Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Older And Wiser?

And another twelve months bites the dust...

So. Will 2008 be remembered as the year in which the United States started to reform an economic system that created vast paper "wealth," but was fundamentally broken under the leadership of a young President who pushed his nation to rediscover the spirit of pioneering and intelligent risk taking so that it could regain some portion of its lost standing in the world?

Or will it drift into history as a year in which the nation's entrenched economic interests held the public hostage and the American public showed itself yet again to be willing to be deceived by self-serving politico who mouthed all the right words, and then went back to business as usual?

Of course, it's a false choice - there are many, many more than just two outcomes. But in the end, will we look back on this year as an important point in the "rehabilitation" of the United States of America? Or simply as just another year in what's really starting to look like a downhill slide?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

And Women Get Married WHY...?

Speaking of men being stupid... IOZ turns us on to THIS little gem. Thanks, IOZ!

So... let me get this straight... Women should give into their husbands' requests for sex, regardless of how they feel about it at the time because:

  1. Men are incapable of understanding that someone who doesn't put out when asked loves them.
  2. Women are capable of understanding that someone who's willing to ask them to do something they'd really rather not loves them.
  3. Having to, I don't know, ask for what they want and need and communicate how they feel about things to ensure understanding is "emasculating."
  4. Being in a monogamous relationship is already torture for men and their primitive and animalistic sex drives - asking them to not get sex whenever they want it is just too much.
(And I thought that was mainly women who had a low opinion of men...)

Note that this is from a conservative writer who styles himself a Christian. I guess that in his version of the Bible, all the parts where it says: "No nookie with people you aren't married to," were slipped in by those dastardly demonic women. You'd think that if it was so difficult to uphold that part, they would have repealed it by now, given how generally selective they were in determining what went in, and what stayed out.

The ending is priceless...
Everything written here applies under two conditions: 1. The woman is married to a good man. 2. She wants him to be a happy husband. If either condition is not present, nothing written here matters. But if you are a woman who loves your husband, what is written here can be the most important thing you will read concerning your marriage. Because chances are the man you love won't tell you.
News flash! Any woman who is married to a man who would rather stay silent or lie to her rather than "confess to the amount of hurt and eventual anger [he] experience[s] when repeatedly denied sex" until it gets to the point that "he may try to fill this need with another woman," or engage in "emotional and other forms of withdrawal," isn't married to a "good man." She's married to a childish loser. (Which means, of course, that she's off the hook.)

This is the first part of Prager's little power trip. In Part II: "I will explain in detail why mood should play little or no role in a woman's determining whether she has sex with her husband."

I suspect that Part III will be a detailed explanation of why the Los Angeles County coroner should rule Sylvia Pardo's death a suicide.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Nature Versus Stupidity

Of all of the things that one figures that we'd be done with, the Battle of the Sexes used to rate high on my list. Less so these days, especially after having read online stories about the sex trade fueled by human trafficking here in the United States, and yet another in what seems like a never-ending series of murder-suicides triggered by yet-another jackass who decided that if HE couldn't have his ex-wife, no one could.

I read an article in the Economist (dead-tree edition) that gave a Darwinian take on (among other things) why men are sexually unfaithful and violent. Nothing new - there was an edition of the Joy of Sex that I had for a human sexuality class (Sociology 269, natch [I'm still impressed they got away with that]) some twenty years ago that referred to "men's rape instincts." But no-one, it seems, likes that explanation for things. Either men feel that it reduces them to unthinking and monstrous automatons, or women feel that it lets men off the hook for the evil that they do. But is the other explanation, that men are simply unwilling to live with the rules that they themselves (mostly) created to govern society, any better? I don't know who benefits from the idea that many men are willingly mean-spirited and rapacious.

The fact is, that biologically buttressed or not, people are responsible for their actions - after all we aren't animals. This is the whole gist behind Caesar Milan's "Dog Whisperer" shtick. The dogs simply respond to a given stimulus - it's the people who have to do things differently to drive changes in their animals' behavior, and it is the people who are finally accountable. So why do we accept responsibility for dogs, but not for ourselves?

