Tuesday, December 4, 2012

No Means No, Obviously

That's how language based communication works, words have meanings, and when you say them you evoke that meaning. I read a very interesting article about "playing hard to get," but I disagree with a significant proportion of it. I have to admit I appreciate her extolling people, specifically women but I think it applies to men, not to play hard to get. Although I have yet to meet someone who even remotely seemed to be playing hard to get, that may be because when I am rebuffed romantically I almost always just let the issue lie, and in the couple of cases where I haven't I have more revisited the subject at a later date in hopes that her opinion has changed; in short, when it comes to romance, I try to convince people to change their minds by being awesome, because I am awesome, rather than trying to persuade them to change their minds verbally.

Anyway, while I have yet to meet someone who displays evidence of playing "hard to get," I have to agree that the trope widely exists through our cultural stories. Men are told that to "get the girl" one must put forth some romantic effort. While I disagree with the author that this is inherently undesirable, I do heartily concur with her that it seems to play into rape culture.

However, where I categorically disagree with the author is where she asserts that maybe means no. Of course, I am similarly opposed to the assumption that maybe means yes, for similar reasons, yes, no, and maybe are all separate words with wildly different meanings! Maybe means maybe! And here lies the refuge of people who want to play hard to get, maybe should clearly indicate that one is not acquiescing to the proposed activity, whether it be dancing, dating, or sex, but one is willing to consider it. If one does not wish to consider it further, there is a proper word for that, "no," and it is then the moral obligation of the rebuffed to accept that.

I am not often asked out, and people straight up ask me for sex even less frequently, but people often ask me if I will to go to dance activities. If I want to and am able to go I answer, "yes," because yes I will go. If I have a conflicting obligation or just don't want to go (the latter is rather uncommon) I answer, "no," because no I will not go. If I kind of want to go, but am feeling overwhelmed and kind of don't want to go, then I might answer, "maybe," or, "I don't know... [insert lame excuse here]." At these times I completely welcome people trying to convince me to go, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but it helps me make up my mind. I don't think that I am "playing hard to get," per se, but if someone wants to play hard to get, let them use maybe! It is the correct word to use, "maybe" can mean, "maybe, if you work hard enough," which is what someone playing hard to get seems to implicitly mean.

Maybe shouldn't contribute to rape culture. Maybe leaves the door open to be convinced, but the door can still be closed. Maybe doesn't mean you cannot eventually say no (on a side note, that male friend she mentions complaining about people not being willing to agree with him eventually, creepy!!!). But that should be obvious, because you know what, yes doesn't even mean you cannot eventually say no! Let me expound on that, because it is of some importance, even if someone says yes to sex, if they change their mind, or you start hurting them, or they just get creeped out for some reason and change their mind to no, then that is a no! If you have sex with someone expressing a desire not to have sex with you, even if they explicitly expressed a desire to have sex with you at some earlier point, that is rape! If you decide not to have sex with someone who really did want to have sex with you, but felt they had to say "no" due to cultural considerations you missed having sex with someone who can't honestly express themselves and he/she missed out on having sex with an awesome person who is respectful of her/his desires. Guess which way I think you should err... Hint, which I don't think you should need, no means no!

While I don't think it is harmful to err on the side of no if you get a maybe, whereas it is definitely harmful to err on the side of yes, I don't think it is morally required to pretend that maybe doesn't have it's own, unique, and communicatively valuable, meaning. If you want to play hard to get, I invite you to use 'maybe's, or other such non-committal responses. And, most importantly, for this to work we have to realize that non-committal quite literally means without commitment, one way or the other, so if it becomes a no, then it is a no, end of discussion.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Oh, Israel

I think the most recent Gaza-Israel violence is depressing and abhorrent. However, this is not terribly surprising, as I think all the Palestinian-Israeli violence has been depressing and abhorrent. Heck, I'll go so far as to say the Kashmir conflict is depressing and abhorrent, seriously, India, Pakistan, it sounds like a very nice valley, but no sweater is worth all this bloodshed. Actually, perhaps even more abhorrent is some of the stuff that goes on in sub-Saharan Africa, fortunately this doesn't make the news as much, since it would be even more depressing. In summation, I find violence as a problem solving technique depressing and abhorrent.

