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Author Topic: EP473: Soft Currency  (Read 10110 times)

eytanz

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on: December 27, 2014, 04:21:47 PM
EP473: Soft Currency

By Seth Gordon

Read by Melissa Bugaj

This story has not been previously published

---

When Cassie Levine was nine years old, her family lived in the center of Boston, Lyndon B. Johnson was President, and Cassie learned that her mother was a criminal.

The two of them sat in a parked car on Blue Hill Avenue, outside Ethel Glick’s grocery store. While Cassie ate an ice-cream sandwich, her mother smoked a cigarette. The sandwich, the cigarettes, and three bags of groceries had come from Mrs. Glick’s store. When the ice cream sandwich was half gone, Cassie asked, “Why did you change Dad’s money at Mrs. Glick’s? Why not go to the bank?”

Cassie’s mother had passed Mrs. Glick a twenty-dollar bill; the older woman had tucked the bill under the counter and handed back a stack of coupons; then, her mother had used some of those coupons to pay Mrs. Glick. Each twenty-coupon note showed a picture of Margaret Mitchell, holding a copy of _Gone With the Wind_. Cassie’s little brother called coupons “cootie money,” because only women and girls could use them.

“The exchange rate at the banks is twenty-seven coupons for a dollar,” Cassie’s mother said, “and Mrs. Glick is paying thirty-one.”

“Why don’t the banks pay thirty-one?”

“The government won’t let them.”

“Does the government let Mrs. Glick?”

Cassie’s mother drew on her cigarette and exhaled out the half-open window into the drizzle. Cassie licked vanilla ice cream all around the edge of her sandwich, feeling smug and virtuous and full of sugar. “You’re doing something il-le-gal,” she said, stretching out the last word.

“Don’t tell your father about this.”

Cassie raised her eyebrows. Her mother’s expression was solemn. Through the blur of rain over the windshield, Cassie could see the delicatessen on the opposite corner; the G&G sign was suspended over the sidewalk, round and vertical like a ketchup bottle. Some nights, Cassie’s father would take the family out to dinner there.

“He’s an idealist, and I love him for that, but… he doesn’t understand how much things cost.”

“Is it really illegal, changing money at Mrs. Glick’s? Could you get arrested for it?”

Her mother shook her head. “It’s like jaywalking, honey. It doesn’t hurt anyone, and the police have better things to do than go after it.”


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!



El Barto

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Reply #1 on: December 29, 2014, 04:11:14 AM
This episode was more thought-provoking than I expected.  As I listened I found myself thinking it was an incredibly stupid premise.  I mean who would really come up with such a stupid law requiring separate currency for men and women?  

And then I realized how many idiotic laws there are around the world and how many people suffer because of so much ignorance, self-interest, and bigotry.  

So, to me, the point of the story was to look around at laws in our current society and wonder, "which ones will history judge harshest?"

In fact, this one got me thinking so much that I had to come back to this edit this comment to say was there a single stitch of science fiction in this story anywhere?
« Last Edit: December 29, 2014, 04:13:48 AM by El Barto »



bounceswoosh

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Reply #2 on: December 29, 2014, 04:20:04 AM
Alternate history counts as sf.

I both found it ridiculous and then all too believable. When my mom moved to the US from Germany in the early 70s, women couldn't get a loan without their husbands co-signing, and it was very difficult to establish credit history. Not terribly different, actually, in its effects.



SpareInch

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Reply #3 on: December 30, 2014, 12:35:52 PM
I think one of the most disturbing parts of this story was when the protagonist came up with that rather spurious reason purporting to be the justification of having separate currency. All about how families would fall apart if men were allowed to buy groceries or clothing and women were allowed to buy lawn mowers, or whatever.

It was clearly something made up by a man, and you could tell she didn't really believe it,.

It reminded me of a comment the then Archbishop of Canterbury made the other year when the British government was legalising same sex marriages. He claimed that it shouldn't be allowed on the grounds that same sex couples can't have children... And this from the head of a church which was more than happy to marry elderly couples or people suffering from various types of sterility.

The truth is that these laws, real or fictional, exist to oppress people.

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Dwango

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Reply #4 on: December 30, 2014, 07:37:23 PM
This could easily have occurred in the last century and is very believable.  Only 50 years ago, we had segregation which was a highly convoluted system to oppress African-Americans with all sorts of arbitrary laws based on all sorts of racist malarkey.  Women have been treated pretty poorly, getting the vote after African-American men got the vote.  I can easily believe that separate moneys could be set up.  It makes a sort of sick sense to enforce sexual segregation and make it impossible for women to have equal access to education and jobs through the very means needed to do so, money.

