Friday, July 30, 2010

What Now?

Since my posts this month have not generated much dissent, I shall assume that most people agree that women face some societally created hurdles which men, for the most part, do not have to leap. Making yet another assumption, that you would like to see this changed, the question of how to progress toward a more equitable future seems quite relevant.

So, I ask you, how can each of us, as an individual, contribute to a more equitable future for women?

"What," you may be wondering, "is he doing asking us a question, this isn't Tuesday?" But rest assured, I am asking because I think the answer is important, and important to get from many people to obtain a variety of viewpoints. I also ask because I do not consider my own answer to be sufficient.

My personal answer is to contribute to a more equitable future by doing my best not to be inequitable personally. There are two components to this, one is to seek information about women's perspectives and priorities. Note that this is not a monolithic subject, one does not have a simple, cardboard-cutout worldview and opinion solely because one is a woman, nor should one, which is a main point of my post about women in politics. Once you are aware of the practices that many women view as dis-empowering, do your best no avoid them, the practices not the women.

Some common examples that come up repeatedly include, not assuming that because you know someone is a woman, that you know their opinion on abortion or whether they voted for Hillary Clinton in 2008. As noted above, women are capable of coming to their own conclusions, which may not parrot popular perception of women's priorities. Of course, men suffer, perhaps less frequently or pronouncedly, a similar fate. As I noted when discussing the importance of feminism, both genders benefit when we take the time to consider others as complex individuals rather than copies of a prototype. That said, we should not assume it is a panacea to treat women like men. Women are acculturated much differently than men (please assume when I make sweeping statements like these I mean, "in general" or "on average") so treating women exactly like men would lead to inequitable results. For example, men tend to be more assertive in their communication style, which can lead to women being left out of intergender conversations, unless the woman has overcome her acculturation to be supportive and agreeable, or the men make an effort to provide an environment where the women feel comfortable sharing their views. In short, try to respect people equally, treat people equally, but don't assume that means treating them the same.

Now, I think that if everyone held this point of view, simply doing this would be sufficient. However, since there are institutions that resist the shift toward equitability, it seems desirable that we should, in addition to trying to live in an equitable manner, make attempts to reform these institutions. How we might do this is where my ability to answer runs out, so I must ask you for your opinion on how one might go about reforming these institutions.

Thank you for a good Feminist July, as always, comments make my heart smile.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Gonna Go Fishin'

Today's question comes from Cameo, who asks, "When someone is fishing for compliments, do you humor him/her?"

As always, the point is to get you to answer the question. So answer it. As usual, I'll kick it off with my answer:

Usually

Oh, wanted more that that? Why, you might ask. Complements are good, and as long as there is something that can be honestly complemented, they cost you nothing. Personally, I don't think we complement enough in our society, so if someone is feeling praise starved, sending some their way seems nice. On the other hand, if someone does this persistently, I may stop being so generous with my praise. Maybe just out of slight annoyance, or to keep them from becoming dependent upon my positive reinforcement.

I hope this isn't in reference to me ;) Well, what's your answer. I'm not fishing for complements, I'm fishing for comments, and that is something you should always indulge!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Kant Touch This

Yesterday's post may have been a bit of a cheat for a Friday update, so here is something else that I was thinking about today.

On a telephone call with a representative for my credit card company, I realized that I have trouble following the categorical imperative where telephone customer service representatives are concerned. For those of you who are bereft of a solid foundation in ethical theory, I shall briefly explain Kant's categorical imperative.

Philosopher Immanuel Kant was upset by the state of ethics. He felt that most ethical systems were grounded in conditional imperatives, which are statements in the form, "If you desire this result, you must pursue this course of action." While these were useful for achieving said results, they lacked the power to explain why something, such as murder, would be wrong even for a sociopath, who had no interest in achieving the same results as most of humanity. In order to extend the rule of ethics over those with "skewed" desires, Kant attempted to formulate a categorical imperative, that is, one which should be followed always, regardless of the results one desires.

What he came up with can be explained as the imperative that we treat other people as an ends in themselves, never only as a means to an ends. Whether this is a categorical imperative is debatable, I tend to think no, but it certainly is good manners and I try to live by it. However, I do encounter troubles when interacting over the telephone with customer service representatives.

One problem is that I have a clear, "me-centric," goal for the interaction, and I am calling the company explicitly to achieve this goal. So certainly I am using the representative as a means to an end, but this is permissible as long as I am also keeping them as an ends in themselves as well. Cooperation is one of the most powerful behaviors humans exhibit, and Kant would not want us to stop having others help us achieve our goals. However, as we use the help of others we must always remember that the humans assisting us have their own lived experience, their own goals, and act accordingly.

Other problems I face are that, when calling in to a customer service representative, I am usually not in the best frame of mind. Rarely do I call when everything is going well to issue a congratulations, I call when something has gone wrong and I want someone to fix it, albeit sometimes what has gone wrong is my own fault, though that is not really going to make my mood better. Furthermore, although I am polite, I worry that my politeness is in furtherance of my own goal, rather than out of respect for the person on the other end of the connection.

