Saturday, January 23, 2010

Saturday Sesame Street: Birthday Edition

For John, because unlike Bert, it is his birthday:

Happy birthday, John!

Also, a virtual cake for you:
(Stolen from Cake Wrecks)

I also highly recommend checking out John's project, Operation Backlog Slog, Days 1-5, 6, 7-9, 10-16, 17-27, 28-30, 31-33, & (so far) 24-43. Check out his explanation for liking Lady Gaga on that last one. It makes me fully embrace my own love for her music, and feel more secure in my decision to not be embarrassed about it.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Dear Mr. Douthat,

You write,
I find it hard to believe that you’d be seeing this level of right-of-center enthusiasm if Obama had postponed cap-and-trade, avoided taking over GM, compromised more significantly on the stimulus, and taken the incremental route to health insurance expansion that Reihan Salam discusses here.
Really? Are you sure, Mr. Douthat? Because considering the amount of "Obama is gleefully bringing us to the end of the world!1!11!!1!!" expressed in some corners of the cable news channels and in the blogosphere, and how that has continually happened since the man first began making real headway in the polls en route to becoming president, I call bullshite on this. I'm not going to say that all of the right-of-center enthusiasm is due to race; I think a lot of it is due to fear of The Other - the same thing that made John Kennedy a suspicious figure in 1960.

In other words, what is energizing the Right and the Far Far On the Fringes Right isn't the fact that Obama is a liberal. It is that they perceive him to be an Ultra Liberal, one step behind being a socialist, Marxist, atheist; the truth of the matter is that Obama is left-of-center, but far more interested in reaching centrist solutions than he is in making the world in his Liberal image. The man is a compromiser. That is the reason the single payer proponents didn't even get a seat at the table when the healthcare discussion began. That is the reason he has tried to woo people like Chuck Grassley and Olympia Snowe. That is the reason he chose to simply bail out the banks, instead of using their teetering as the reason to break them into smaller entities; or initializing a government take over as liberaler economists like Simon Johnson (formerly of the IMF and current blogger at The Baseline Scenario) said was the only solution not guaranteed to fail (he later admitted his error on This American Life, after being called on it by one Adam Davidson). This could just be a crafty political move; but in truth, I think Obama hangs by the adage that the best solution is the one that leaves everyone at the table a bit grouchy.

So, what is energizing the Right isn't Obama, but the specter of an Obama that doesn't truly exist. For a long time now, I've pretty much thought that since Obama is going to be seen as Liberaller than the Liberalist Liberal by swaths of those on the right and those who just don't like him very much (unless the reason for not liking him lies in the fact that he isn't, actually, Liberaller than the Liberalist Liberal), he should have just gone hog wild and been that liberal hero of which the left has often dreamt. But that just isn't who he is; or, at the very least, it isn't how he has chosen to govern. And really, Mr. Douthat, if you think that Obama's liberalish impulses are what is causing the huge upswell on the Right, how do you explain this:
What’s really killing the Democrats, and what’s likely to hurt them the most come next November, is the growing enthusiasm gap — and its implications for candidate recruitment, fundraising, turnout, and all the rest.
If Obama really was the liberal candidate the left had dreamed of and the Right is using as a boogeyman, then there would be no enthusiasm gap. The progressive base would be just as enthusiastic about getting out the vote as the right is now. The problem is, again, that Obama just isn't that guy. He was never that guy. He is a capable guy; an inspiring guy; a guy who has acted as a change agent just by being elected, due to his heritage. I'll bet dollars to donuts he's going to be a great president. But he isn't the liberal's dream. And so, the liberal, knowing this, isn't too excited. The progressive isn't going to get comprehensive banking reform; isn't going to get a Public Option; isn't going to get a dismantling of a broken healthcare system; isn't going to get supports for the middle class; isn't going to get a bill that doesn't start out already compromised; is upset by the Stupack-Pitts Amendment; and is pissed that Don't Ask, Don't Tell still has not been repealed.

Obama's problem isn't that he is too liberal or isn't liberal enough - though I would definitely prefer if the man were to enact policies that were inherently more liberal, myself. It is how the world perceived him, and how part of that world perceives him still.

Obama's problem isn't that he is too liberal and if he'd only moved incrementally, he wouldn't have a backlash. It is that people like Sarah Palin are the idols of the Right; and their prescriptions tend to be, "Do nothing. Wait. Repeat".

Obama's problem is that the only people who seem to be riding high right now are those in banking, when the conventional wisdom is that banking is what brought the world to its economic knees, when banks are still foreclosing on houses and turning ordinary people out into the streets.

