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Sunday, November 25, 2012

You fill in the harmony

The Atheist Experience posts that they received an email which reads:
Dillahunty is off his rocker if he thinks feminism is merely the idea that men are equal to women. Feminism is a paranoid leftist ideology with a whole slew of dogmatic principles. A person can believe in equal rights and oppose feminism, without said opposition being contradictory. If I had called into the show to argue about this, I would have easily torn Matt a new one on this topic. 
Screw you, Matt. I believe in equal rights and equal opportunity for EVERYONE. And I hate feminism with a passion. Are you going to argue that my belief in equal rights for women makes me a feminist? Then you’ll have to explain why I disagree with 99% of feminism’s core ideology. Feminism is a hate group that seeks to elevate women above men. 
R.E.M is probably my favorite band of all time, and one of my favorites of their songs is World Leader Pretend, which has lyrics that go:
I sit at my table
and wage war on myself
It seems like it's all, it's all for nothing
I know the barricades
And I know the morter in the wall breaks
I recognize the weapons
I use them well
This is my mistake
Let me make it good
I raised the wall
And I will be the one to knock it down
When I read that letter, I could not get this out of my head:


So, there. That's a thing now.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Your own kind of closeness

I promise you'll be happy/And even if you're not/There's more to life than that/Don't ask me what
Happy day-after-Thanksgiving. Today I'm trying to keep my head down, my wallet secreted, and my eyes off any and all commentary devoted to either a) how to find the best deals on Black Friday and where to go for them and when, or b) why trying to find the best deals on Black Friday and go get them makes you a superficial materialist American with a perverse sense of the significance of holidays and family. I'm not going shopping. Nor do I blame those who are; I just don't have the resilience for it. I hate going shopping around the holidays enough without doing so crunched between thousands of other people who are trying to buy the exact same thing, preferably before I can get my hands on it.

I spent my Thanksgiving in a church. No, not a church service-- a church basement, where my father's side of the family has been gathering every year to have dinner and reunite. He has three brothers and two sisters, all with their own families, so that can be a lot of reuniting indeed. Their father, who used to preside over these gatherings, was buried in the graveyard immediately outside of the church in 1998 along with his wife who died in 1966, his second wife who died shortly after he did, and a host of more distant relatives and relatives of relatives with the same German last names repeating and repeating, people whose images can be found in the wall-mounted registry of confirmations performed in that church, located in the basement. There, their faces stare unsmiling in black and white images dating back to the 1920's. Parchment-pale or ruddy (I'd imagine) skin, relentlessly coiffed hair, pressed clothing, blunt expressions which read: Here we are. Experiencing a very different life, with very different expectations. Family is, in large part, about expectations. Those expectations may change, but their existence does not. 

I look at these pictures every time I'm there-- my attendance has been patchy. I haven't always been the most diligent of daughters/cousins/nieces/granddaughters/aunts. But one of the things you realize as you're growing up is the fact that expectations don't exist purely as a means for your family to control you-- yeah, it sure looked like that, didn't it? It's actually to protect them. From insecurity, confusion, weakness, and doubt. Not knowing where they stand. Not knowing where you stand. Not knowing how to relate to you. Not being sure whether cousin Matt got married or is just dating, or has children or not, or is even interested in women-- he might be gay! How are we supposed to keep track of peoples' spouses if we can't even remember what gender they're supposed to be?! (From that perspective you'd think people in favor of "traditional" families would just bite the bullet and support gay marriage, because at least that's a marriage. You can put that on the family tree, and these days there's even a sporting chance that it will produce children, and they can go on the family tree.)

Family traditions are a time-honored way of fixing expectations so that family members have ways to deal with each other's existence. The care and attachment they feel for each other may be authentic, but it isn't always easy to know how to relate to the people rather ironically called your relatives, especially if there are considerable age gaps involved, and traditions are a form of bridge-building. Or rather, they're like a scaffolding on which bridges can be built, if you're interested. You don't have to-- you may not even need a bridge. But if you do, at least you don't have to invent the concept of "bridge" from scratch in order to communicate something important to your family. People start traditions because they see a need to build that scaffolding, and imagine that future family members will as well.