I also must contend with the alienating nature of our interaction. Speaking over a phone to a voice that belongs to a person that I have never, and will never, meet. Often reinforcing this sense of "the other" about the voice from the call center is their accent. Whether they sound like they are from the Southern USA or from Asia, this voice is "not from around here." The impersonal nature of the conversation serves to further alienate me from the voice, as regulations prohibit their volunteering personal information about themselves, for good reason, and common sense discourages me from sharing myself, for similar reasons.

In the end, once our conversation is done, I feel it is extra important to end the conversation in a respectful manner, thanking them for their assistance. While it is their job, they did just spend time from their life attempting to solve my problem, and deserve my gratitude. One reason I think it is especially important is that, at this point, I want nothing further from them, so I can feel less suspicious about the motives for my politeness, it is an acknowledgement of their important humanity, not a means to a desirable conclusion for myself. The other reason is that they have a job that requires them to spend all day dealing with frustrated callers and the problems that frustrated callers have, I should do my best to ease the burden these heroic helpers face by expressing my heartfelt gratitude for their assistance.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Attributions

I couldn't come up with a better topic, and no one rescued me with an idea whilst I was away, so I am going to share some of the sources that contributed to my thoughts this month. I tend not to cite sources because the sources I used have been rattling around in my brain for so long I have forgotten from whence they came and which belongs to what. So, here are some inspirations.

My formal education in gender studies can mostly be boiled down to three courses. The first a philosophy course, Feminist Philosophies, taught by the estimable Dr. Lani Roberts, my philosophy mentor. The second, Global Women, a woman's studies course. The third was Women in US History, a history course, which covered the late 1800's to the present. All three courses I would recommend.

An unknown number of years ago I read an article about the Supergirl Dilemma, which I could not find for my post about the subject. I include this because it exemplifies a problem that I have quite often.

Feminist Philosophers is a site I read quite regularly my last year as an undergraduate. It is a quite wonderful mix of original thought, links to important topics, and pictures of kitty-cats.

I also read I Blame The Patriarchy around the same time, until the author took a hiatus, which has since ended. It is a bit more radical, but an interesting point of view nonetheless.

There are many other options for sites containing thoughts from one, or more, of the many feminist points of view. Feministing is one I hear about often, though since I have never read it regularly, I have no personal information to convert.

Recently I have been reading The Seventeen Magazine Project which has an interesting feminist/teenager perspective. The offshoot blog, Teenagerie is also something I read, though currently on hiatus for a very good reason. These influenced my Supergirl post to some extent.

Those, and conversations with some of the wonderful people who are or were in my life, are greatly responsible for the course of my own thoughts. Although my recollection is not sufficient for a citation, they should be mentioned, indeed doing so is worthy of a Feminist July post. If I were to take their thoughts, synthesize them in my mind, then act as though the result were purely my own, it would be a disservice to the many great thinkers from whom I was borrowing. In fact, "borrowing" from women without giving them proper credit is a problem in academia, Rosalind Franklin anyone? So, a big thanks to anyone who feels they were in part responsible for these thoughts, because you probably were.

As mentioned, I already know how Feminist July will conclude next Friday, and I really do hope I get it up on Friday this time. I need one more idea for August and then I won't have to come up with any topics while I am on vacation, which would be nice.

Summer Rots Your Brain

Upon waking up it occurred to me that today is Saturday. Which, by logical extension, means yesterday was Friday! Ooops. So I owe a good post of feminism to you, my dear reader. Unfortunately circumstances conspire to delay it a bit further. I have to head out soon, which coupled with the fact that I don't have a topic yet, makes it hard to complete the post before I go. However, I have a good long walk to my destination, so I shall be thinking of topics on my way. If you have a topic idea, feel free to suggest it. I should get around to giving you your well deserved post by this evening, so post quickly if you want to see it today.

Despite not knowing my post for today, or yesterday technically, I do know what I am talking about next Friday. So, if you do not get your idea in on time, you will not see it in July, but you certainly could see it in August. I am sorry for my deviation from schedule, it was entirely unintentional.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

???

Still laboring despite this lingering miasma of ennui. Realized that today is Response Tuesday, but didn't have any questions that I wanted to ask at the moment. So, are there any questions that you would like me to ask? This could either be because you want to answer the question, or because you are interested in how others would answer the question. The first is preferable, both because I like it when people answer my questions and because sometimes my questions do not get answered.

Speaking of questions not being answered, at the time of this question last week's Response Tuesday is, sadly, a Responseless Tuesday. If you think that asking what questions you want is a cheating cop out, feel free to answer last Tuesday's question. Or the Tuesday before, wherein I asked what you want me to do with this Blog. I have gotten two responses to that, one of which I obliged and the other I am going to address in an August Friday post. So, I need three more Friday posts to fill up August.