Mr. Douthat, you say,
I think it would behoove liberals to give serious consideration to the more direct explanation — namely, that some of the anti-Obama backlash has to do with Americans discovering, after an enormous Democratic sweep, that they preferred liberalism much more in theory than in practice.
I say, helping maintain the status quo, in terms of the banks especially, isn't a particularly liberal philosophy. You say some of the anti-Obama backlash is due to people figuring out they don't really like liberalism. I say the anti-Obama backlash is because the guy didn't turn out to be the messiah. I say, the anti-Obama backlash is because ordinary people still don't feel as if their interests are being served, and yet they see bankers walking away with million dollar bonuses. And what they see is the status quo in politics, the status quo on Wall Street, and the status quo in the big firms where the hot shots make the money. And the only people who are not reaching that status quo is what they see as the ordinary citizen.

Democrats were swept into Congress as much because they weren't Republicans as because they were Democrats. Democrats had to prove, and prove quickly, they were different than the Republicans, that they weren't beholden to the same moneyed interests, that they could make a difference and that they would make a difference for the average citizen. Democrats are, I'm sad to say, failing that test. More than not liking big proposals, I'm willing to wager the ordinary American citizen doesn't like big proposals that dawdle in the halls of Congress, not getting passed and then becoming progressively worse until they pass with absolutely no one happy, or just fade away.

But really, Obama's real problem, the real reason there is an enthusiasm gap, is because it is frickin' hard to govern. Especially when the other side won't play. And so, it is infinitely easier to work up enthusiasm when your side is out of power - because you don't have to make compromises and can tell tales about how much better your side would be handling things without having to offer proof. Meanwhile, the other side is stuck actively making and eating the head cheese. Which, honestly, is much, much harder to be happy about.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Chris Matthews Gets It Half Right

Well, maybe a quarter right.

First, I have to say that MSNBC's new feature on their websites to shorten video segments is brilliant. I love it (transcript below):
CHRIS MATTHEWS: You know what, I'll tell you something, and we'll get to this over time. It came up in the Hillary campaign. And that is this: women in the workplace have to have what's called a professional manner. Men have a little more history in the workplace, in certain work places, and they have a little more, uh, range in the way they presents themselves. Women are expected to perform professionally. An attorney, a doctor, you want to see a game face to some extent, right? And now, when they get into politics, they're-they're expected to do a lot of grabbing and holding and baby kissing, and a lot of it, sort of - intimate exchanges with total strangers. An availability for intimate exchanges. Like, come up to me, grab me, you know what I mean? And if you show any kind of, uh, guardedness or what you call in the workplace professionalism, you're cold... ...So, what we're finding out now is it's harder!
Okay, so I'm not the world's biggest Chris Matthews fan. Scratch that. I strongly dislike Chris Matthews. I think the man is, simply put, an ass. Or, a jackass.

Which is why my first impulse upon hearing this was to say (to myself, while I was alone in my car), "REally, Chris? Women in politics are maligned for maintaining the professionalism they need to acquire in order to succeed and progress in a number of business environments? Who'd have thunk?!" The second was, "We're finding that out NOW?! You f***ing JACKASS!"

The "finding out now" part is where Matthews was downgraded from getting it half right to getting it a quarter right. Because, seriously, those of us in the know have known this for years. Hell, I'm 24 and I've known that for at least half of my life.

This whole post, actually, could be about how this remark may be Matthews obliquely offering contrition over his continually stated negative opinion about Hillary Clinton in during the 2008 presidential race, his remarks about how she was "cold", how she was "sharp", etc. And that would turn into a post about how much I ha... strongly dislike Chris Matthews. Especially when I get to the part where he's talking to Rachel Maddow as if this is some grand revelation he's letter her on, when I'm pretty sure this ain't news to her.

But instead, I'm going to talk about where Matthews got it right, and where he got it wrong.

He's right. He's absolutely right that women have to perform in a certain way, act in a certain way, in the work environment - especially certain types of work environments - in order to get ahead.

He's wrong if he thinks that is the only negative women face. If a woman isn't cold, then she is ineffective - in the workplace, and I'll bet on the campaign trail. Lest we forget the reaction Secretary of State Clinton arose from varied political corners when she had the audacity to tear up in New Hampshire. Some (Andrew Sullivan) called it a calculated, crass effort to gain voter sympathy. And anti-feminist to boot. Some asked if we wanted a woman who cried dealing with our enemies. There is very few ways women can win without being critiqued for how they express (or don't) their femininity.