Now wait, you might say-- didn't you just recently bag on tradition pretty hard? Yes, yes I did. But in doing so, what I was saying is that being a tradition doesn't add truth or value to something. Being "traditional" doesn't make something meaningful-- it's a reflection of something being meaningful to some people. A sign that they found it of use for their communicative purposes. Their purposes, which makes it all too obvious what the problem is in trying to apply it to your purposes. Trying to enforce your traditions on someone else is like trying to force them to eat the same thing for dinner that you do-- which is itself a tradition, of course-- and yet there's no shortage of people who not only find it entirely fitting to do so but refer to themselves as "traditional," as if they own the very concept of tradition and it's not possible that others have different, conflicting traditions which they take just as seriously and are just as deserving of consideration. You aren't differently traditioned; this approach insists, you are non-traditioned. You are without tradition. Just as atheists are people of non-belief and people with secular ethics people of non-ethics. Not just different; lacking. If you don't do things like we do, you don't do them at all...according to us.

Yes, that's the point of view of which I'm not fond.

But here's the thing-- a general contempt for tradition, while tempting (especially when you're in your late teens/early 20's) can be read, with some degree of accuracy and understandable license, as a contempt for bridge-building. If your relatives can only speak wedding/funeral/reunion/baby shower/confirmation and you don't speak any of those, it is in a certain sense like refusing to communicate with them at all. And even the most rebellious of us generally don't want to form a new identity for ourselves out of whole cloth. We want someone to come from, a people to claim. Being exiled might not be practiced or even functionally possible in modern Western countries, but being estranged is a raw, agonizing thing that (almost) nobody really wants, regardless of how much of a show they put on which says otherwise. We'd rather love and be loved by our families, no matter what differences there are and how enormous they might be.

I recognize how extraordinarily lucky I am, because I have an amazing family. I don't want to sound preachy or naive-- when people talk about their family gatherings I am reminded of how comparatively casual, accepting, and jovial ours are. My older brother, sister-in-law, and their son couldn't make it up to Thanksgiving this year because of timing and distance and another baby on the way, and they have been dearly missed. Not all families are fortunate to have the kind of relationships that make such missing possible, and I don't want to suggest that it's somehow their fault. Or that in my family, everything is understood, tempers are never strained, and so on. Not the case.

Still. It's important. It's okay for it to be important.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

I'd like a glue gun, some acrylic paint, and some birth control

A federal judge denied Hobby Lobby's request for exemption from the federal requirement to provide health care coverage which covers contraception, especially (at least, this is what owner David Green claimed to be his basis for objection) the morning-after pill.
In a 28-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton denied a request by Hobby Lobby to prevent the government from enforcing portions of the health care law mandating insurance coverage for contraceptives the company's Christian owners consider objectionable. 
The Oklahoma City-based company and a sister company, Mardel Inc., sued the government in September, claiming the mandate violates the owners' religious beliefs. The owners contend the morning-after and week-after birth control pills are tantamount to abortion because they can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in a woman's womb. They also object to providing coverage for certain kinds of intrauterine devices. 
At a hearing earlier this month, a government lawyer said the drugs do not cause abortions and that the U.S. has a compelling interest in mandating insurance coverage for them. 
In his ruling denying Hobby Lobby's request for an injunction, Heaton said that while churches and other religious organizations have been granted constitutional protection from the birth-control provisions, "Hobby Lobby and Mardel are not religious organizations."
Well, they might be-- they sound pretty darn religious to me. But I'm very glad they don't get to impose that religion on their female employees by denying them health coverage.

Now to decide whether to end my personal boycott of Hobby Lobby...shopping for all of my craftsy stuff at Michael's really bites.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Current reading and "reading"

One of the most enjoyable things about Skepticon was actually the drive there. I'm listening to the audiobook of Jeffrey Toobin's The Oath, just as I listened to his The Nine on a long drive a few years ago. His writing lends itself particularly well to being read out loud. The former book (about the Rehnquist Supreme Court) was read by Toobin himself while the latter (about the Roberts SCOTUS) is not, which turned out to be fine as Robertson Dean is an excellent narrator. I didn't quite reach the end by the time I returned home, but am almost there and I'll be sorry when it's finished. Definitely recommended.

After hearing about it on the Professor Blastoff podcast, I've pre-ordered and am looking forward to Jen Kirkman's I Can Barely Take Care of Myself. Oh, and I'm halfway through Tina Fey reading Bossypants and need to finish that.