So, why am I picking on Israel? Well, partially, as I alluded to above, it gets a lot of media exposure. Which is probably a good thing, since Amercans, we are killing Palestinians. Do not mistake me, I think both sides are behaving incredibly poorly; I cannot help but feel sorry for the Palestinians, who suddenly found a new nation of Israel right in the middle of what they used to call by the quaint term "home." On the other hand, it isn't as though the future Israelis decided to invade the land, at least not initially. Victorious Europeans after World War II decided there should be a Jewish homeland, which made a fair amount of sense in the contingent context, and decided the Middle East, being the beacon of stability and mature conflict resolution that it was, was the logical place to put it... In hindsight, that might be where they went wrong, is it too late to cede New Jersey and establish the homeland there? Or maybe a snippet of Texas, similar climate, more oil, but I was hoping for a history of mature conflict resolution...

Anyway, since the Western Powers basically created Israel whole cloth, they felt a certain amount of obligation to the nation. Mix in some Byzantine Cold War politics, and perhaps just a hint of Islamophobia, and Israel is the largest recipient of foreign US military aid of any country we didn't conquer... I mean... liberate. This would be all fine and dandy if it weren't for the fact that Israel tends to use that military aid to do unconscionable things to the Palestinians, who, to be far, are doing unconscionable things to the Israelis, and probably would do more without this aid. So, by giving them this aid we are basically saying we would rather bad things happen to Palestinians than Israelis, and while I am perfectly ok with Israelis preferring bad things to happen to Palestinians than Israelis, I personally have nothing against either group, so I am not a fan of picking sides. Why can't Israel be more like Poland, they hardly ever use their military aid to go out and beat the snot out of people groups with less military? Then again, that might be why they get so little military aid.

This post has been leavened by a fair amount of humor, please know that this is because I think that what is going on is too horrible to take entirely seriously, and must therefore be accompanied with some levity so that we can continue to consider it. Personally, I think the US should stop sending weapons abroad, given our stellar track record of supporting some of the most violent sociopaths around, even ignoring the frequency with which these same people come back and launch attacks against US interests. Why is it that the people who ask for mass quantities of weapons so often turn out to be violent sociopaths? But we should definitely reconsider our aid to Israel, helping to perpetuate a cycle of misery and oppression that, ultimately, is extremely damaging to both sides in the conflict. I don't think that this is a solution, and I don't think that by simply stopping supplying weapons to a conflict we very much helped create we can turn away and wipe the blood from our own hands, but I do believe that the only solution is to be found through negotiation, and as long as Israel has such a position of military superiority I don't see why they would desire to come to a negotiation table that is likely to require great compromises from both sides.

Friday, November 9, 2012

An Open Letter to the Republican Party

There are a lot of things we agree on. We agree this country is in trouble, and we both have doubts that President Obama is the person to fix it. However, Tuesday's election illustrates that the baggage that Obama had weighing him down, the slow economic recovery, the uninspiring campaign, the lingering doubts over his continuation of Bush era foreign policy, was less of a hindrance than Romney's baggage. And what, you might ask, was Romney's baggage. You were, Republican Party, you were.

I think it is best for the nation that both parties produce the best candidate possible, which is why I did not join many of my fellow Michigan liberals in voting for Rick Santorum in the primaries. To that end, here are some thoughts. First, and on a rather broad level, I really think you need to stop sliding further and further into a hard line stance and interrupt the ideological feedback loop you seem to be in. On some level I kind of want you to keep sliding until you slide over a cliff, but that is just petty. However, as you get further and further out there, it forces your candidates to look like loonies to much of the country in order to win your primaries. Just putting someone on the same stage as Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann damages their credibility. When Republicans go crazy, moderates go Democrat.

On a more specific note, become the party of fiscal responsibility! Right now you have a large credibility issue as you appear to be the party of low taxes for the rich. Showing a willingness to compromise, a temporary increase to top tax brackets in exchange for permanent alterations to an entitlement program for example, would go a long way to making claims of fiscal responsibility believable.