Like I mentioned, some ennui lately, this is my only explanation for my delay responding to the comments on last Friday's post. Thank you for responding, I'm sorry I delayed so long, I shall go there now.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Women in the Workplace

My thoughts are not organizing well today, so this may be a little disjointed. I hope you will understand, since there are many angles from which one might approach the topic.

First, let us consider the wage gap. I am also feeling a bit unmotivated today, so I shall just direct you here to read a thorough yet concise, fact driven, examination of the issue. Having grown up around the supergirls of my generation, I have no doubt that there is no inherent reason women, on average, should be less qualified for any but some of the most physically taxing jobs than men are on average. Thus the fact that there is a gender wage gap seems like a grave injustice.

Although the above article mentions it, I believe it is worth addressing the issue of "women's work." Society normalizes men holding jobs in the public sector while women do domestic work. While this can be disheartening to women desiring traditional jobs, or emasculating to men feeling more comfortable in a domestic role, I think the greatest problem with this state of affairs is the difference in value that these roles receive. An obvious way to recognize this difference is to examine the wages of those in the different roles. Professional domestic workers are not the best compensated laborers, and the difference is even more marked when a women does the domestic work for her own family, usually earning no pay at all.

I think that good goals for a just society are, elimination of statistically significant pay gaps between genders in most professions, elimination of gender based association with the public/private workforce, a more equal valuation of work done in the two sectors (public and private). Due to our cultural conditioning it may seem odd to consider private work valuable, but consider which creates more human pleasure overall, two hours of a stockbroker trading and advising clients, or two hours spent preparing a warm meal for a family. I submit that, were both two be neglected, we would miss the meal more than the stock advice.

As mentioned, I am feeling unmotivated, and now very tired, so I am going to skip my customary editing read through. Please excuse the lack of polish on this, I'll delete this paragraph if I get around to revisions later.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Do You Do the YouTube?

It may be after midnight in Michigan, but you may have noticed this blog runs on Pacific Time (and I'm late sometimes anyway). So, we are going to have Response Tuesday anyway!

I have decided to edit what the word "favorite" means to me. I used to have terrible trouble with questions about favorite things, because over the span of my life I have run into a lot of great things in about any category you could reasonably name. However, if one interprets favorite as, "the one that you are most excited at the moment," then the selection set gets diminished to reasonable proportions. For some things I may go back to the old concept of favorite, like movies, the only two movies I have watched recently were good but not exceptional, so I would have to search through my life to get a favorite.

Using the new definition of favorite, this is a YouTube video of my favorite song at the moment.

I also really like this song also, so thought I should mention it as well.

Here is a song that I have long enjoyed.

And finally, a twist on a meme that I don't want to be forgotten.

All that said, my request is that you let me know what your favourite videos on YouTube are. Feel free to be self promoting, if you have something of your own on YouTube that you think is really neat, and don't feel constrained to a single thing, I sure didn't.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Housekeeping

Housekeeping express lane, 10 items or less.

1) Did a bit of tweaking to the site layout, thanks to everyone who gave feedback *aHEM*

2) I was worried that my great walls of text were daunting prospective readers, and since I don't really want to edit or present half explained ideas, I redesigned the site mainly to make it wider, so the entries seem shorter.

3) I am also worried that the volume of posts are discouraging, so, while I promise not to update more than once per day, I shall try to take some days off. Please respond to the validity of these two fears, if you want less of me feel free to say so.

4) In light of item #3, I am expecting to take tomorrow, Monday, off.

5) In addition to Thoughtful Fridays I think I shall institute Response Tuesdays, where each week my Tuesday update asks for a specific type of contribution. Last Tuesday I asked for subjects that people would want to see posts about.

6) I provided the first requested post yesterday, Saturday, so I do aim to please.

7) You may still send in subject ideas, even if I put up a new Response Tuesday before you take the time to.

8) If a suggested subject seems, in my sole consideration, appropriate for a Thoughtful Friday post I shall save it for a Friday after Femminist July. I am trying to get enough to make a Response August. Thankfully August only has 4 Fridays, so I only need four more topics to fill it up...

9) Today is a month since my bus pass expired, walking more places has enabled me to ride the buss 5 times this month, which saved me $17.

10) I'm doing something a bit different with my sleep schedule. If I seem loopy, all is well since I always seem loopy, if I seem really loopy, let's just let it slide since I really do want to try this. If I seem off my rocker insane, please give me a heads up so I can take that into consideration.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Why Am I Here?

I would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to Californian, the first person to answer my question, "about what would you like to see me write?" by suggesting, "Kenny, I'd like to know how you got from 'here' to there. You know, middle school in Newport all the way to Michigan and a doctorate program." I have decided to procrastinate housekeeping at least one more post, because I believe that feedback should be encouraged, since I want it.