What Matthews is also wrong about is why (white) men are allowed more expression in the workplace. It isn't because they have been there longer; it is because they are automatically seen as competent. Women (and let's face it, minorities of any stripe) have to prove they are competent. Them's the facts, Jack.

I'll give Matthews credit where credit is due: he's teetering on the edge of a rather big revelation, namely that there is actually sexism in the world and it affects women in politics - just like it affects women everywhere else. I'll give Matthews that credit because I actually think he's made a fairly large step. When he says, "we're finding out", I think he means "I'm finding out". Unless he thinks a lot of his brethren are on the cusp of this realization as well. I hope so.

Allies' Education: A Rant

After a couple of months of it hanging around under the Recent Editor's Favorites at Feministing, I decided to actually read Allies asking questions. And it wasn't exactly the post I was anticipating. I don't know what kind of post I was expecting with that title, but this far exceeded my meager expectations. It offered a measured, sympathetic look at why would-be allies ask the question, "How am I supposed to learn if you don't teach me?" It looked at how we are told throughout our lives there is no such thing as a dumb question. It delved into why someone of a certain group may not want to be on call to answer the would-be ally's question. And it talked about a better way to become not only better educated, but a path toward becoming a better ally.

And yet, the comments section was filled with comments that seemed to bypass the whole, "Here's a better way to handle this situation, person with a question!" and moved directly on to the "How could you suggest that the thoughts in my head, the very ones that have only now occurred to me, have been asked multiple times before? And even if that is true, how could I possibly know that? And if I don't know that, how could it possibly be my fault? Hmmm?!" A sampling:
But the person asking doesn't know that you've been asked it over and over. If its been asked over and over on the same thread that the person was presumably reading, that's one thing, but if this is the first time they've thought of that question, they don't know you've answered it enough to be sick of it, or where to find the same kind of answer you would give.
Spiffy McBang:
when you say, if you're privileged you need to go learn, even though you may not know you're privileged, it sounds like you're throwing that out there at anyone who wants to ask something... but how is somebody supposed to figure that out if they don't see a post like this explicitly stating as much?
I personally would much rather have to take the two minutes to write a response to an honest question from someone who just wants information from the source than to have them google it and come across a site that is run by some ass hat and have them be misinformed.
There were comments that thoughtfully engaged with the post from the other side, like:
I feel a responsibility to answer Commenter A's questions, even though it gets very taxing and annoying. Answering privileged people's questions is a duty I owe to other non-privileged people, so that there will hopefully be one more knowledgeable person in the world, and our cause will advance just a little.
And I specifically do NOT want peple going to Google or Wikipedia to learn about an issue that I live out everyday, when they should be asking me directly. If I think that there is a particularly good article online, I will refer people to that. But so much of the internet is utter bullshit -- I would never just cite it as a general source.
But generally, a lot of the response was, "But why can't I ask questions?" and "But where else am I s'pposed to find the answers?"

Even though I think SociologicalMe's original post was fairly compelling and not out of the boundaries of the possible and the polite (and I wholly suggest reading it), I think s/he may have missed a few key points. Namely:

• Commenter B has already educated Commenter A. The post went into formal schooling and how blogging is not equivalent, but the analogy it didn't make was that of the research paper. As in, not all schooling is in the passive learning style. So, say would-be ally is on a site; would-be ally sees a term s/he has never seen before, or reads of a theory s/he has never heard of. S/he has already been educated. S/he has been educated to the fact s/he is entirely ignorant of a subject/subject matter. And, if would-be ally is truly interested in learning about the subject at hand, s/he now has something to go on, something to Google. And, like a research paper or homework, the would-be ally now has the ability to go off and do some of the hard work hirself.
• Commenter A may not be a known entity to Commenter B. rebekah made mention of writing an answer to an "honest question". The problem with blogs and with pseudonyms is that there is no interpersonal relationship between Commenter A and Commenter B. Due to that, Commenter A has no reasonable expectation that Commenter B knows the question asked has been asked in good faith. If the only people who ever stumbled upon a blog and asked a question were people who were honestly interested in learning, then perhaps the dynamic would be different. That is not the case. But even if it were, it doesn't change the fact that Commenter B owes Commenter A nothing.
• Commenter B owes Commenter A nothing because Commenter B has a life of hir own. Commenter B may have answered the question at hand a thousand or so times. Commenter B may be looking to get into the nitty gritty of a specific issue on a specific thread without the whole of the conversation being brought back up to a 101 level. Commenter B may have little interest in figuring out if this particular Commenter A is different from all of the others and really wants to learn, when Commenter B has other things going on - kids to play with, dogs to walk, food to eat. But mostly Commenter B may just not care about making the learning process extremely easy for Commenter A, because the living of it hasn't exactly been peachy keen for Commenter B.
• Commenter B may actually have been asked the same exact question a thousand times before. This goes to Pantheon's point, that "the person asking doesn't know that you've been asked it over and over". And that's true; no one can possibly know what another person has been asked before, let alone how many times. However, a person would have to be fairly obtuse to not even consider that the question s/he wants to ask has been asked before; possibly on that very site, possibly to that very poster, and possibly not that far in the past. Only a Very Special Snowflake indeed would assume the opposite, that this is an original thought only occurring to them. Which leads to the two last points, and ones I think SociologicalMe definitely should have mentioned.
• Many, many sites that encounter this problem have a handy-dandy search bar, or some other search tool to aid in the quest for knowledge. Feministing has a search bar, handily labelled "Search Feministing". Shakesville has one, helpfully labelled "Search: • Shakesville, • Google" with the option to search either Shakesville or Google. Feministe has both the option to "Search Feministe" or to browse the archives, category or tag. Many other sites employ the "cloud" technique of making available labels used on posts. So, if the would be ally wants to know about feminism, s/he could search that very site that prompted the question via search engine or tag. Amazing!
• Also, many, many sites have links on the side. So, if would-be ally has a question about, say, feminism, s/he could take a few seconds and scan the available blogs linked and take a gander at one called Feminism 101. Voila!
• In order for one to truly become learned in a subject, one cannot be spoon-fed the answers. One has to think, to work, to do a lot of the heavy lifting hirself. Commenter A denies hirself an education when s/he fosters all of the expectations upon Commenter B. Learning takes work. End of story.

In this time with more information available to each person with an internet connection than in any other time in history, with Google (kind of scarily) archiving all of the books under the sun, the idea that the only way we can learn is by getting the crib sheets from another in Real Time instead of actively reaching out to gain the knowledge ourselves is not only ludicrous but insulting. And the idea that others exist within cyberspace for the sole purpose to service our educational needs on the spot when directly questioned is also insulting, to both our ability to look into the problem ourselves and to the people upon which we impose.

In order for one to truly become learned in a subject, one cannot be spoon-fed the answers. One has to think, to work, to do a lot of the heavy lifting hirself. Commenter A denies hirself an education when s/he fosters all of the expectations upon Commenter B.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Song Currently Playing Loop-De-Loop In My Head

So, for the Christmas before last, my mother got me a record converter. It seemed like a present more for herself than me; but since I do have a sizable record collection for someone whose buying power didn't come about until a while after the record was the convenient and popular way to store music, it wasn't a complete bowling ball moment.

Skip to this year. We've been slowly, stintingly, sputtering along with the record conversion process. Mostly, because it takes a lot of time and you see little results. So, this last time around, we broke out the 45s to convert between full length records. And that's when my mom broke out this song:

James, James hold the ladder steady
James, James I'm packed tonight I'm ready
James, James hold the ladder steady
I'm a'comin' down to your ar-ar-ar-rms
I'm a'comin' down to your arms.
Now James and I we went to mama and showed her my diamond ring
She said "my poor little baby, you must be crazy, to think of such a
So James, James hold the ladder steady
James, James I'm packed tonight I'm ready
James, James hold the ladder steady
I'm a'comin' down to your ar-ar-ar-rms
I'm a'comin' down to your arms.
Now James and I we went to daddy and said that we want to be wed
Daddy said "nope, you'll just have to elope" and laughed as he went to
But James, James hold the ladder steady
James, James I'm packed tonight I'm ready
James, James hold the ladder steady
I'm a'comin' down to your ar-ar-ar-rms
I'm a'comin' down to your arms.
I'd hate to see 'em in the morning when they both completely flip
He'll be sayin' "they cain't", she'll be feeling faint
And I'll be kissing my husband's lips
So James, James hold the ladder steady
James, James I'm packed tonight I'm ready
James, James hold the ladder steady
I'm a'comin' down to your ar-ar-ar-rms
I'm a'comin' down to your arms.
James, James hold the ladder steady
James, James I'm packed tonight I'm ready
James, James hold the ladder steady
It has been going around and around in my head for, literally, the last day and a half.

Lesson learned: Never let my mother pick out the 45s to play.