Only thing I think missing was a movement to change things.  Throughout history there have been brave men and women who fought oppression in the face of strong opposition.  Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks, Ida Wells... While there are many who just accept the situation, such as Cassie's mom, there are those willing to take a stand a fight for change.  In their own era, they get ostracized for their opinions, but they also become emotional focal points that prove out the unfairness of the legal constructs.  Of course, I'm kind of an optimist and always root for the happy ending of sorts, even though I appreciate the dark ending as well.



bounceswoosh

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Reply #5 on: December 30, 2014, 11:06:16 PM
This could easily have occurred in the last century and is very believable.  Only 50 years ago, we had segregation which was a highly convoluted system to oppress African-Americans with all sorts of arbitrary laws based on all sorts of racist malarkey.  Women have been treated pretty poorly, getting the vote after African-American men got the vote.  I can easily believe that separate moneys could be set up.  It makes a sort of sick sense to enforce sexual segregation and make it impossible for women to have equal access to education and jobs through the very means needed to do so, money.

Only thing I think missing was a movement to change things.  Throughout history there have been brave men and women who fought oppression in the face of strong opposition.  Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks, Ida Wells... While there are many who just accept the situation, such as Cassie's mom, there are those willing to take a stand a fight for change.  In their own era, they get ostracized for their opinions, but they also become emotional focal points that prove out the unfairness of the legal constructs.  Of course, I'm kind of an optimist and always root for the happy ending of sorts, even though I appreciate the dark ending as well.
I am not sure Cassie's mom just accepts the situation. That last part where she calls Mrs Glick an idiot and burned the letter ... I took that to men she didn't want to have cassie believe the apology.



Farseeker

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Reply #6 on: December 31, 2014, 03:02:32 PM
This was the first Escape Pod story in a long time that I disliked enough to stop listening without completing it. I find it uninteresting, tediously and transparently heavy handed in its attempted social commentary, and -- even for an alternate history -- unbelievable.

Seems like the whole story could be effectively summarized as "stereotyped gender roles are dumb". Which is true, but this soapbox of a story added nothing new or interesting about it, just kept hitting you with its sledgehammer.

Using an SF story to make social commentary is a time honored tradition, but if it doesn't start with a well told story, you end up with "Atlas Shrugged", preachy with no redeeming qualities.



Max e^{i pi}

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Reply #7 on: December 31, 2014, 04:48:58 PM
I think that the saving grace of this story is that Cassie's mother burned the letter. This way she isn't exposed to Ethel's self-degrading apologetic explanation. Now the burgeoning feminist thoughts she had had earlier in the story will have on what to grow and maybe, one day, she will help make a difference.
Other than that, this story annoyed me. Probably in a good way, the way it was supposed to by pushing all my buttons about justice and equality and people being jackasses. But still, it annoyed me.

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adrianh

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Reply #8 on: January 01, 2015, 09:49:14 AM
I loved this. It took money — which is a deeply strange thing in of itself — and twisted it in an interesting way. I personally found it all to believable an alt-history considering how contentious women workers were in the US (and elsewhere) during the 40s, and the way that wives finances were tied to their husbands for many years.

Hell — in our timeline the Equal Credit Opportunity Act wasn't passed in the US until 1974! (Up until then banks required unmarried women to bring a man to cosign any credit application — and they would also discount their income when considering the loan up to 50%!)

I also like the focus on the not-very-revolutionary Ethel. For every Malcolm X or Martin Luther King there are hundreds of Ethels. I personally find the Ethels of the world more interesting. They're the ones that encourage the quiet changes that redefine what "normal" is and help societal change happen.

I also read Ethel's apology letter very differently from the comments so far.

This was a letter Ethel knew would be read by the prison staff, so she's hardly going to call for a revolution! Ethel's smart! I read it as something meant to help get Cassie off the hook (you had not part in this, etc.) and a pretty strong message to Cassie to continue doing whatever she thought was sensible.

Cassie's mum didn't burn the letter because she wanted Cassie's burgeoning feminist thoughts to blossom. She burned the letter because she didn't want Ethel encouraging her.