This is a hard question to answer, since life is an incredibly complicated thing and many factors play into each decision, so I acknowledge that my answer is less an answer to your question and more my opinion on why I am here, which is my best attempt to answer the question.

A very important and early influence upon my path is the importance my parents placed on academics and learning. The fact that they were often employed at the school I attended led to an inevitable involvement by them in my education. So much so that, by the time I got to Middle School, where your question begins, they were much more hands off, having instilled the value of education early they were able to nudge me along the track, rather than metaphorically hold my hand anymore. Much of the credit belongs to them, thank you.

Reinforcing my parents were the wonderful teachers that I was exposed to along the way. There is a reason that through most of middle and high school my planned job was teaching, I was shown wonderful examples of what effect educators could have on my life. Although I did run into teachers who seemed less enthusiastic about their jobs, I cannot think of a single teacher who failed to meet my interest with corresponding suggestions about their subject. My advice to people who are in classes of some sort, and I also advise you to be in classes of some sort, is to express your interest in the subject in some fairly obvious way to your instructor. I can vouch, both from experiences as a student and as an educator, that if your instructor seems like they are phoning it in, finding a pupil that is genuinely interested is a wonderful and nigh irresistible call to satisfy that pupil's curiosity. In summary, great educators inspire students by being themselves, but even a mediocre educator will be inspired by inquiring students.

Finally, although their contribution was less personal than that of my parents and teachers, I would not be here without the generosity of many people who I will never meet. The people who endow scholarships or give math departments money to hire people definitely deserve mention. I don't know exactly who these people are in my specific case, but if you participate in such activities you make it possible for many students, myself and most of my college friends included in this group, to realize their goal of a college level education, thank you very much.

Speaking of friends, their support and commiseration has been invaluable in getting through rough patches and making the goal seem worthwhile, and the journey, as a whole, palatable. These are the people who I credit with where I am today, but there are some factors in my own life I think also affected me getting to here.

I really do enjoy learning, this may be the result of my parents and teachers but it deserves its own mention because I think it had a lot to do with my decision to continue to grad school. The choice between finding a "real" job in a depressed, and depressing, economy and continuing on to a job which required me to continue to engorge my brain, the preferred choice was obvious. I also had a rigorous academic work ethic, instilled by my parents to be sure, which grad school blew into a thousand tiny pieces.

My ineptitude socially has also been an academic asset I would say. This is not to say that one cannot be both popular and academically successful, I know people who are, but my feelings of unpopularity contributed to my academic success. Not in the obvious way of leaving me more time to devote to my studies, I have never had trouble finding something else to do with my spare time. Rather, I had something to prove to my peers. I wasn't trying to get them to notice me, or shame them for excluding me, which I don't think they did intentionally, now or at the time,. I was just trying to find my place, if I wasn't going to be well-liked I needed something to tack my self-worth to, and since I did well academically that seemed a logical candidate. Not particularly healthy, perhaps, but I believe effective.

Also, the fact that I am a social klutz helped me go to grad school. While I feel a bit more socially gratified than I did as a child, I have a Blog, so you can disagree with that if you desire, moving across the country to attend grad school is not as complicated as it would be, say, for someone in a serious relationship with another person. Not that leaving my friend circle behind hasn't been a sacrifice, hence the Blog, and I should note that a few of my colleagues are married, one even had a baby this summer(!), and a couple others are in ostensibly healthy relationships, but being single made this decision at least half as challenging as it would otherwise have been.

So there you have it, I am here because I had great support as a child and because I am a bit messed up, which is OK. In your question you go on to say that my story is anomalous, and I am unsure how true that is. From my class in Newport we sent someone to MIT, and another to Harvard, and I'm sure a bunch of other students to well qualified but less celebrified schools. I know of at least one other student from my class of WHS who is getting a doctorate of some flavor, at least one master's student, though I think there are more, and many who attended some university or another. So, don't sell short the education that we received, I think that we are doing just fine. Thanks again for the question, hope the answer wasn't to enormous, now I'm going to go for a walk.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Politics: Argblargblargblarg

I shall be posting a housekeeping update, about the blog, not my actual home which is unkept, tomorrow, in order to keep this post almost purely on topic. And that topic is, politics! I am going to hit two main subtopics; the first is why Washington DC may be obsolete and the second on gender identities in politics, since this is Feminist July after all.

The idea that Washington DC may be obsolete occurred to me as I wrote my July 4th post about how awesome and worth improving our nation is. Specifically, I suggested that we try distributing the government, empowering states and even more local governmental entities and disinvesting in a centralized government. I favor this approach on the reasoning that putting the power closer to the people will serve to increase the power of the people, and other reasons which I shall not get into here. However, a big problem this approach might cause would be to disadvantage citizens of Washington DC, as do most programs enacted on the state level.