Opening Doors

Now, there is something that really bugs me. That really pisses me off. That, at times, has led to me flying off the handle. And that is having doors held open for me. Not all of the time, mind you. If I didn't get to the door first, I am grateful the person who did get to it first has seen fit to hold it open for me. The degrees of gratefulness are different depending upon how the person has held the door - I prefer it when the person is in the process of walking through and keeps it open for me to walk through after hir as opposed to the person physically holding the handle and urging me to walk in front of them. I could go into the reasons why and the anecdotal evidence I have that has women mostly doing the first and men mostly doing the second, but I understand that most people don't get as deep into door-holding politics as I do.

What I hate is when I get to the door at the same time or before someone else, and that person (who is most often of the male persuasion) insists on holding the door open for me. This creates a bad situation, even if it were in no other way but logistical. Now, we have to swap positions. Now, the time it would take for me to get through that door has lengthened. This has done absolutely nothing to help me, and in fact hinders my own process.

I also hate it because it is chivalry at its worst. It implies that the man holding the door open for me is performing, even if just in that moment, as my servant; and yet the true dynamics of the situation are far different. He still controls the situation, because he is insistent; he controls the situation by making me accept his brief servitude. His wants, desires, and impulses still take precedent over my own. I want to hold open the door for myself, and for him, because all equality measures aside, that is what makes the most sense. That is what is easier for me. And, truly, for him.

Part of why the door holding thing annoys me so much is because it is not my natural order of things. That, and the whole ease of access thing. Throughout my life, I've been able and allowed to hold open whatever door I've gotten to first, even if there is a guy trailing me. Because it is not the natural order of things, I tend to be sharp on when things have started to not go well for me. It gets under my skin in a way it probably wouldn't to someone who has had the experience of doors being held open for them throughout their life, for someone for whom the hindrance of having a door held open in such a fashion is merely life as it has always been and will always be. For that person, if they decide that the door-held-open thing is actually annoying or sexist or just inefficient, the warning bells may not go off as frequently still - because this is the life they have always led.

Why am I going on a huge ass rant about my issues with doors and the men who hold them? Well, it comes down to the idea of infantilizing women. No, seriously, it totally does. In one of the links I posted yesterday, this one, one of the arguments that came up in the comments is that rape statistics - and the way those rape statistics are measured - infantilize women. This is an argument I've heard before, and I'm sure I'll hear it again.

See, in my life, it is obvious that having a door held open for me when I got there first is a pain in the neck, and sexist to boot. If a guy refuses to walk through the door I'm holding open, how could it be anything but?

However, there are people for whom this realization won't come naturally, because it is what they live with. Which leads me directly to a post by Thomas, who, in reviewing C.J. Pascoe's Dude, You're a Fag, has demonstrates exactly what it is that makes cases of rape and/or sexual harassment and assault difficult for a lot of women to recognize in talking about this particular high school climate:
This is a culture where:
- boys’ physical abuse of girls who shut down and barely complain is normal;
- boys’ pursuit of sexual activity that girls do not want is normal;
- boys’ sense of entitlement to date women of their choice is normal;
- girls’ assertion and determined defense of bodily boundaries is not normal.
This is the world a lot of girls inhabit. This is the world we have to recognize as being the norm, as being as natural as having a guy insist on opening a door. Obviously, the situations are more disparate than the same, in terms of the overall affect. But we can't ignore the effect of growing up with the understanding that "boys will be boys" is a legitimate excuse for half of the behavior on the list. And how we - as girls, as a society - tacitly accept that. And how that acceptance leads to girls not having the words or the understanding of the situation at hand to say, "He raped me; he touched me where he shouldn't have; his verbal intonations have become sexual harassment". Because "boys will be boys" - and girls walk in jungles they shouldn't.

I had a boy sit at my lunch table when I was in 8th grade. He constantly sat next to me or across from me, and although he never touched me, he described scenes from porn movies he'd watched in detail, knowing I didn't want to hear it. He described his own masturbation habits. And the one day when he went "too far", when my already short fuse was shorter still, I threw my lunch tray at him. We were both hauled up to the principal's office, and I told her what had happened, how the only advice I had been given by teachers and lunch aides to this point was to move to another table. Which, by the way, didn't exactly work for me. That had been MY lunch table. It wasn't my fault some pervy kid had decided to sit there. It wasn't my responsibility to move from the table I'd been sitting for the past year and a half. And she told me, again, to move my seat if he bothered me, and that "boys will be boys".

And here's the thing - I knew she was wrong. After all, I knew plenty of boys who weren't doing those things/saying those things. But did I fight it? Not so much.