Perhaps a related issue is your image of being a party of hawks. Perhaps you are still recovering from the damage President Bush did to your image in his terms, but you need to get on top of that. Keep our military at home, then we can cut the military budget, and that, in turn, feeds back into your image of actually being fiscally responsible. My suggestion would be to drastically decrease the size of the standing military, and leave research budgets alone, or even increase them. Our safety lies in having the most advanced military, not the largest standing military, and if one looks at the beginning of American involvement in both World Wars we shifted fairly radically from a peacetime footing to a war production footing when we need to. The American people will rise to a challenge when we need to, don't keep us in needless wars, costing us billions of dollars and even the lives of our young adults, just so we will be ready when needed.

Regarding social issues, I think you have three problems, abortion, same-sex marriage, and birth control. Unfortunately, a significant proportion of your base feels that their rights are being taken away if others have the right to make their own decisions regarding these things. This is unfortunate from my point of view because I favor giving people the freedom to make their own decisions, and unfortunate from your point of view because a growing proportion of the voting population seems to agree with me. While I would love it if you decided to share my point of view, I agree that this might alienate some of your supporters too much. You might try painting yourself as the party of liberty, protecting a citizen's right to choose their position on these issues, contrasting with a perception that to be a Democrat one must be pro-abortion, rather than simply pro-choice. This is risky, as it is inaccurate, but when has that stopped you?

It might be safer to pick an issue and improve... I mean change... your stance on that one while maintaining your... repressive... position on the other ones to keep your base. I hope my tone of voice conveys my personal disgust for that option, but it might make political sense. Same-sex marriage could be a reasonable stance to change, because it has been implemented in a few states without the catastrophic societal collapse so feared in some circles. Furthermore, one could even spin the campaign as a defense of marriage if you were to try to make all couples get a civil union to be a joint couple in the eyes of the state, thus protecting marriage to be a religious ceremony. The problem with choosing same sex marriage is that homosexuals are a much smaller proportion of the population than women, so oppressing them is comparitively easy. This is not to say that all homosexuals view same sex marriage as a topic of supreme importance, that no straight people view it as a topic of supreme importance, that all women believe reproductive health is the most important issue, or than no men do, just a comment about the relative size of the groups these reforms most affect.

Campaigning for contraceptive access seems like the safest choice. While many in our nation are opposed to access to contraceptive, ostensibly because it lends itself to immoral behavior, inconsistently enough, the same people do not shun phones because they facilitate gossip or the Internet because it begets... piracy... yes, piracy. Well, you are Amish, then your stance is perfectly consistent, also congratulations on reading an article posted on the Internet somehow! Unless you did it by doing something you are not supposed to, in which case, bad Amish, BAD! Just kidding, much respect to the Amish, I do not want to share their lifestyle, but I think it is a beautiful and logical choice. Where was I? Oh yes, supporting contraceptives also enhances your pro-life stance, as contraceptives, unlike making abortions illegal, actually do something to reduce abortions. The biggest problem with this stance is there is not much for you to do with it. Since contraceptives are legal and widely accepted, there isn't much publicity in simply holding that position, and trying to make them more accessible for women is going to seem at odds with your stance on keeping government small.

Regarding immigration, speculation is that you are actually going to try and work with the Democrats to improve this. In which case, kudos to you!

Regarding the environment, it is probably safe to keep ignoring it, that seems to be working for the Democrats. If you could though, coming up with a small government way to reduce human impacts on our environment would give you significant leverage to implement those small government ideas.

Well, that's about it. Good luck Republicans, the phrase evolve or die comes to mind!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Comment Policy

I have been receiving a large number of supportive comments from Anonymous commenters, which makes me want to talk a bit about my comments policy. I find Captcha's annoying, so I don't use them on my blog. However, this means that I get quite a few spam comments, so I rely on Blogger's spam filter to keep them off my posts so I don't need to delete the 10-20 spam comments I get a week.

Unfortunately, if you comment anonymously Blogger is a lot more likely to consider your comment spam. When I notice a nice comment not encouraging me to buy something or use some product that is put into the spam folder, I take it out, but I apologize for however long it spends languishing in there. Now, a sad, cynical part of me wonders if some crazy hacker wanting to boost bloggers' self-esteems has written a "SpamBot" to leave generic encouraging comments on blogs. I am willing to risk posting such comments, and I refer you to this relevant xkcd comic.