AirWreck

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Reply #9 on: January 02, 2015, 03:31:09 AM
The problem that I have with alternate history stories like this, is the belief that one country is the entire world. I noticed this in the old show "Sliders" where some silly law is passed and we see the effect, but discount that other countries wouldn't go along with it. Would America still be strong and powerful if they were hamstringing themselves like this? I could actually see Australia being at a competitive advantage in this world. At the very least, the cold war would have been vastly different.



adrianh

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Reply #10 on: January 02, 2015, 09:54:20 AM
Would America still be strong and powerful if they were hamstringing themselves like this?

Probably. The US managed to get where it is now with de jure racial segregation up until 1968. I don't see the enforced duel economies causing more damage than that. Especially since it's not that far from reality at the time. See the previously mentioned Equal Credit Opportunity Act. I was a kid during the 70s era this was set. I can remember my dad being seen as somewhat odd, with implications of unmanliness,  when he did the food shopping by himself. I can remember my mum being basically denied service in a hardware store without "her husband" to help. Not every store. Not every time. But the societal pressure was there. With a little nudge from legislation and economic necessity I can easily see it sticking.

Would America still be strong and powerful if they were hamstringing themselves like this?
 I could actually see Australia being at a competitive advantage in this world. At the very least, the cold war would have been vastly different.

Why? (curious ;-)



Devoted135

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Reply #11 on: January 03, 2015, 04:23:16 AM
I was also deeply annoyed by this story, but I'm pretty sure that's the reaction the author was going for. Talk about a stupid, ridiculous system! Humans have come up with plenty of stupid systems in real life, though I have the impression that most have not been as convoluted as this one. The justifications seemed to sound just as lame to the characters as they did to me. In contrast, I have the impression that people were either vehemently for or against segregation (for example). They may not have actively joined protests, but they at least wouldn't apathetically give the party line to justify the Jim Crow laws. Unless I'm wrong about that... ::)

I liked the narrator's voice and style, but wasn't feeling the attempts at various accents.


This was a letter Ethel knew would be read by the prison staff, so she's hardly going to call for a revolution! Ethel's smart! I read it as something meant to help get Cassie off the hook (you had not part in this, etc.) and a pretty strong message to Cassie to continue doing whatever she thought was sensible.

This is essentially how I interpreted the letter as well.



Zelda

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Reply #12 on: January 03, 2015, 08:41:52 AM
I liked this story very much. I liked the main character and a lot of the interactions in the story, especially those relating to high school popularity. I liked - I don't know how to describe it so I'll say, the texture of the writing. I also liked the choices of the historical events that established the time period of the story.

However I do not find the alternative history proposed in the story believable. A dual currency system would be too hard to impose and belief that national security is tied to having a stable currency is too widespread. There's a reason dollar bills say "This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private" and states are forbidden from printing their own currency. Besides in the 1940s it was completely legal to say "We're firing you because you're a woman."

I don't think historical economic discrimination against women provides enough of an explanation. The two currency system in the story doesn't just discriminate against women, it also restricts the power of white men by preventing them from purchasing goods that must be paid for with coupons. Actual discrimination is always one-sided in practice.

But as a mental exercise the dual currency system is very interesting.




adrianh

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Reply #13 on: January 03, 2015, 11:09:06 AM
However I do not find the alternative history proposed in the story believable. A dual currency system would be too hard to impose and belief that national security is tied to having a stable currency is too widespread. There's a reason dollar bills say "This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private" and states are forbidden from printing their own currency. "

The coupons in this story were a government backed legal currency with a government mandated exchange rate — so I don't see national security and stability being an issue.

Personally I thought the introduction background was pretty plausible. Initial introduction post war with the GI Bill to deal with specific social issues, broadened out later on to re-enforce existing societal norms that were seen as "good".  

As an kind-of-related example to look us over in the UK who had 15 years of ration coupons during and post-WW2 — mostly controlled by women through convention rather than law (interestingly both my mum and gran who lived through UK rationing commented in the past on how its removal could be disempowering for women, since overall control of household budgets generally switched back to the wage earning man who controlled the bank account, etc.).

Government coupon coins were a real thing in the US too, although with a different background and history (WW2 rationing) from the ones in this story. (Indeed — I wonder why the author chose not to extend and expand on this rather than use a modified GI Bill as his alt-hist turning point.)

I don't think historical economic discrimination against women provides enough of an explanation. The two currency system in the story doesn't just discriminate against women, it also restricts the power of white men by preventing them from purchasing goods that must be paid for with coupons. Actual discrimination is always one-sided in practice.

I'd agree that it's not just about economic discrimination. It's intent is to reenforce societal norms. Man as wage earner, woman as homemaker. The married couple as the unit that has the easy path in this two currency economy. Which screws children, single people, gays, lesbians, widows, spinsters, etc.