And I have and have had the resources to properly articulate what was happening. I have two feminist parents. I have been well-versed in sexual matters since I first asked where babies came from at the age of 4. And yet, in many moments, throughout my life, I have lacked the ability to say, "This is what happened to me".

So when someone says the feminist movement is a rape crisis movement, or that it infantilizes women, I say this:

It doesn't. Some feminists may; some feminists do. But recognizing that we rarely give women the tools to properly label what has happened - and in some cases, is happening - to them is different from saying, "You will never know what the truth is, so I'm going to take your experience and make it into what I want the truth to be". It is also an acknowledgement that what we say and how we act can be eons apart. We can tell women they have the right to body autonomy - and then we read lists compiled about what guys in high schools get away with. How that assertion of body autonomy melts away in the face of "boys will be boys". How that doesn't necessarily change when we exit high school. How all the theoretical tools in the world (no means no; if anyone touches you in a place normally covered by your bathing suit, it is sexual assault and you should tell the nearest grown up; etc) come up short when you are constantly inundated with concrete evidence that those tools are as solid as a paper kite in a rain storm. That concrete evidence makes it all the harder to recognize when those tools are appropriate - when it was rape and not just sex you didn't want. When it is sexual assault and not simply boys being boys.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Monday Reading List

I Don't Care If You're Offended:
Now, I think many people who write about and try to fight structural bias are just accustomed to using “offensive” as something of a shorthand for this notion of harmful-because-it-reinforces-pernicious-memes; I know I generally have. But offense is only defined in terms of how the offended person feels, which means it’s an insufficient concept. It actually obscures the real problem.
For example, I was watching CNN, and there was a CNN reporter that was talking about a Haitian hotel that brought a hose out for people to take water from if they came by. Were those people looting water? I’d say no. The norms changed. What if people are together in a group and they decide that they need to go get some rice. Is it looting to get rice and feed your family in desperate situations? No. It’s a new norm developing in the midst of a very extreme situation.
Remembering National Tragedies: The U.S. vs Germany:
Plantations were many other things, but they were also the engine of slavery. It is this that should stand out as the most important thing about them. Concentration camps were many other things as well (e.g., a military training site, a daily job site for German soldiers, a factory producing goods, and a strategic part of the war effort), but we have absorbed the important lessons from them so thoroughly that it is difficult to even imagine what an alternative tour might look like. In contrast, one can visit the Lara Plantation and come away not really thinking about slavery at all, in favor of how pretty the china was and oooh did you smell that candle as we walked by? Delicious. I need a coke, you?
We live in a society that makes money off of making us feel bad about ourselves, after all people who are 100% content with their body don’t go on expensive fad diets or purchase tons of expensive beauty supplies.
Female Sexuality As A Weapon:
With the recent release of Bayonetta, I was reminded of female sexuality being used as a weapon or a power in games. This is not an original idea. Having not played Bayonetta I will only mention some other games that use this mechanic.
Rape Analogy Redux: The "Stroll In The Jungle" Theory:
What is the fate of the man-eating bear? Many of the past decade’s person-eaters were either shot, killed in some other way, pepper-sprayed, lured out of the wilderness with elaborate traps, or quarantined in animal training. Sixty percent of rapes are not even reported to police, which seriously impedes the government’s ability to trap rapists. Why aren’t these women reporting their rapes? Oh, perhaps it has s0mething to do with jungle rape theorists who suggest that everyone who gets raped is a big ‘ol dumbass.
Also, Felicia Day, otherwise known in these parts as that girl who lives through Epitaph One and the girl who doesn't live through Dr. Horrible's Sing Along-Blog has her own blog! In it, she is as witty as one could hope. I highly recommend reading her, and I defy you from coming away fantasizing she'll be you're new BFF. And Stuff You Should Know's Kiva team, of which I am a part, has raised $64,225 so far. Go Team!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Dear iPod Genius Function:

Little less than three days ago, I thought you were the most brilliant thing ever. I thought you were the savior to humanity, that you would make me complete in ways I had not even fathomed were possible. Three days ago, my exaltations of your wonderfulness rang about the land - or to the four or so people I physically talked during those three days that would care/indulge me.

After a whirlwind courtship, I regret to say the bloom has fallen from the rose. The reason? You are obsessed with Conor Oberst. I know! I, too, am obsessed with Conor Oberst. I think he is brilliant. I love him. I listen to him constantly! Several of his songs are among the most played on my iPod. You seem to agree this was a good choice. Very well.