Presidential Election 2012

I am going to vote for Obama tomorrow. For President, that is, not Michigan's Supreme Court. I do not believe that Obama is the best candidate and I considered voting for Stein since it seems like Michigan will not go for Romney, illustrating the ills of the winner take all system, but I am hoping a strong enough Obama win will wake up the Republican party so that they can produce candidates at all suited to govern our nation. Ultimately we all win if both parties produce a better caliber of candidate.

Let me frontload this by acknowledging that I have issues with some decisions that Obama has made. I think our drone strikes have been morally unsupportable, indefinite detention is an outrage, and holding talks in secret to put into place an international treaty to enforce intellectual property rights is a subversion of the spirit of Democracy. I truly wish that someone better could be elected, but I do not believe Romney is such a person.

That said, I do appreciate some things Obama has done! We are out of Iraq and I truly believe he tried, but failed, to close Guantanamo Bay. I think Obama has done more for the health care system in this country than any president during my lifetime, which is not to say that I think it is fixed. Where Romney believes corporations are people, Obama seems to hold the radical notion that women are people and, as such, should receive equal pay (Lilly Ledbetter Act) and control their own reproductive choices (access to abortion and contraceptives). Finally, Obama is not as oblivious to the plight of same-sex couples in our nation (DADT repealed) as Romney has repeatedly appeared to be.

I am going to vote for Obama, even though I think there are better presidential candidates, because I think he is the best candidate with a chance of being elected. Furthermore, I hope enough of a rebuke will shatter the Republican Party, already fractious as evidenced by their need to co-opt the "Tea Party". Ultimately, I hope to get a better class of candidates, so the greater evil is not so unappealing and we can stop choosing the lesser evil.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Michigan Proposition 6 2012

Proposition 6 requires voters to approve any new bridge from the US to Canada. As far as I can tell, it is a laughable attempt by the owner of the current bridge from Detroit to Canada to maintain his monopoly. Of course, I lean toward NO on Proposition 6.

In a similar vein to my objection to Proposition 5, we elect representatives for a reason. If we want to move away from a representative democracy and try to make some form of direct democracy work, I am all for that! However, I do not think international bridge building has any reason to be the cornerstone on which we create this new form of government. If there were something wrong with the plans to build this new bridge specifically, I would be open to hearing them. But to require *all* future bridge building between Michigan and Canada to be put to popular vote, I'm not sure whether that is "solving" a problem that doesn't exist or actively going out and creating a problem.

So, I recommend NO on Proposition 6.

Michigan Proposition 5 2012

Fortunately, the next two propositions are easy. Proposition 5 requires a 2/3 majority to pass new taxes. Oregon passed a bill that made it hard to raise taxes, and as a result public funding could not react to changes in the economy, causing many problems with education budgets. So I am an adamant NO on Proposition 5!

Unfortunately it is a fact of politics in the United States that, while people want things from their government, ultimately they don't want to pay for those things. As such, measures that make it harder to raise taxes tend to mess up the government's ability to function. I find it a bit disgusting that people think avoiding new taxes is worth this sort of protection when we cannot even ensure civil liberties for same sex couples in Michigan, but that is neither here nor there, just a side bit of commentary.

In short, NO on Proposition 5!

Michigan Proposition 4 2012

I want to get these done tonight, so I can beg, borrow, or steal the time to write a post about the presidential election tomorrow and get it all done a week before voting day. Thus, let us launch in to Proposition 4, allonz-y!

Proposition 4 is probably the measure I have had the most trouble figuring out. I mean this both in terms of figuring out what it does and figuring out where I stand. From what I understand now, it unionizes home health care providers who are paid through Medicare or Medicaid on the premise that they are public employees. Unfortunately most articles about the proposition want to sway the reader to one side or the other, so figuring out exactly what the bill does has been difficult.

Tentatively I support Proposition 4. I do so on the assumption that these home care workers are being paid by the government, not by the people for whom they are caring, which may be erroneous, and on the assumption that only such workers will be required to join the Michigan Quality Health Care Council, which may be erroneous.