And after missing this year's beginning of NaNoWriMo, I've resolved to read more fiction. Trouble is, it's difficult to decide what to go with because a novel is always such an emotional investment. Got some possibilities in mind, but have yet to settle on one.

Dear Bill O'Reilly...

...no calculator, moral or otherwise, will make it less expensive to arrest people than to help them. Trust me on this. The more you deny it, the more ridiculous you are:
Is traditional America gone for good? That’s the question Bill O’Reilly tackled during his Talking Points Memo on Monday night. Criticizing “secular progressives,” O’Reilly called for the right kind of politician who will help us confront the “reality of our situation.” 
Traditional America can come back, O’Reilly said, with the right person to make it happen.
Specifically, he pointed to Mitt Romney‘s electoral loss among blacks, women and Latinos. “It was an entitlement election,” he said. 
The media would have you believing the election confirmed election ideology. While that’s not true, he said, secularism is “eroding traditional power.” 
“On paper, the stats look hopeless for traditional Americans,” O’Reilly said. “But they can be reversed. However, it will take a very special politician to do that. By the way, Mitt Romney didn’t even try to marginalize secularism. He basically ignored it.” 
Secular progressives don’t have the right approach, he argued, because they don’t want judgment on personal behavior. For examples, O’Reilly pointed to the issues of out-of-wedlock births, abortion and entitlements. Secular progressives “don’t want limitations on so-called private behavior,” he said. 
The majority of Americans can be persuaded, O’Reilly said, “that the far-left is dangerous outfit, bent of destroying traditional America and replacing it with a social free-fire zone that drives dependency and poverty.” We need to confront that, he added. But too many of our politicians are too cowardly to do so.
Refusing to place limitations on so-called private behavior...that's called freedom, right? Yeah, sounded familiar. Those damn secular progressives and their desire for freedom.

O'Reilly for some reason doesn't delve into the particular ways in which he'd like to limit private behavior, and how doing so would alleviate poverty and the need for "entitlements" and dependency. Probably because the only way he could suggest that his fans would actually get behind-- banning abortion-- would actually result in greater poverty and dependency. Not just because outlawing abortion would make criminals of women and their doctors, and criminals have to be identified, located, arrested, prosecuted, and punished, and that all costs money. But because childbirth costs money-- a lot of money, far more than an abortion-- and raising an unwanted child also costs money:
The women in the Turnaway Study were in comparable economic positions at the time they sought abortions. 45% were on public assistance and two-thirds had household incomes below the federal poverty level. One of the main reasons women cite for wanting to abort is money, and based on the outcomes for the turnaways, it seems they are right. 
Most of the women who were denied an abortion, 86%, were living with their babies a year later. Only 11% had put them up for adoption. Also a year later, they were far more likely to be on public assistance — 76% of the turnaways were on the dole, as opposed to 44% of those who got abortions. 67% percent of the turnaways were below the poverty line (vs. 56% of the women who got abortions), and only 48% had a full time job (vs. 58% of the women who got abortions). 
When a woman is denied the abortion she wants, she is statistically more likely to wind up unemployed, on public assistance, and below the poverty line. Another conclusion we could draw is that denying women abortions places more burden on the state because of these new mothers' increased reliance on public assistance programs.
An abortion is a last ditch effort to prevent what other thing Bill O'Reilly is not fond of? Unwanted pregnancies. Actually, he doesn't much care about pregnancies being unwanted; he cares about them being out of wedlock, because all babies born out of wedlock are going to be on welfare, and only unmarried women want abortions, because they're a bunch of young sluts. Right.

The "young slut" argument is why O'Reilly and friends also stand firmly opposed to the single biggest thing in the way of unwanted pregnancies that government can actually do something about, which is of course contraception. Providing education about contraception and making it easier for people to access it would save loads of money and prevent abortions, but O'Reilly doesn't like that because a) government spending money is wrong, at least if it's to provide education or financial assistance to people rather than to arrest and prosecute them, and b) doing so would amount to the government implying that it's okay to have sex without making a baby, and that's only a message a secular progressive would want to send to the young sluts. The message Bill O'Reilly would send is, of course: Don't have sex, until you get married. Then have sex, but without contraception, so you can have babies. But if you can't afford to have babies, don't come crying to me about abortions or welfare because you're not getting them.

