don't know the song nearly well enough to have the cues memorized.

When not in the karaoke hall singing, I was also hanging out in the live gaming hall. Got to play a game of an anime-style tabletop RPG called Big Eyes, Small Mouth, which went pretty well. In case anyone was curious, I played the magical girl character. (And everyone who knows me nods along with a knowing look on their face.) She was awesome, especially when I blasted an entire room full of enemies with an AOE spell that could have probably leveled an entire city block had I used it at full power. Let's just say she was my style of magical girl.

I also got the chance to play Arkham Horror. I like board games, especially this kind of board game that's overly complicated and very strategic. We did fail to stop Cthulu's awakening, but it was fun while it lasted.

... Hmm, my priorities are obvious from the amount of stuff I wrote, huh? Damn I like karaoke. Well, that was Anime Boston 2012. If I'm still in the area next year, I'll probably end up going again.


Freedom to Cause Harm?

[Content note: Harassment]

One of the pervasive negative stereotypes of feminism and sometimes of the entire left wing in general is that we're all humorless jerks who scream "I'M OFFENDED" every time someone makes a joke. That we have no respect for free speech because we're always pushing for laws that restrict the rights of people to say even things that cause offense. This is a common criticism of both hate crimes laws and harassment laws; that we're restricting thought and expression in unacceptable ways. I thought I'd take a moment and address some examples of harassment laws.

The first is an interesting one, in that it concerns me directly. In point of fact, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has placed my school, Brandeis, on their list of the 12 Worst Colleges for Free Speech. Part of that has to do with a pair of cases that I am in all honesty not familiar enough with to comment on, and certainly I don't mean to whitewash or play up my own school - I have no doubt that Brandeis has made plenty of its own mistakes in dealing with speech on campus.

That said, I do want to look at their analysis of Brandeis rules and regulations that have an effect on speech. Two sections are marked with a red icon, indicative of clear and substantial restrictions on freedom of speech - information provided on sexual harassment (particularly the list of "what is sexual harassment") and an excerpt from the internet usage policies (particularly Section 11.4).

For the life of me I can't understand what is objectionable about either of those. The Internet usage policies are one thing (and something we'll come back to in another context), given that they call out "material that is explicitly sexual or offensive" (emphasis mine) as unacceptable. The list of what comprises sexual assault, though... Well, let's see.
What is Sexual Harassment?

For example:

* subtle pressure for sexual activity
* unnecessary touches or contact
* offensive sexual graffiti or cartoons
* inappropriate sexual innuendoes
* verbal sexual abuse disguised as humor
* whistling, cat-calls, obscene gestures
It may just be me, but I'm pretty sure all of that is unquestionably harmful. None of it should be protected speech!

Getting back to use of the Internet, I'll introduce topic number two, incidentally the reason I began writing this post in the first place: Kotaku addresses (and by that I mean reposts something from Gizmodo) an Arizona law which they claim makes trolling illegal. We've already discussed my stance on SOPA, of course, but there is a limit to how far I'm willing to take the "freedom of the Internet" card, and this article goes way past it. The law itself, of course...
"It is unlawful for any person, with intent to terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend, to use any electronic or digital device and use any obscene, lewd or profane language or suggest any lewd or lascivious act, or threaten to inflict physical harm to the person or property of any person."
... is much the same as Brandeis's Internet usage policy in a lot of ways. Again, we see that language appear about annoying or offending.

I've written before about how maybe there shouldn't be a law against simply causing offense (and even that isn't quite the point, since I mostly was trying to say that intentionally causing offense is being a jerk regardless of the law), but all the same I'm inclined to walk that back a little. The legal definition of harassment is a consistent pattern of action that serves only to: "alarm or seriously annoy" (Maryland), or "which seriously alarms that person and would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress" (Massachusetts).

I think it is clearly recognized in both cases that annoyance or offense constitutes a kind of real emotional harm to the victim. Calling a consistent pattern of offense "harassment" does nothing to change the fact that causing that offense can in itself be harmful, although not in ways that are outwardly visible. I believe that that in particular is something that I have some measure of personal experience with; my middle and high school days were comparatively mild, and yet I still believe that they affected the way I act around people quite thoroughly - not in positive ways, either.

And unless we want the freedom of speech to become the freedom to cause harm, it's high time we stopped attacking the laws that prevent that kind of thing.

UPDATE: Well, Think Progress is also covering the situation in Arizona, and their opinions seem to be in line with the Kotaku/Gizmodo argument as well. I can't remember the last time I disagreed with Think Progress on something, and I am very much open to argument on this one, because for me disagreeing with people or groups that you usually agree with is a sign that you need to carefully go back over the situation. That said, I believe that the points I made above stand on their own as a response to concerns over the Arizona law.