However, I am not sure I support establishing a union via legislative fiat. If workers wish to unionize, they should be permitted to do so, hence my support for Proposition 2, but deciding that they need to do so seems a bit of an overreach. To be honest, I don't know which way, if at all, I shall vote on this proposition.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Michigan Proposition 3 2012

On to Proposition 3! In summary, Proposition 3 will require that 25% of Michigan's electricity be generated by renewable sources, that is wind, solar, biomass, and hydroelectric power. Furthermore, and here's where things get tricky, the proposal limits the increase in utility prices in order to achieve this goal to 1% per year. It also makes some provisions for extending the deadline so as to not exceed aforementioned price increase limit and requires the legislature to support using Michigan products and labor to meet this goal. Although this is all kind of confusing, I am inclined to go with YES on Proposition 3.

I am, in general, in support of renewable energy. Michigan enacted a law in 2008 requiring 10% renewable energy by 2015, while Proposition 3 does more than double the required amount of renewable energy, it also more than doubles the time to achieve the goal. Unfortunately, I could not easily find information as to how well utility companies are progressing toward the current goal, however, DTE Energy reports that they are doing great, and produced 5% of their energy through renewable methods in 2011. After all, who doesn't trust what giant utility companies have to say about themselves?

My biggest problem with Proposition 3 is that it is a constitutional amendment rather than an attempt to write something into law. Apparently if you try to get something put into law through Michigan's initiative process it goes to the Legislature first, then if they fail to act on it it goes on the ballot. Although Constitutional amendments have a higher signature requirement to get on the ballot, they bypass the Legislature entirely and go directly into law. Which is probably why all the propositions on this years ballot, with the sole exception of Proposition 1 to overturn previously enacted legislation, are Constitutional amendments. Although it makes sense why campaigners are doing it this way, I don't think this is something that really belongs in a state's Constitution. Furthermore, it would be nice for this issue to come up when we have a better idea how 10% in 2015 is going.

Finally, I feel a little awkward about deciding Michigan's fate until 2025, when I am unlikely to remain in the state for that long. However, I think it is a good idea, albeit perhaps a bit before its time, so I feel like supporting it, after all, who knows if it would be re-proposed in 2015 if it fails now. So a tentative yes on Proposition 3.

Michigan Proposition 2 2012

And we're on to Proposition 2! Proposition 2 is a constitutional amendment to grant all employees the right to unionize. Personally, at this point I am inclined toward YES on Proposition 2.

While I do believe that some unions have gained so much power that they are harming both their employees and the services those employees provide, unions being busted by state laws, almost by definition, do not have that kind of clout. Furthermore, I think that, at some level, unions are necessary to even the bargaining table between employers and employees. As workers unionized after the Industrial Revolution their working conditions improved tremendously over time, although there are confounding factors such as laws against egregious types of exploitation, which unions helped support. However, my main reason for supporting this measure is that I don't see any reason that the government should be telling people they cannot band together to assist each other in non-violently improving their lot in life. Heck, in my mind banding together to non-violently improve our lot in life is the primary purpose of government!

As always, and especially with my series on Michigan politics, I welcome and encourage reasoned dissent and respectful discussion, but for now, I'm going to support Proposition 2

Monday, October 8, 2012

Michigan Proposition 1 2012

Leading up to election day on November 6th I thought I would run a series of posts on things that will be on the Michigan ballot. I will give my recommendation and try to explain the issue to the best of my ability. I heartily welcome reasoned dissent and respectful discussion! One of the main reasons I am doing this is so that I have a better idea how I should vote next month, so if you feel I am overlooking something or am ignorant of something, please help me make my decision as enlightened as possible. I may not cover all of the ballot points, but I would like to at least get through the propositions and the presidential election.

Let us start with Proposition 1 shall we. Why? Because 1 is the smallest positive integer, and because it is late and I want something short. Proposition 1 is a referendum on Michigan's Public Act 4. What this means is that voting for the proposition is voting to keep PA 4. So, if you don't like PA 4, do not vote for Proposition 1. Personally, I am inclined to vote NO on Proposition 1.

It is no secret that Michigan's economy has all the vigor of an anemic fruit fly. In light of this, many municipalities (that is a fancy word that, so far as I know, basically means cities) and school districts are having issues with things like bills and debts, specifically, having an overabundance of such things. PA 4 sought to solve this pesky problem by appointing "emergency managers," which is basically a bureaucratic dictator, over these institutions to straighten out their finances by ruling with a topaz fist. By the way, topaz is totally harder than iron, thank you John Green!