Let's remember, nearly every American woman who is sexually active will use contraception at some point in her life. A typical American woman wants only two children. In order to accomplish this while having a normal sex life, she would have to be using contraception for roughly three decades. And 95% of Americans have had premarital sex.

So, Bill....tell me again how you'd propose to keep us out of poverty and independent by curtailing our personal freedoms? Oh, by being "traditional."


Yeah, I think I'll stick with being a "secular progressive."

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Internet antipathy, part 2....thousand

So, one of the people I was most looking forward to seeing (and talking with, if I could come up with something to talk about) at Skepticon was Matt Dillahunty, host of The Atheist Experience and president of the Atheist Community of Austin. As it was, I only got to see part of his talk on Sunday because I had to check out of my hotel and get out of town, and conversation was limited to Saturday night at Farmer's Gastropub where Ed Brayton suggested that I'd said something about Dillahunty being banned from Freethought Blogs (a joke stemming from this non-joke, which unfortunately many don't grasp as a joke and I didn't want to be mistaken for one of them-- clear as mud, right?).

Anyway. Dillahunty's house was burgled yesterday, and he posted about it on Facebook. The thief or thieves  made off with some valuable jewelry, electronics, and other things. JT Eberhard responded to this by posting on his blog at Patheos that he really is short on cash (boy, I get that) but he would be donating any revenue resulting from hits on that post to Matt Dillahunty and his wife Beth in order to replace some of what was lost. Since that includes Beth's wedding ring, not all of it is replaceable regardless of how much money is raised. But you get the intent of the gesture.  

Or at least, I got the intent of the gesture....some people on Reddit are having a hard time of it. The general thrust of their position is:
  1. Matt said on Facebook that he didn't require donations, therefore it's not just unnecessary but wrong and offensive to donate, 
  2. The stolen items were expensive, which means that Matt and Beth are filthy rich and it would be ridiculous to donate to replace such items when there are much needier people in the world,
  3. Matt and Beth's insurance should cover the full cost, and if they don't have insurance then this should just be a little lesson to them, and
  4. Who the hell is Matt Dillahunty, anyway?
These are reasons why Reddit has been labeled a "swirling pit of asshole." One such troglodyte even took the opportunity call Dillahunty fat. It wasn't enough to shrug and say "I'm not interested," or just pass over the thread completely in a non-vernal expression of that same sentiment....they had to play "Dear Muslima" about it and try to shame someone for trying to be charitable and help out a friend and good guy who experienced something really horrible. That's a serious case of empathy impairment, right there. 

Maybe it's particularly salient to me because I've experienced a very similar thing a few years ago-- some people broke into my apartment and stole things. And the things they stole were expensive-- two laptops. They didn't know that one of the laptops was completely non-functional, and had in fact been replaced by the other one but I couldn't bring myself to trash the old one. Maybe they told themselves that my ownership of such things meant I was wealthy, and that if I could afford such things, I could afford to replace them. Wrong. And no, I had no renter's insurance. And my MA dissertation was on the working laptop. 

But as with Matt and Beth, the worst thing about it was the feeling of violation-- the broken window, the door left open, the knowledge that someone has been in your space. The feeling that can't exactly be alleviated, but at least can be softened a bit by the knowledge that people care about you. And online, this is the form that care tends to take. 

Horrible, huh? That's the worst thing you could do. For shame, JT. For shame.


Politics for creative types

Matthew Inman's comic on the creative process (which you've almost certainly seen already because you already read The Oatmeal; and if you haven't because you don't, now's the time to start) got me thinking about creativity and political leanings. I don't know anything about Inman's own politics, really, aside from the fact that he has a firm grasp of the notion of copyright, but I wouldn't be surprised if he leans to the left at least a little bit. People who make a living-- and people who wish they could make a living-- producing creative content tend to, and I've been contemplating why that is.

I think it has something to do with just world bias and how utterly it conflicts with the creative market.

See, probably every creative person you know has at some point (probably many points) in their life had the thought about someone "That person produces complete crap, and yet people shower affections, praise, and cash upon him/her." A creative person is intimately aware of how much of his/her success (or lack thereof) is based on a combination of the sheer caprice of public taste and plain' old dumb luck. This does not mean that creative types who are successful didn't earn their success, but rather that their success cannot be summed up simply as the reward of effort, and most of them know this. A creative person doesn't want his/her success to be simply the reward for effort, because that totally discards the notion of talent. And how much of it they have. And how that makes them special.