The simplest solution would be to either, make Washington DC a state, or to incorporate it into an existing state. I believe that the reason it is not part of a state already is so that there isn't the semblance of favoritism toward one state from our federal government. After all, most of the upper levels of our government are concentrated in DC, and if the city happened to be part of Virginia, it might seem suspicious if Virginia received extra beautification money or homeland security money. As a side note, it doesn't seem that being the home to the government has done DC much good as a city.

One might argue that, after decentralizing our government, it will be less contentious if the seat of national government happens to lie within one state or another. While this may be valid, I believe it is worthwhile to consider what role we need Washington DC to play in our modern society. While it used to be necessary for people to physically be in the same place in order for them to effectively collaborate, this is no longer the case. I think that, in addition to putting lawmakers closer to their constituents, dispersing our lawmakers would have the advantage of making life harder on special interest groups, who would no longer be able to go to one place and tug the ear of all the political elite. As many environmentalists will tell you, if you put a lot of rotting material ,compost, in one place, it will, A) stink, and B) attract a lot of flies. The advantages of scattering our government to the wind, even if we retain a strong national government, might deserve a fuller post later, but to keep things concise I shall end here.

Now, gender identity and politics. What specifically inspired this thought was the sentiment, which I have heard multiple times throughout my life, that there are issues where, in order to be a feminist, one must have a particular stance. I think this is an unhealthy mentality, it seems to encourage "Us or Them" thinking, also worth a separate post, and alienate people who, otherwise, might become helpful allies. Now I do believe that feminists, by nature, must attempt to create a system wherein individuals are not disadvantaged by the role that they play in the reproductive process, But, while abortion is an attempt to address this problem, I do not believe it is the only possible solution.

You may not know this, but I am strongly anti-abortion. While I do believe they should be legal, and should be the woman's choice, I do not believe them to be a good choice. In my opinion, they are a choice you should have, but should be avoided. Sometimes they are the best of a bunch of bad choices, which is regrettable, but in general, I am not a fan of abortions. But, there are people who are even more anti-abortion than I am, for instance, if they believe that their religion strictly forbids not only abortions, but permitting other people to have abortions. While I am also not a fan of that religious view, I do not believe someone should be excluded from the feminist identity automatically for holding such a view.

The problem examined in detail above, can be generalized to many issues, where feminists, or more often women, are told that they should, whatever that means, hold a certain view in order to be true to their identity. This reasoning seems inherently anti-feminist, rather than treating the recipient of the argument as a competent agent and explaining the reasons why said decision is desirable, they are condescended to and told what to think in order to stay a part of their group, without being given the resources and respect to make their own decision. Note that above, although I said such an argument seemed impossible for a feminist to make in good faith, I gave a reason for this claim, and make no presumption to revoke the feminist status, as if I have that authority, of one who would make such an argument.

So, I believe that it is entirely in keeping with a feminist mindset to support legal abortion. It is an attempt to address the problem of reproductive equality, it is the most successful solution that is reasonable to expect the government to enact in the near future, and this is why I support it. But it is not the only such solution, nor is it the one I think is best ideally, so if someone does not support abortion, I do not think we should play identity politics and revoke their feminist membership (yes, there is a membership, NOT!). In closing, I find identity politics of most sorts dehumanizing, and therefore bad. While it is wonderful that people with shared traits often share certain priorities, and can use their shared traits to organize to promote their priorities, a line is crossed when one makes sharing the priorities a prerequisite to "truly" share the trait. I think this issue comes up in the context of religion, sexual preference, and ethnic background, as well as in other places, but examining it in gender politics as an example seemed appropriate, since it is Femminist July!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Do the Time Warp

So, I wasn't going to post until Friday, partially out of passive-aggressive response to the lack of response to what you want me to do, and partially because I was worried that the lack of response is because I am simply overwhelming people with me post frequency. Then it occurred to me, I did write a post where I quite explicitly said I would be making an effort to post thoughtful material only on Friday, and maybe people just underestimated how much non-thought-provoking material I can come up with during the week. If that is the case, and you are reading this after Friday's post, I am sorry for the ton of stuff I put up here secretly this week. It is summer, my class is over, and I am a little BORED, though the weather is helping, I am too uncomfortable to worry too much about being bored.

Anyway, I put up a discussion of some lyrics I wrote, the lyrics, then a horrible quality file of me singing the song. Then I put up links to a better quality file, and to two better quality projects. I also had a thoughtful post on the 4th, which got exempted from the Friday rule due to holiday. Finally I asked for more participation from you (unless you happen to be Kenny proofreading this), because I can think these thoughts all night long (and have) without putting them online. I put them online so they can develop, which only happens with your help, or at least entertain/interest you, which can be done without your response, but I won't know what is entertaining/interesting you so I may not be able to tailor what I do to your desires. So, that's the interesting stuff since last Friday in a nutshell, if I forgot something it probably wasn't that important.