I'd disagree that discrimination is always one-sided in practice. Discrimination often affects multiple sides. When it comes to race look at the miscegenation laws for example. When it comes to discrimination around traditional gender roles many of the problems women had/have becoming doctors are mirrored by the problems men had/have becoming nurses/midwives (the dad of a school friend was training to be a nurse in the late 70s. Some of the shit he put up with from men and women at the time was amazing). Damn that kyriarchy  ;-)

In the story we have something that's nominally 'separate but equal'. Both sexes have their own currency. Both sexes can change currencies if they need to and ask/pay/barter somebody of the opposite sex to help them purchase products in the other currency.

But I'd argue that the folk in the coupon economy are at a disadvantage. The exchange rate gives dollars more spending power in the coupon economy, having property in the dollar economy, having restaurant food in the dollar economy, etc.

So yes the men face problems too in this world, but not as many as the women.

« Last Edit: January 03, 2015, 02:02:50 PM by adrianh »



Varda

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Reply #14 on: January 03, 2015, 01:04:57 PM
Really enjoying all the insightful discussion on this one.

I think dystopic literary SF is really, REALLY hard to pull off well, because all too often it's either derivative (everyone's trying to write "1984" even though we've all read it) or takes too big of a jump into everyone accepting things to the point where the characters look like morons and don't behave like actual human beings. But this story worked very well because it showed exactly how and why these sorts of things could happen historically and presently, and why for the people living through it, it could look like business as usual.

For me, this story brought to mind how there really still is an invisible tax on being female in the US, both in the form of wage discrimination (women are paid less for identical work in many industries) and in the form of products purchased (for example, ounce by ounce, "women's" deodorant costs more than "men's", despite them being basically identical products).

I greatly appreciate how this article sums up this problem:

"You're paying extra to play a made-up role that society pays you less for inhabiting."

So the reason this story works so well for me is because despite the surface-level ridiculousness of the system created, it's really only slightly more ridiculous than what we're already living with. All our excuses for justifying the continuing existence of our own gender-based double economy amount to the same excuses used in this story: they come after the fact, reverse-engineered to explain why we shouldn't have to change anything, because it's really about enforcing social norms and not about fairness or logic at all.

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spork

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Reply #15 on: January 03, 2015, 10:04:17 PM
40 minutes in and STILL talking about the underground exchange rate?  Really? come on, really?

" sledgehammer." well said.  

Preaching in the progressive delusion is the most common thing in SF, it would be nice to see it done in one of the other two delusions for a change.  Or, maybe someone could do the hard work of learning "Real Politiks,"  The truth is stranger than the delusions.  It would make for amazing SF.
 
  
"Using an SF story to make social commentary is a time honored tradition, but if it doesn't start with a well told story, you end up with "Atlas Shrugged", preachy with no redeeming qualities."  well said




spork

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Reply #16 on: January 03, 2015, 10:16:40 PM
pays you less for inhabiting."  ?  really? still?   If you are going to use an sf forum to rehash old politics, you have to be prepared to be engaged.

A re evaluation of the same data, but then using it as normalized data,  as all other data is before it becomes a useful statistic, changed the "69 -78 cents on a dollar" maxim quite a bit. 



spork

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Reply #17 on: January 03, 2015, 10:19:21 PM
 until 1974! (Up until then banks required unmarried women to bring a man to cosign any credit application — and they would also discount their income when considering the loan up to 50%!)

a ray of interesting discussion.  thank you.



AirWreck

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Reply #18 on: January 03, 2015, 11:32:35 PM
I could actually see Australia being at a competitive advantage in this world. At the very least, the cold war would have been vastly different.

Why? (curious ;-)

America became great because of immigration. I could see these laws making it a less desirable place to go to for both genders. So, people trying to leave war-torn Europe would more likely go to a different place. I chose Australia simply because it had been mentioned in the story as not having the laws. (In my heart I am biased and was thinking Canada.) If a different place was becoming a dynamic and vibrant country instead of the States, how would America have reacted?



eytanz

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Reply #19 on: January 03, 2015, 11:39:59 PM
Moderator note Spork - please tone it down, please. Your arguments are fine, but saying things like "a ray of interesting discussion" (implying that the rest of the discussion is not interesting) is pretty rude.

Also, if you plan on quoting things, please do something to distinguish the quotes from your own text. Quote tags are best, but if you don't want to use them, do something else. Your posts are rather difficult to read at the moment.