Note: there's nothing wrong with wanting to be special.

But what this means is that even the most full of him/herself, egotistical artist/writer/performer on the planet-- and there's no shortage of those-- is at least tacitly aware that things could be very different, that he/she might not have been "discovered," that his/her genius might have gone permanently unrecognized, and he/she could have become the proverbial starving artist. Or, in many cases, is one now. So the artist sees the importance of a social safety net, and doesn't look down on those who find themselves needing to land in it. But, you could say, artists don't have to starve-- they could easily do something else! Many of them do do something else! Yes, but one of the things about creativity is that you have to do that, to be that. Creators gotta create. They find themselves doing it regardless of whether anyone's paying attention, let alone paying them for it, and that takes time, energy, and other resources. Money that a non-creative person might spend on tickets to the Super Bowl (no, I'm not saying only non-creative people like football. But...well, hmm. Maybe I am) gets spent instead on paint, instruments, clay, fabric, microphones, and Photoshop. Etc.

But what does this have to do with being liberal, exactly? Well, conservatism is rife with just world bias-- the assumption is "I built this," or, when prompted to be religious, "I built this, with the opportunities God gave me." A conservative's success is his/her own, and a conservative's lack of success is...temporary. Not necessary. A test of faith. Things along those lines. To a conservative, the market is not a matter of public taste-- it's a matter of public recognition of quality, and quality is produced through effort. Effort and know-how. The market approaches objectivity in that regard. Criticize a movie that won out big at the box office, and a conservative will be the first person to remind you of that fact. The existence of Jersey Shore is simply the public not knowing what quality is.

This is why, when a conservative talks about "personal responsibility," he/she is talking about taking responsibility for the fact that you're successful or not, and not bugging anyone else about it. You're poor? Get a job. Got a job? Get another/better job. Do some work; work people will pay you for. Don't take from others, you lazy grasshopper, when all of us ants are putting in an eight-hour day, every day, and providing goods and services the market wants. It might not be "fair" that the market doesn't want whatever it is you are producing, but life ain't fair. Suck it up.

The starving artist does have to suck it up. But they are very aware of the "have" in that sentence. This is why the expression "selling out" exists. This is why creative types can be suspicious of the notion of "property rights"-- because it suggests that property is as important as people. Other rights we're familiar with are about individuals and what individuals are allowed to say, think, and do...property rights are about what they're allowed to have, and that's suspicious. What we're allowed to have has, after all, at some points included other people. The notion of a corporation has made what we have into a person, and liberals are not any happier about the thought of property becoming people than they are about people becoming property.

Property rights are important to me, but I had to learn why they should be. It wasn't nearly as intuitive as the right to be creative, to produce things because you can and want to for your own pleasure and that of others.  I had to come to see property as the necessary condition for that that production, an extension of the individual which the denial of directly inhibits his or her pursuit of happiness. I think that's how you sell the importance of the Fourth Amendment to liberals, to make them regard it as anywhere near as important as the First-- you make it harder for a person to live, to create, to pursue happiness, when you take his or her things away. Creation is done via speaking and doing, and the speaking reduces to doing, and you can't do without stuff. Artists are well-accustomed to doing with less than they'd prefer to have, making it work (because the alternative is to not create at all), but it's possible to see the practical effect of taking away what a person needs, and recognize that the damage that does is similar to that done by attacking or silencing them. And creators are good at nuance, so they can recognize that this doesn't mean taking someone's stuff is identical to attacking or silencing them, though it can amount to the same thing or even be worse. Property rights aren't just so that CEOs can live in enormous houses-- they're also so that your life savings doesn't get confiscated by the police without so much as charging you with a crime, so that your privacy is not invaded for the sake of preventing you from ingesting materials which conservatives find morally objectionable, so that your autonomy is not taken from you because you were caught doing so.

The emphasis on autonomy is, incidentally, why I consider myself a libertarian, albeit a very left-leaning one. I support a safety net, but I also support the ability to do pretty much any kind of gymnastics you care to above it. My sense of personal responsibility doesn't extend to being fully responsible for screwing up your life, and certainly not to others-- or life itself-- screwing it up for you. I strongly believe people should be allowed to make their own mistakes, but there's a limit to how much suffering should be permissible as a consequence, and not everyone who finds themselves suffering made any mistake at all-- certainly not one that the person looking down on them from the balcony of a mansion or the edge of a pulpit couldn't have made just as easily him or herself, if things had gone slightly differently. Trading Places is a damn good movie.