So, I remember the furor when PA 4 was being written into law recently, but it turns out that emergency managers have been a thing in Michigan for over a decade! What PA 4 did was expand their power. This turns out to be a needful thing because the city of Flint had it's finances fixed by a financial manager at the start of this century and still it needed another one with these expanded powers to re-fix them. After all, if autocratic fiat fails to solve a problem, more autocratic fiat is certainly the solution!

It is also troubling that PA 4 passed essentially along party lines, with one Republican Representative voting against it and no Democratic legislators voting for it. It has a decided anti-labor view, allowing the emergency  to arbitrarily revoke contracts. However, the details seem unimportant in light of the threat that PA 4 represents to local democracy.

Even if PA 4 instead empowered emergency managers to loot the accounts of wealthy citizens to balance the city's budget I would still oppose it, because at heart it is undemocratic. Something must be done about the financial mess these cities have made of themselves. Apparently they harm Michigan's credit rating (I would have thought damage done there...) so are harming the state at large. Thusly, I would not be opposed to a bill that required that municipalities forced into bankruptcy be forced to dis-incorporate  but solving the problem by appointing an autocrat to manage the city as he (gendered pronoun accurate as far as I know) sees fit is not a good solution. Oh, big surprise but giving someone autocratic powers also leads to corruption in some cases:

Despite their relatively short history, EMs have a record of abusing their powers. This past summer Arthur Blackwell II, Highland Park’s former emergency financial manager, was ordered to repay more than $250,000 he paid himself. In Pontiac EFM Michael Stampfler outsourced the city’s wastewater treatment to United Water just months after the Justice Department announced a twenty-six-count indictment against the company for violating the Clean Water Act. -The Nation
So, for now, I am a solid no on Proposition 1.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Party Balance Requires Diversity

Well, it looks like we hit 200 posts without any fanfare, which is probably a good sign, because it means I am less surprised to make it that far than I was at 100, but may be a bad thing, if it indicates this blog is an elaborate method for me to have long conversations with myself. Anyway, on to the 201st post!

I hope it comes as no surprise to you that the topic of women in nerd culture is one of some interest to me. One of the benefits of having this fact well known is that people sometimes send me relevant articles when they come across them. One such article about women "pretending" to be geeks in order to get male attention can be found here. The article, like most things, has some good points, and some flaws. Some of the flaws were pointed out in a counter-article, which can be found here, but I have enough of my own thoughts on the subject that I wanted to write my own post.

First off, let me complement some of the things I really did like from the article. The author calls out the misogyny that women who game experience and clearly chastises them. Furthermore, he reaffirms the idea that women can be nerds, are nerds, and should be welcome in nerd culture.

However, he does commit a few things that I would consider faux pas. I don't want to go to deeply into these, so I'll just list them. He makes the, "I cannot be a misogynist, I have a female friend," argument, he equivocates booth babes, who are explicitly at conventions to get paid as models, with women actually trying to participate in nerd culture, finally, and this is the point I want to expand upon, he judges that some women are just "not nerdy enough," for nerd culture.

While the linked rebuttal notes that there are problems with guys deciding which girls are nerdy enough to join, "the boys club," and there certainly are, I think that it is insufficient, but not unimportant, to focus on the gendered implications of this statement. First, let us take a moment to realize how much more mainstream "nerdity" has become. I am extremely fortunate that I can be fairly open about my enjoyment of playing Dungeons & Dragons without being ostracized by my friends, condemned by most churches, or suspected of going psychotic. Twenty or thirty years ago I would not have had that freedom. Also, is it just me or does this sound like a metaphor for being gay?

Anyway, things like gadget mania, the widespread use of computers, an invasion of blockbuster movies based on comic book culture, and the incredible popularity of Nerdfighters among young adults signal that nerd is becoming mainstream. Unfortunately that is a somewhat jarring experience for people who found their nerdity an alienating, rather than accepted, trait. It makes sense for their to be a certain, Hipster-eqsue, tendency for some nerds to think, "I am a true nerd, I was a nerd before it was cool," or to view newcomers as disingenuous in some manner. This will, of course, do nothing to dispel the image of nerds as anti-social misanthropists.