For those of you who linked from FB, I promised a viewing of my "to-do" list. I posted this on June 14th 2005, so it was really cool to see what I have done. If you have suggestions or want to help me with unpursued goals, please let me know! Isn't that a good excuse to leave a comment?

"So while I'm not doing anything I thought I'd list some things I want to do with my life, and maybe get started on them.

Visit the British Isles and while I'm there see Hadrian's Wall
Visit Rome after I...
Learn Italian after I...
Learn German
Ride the trans-Siberian railway
Write a novel I'm happy with, even if it is never published
Teach high school at least once
Teach at a university at least once
Live in a city and not drive a car
Live where I'm the only house in sight
Live in the outdoors for weeks at a time, kayaking, canoeing, or backpacking
Get a BA in a liberal arts subject
Program a computer game I am proud of"

First off, notice how I have time to kill in the summers...
1) I have not visited Britan or Hadrian's Wall, still to-do.
2) Also no, hmm, maybe I should get around to getting that passport, but first...
3) Still no, wow, a discouraging start, fortunately...
4) Took two years at OSU, and will take more for my PhD, I wouldn't consider it "learned," but enough for a check mark.
5) Nope.
6) Uh-uh (no). Although, I have plenty of ideas, I guess I need to settle in for some productivity and start some time.
7) Nope, and I hope I don't need to get to much licensing to complete this goal, maybe a private school?
8) I'm going to put a check mark here, although I am not a professor, I have taught classes at Michigan State University. New goal, have control of the syllabus.
9) Check, Lansing had better count, since from where I'm standing it sure seems like a big city, and I do not own a car.
10) Doesn't count if my parents decided to move there, or I think I'd have been done at birth. Doing this while being car-less and a university student would be hard.
11) I'll give this a maybe, I spent 5 days on an AWESOME kayak trip later that same summer, which I certainly think counts, but I want to do this again, so it stays.
12) Definitely a check, I was considering Anthropology when I wrote this, but that requires you to talk to strangers, my BA in Philosophy counts (and was also awesome, and the reason I got 4 done).
13) Not yet, and this one I may have to drop, or amend, since I have sensibly decided that I don't ever want to do that much programming myself. Storyboarding a game would be fun, working on game mechanics would be fun, but writing the code, that's a task I want some help with. So, who wants to make a game (and has the necessary knowledge to make up for my ignorance)?

Well, I'm proud of what I've accomplished (almost 25% there, now if I just live to be 100...).

Monday, July 5, 2010

Complaint/Challenge: In Which I Use the Slash A Lot

I have been updating a lot recently and I just wanted to reassure people that I am going to limit myself to one post per day. So the most you will have to deal with is one post per day, and you can expect at least one post per week, on or near Friday, which should be something which I think is thought-provoking.

Now to my promised complaint, since it is no longer Independence Day, which I hope everyone enjoyed by the way. Atheists are Amoral Animals had 19 comments, of which I believe 6 were mine, which was a rousing success in my book. My two most recent Friday posts have 3 comments total, if I add in the other things I have posted on other days I believe the total jumps to 6. Now, I suppose it helps that my Atheist argument seems to have been flawed, and you can look for a reformulation in the future to try to save it, but I want more comments.

To encourage them, I shall pose a question to you, about what would you like to see me write? It can be a specific topic (the abolition of man, the book "The Abolition of Man," moral relativism, how I choose what clothing to buy), or a general suggestion (book/movie/videogame/pizza reviews or whatever). Please feel free to be as creative as you choose. Now, if the idea fits into a Friday format, and I get four (or five, depending on how long August is), then August will be commentator's choice month, which allows me to push my reformulation of Atheists into September since it won't fit Feminist July.

Now, an incentive, I hope, if you comment here on a post in the next two weeks, that is, until Friday of next week, and let me know what your blog/livejournal/WordPress or analogous project is, I shall post at least one comment on EACH post you make in the same time frame. You may of course opt out by letting me know in your comment or some other form that you don't want me showing up a ton of times in your project comments. Even if you don't want me blathering on your site, please feel free to pass along a link, so I can at least read it.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Independence Day!

Oh man am I having fun. Making music, writing blog posts, corresponding with my friends, it is great. But frankly, I have a complaint. I was going to post about it, but then I thought, it's Independence Day, today is not the day.

If I am going to complain about anything on Independence Day it should be our great nation. One of the advantages of being in the Middle is it makes perfect sense to love the United States (or your country of choice), but still acknowledge in a perfectly patriotic way, that there are things that other countries do better than we do, and even things that we do in a ridiculously backwards and pathetic way.