And it was made by creative people. Probably liberals.

Monday, November 12, 2012

How Skepticon is and isn't like going to church

Is: Skepticon is a gathering of like-minded people on specific dates.
Isn't: The particular dates don't matter, except that that also mostly encompass a weekend, but purely for reasons of travel and availability. There is no such thing as a skeptical Sabbath.

Is: Skepticon involves speakers getting up before an audience and issuing proclamations.
Isn't: Those proclamations are not from an agreed-upon text. There is no official doctrine or dogma.

Hemant Mehta compares the drawings by an eight year old
in Sunday school of a good Christian boy (well-groomed,
carrying a cross) and an atheist boy (tattooed, drinking)
Is: Speakers talk about what's important to them, and to members of the audience.
Isn't: What's important is not furthering belief in supernatural entities.

Is: There is a sacrament.
Isn't: It's beer.

Is: There is a lot of talk about religion.
Isn't: Not generally in a favorable light.

Is: You get to hear "God" a lot.
Isn't: It's likely to be followed immediately by "damn."


Is: It's free.
Isn't: Nobody passes a basket. At least, not literally.


Is: There are protesters.
Text: "The Scientific Reliability of The Bible
Psalm 119:138
If the Bible is not true then nothing really
matters. If the Bible is true then nothing else
really matters. SouthCreekChruch.com [sic]
BornofHim.org"
Wait, wait, wait....that's an "is"? Yes. Where (and when) I went to church, there were protesters.
Isn't: Somewhat different kind of protesters. But not terribly different.
Sign: "If You Died Today, Where
Would You Go?"

Is: It happens on a regular basis.
Isn't: Skepticon happens once year. People travel hundreds of miles to reach it, because there isn't anything equivalent happening closer to them.

Is: It's very segregated. You could make pretty accurate arrangements to meet up with someone by saying "I'll see you by the black dude at 4:00."
Isn't: There was somebody making an issue of this. Unfortunately, a lot of people (including myself...I had to get on the road) weren't around to hear it.

Is: People feel a surge of enthusiasm and joy from the knowledge that they are amongst others who sympathize on something very important to them. As one was quoted, "Hanging out with people who agree with me recharges and revitalizes me."
Isn't: Well...

This quote was mentioned by James Croft on Sunday morning (fittingly) during his talk on skeptical and atheist communities. In light of the fact that "non-religious" is the fastest-growing "religious" faction in America, with 1/3 of people under age 30 fitting that description, Croft was encouraging attendees of Skepticon to join and/or start local organizations for the non-religious in order to have that revitalizing and recharging sense of community more often, and to engage in the kind of proactive ethical pursuits that churches often do (collecting food, toys, etc. for the poor) as secular communities, all over the country, when conventions like Skepticon aren't taking place. Croft was encouraging everyone to become more active, to translate that feeling of inward belonging into outward action, which-- if we're to be fair-- is like pulling teeth to get church members to do. People who live fewer than two miles from their place of worship, from the supposed locus of attention of the ever-loving deity who created the universe. I guess they figure he'll take care of it for them. Skeptics don't have that to fall back on.

I think impatience in this case is easy, actually-- particularly if you're the sort of person who has no problem finding people who are very accepting of skepticism and secularism as an important or even necessary element of their day-to-day life, which is also your day-to-day life. It can be easy to discount the comfort that can be found in people who think similarly if you are not one of those (like a secularist in the midwest) who spends every waking moment around people who largely don't.  

I know, I know, it's a messy issue. Routinely, the community of skeptics/atheists/secularists runs up against such concerns, and runs up against them hard. Croft bent over backwards in his talk to make the idea of gathering together seem as palatable to secularists-- who, incidentally, had already made quite a significant show of being willing to gather together at least once a year, for a couple of days, for the sake of common interest and the comfort that comes from that, and for some socialization. Like cons are known to be-- gatherings of enthusiasts.

For me, it was an opportunity to socialize in particular with a friend I've known for a good fifteen years (thank you, internet!), but had never met in person.
Gretchen and Ed Brayton
Damn sure it's not going to be another fifteen years.