One way in which men and women are similar is that both groups tend to close ranks in defense of each other, mainly to avoid group de-legitimization. But one way to create a more harmonious society is to be more willing to castigate individuals who act in ways that we've determined are unacceptable. Men don't consciously order up women who've been unwillingly trafficked as mail-order brides (I still don't get that) in a vacuum. They do so within the context of a small group of peers who might actively support that action, but also within a much larger group that knows, but simply pretends that nothing amiss is going on. By the same token, no-one, despite how outgoing, friendly and devoted to his church he is, suddenly decides to murder his ex-wife, her parents, and bunch of uninvolved partygoers out of the clear blue sky one day.* He does it, because, despite whatever positive traits he might have, he also shares with others the opinion that a woman who comes into his life is somehow his property, and any stirrings of independence on her part threatens his self-image and status, and exists within a greater society that encourages, if not actively promotes, that broken way of thinking.

This isn't to say that if the rest of us adopted the properly disapproving attitude, that such things would go away. Sometimes, you simply have to realize that the answer to "Whatever happened to Crazy?" is that it moved in next door to you, or that you started dating it. But most people who pull this kind of garbage aren't crazy. They think that what they're doing is right. And all too often, we let them think that, and then look around telling ourselves we have no idea where they got the idea from.

* Personally, I'm still waiting for the interview with a neighbor who says, "Yeah, we knew that guy was a psycho. We had a betting pool at work as to when he'd finally snap. Asshole cost me 50 bucks."

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Was That REALLY Necessary?

I'm watching the news, and the story of the burst water main in Massachusetts played on our local newscast. The keystone of the story was a recording of some poor woman freaking out while she pleaded with 911 to come rescue her. She was screaming and crying as the water began to push her car. Her panic was understandable, to be sure. But I don't understand why it was needed to tell the story. The video of a street turned into a raging torrent while people struggled to control their cars made it pretty clear that they were in a difficult, and likely very frightening situation. A desperate 911 call seemed like overkill.

(And I don't know why they needed to transcribe part of the call in the AP article, either, for that matter.)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

You Were Expecting...?

Advocacy groups of the homosexual community are up in arms over Pope Benedict XVI's statement that humanity needed to be saved from homosexual or transsexual behavior, saying that this was as important as protecting the environment.

Um... what were they expecting? While it can hardly be said that the Roman Catholic Church is the only institution with a stake in traditional gender-role stereotyping, I expect the Moon to smack me in the back of the head before the Church says that men and women can take on each other's roles, and that this would meet with their approval. I understand the feeling that the Pope is, in effect, sanctioning the re-closeting of homosexuals and transsexuals, if not the outright criminalization of the behavior, but again, what do you expect? It's a small demographic, and easy to target while the rest of the population looks on. I was unable to find the full text of the pontiff's comments, but I'm willing to bet that he didn't go near the topics of say, divorce or pre-marital sex, which would have driven a wedge between the Church and a much larger segment of the populace. (And is something that the media coverage, in the constant quest for yet another controversy, would be unlikely to ignore.)

And therein lies the rub. For both sides. If enough people are doing (or not doing) something, the Church winds up having to go along, to a certain degree. If "proper" relationships between men and women are imperative to saving the world, one would think that doing away with divorce would get us much closer to that point than forcing the relatively small segment of the population that is either homosexual or transsexual into celibacy or accepting their outward gender. On the other hand, because these communities are always going to be a minority, and not a very large one at that, they're always going to be convenient targets. Expecting the Church to be more accepting of them anytime in the near future is unrealistic.