Take our government for example. Although Europe was trending in the direction of less centralized rule before we came along, I believe that the US started off the pack by electing their head of state. And, wouldn't you know it, while many countries are older than us, we have a remarkably stable government which may be the oldest in the world. That said, we built some rather horrible things into our government (slavery, disenfranchising women) that we have been SLOWLY taking out. One of the problems is that our system was designed to impede change. This was intended to make going off in a crazy direction less likely, but it seems to me that if you want to do that you just need to throw the rules out the window (Andrew Jackson and GWB come first to mind, but our government has never felt too compelled to follow its own rules, especially during times of war or crisis, so I will accept arguments against FDR, Kennedy, NIXON, and most other POTUS's). So, if the rules make change difficult, all you do is ensure that most nation-altering changes will be made by arrogant renegades.

Secondly, we have two major parties each with about half the population in their camp, to one degree or another. To make matters worse most of the people in either camp are fervent believers that the other camp is a hotbed of immorality and downright un-American ideas. That's right, both camps have this mentality. To further FUBAR this 50 state pile-up, when you get right down to it, both parties run the nation in almost exactly the same way! GRAAAAAAAH There are some differences of course, but for the most part national policy is unchanged no matter which party is in charge. Perhaps this has something to do with how massively unwieldy our government is, see previous paragraph.

So, our government needs a major overhaul in my opinion. I do not know how that would happen. Personally, except when I am really angry at it, I abhor the idea of a violent overthrow. Not so much do to a distaste for violence, which I do have, but more because those tend to put the kind of people who lead violent overthrows into power. What I would like to see happen is something more like succession. When I get back to Oregon maybe the PNW can form it's own nation (go Jefferson!). More realistically, perhaps we might try a weaker centralized government?

Anyway, let us celebrate the United States, because it had and has some amazing ideas and people! But we ought not let our reverence for our nation become dogmatic and prevent us from dismantling it to improve it.

PS: Just had a thought, Washington DC might be obsolete... This one seems worthy of a Friday slot, so I think I'll work it into this Friday (when I was planning on doing politics anyway conveniently enough).

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Audible MP3 Files

Since Blogger does not have the capability to upload just sound, and forces you to downsize videos in a big way, to get an audible copy of Tautologic to you I have linked to an MP3, now I can only blame myself for the poor quality. First and third links are share-alike (if you do something with it give me credit) non-commercial (please don't exploit me for money, though kudos if you think you could). Do whatever you like to the middle, though I make no claims express or implied of ownership of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" and will not protect you from lawyers who decide that they actually own it.

A more audible copy of Tautologic can be found here.

Also me singing The Lion Sleeps Tonight just to have fun and practice editing, that is found here.

Finally, a fun parody of a parody of a remake, yes this is the third recursion, fourth generation total, is available here.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Education in Culture

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to make fun of or rob the previous post.

I have decided to make July into Feminist Month here in the Middle. I'm sure there is a national month for women or something, but who cares when it really is. Since women comprise (slightly more than) half the world's population, we should probably keep an eye on them year round, just in case. Here I am using Feminist in the sense of one who examines the interactions between one's gender and their lives, a more academic sense perhaps, rather than one who simply believes that women are also people.

But, do not fear, we will be discussing the cultural perception of education in the United States as promised. I believe this is an important pursuit, because there seems to be an undertone of dissatisfaction with those elitist, "Ivory Tower," intellectuals running through our country, which is prevalent enough to make itself felt in our most recent presidential campaign. One might wonder, how does a country so blessed academically, reaping massive benefits in fields such as medicine and technology, develop a widespread anti-intellectual backlash?

To be perfectly fair, some of it may be because the accusations have some truth to them. Our health care system is a perfect example, many of the advances only benefit a select portion of our population. One also notes that services such as the Internet require computer access and a significant chunk of change to pipe directly into one's home. A Kindle (something whose main function is to display E-books) costs close to $200. Even public school systems in advantaged neighborhoods fair better than those that have fewer communal resources upon which to draw.

However, I would argue the main people working to mitigate these and similar imbalance are intellectuals themselves. Ethicist who create panels to govern organ transplants, in an earnest, and somewhat successful, attempt to prevent organ transplanting advances from turning lower classes into organ inventories for those who are more wealthy, libraries which often provide public internet access, and tech giant Google encourages communities to upgrade and open up their net infrastructure. So, while technological advances still operate under a trickle down effect, unlike tax breaks, we ought not condemn the entire educational system for this alone.

What I want this post to focus on, and what I think to be a main source of the issue, is the opinion of public school students about their education and how it is reinforced by the portrayal of intelligent children in the media. Here I believe society has a tremendous fail in framing opinions on the subject. If intellectuals get harsh treatment in news media, they are practically crucified in shows for children. It seems the best they can hope for is the amusement accorded a trained monkey, exemplified by TJ in Smart Guy, and the worst is a treatment comparable to the vilification of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. The nerd is often portrayed as arrogant and standoffish, but deeply insecure due to their inability to relate to others on anything other than an intellectual level, a la Minkus of Boy Meets World.