However. As much as I would normally agree that Conor Oberst goes with everything, I was hoping we could branch out a little bit. Or, if we constantly played Conor Oberst stuff, it wouldn't be the same Conor Oberst stuff - unless that is truly the cream of the crop. Which, no, is unfortunately not always the case.

Listen, I love Bowl of Oranges as much as the next person. But three times? In three different Genius playlists? Also, Eagle on a Pole? If we must have a Conor Oberst song on every Genius list you create, could we at least switch it up a bit? And could we dial back the Oberst love to only one song of his per playlist generated? That would also be swell, because my current Genius creation has five - count 'em, FIVE - songs by this man on it. Out of twenty-five! Even I, with my love for him, recognizes this as a bit excessive.

Once we handle the Oberst Overload, I think we should discuss how you seem to only pull the same artists and the same songs by those artists regardless of playlist generated. I understand that I listen to a lot of music that sounds the same. I understand that Conor Oberst can sound country, so if I pick a Ryan Adams country song or a Willie Nelson country song or a Johnny Cash country song, some Conor may show up. But what's the excuse for throwing in "Annie Waits" by Ben Folds? Or the same three She & Him tunes? Or the Shins?

I have a massive, massive amount of music to choose from, to go hog wild with and make a myriad of interesting and wonderful and exciting mixes. Mixes that will once again win my love and admiration. Mixes that include music I have forgotten I have! I'm not going to forget I have The Shins. Or Ben Folds. Or She & Him. Or Rilo Kiley. Really. I'm not. I listen to those guys on my own.

I'm sorry, Genius. I think we may have to break up. I'm leaving you for your more erratic cousin, Shuffle. Sure, I am often frustrated and skipping song after song I don't want to listen to in that moment. But at least it sometimes gives me The Clash, or Buffy Sainte Marie, or K.D. Lang. You do not. Maybe we'll see each other around.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Friday Random Ten

1) Rosie - Joan Armatrading

2)Natural Mystic - Bob Marley

3) Baboom/Mama Said - The Vaughan Brothers

4) Air Mattress - Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band

5) There's A Place - The Beatles

6) Rock N Roll - Ryan Adams

7) Crying In The Chapel - Elvis Presley

8) More Than A Woman - Tavares

9) Tell All The People - The Doors

10) Trolley Wood - Eisley

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Letters To My Editor: No One Deserves A Trial Edition

So, I'm going to write about a letter to my paper's editor, and you're going to have to take in on faith I'm not making it up because in order to pull it on-line you need a user name and password. And I'm pretty sure you have to subscribe, so... Here's the letter, entitled Terrorists Don't Deserve U.S. Justice:
How does U.S. government figure the Christmas bombing attempt on Northwest Flight 259 was a failure? It accomplished what al-Qaida wanted. Whether it brought down the plane, Americans will spend millions to put the would-be bomber on trial.
He, shoe-bomber Richard Reid and those wackos in Gitmo do not deserve American justice. They should be executed as soon as the plane lands. We could use the money on more important things.
First, some minor grammatical grievances. This sentence:
Whether it brought down the plane, Americans will spend millions to put the would-be bomber on trial
makes very little sense.

It could read:
Although it did not succeed in bringing down the plane, Americans will spend millions to put the would-be bomber on trial.
An added sentence about how one of al-Qaeda's stated goals is to bleed America dry would have really improved the sentiment.

But the real problem, aside from the fact that the letter writer seems to be cribbing off of Bill O'Reilly without giving O'Reilly his proper due, lies in the philosophical assertion of the letter, that being:
He, shoe-bomber Richard Reid and those wackos in Gitmo do not deserve American justice.
I'll let Keith Olbermann - because I am into giving props when props are due - take the reins about one of the real problems with this argument (relevant part transcribed below):

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KEITH OLBERMANN (SPEAKING AS BILL O'REILLY): "Simply put, al-Qaeda thugs have no rights, none. They should be killed on the spot. And they are being killed by the drones. So if they're captured, they should undergo harsh interrogation and be placed in military prisons."

KEITH OLBERMANN (SPEAKING AS HIMSELF): Okay, were you planning to still put them in the military prisons after you kill them on the spot, or do you need to rephrase your plan? Seriously, Bill, we need to walk you through the idea of why we have trials? Ultimately, why we ask questions first and shoot later? It's not about rights, it's not about who's a thug, it's not about how much sadistic joy you and the sickos like you from the thought of "harsh interrogation". It's so we get the right guy. Mankind figured this out thousands of years ago, and we replaced that old method of "kill them then ask them if they're guilty" because the dead men proved to be mediocre at answering questions! And then it also turned out that often we were killing the wrong guys which is inconvenient! Especially for them!
But, aside from the inconvenient aspect of killing the innocent, there is a not so insignificant fact that applying an impartial judicial system is one of those key things that sets us apart from those who wish to terrorize us. Applying our rule of law to those who would indiscriminately kill, allowing for the fact that our values system is strong enough and significant enough and, perhaps most importantly, sacred enough to try and convict those who are guilty, and try and set free those who are found not guilty.