The Church's advice to a gay or lesbian couple, or a young child who's positive that they were born into the wrong body is always going to be the same: "God is Right, you are Wrong. Pray harder." Those groups should get used to hearing it, in much the same way that the Vatican has needed to become used to being ignored.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Flaky Fluff

"The Lambards are software engineers and former writers for an '80s video game called Car Wars, which spawned a role-playing card game and the magazine Autoduels Quarterly, which folded in 1992. With their three children, the couple also organizes and participates in annual 'filking' conventions, where participants bring renaissance instruments like mandolins and dulcimers and party in their best sci-fi or fantasy costumes."
"The Family That Preys Together" Laura Onstot. The Seattle Weekly, 16 December, 2008

As it turns out, being a science-fiction fan during my misspent youth (Does ANYONE ever spend their youth well?), I'm familiar with Car Wars, Autoduel Quarterly magazine, and filking. Ms. Onstot is clearly unfamiliar with all of the above. A few minutes of searching online would have told Ms. Onstot that the Lambards wrote the card game - the Car Wars video game was programmed by Jim Dramis and that the only thing that the video game and the card game had in common was the name. (I've played both - the video game on the TI99/4A that my parents owned, and the card game on a trip to Japan. I still have my copy of the card game. I'd rather still have the video game.) Or that there is no requirement that filking use renaissance instruments - it's simply (primarily) science fiction or fantasy themed music sung in the manner of folk songs, and you don't need to wear a costume, either. (So for instance, were I to write a folk-style song about autoduelling, that would qualify as filk.) Or maybe even the correct spelling of Autoduel Quarterly - note the lack of an "s."

But, in actually, none of these things are important. The article is about how two generations of the Lambard family bilked an old woman out of tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Their ties to the gaming, convention and filking communities are completely irrelevant to the story at hand. Why include worthless details, if you aren't going to get them right?

In a way, it doesn't matter. I know these things, but few other Seattle Weekly readers are liable to know, and fewer still, to care. I guess I think that even free journalism should get the details right, and avoid fluff if it's not going to be fact checked.

Plastic Villians

Okay. I'll accept that it could be considered in poor taste to make Lego Minifig terrorists. (Note that you can't find the offending toy on the British website the article links to. Go to BrickArms' site instead.) But the statement that: "We should be coming together to unite against terrorism, but how is that possible when children are playing with toys like this?” seem a little hysterical and over the top. If kids are going to play with little plastic people wielding guns, what's wrong with throwing in some bad guys? The best villains are the ones who are morally unambiguous. Terrorists sure seem to fit the bill these days.

Don't Hate The Messenger

Christopher Hitchens penned an article in today's Slate, questioning the choice of Rick Warren to officiate at Barack Obama's inauguration, and winds up taking some heat for it in the Fray. Hitchens is a hater, by a rather mild definition of the term. He's an entertaining, intelligent and articulate hater, but he's a hater nevertheless. And this tends to color people's perceptions of his message, sometimes even to the point of derailing it completely. But there's really nothing wrong with his reasoning here. The idea that Rick Warren is perhaps too polarizing a figure for the inauguration is a valid one. Having him officiate at the ceremony may be a purely political move, but the uncynical (and/or perhaps the overly cynical) may come to the conclusion that Obama is using the Warren choice as a way of subtly telegraphing an intention to create an administration that favors those the Warren favors, at the expense of those he disfavors.

It's a reasonable fear, even when it's not accurate. Punishing people for not voting "properly" is a common American conspiracy theory. You'll likely remember accusations that the Bush administration hung New Orleans out to dry after Hurricane Katrina as a way of punishing the city for being a Democratic stronghold. And part of the whole point behind wedge politics is the pursuit of votes from some demographic or the other by promising to send "opposing" demographics into the political wilderness. Obama's "change" rhetoric or none, there are going to be those who understand it to be business as usual, and in modern American politics, that's been coming to mean choosing sides.

You could make the point that Warren's pursuit of a mono-cultural America (in which everyone is an evangelical christian) should be considered more inclusive than exclusive, but there are those for whom such a conversion would never be acceptable, and Warren's rhetoric does lend itself towards the idea that such types are illegitimate, in much the same way that Mitt Romney appeared to make common cause with more mainstream christians by openly questioning the bona fides of non-believers as citizens (it was rumored that Bush senior had more directly said as much, back in the day, but the alleged quote was never substantiated), and perhaps indirectly hinting that it would be allowable to curtail their rights for the good of the nation.