Stereotypes within nerd culture that, "gamers aren't nerds," or that, "serious gamers are nerds, but not those belligerent frat-boy Halo-playing jerks," ultimately harm both people within nerd culture, by keeping it exclusive and preventing it from receiving the acceptance that it deserves and flourishing in the way that it can and should, and those attempting to join it, preventing them from receiving the acceptance that they deserve and joining the, often, fulfilling comradery of some of the weirdest hobbies that could ever be so much fun. I mean seriously, I write numbers down on paper and pretend I'm a wizard, that's weird, and awesome! Hopefully we can accept and validate, if not necessarily hang out with all the time, engineers, video gamers, english lit enthusiasts, ren fair participants and the SCA, board/pencil and paper gamers, people who love Joss Whedon (who doesn't love Joss Whedon), and yes, even people who became enthusiastic about A Game of Thrones because of the HBO series *sigh*.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Feminist Frequency and the Bechdel Test

I recently discovered Feminist Frequency, a series of YouTube videos on women and pop culture. They were brought to my attention through a Kickstarter campaign funding another group of videos that will be added to the collection examining women and video games. I am incredibly excited to see how these turn out, as this subject is continually of interest, both academic and personal, to me. However, while I wait in great anticipation for those additions, I want to talk about this video about the Bechdel Test.

In short, the Bechdel Test is an indicator of the presence of women in movies. To satisfy the criteria of the Bechdel Test a movie must have two named female characters, who talk with each other, about a topic other than a male. I think my favorite thing about this video is that it highlights that the Bechdel Test should not be used as something that a given movie passes or fails. Wonderful movies such as Wall-E and UP may not satisfy the Bechdel Test, while a movie that exploits or reinforces stereotypes about women may just happen to have two female characters chat with each other. Rather, the Bechdel Test is meant to be an indicator of the presence of women in the industry overall.

However, the one major point of disagreement I have with the video is where the creator says that there is no need for a Reverse Bechdel Test, or a Bechdel Test for male presence, because there isn't a problem with male presence in the media. Specifically she says, "the test is meant to indicate a problem, and there isn't a problem with a lack of men interacting with each other... and since there's no problem with men and men's stories being underrepresented in films the reverse test is useless and irrelevant." If the test is indeed meant to indicate a problem we ought not assume that there isn't a problem with men's representation in films and instead apply the test to determine if there truly isn't a problem; I imagine that there is not. However, I think the point that she is making is that if one applies the Reverse Bechdel Test to specific films there may be those that fail, such as Wall-E. However, the existence of some films that do not meet Reverse Bechdel standards does not imply that men are being "left out" or "oppressed."

The thing one would wish to do is gather a large selection of popular movies and then apply both Bechdel and Reverse Bechdel standards to all the movies. To get results look at the proportion that do not stand up under the Bechdel Test, then compare that to those that don't satisfy the Reverse Bechdel Test. The comparison of these percentages should provide insight into the relative presence of men and women in movies.

Another good point the video makes is that there are other situations in which Bechdel-like Tests can be useful. The creator suggests using the test for racial minorities. I would be interested to see how books fare under the Bechdel Test, although I would imagine they will do better, as their plots are not so condensed  I conclude with a quick look at the Star Wars movie series under the Bechdel Test.

A New Hope: I can't think of any named female characters other than Aunt Bereu and Princess Leia, and since one dies before the other enters the action (except for as a flickering blue hologram), not much chance of passing the Bechdel Test. Since Luke and Uncle Owen discuss evaporators and droids it certainly passes the Reverse Bechdel, and does so easily.

The Empire Strikes Back: Are there any female characters other than Princess Leia? ... ... ... The iconic confrontation between Luke and Darth Vader at the end certainly qualifies it to pass the Reverse Bechdel.

Return of the Jedi: No, Jabba does not count as a named female character. So, just Princess Leia again? I'm willing to disallow Jabba as a male character, but Luke's conversation with Obi-Wan about truth and perspective should satisfy the Reverse Bechdel.

Ok, the original trilogy was filmed quite a while ago, before women became widely established in the public sphere. Perhaps the prequel trilogy will do better, although if they do it will be the first time I think.