Because even though Olbermann is right that it isn't wholly about rights, it is at least somewhat about rights. Because the judicial system isn't set up for the government to reign supreme. It has been set up in favor of the defendant. Because the guilty aren't the only ones accused; but also because the guilty have the fundamental right of due process as well. Partly, that is to protect the innocent, because if the guilty are not worthy of trial by jury then the whole process by which we decide who is indeed innocent gets a bit truncated. And then we circle back to a lot of the wrong people dying, which - again - is inconvenient.

Perhaps my Letter Writer means only al-Qaeda terrorists don't deserve American justice. Perhaps those others who break the law are still subject to the rule of law, as long as they aren't Islamic extremists. That may be where his line is drawn. But that doesn't mean that's where everyone's line is drawn. Maybe someone else's line for which crimes deserve a fair trial is less broad than "everyone who isn't engaged in terrorism for the benefit of al-Qaeda"; maybe someone else's line encompasses those who drive while texting, or who kill anyone for any reason. And that's really why denying the American system of justice to one group you personally don't like, even if it saves a bundle of cash, is one of the stupidest ideas I've ever heard - because it rests predominately on the idea that everyone else will agree that this subset of criminal is the subset that does not deserve to go through due process and be subject to Amendments 5 through 8.

Let's take in that number for a sec, shall we? Our Founders felt that the whole criminal and civil trial thing was so important, they chose to utilize four whole amendments out of the original ten to explicitly setting down rules for how trials should be set up. Four. It is inconceivable to me that those who purport to love our country so much they want to kill anyone on our soil immediately who allegedly engaged in an act of terrorism could so willfully ignore the very words of our Constitution. For all the talk about how actually trying these people plays into the terrorists' hands, those same people do little to engage with the notion that ignoring those parts of our society that makes it our society because we're scared or angry or vengeful does more harm than it does good. Because it fundamentally alters our society, and not for the better. Because it ignores that the justice system isn't there to exonerate the innocent. It is there to provide rights to the guilty.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Double Standards, And Their Absence

I'm not going to go into Senator Harry Reid's comments regarding the electability of then-Senator Barack Obama. But what I am going to talk about is the "double standard" talk emanating from some members of the GOP.

There is no damned double standard. Why? Well, for one, in order for it to truly be a double standard, the parties would have to be on equal footing. Guess what? They're not.

There is a long-standing tradition within the GOP to use dog-whistles, in their ads and in their robocalls. Like the Willie Horton ad, used against Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential election. Like the poll calls in 2000 asking South Carolina voters if they would be less likely to vote for John McCain if they knew he had fathered an illegitimate African-American child, based partially on the fact McCain and his wife had adopted a little girl from Bangladesh. Ronald Reagan used the specter of the "welfare queen" in order to win the support of white America.

Then there is this: the person Harry Reid is being most compared to on an individual level within the GOP camp is Trent Lott. Lott, who said that had Strom Thurman been elected president, the country would be in a better place, that we wouldn't have all the problems we have now. Some nice remarks for an elder statesman's birthday? Perhaps. But the question becomes, better for whom? For the African-Americans who were left out of Thurman's America? No. It would not be better for them at all.

And that's what it comes down to - policy decisions and reaching out to a minority community. I'm not going to say that the Dems don't house racists. I'm not going to say that the GOP is totally bad on issues of race and the Dems are totally wonderful. What I am going to say is that the GOP has continually made a home for itself in the high places, and have perpetually attacked policies that are designed to help minorities in our nation. Sometimes, out of a sense of political theory, but just as often it seems that it happens out of bad faith.

So, they don't get the benefit of the doubt when one of their members runs his mouth. So, they don't get the cushion that comes with having an amiable history with the community in question. So, they get hammered harder because there is no trust there. There is no sense that these guys are trying to do right, that they've stumbled and fallen because they're idiots and not because they just don't care.

That's why there is no double standard. Because, in general, the GOP and the Democratic Party start from two entirely different ledges. And to wipe that clean in an effort to win some scant political support is from the preschool pool of political wisdom.