Hitchens also raises the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, implying that this is a similar situation. When Wright pontificated on America's culpability in the deaths of Japanese civilians in World War Two, and loudly exclaimed "God Damn America," people (well, okay, Republicans) were outraged. But, more importantly from a political standpoint, they saw then-candidate Senator Obama's continued attendance at services to be a validation of what they saw as a hateful message - and one directed primarily at them. But if this is true, isn't the selection of Warren by the President-elect a validation of Warren's seemingly low opinion of Jews (for instance)? It would seem, if people are going to be consistent (which, to be honest, they often aren't) that it would be. But most of America isn't Jewish - so if Rick Warren is going to say that Jews "are of less worth and littler virtue" than themselves, it's more easily overlooked. Of course, as with any charge of institutional hypocrisy, this is a hard thing to prove. Wright's critics and Warren's supporters could each number in the millions of people, and still have no overlap between them.

But Hitchens is right to note that "Barack Obama['s...] job is to be the president of all Americans at all times." Surrounding oneself with people who are willing and able to publicly establish hierarchies of worth and virtue doesn't work towards this. An Obama administration, while striving for inclusion, is going to have to keep in mind that some people are going to make assumptions about who he views as his enemies by reading into his list of friends. And so, choosing people who don't give others cause to feel excluded is a good idea. (One would think that Obama would have learned this from the Wright dust-up.) The fact that the bearer of this message may be a hater doesn't make it any less true.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

You Using That House?

So a Florida activist is helping homeless people break into foreclosed homes, even helping them re-break in if a property manager changes the locks. I suppose that it's better than letting them stay out on the streets, but one would think that it would be better in the long run if some sort of program could be worked out. I like that idea myself, but I expect that the liability issues would be enormous. Perhaps I should look into the programs in Cleveland and Atlanta, and see how they manage things. It seems like a good idea. If we could somehow find a way to formalize the practice of letting people stay in empty homes as caretakers, everyone wins. (On the down side, though if people start thinking of the homes as theirs, they might not be too happy to give them up when they're finally sold to someone.) Right now though, it seems that Max Rameau and Take Back the Land are setting people up to be jailed for breaking and entering and trespassing, even if the local police are being fairly blasé about the matter right now. Rameau assures his clients he has lawyers who will represent them free, if they get into trouble. Let's hope they aren't public defenders. On the other hand, Rameau isn't afraid to use his name in a nationwide news article, so it's pretty clear he's not too worried.

A "Real" Winter?

Technically, it's still (very) late Autumn, but Winter has returned to the Puget Sound area. And, as usual, brought the place to a complete standstill. It snows only rarely in this part of the country (and, for that matter, this part of Washington State). As a result, there is very little in the way of snow removal equipment to be found in the area. The price that we pay for not having plows and sanders sitting around unused for years at a time is that more than an inch or two of snow completely snarls the entire area.

Normally, we get what are perhaps best termed "Weekend Winters." The classic example is one, maybe two inches (but usually less) of snow on a Saturday that's then almost completely gone in time for Monday's morning rush hour. You might see some snow in a yard or in a park, but pretty much everywhere else, it's already melted into runoff. This time, we weren't so lucky. It's not liable to warm up for a while, which means that we're going to be iced over for some time.

It's something of an inconvenience, to be sure. But I wonder about the effect that this is having on the local homeless. One of the first things that I noticed, the first time I went into downtown Seattle, was the relatively large number of homeless people. I'm sure that compared to someplace like Los Angeles, we don't have a problem. But being originally from Chicago, I wasn't all that well acquainted with the issue. Not that Chicago doesn't have its share of homeless people, but I'd never seen all that many. In a place where the summers and winters can be randomly brutal (sometimes REALLY brutal) life on the street can easily double as a death sentence. (We had a pair of somewhat morbid sayings: "It's not a 'real' heat wave/cold snap until there's a body count." The body count in question commonly referred to people who never left their homes, or people who didn't have them.) Seattle, with it's much more clement climate, is considerably more hospitable to the involuntarily out-of-doors. While the rainy season is annoying (I'm understating that, I know), it's not immediately lethal in the way a week of 20 below zero temperatures can be.