I, as somewhat of a standoffish child who had trouble relating to my peers, was not terribly deterred by these characterizations, after all, how much worse could it get? Additionally, like much of popular, or "pop," culture, I was not exposed to them in any serious quantity until a relatively late point in my development. However, I cannot help but suspect that they have some influence on the tendency for students see school as a hindrance to more important pursuits, an unpleasant nuisance, rather than an amazing privilege and the gateway to lifetimes of worthwhile considerations and important life skills.

One interesting twist of this inculcation of our children is that it often takes a very different form for young women. Unlike males, where intelligence is often negatively valued, programming for a school aged audience often portrays women excelling academically. Of course, these characters are also among the social elite of the show, epitomes of our cultural standard of beauty, and usually star athletes, or at least cheerleaders. But, mixed in with all these messages is one of approbation for being smart. So, as long as they can meet the other standards of acceptance, it is less objectionable, and even somewhat expected, for a young woman to be academically gifted. Lo and behold, at lower levels women outperform men in school, although this leads to its own problem, where women in public school, especially at the high school level, are expected to excel in all facets of their school experiences. This phenomenon has been labeled the Supergirl dilemma if you wish to read about it further.

One might conjecture that this explains why, while girls perform on average better than boys, at least until they reach the point where society tells them they ought cease to be successful, at the very upper end of the academic spectrum girls are outnumbered by boys. Although they are permitted, and even encouraged, to excel academically, which explains them outperforming young boys as a whole, they are also told to split their attention across a wide spectrum of activities and be high-achievers in all of them, which, studies conclude, takes a toll on their mental health. On the other hand, boys who perform well academically are often barred from other typical pursuits typical of the high school experience, which also may not be terribly healthy from a developmental standpoint, but does tend to have a remarkable salutary effect upon one's ability to focus on one's studies.

What I would hope to see in the future is programming for children that positively reinforces academic achievement, without unduly pressuring students to outperform each other, or base their entire self-worth upon their academic prowess. What I expect to see is something that more closely resembles the plot of Idiocracy, but one can hope.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Tautology

Ever since I saw this XKCD and joined the Tautology Club myself I've been meaning to write our club song. I knew it would be a parody of "Ironic" by Alanis Morissette, I even wrote some of the easier parts based on what parts of the song I knew, but it took me a long time to getting around to finishing it. This is a pattern with me, I have all these ideas, which I think are good but I will leave that open to debate, then never get around to doing something other than thinking about them. Not this time!

I looked up the lyrics so I'd be able to base mine off the originals, and used a YouTube clip to figure out what the song was supposed to sound like, and here are the lyrics I came up with. Please bear in mind, the heavy lifting on this project was done in about 90 minutes this afternoon. Although this is a long time for me to devote to a project, it probably isn't as long as most lyricists take; so if my bridge seems a bit off mea culpa, I welcome suggestions.

A statement that is always true
No matter what values it takes
A definition, an equivalency
Some might say it's redundancy
And isn't it tautologic... don't you know

It's like rain on a rainy day
It's a free ride for which you don't have to pay
It's the good advice that you'd be well off to take
Who would have thought, it's logic!

The ancient Greeks thought the word quite rude
Mr. Kant used it to describe explicit truths
Wittgenstein found the notion pleasing
Of a conclusion deduced purely through reason
And isn't it tautologic... don't you know

It's like rain on a rainy day
It's a free ride for which you don't have to pay
It's the good advice that you'd be well off to take
Who would have thought, it must follow

Well life has a funny way of being lived
By the people who are alive and by those yet to die
And life has a funny way of ending at the same time that you died
No matter how much you might wish otherwise

A traffic jam when the roads are congested
A no smoking sign where smoking ain't permitted
It's like ten thousand spoons being one more than nine-nine-na-nine
It's meeting the man of your dreams
When you're asleep for the night
It isn't at all ironic... don't you think
But quite tautologic... you really should think...

It's like rain on a rainy day
It's a free ride for which you don't have to pay
It's the good advice that you'd be well off to take
Who would have thought, it's logic!

Life has a funny way of being lived
Life has a funny funny way of ending when you die
When you die

After writing the lyrics I wanted a better idea of how they would sound than I got singing along with the YouTube clip, so I tried to record my singing. After some microphone hijinks with Sound Recorder (which despite what its name implies would not record sound, and would only mess up Skype), I downloaded a free recorder (and hopefully no viruses) and the result is below. Again, please forgive lack of polish, the background is a MIDI that I converted to MP3 by the brute force method of re-recording it with my headset resting on my speakers. And the vocals are done by yours truly, so you can imagine what a train wreck that will be. Then I compressed it to 4MB to get it on Blogger. But, I am happy to have this done, and if you too are looking for a project feel free to send me some better background music, or record a prettier version yourself.

video
Tautologic by Kenny Barrese is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

I should note that I do not believe I own the song Ironic, but that I probably do own the parody, if it turns out that I don't I will be ok with that, but while I think that I do you can certainly play with it as long as you attribute it to me and don't use it to make money.