It's been snowing, off and on, for about 24 hours now. Watching the white stuff float down on the wind, and realizing that it will be next week before the "warm" weather returns, I have the sinking feeling that we might be in for a "real" Winter, this time. At least for a week.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Catalog Of Sins

The scandal now growing around Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has started up a favored pastime of political mudslingers. Adding Blagojevich's alleged crimes and his supposedly flawed character to the Democrat's Catalog of Sins.

Of course cataloging the sins of those not like you, and/or that you don't like, isn't the exclusive province of politics. Everyone who's debated whether Communism or the Crusades has caused more misery, or indulged in heated speculation over whether or not the current state of Black America should be laid at the feet of Slavery or a botched follow-up to the Civil Rights Movement has been sucked into the same trap - myself included.

Having finally managed to see the habit well enough to begin to separate myself from it, I've been reflecting on what causes it. The immediate answer may be the best one, although I do not doubt that there are others. Those who make it a point to catalog the sins of others, from Christopher Hitchens to Dave Sim to Bill O'Reilly, tend to work from a single central premise: "The world would be a better place, but for..." It points to a world that is, in some ways, a living organism, that could heal itself once we remove the "bad stuff" that infects it, as opposed to, say a home, where no one regards the simple act of removing an infestation of termites as the end point of a home improvement project. It also speaks to a simplistic view of morality and/or ethics that says that there are Good people and Bad people, and you know the Bad people because they have done the most Bad things. In other words, once again, we have the search for the easy way out.

I suppose that I have no business being surprised by this. After all, the path of least resistance (and therefore, the least work) is pretty much the way people always do things. Before you jump on me for that statement, recall that there are a number of ways in which one may define the words "resistance" and "work." And not everyone is going to take the short-term view of their situation either. So perhaps it's more accurate to say that people always seek what they understand to be the most efficient means to whatever end they are after - and so this issue is less one of laziness, than of worldview. And what we often has is a worldview in which the problems of the world have clearly defined origins, that are also easily removed - if only everyone else had the sense and the will to do it. It is, perhaps, the ultimate external locus of control.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Feeding the Flames

Here in Washington State, we've decided that we've gone far too long without a Teapot Tempest, and so we've embarked upon giving everyone a cause to remember that favorite conservative cause - The War On Christmas. (I curious to see which side will prevail - Christmas... or the Christians. The Christians have proven more tenacious than I'd credited them, so they might yet succeed in destroying the Holiday.)

Freedom From Religion has posted a sign near the Nativity scene in the state Capitol building in Olympia. It reads:

At this season of the winter solstice may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.
Just like Richard Dawkins, it seems, they've "[...] learned using logic and reason isn't enough. You have to be a dick to everyone who doesn't think like you." Of course, to be fair, Bill O'Reilly also seems to have learned this lesson quite well. And his story seems to have brought every Culture Warrior who can hold a weapon out of the woodwork. Not to mention your garden variety rabble-rousers, like the folks who have decided that what Washington State really needs is a Festivus Pole. Even those perennial wackos, the Westboro Baptist Church, have gotten in on the act, laying about them with wild abandon, and pressing for a sign that seeks to attempt to prove that no matter how big a dick that militant Atheists might be, it takes a Christian Church to really bring the hate:
You'd better watch out, get ready to cry, You'd better go hide, I'm telling you why 'cuz Santa Claus will take you to hell. He is your favorite idol, you worship at his feet, but when you stand before your God He won't help you take the heat. So get this fact straight: you're feeling God's hate, Santa's to blame for the economy's fate, Santa Claus will take you to hell.
“Santa Claus Will Take You to Hell.” Westboro Baptist Church
The idea - the one (in my opinion) that really drives the Culture Wars - that the best thing for the United States is to be a single cultural entity, where the "best" culture runs everything at the expense of deliberately marginalizing and de-legitimizing anyone with the temerity to disagree, is going to take us nowhere than over the cliff at the end of the Road to Ruin. The clumsy and ill-considered Washington State policy that created this mess in the first place (and has since been suspended by a moratorium on new and pending requests) needs to be changed. I don't think that there is any way to do this in a way that everyone will consider "fair," so that's not really the consideration. But state policies need to be not only neutral in the Culture Wars, but also avoiding adding fuel to the fires. The cultural arsonists do enough damage without government enabling them.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What the Hell?

So Microsoft created a new tool to upload photographs to one's Windows Live Spaces weblog. It kicked in when I attempted to upload a picture to the blog. Because they killed the old tool, I had to log into a different webpage to sign in again to the Skydrive service to get the new tool to install. That required me to navigate away from the post I was working on, which deleted the post. Now, as you can see from the post on Blogger, it wasn't a very long post, unlike some of my other ones, so I didn't lose much. But forcing someone to navigate away from a post they're working on so you can update a tool on the fly is annoying, and the last straw. I'm done with Windows Live Spaces for now. For the foreseeable future all new posts will only appear on the Blogspot site. Yes, I realize it may simply have been a bug. I don't care.

Blogger vs. Windows Live Spaces. Blogger wins. It lacks some of the bells and whistles, but it's miles easier to use for, well, blogging. (Don't get me started on how hard it can be to indent text in WLS...)

We Get Paid Either Way...

This is great. Thanks, Ben, for pointing it out to me.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Watched From Above?

I was reading the Seattle Times today, and came across an article about a lawsuit launched by an Atheist group over a Kentucky law.

"Of particular concern is a 2006 clause requiring the Office of Homeland Security to post a plaque that says the safety and security of the state 'cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon almighty God' and to stress that fact through training and educational materials."
As you might expect, the this ignited an uproar over First Amendment issues. In case you don't remember it:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Okay - but what I would like to know is: What would happen if they didn't? If Kentucky's Director of Homeland Security followed Shinto (for instance), and nixed the plaque, what would the sanction be? Jail time? Firing? Loss of pay?

If an employee were to blow off the trainings because it's legally mandated that they include an acknowledgment of one's helplessness without God, could they be fired?

What if an instructor said that the necessity of God's help in protecting Kentucky (or the rest of us FROM Kentucky) was not a fact, but only a theory - would they be disciplined under this law?

Those are the questions that need to be answered to really understand what the constitutional issues might be. Many religions have quite rigid prohibitions against making overtures to other faiths - does making someone violate that injure their free expression of their chosen religion? But what if your religion doesn't? Can you be forced into nonexclusivity of worship if both faiths allow it? (Not that Christianity is considered to allow it, but it makes an interesting question.)

Monday, December 1, 2008

Silly People, Holes Are For Foxes

So this week, on On the Media, Bob and Brooke haul out an old story about the New Atheists. One of the topics that they covered was the old saying, "There are no atheists in foxholes," and NPR's John Burnett learning, the hard way, that many Atheists are quite offended by the phrase.

It's demeaning to atheists. It's saying that under very dire circumstances or frightening situations, atheists will stop being atheists; they will start believing. And this is really just a wish on the part of the religious, because it's not based in fact.
Ellen Johnson, President of American Atheists
But like many things, this is a double-edged sword. For isn't this just another way of saying that no-one, believers included, has the courage to face up to their imminent death?
To ignore issues of faith is to ignore a pretty fundamental part of all people's lives when they're in a hospital, facing death. I'm not saying all people find God, but they certainly do ask those questions.
David Shore, writer and creator of "House"
Personally, I disagree with this idea - mainly because the one time in my life that I was certain that I was going to die (clearly, I was mistaken), I had more important things on my mind than asking questions about issues of faith.

But in the end, perhaps the best response to "there are no atheists in foxholes," is to roll with it. After all, there are no bomber pilots in foxholes, either. Some folks have the foresight to find way to lay the smack down on the enemy without being downrange of live ammunition. Just saying...