The Phantom Menace: Queen Amadala and Shmi Skywalker, at least we have two named female characters. Do they speak with each other... I don't know. The movie opens with Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon bantering, a clear Reverse Bechdel pass.

Attack of the Clones: I think someone may have mentioned the name of the shape-changing assassin that goes after Senator Amadala, but that might just have been in the book. Either way, although she tries to kill Senator Amaala, they do not talk. I guess Shmi is back in this movie as well, but she only has a brief conversation with Anakin before dying to further his plot development, and path to the dark side. Plenty of Obi-Wan and Anakin banter in the assassin chase to satisfy the Reverse Bechdel.

Revenge of the Sith: I believe we are back to one named female character, how sad. Obi-Wan, Anakin, Chancellor Palpatine, and Count Dooku chat it up on General Grevious' flagship, but we actually pass the Reverse Bechdel even sooner, as Obi-Wan and Anakin banter their way through the rescue flight.

Please do not misunderstand me, I absolutely love the Star Wars movies, and the franchise as a whole played a large role in my childhood. But women did not play a huge role in the movies... or in my childhood for that matter ;-)

Friday, May 4, 2012

No Way to Fail Either

It occurred to me sometime during the interminable weeks of this semester that the two students my graduating high school class voted "Most Likely to Succeed" are, in fact, the two members of my class that I feel are most likely to get doctorates. My fellow recipient recently earned her doctor of optometry, for which she deserves much congratulations, and I am still plugging away at my PhD in math. So, it seems like this award had some predictive value. But what is it predicting.

The simplest thing to do would be to say that there was an implied "in Academics" at the end of the award, and that we were recognized for our intelligence, curiosity, and, in her case, drive. This makes a certain amount of sense, it was a school award, so academics are probably somewhere in the top twenty... or so... things on people's minds as they consider who they might choose. However, this sidesteps some interesting questions inherent in the question. Am I "a success"? Am I still more likely "to succeed"? What does it mean to "succeed" at life?

Some of my classmates have gotten married. Some of them have children, some while they were my classmates. Some have real person jobs, live in foreign nations, or have tattoos. Aren't these people successes at life? No, they are not. Before you think me to harsh, consider, success is something measured upon completion. One would not say you have successfully baked chocolate chip cookies as you are beating the eggs into the batter, it is too soon. As the first batch comes out of the oven you might allow yourself the celebration at successfully baking some chocolate chip cookies, but personally, I wouldn't relax and say I have successfully baked chocolate chip cookies until the last batch is out, the utensils I used have been licked off cleaned, and nothing further can go wrong.

The problem with succeeding at life then becomes in order to finish and succeed, you must die first. At this point people may opine as to whether your life has been a success or not, but you are unlikely to care, as you are dead. So, if I cannot succeed at life, no matter how likely people say I may be, what am I to do? I cannot speak for anyone else, but, as I list my job on Facebook, I am going to try to make the world better one day at a time, and that is something at which I can succeed.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Anarchy Without Adjectives: Don't Wanna Be Owned By Myself

This is the second post in a series explicating my objections to a presentation, "Anarchy without Adjectives," which I attended last Tuesday. For this post to make sense, you will probably want to read the previous post wherein I outline the content of the presentation, and present some of the problems I see with the notion of justified ownership that the speaker put forth. Today I continue with an assault on the fundamental assumption of initial argument, that we each own ourselves.

Although the speaker noted that many people simply accept this assumption from the get go, for those less inclined to agree that we obviously own ourself he presented an argument by elimination. His argument went as follows: suppose someone else were to own you. Why, then you would be obliged to ask their permission before taking any action, as you would be using their property. Alternatively assume that each person owned equal share in every other person. In this case you would have an even harder time getting anything done, as you would have to ask every other person on the Earth, or perhaps simply a majority of them, for permission before enacting a course of action. Personally, I find these arguments compelling, and agree that no other person ought to have ownership over myself. But does that imply that I own myself? Indeed, what does it even mean to talk about owning one's self?

To answer these questions, let us consider the conclusion of the presenter's argument, that individuals should not have limitations placed upon what they do with their property. In order to reach this conclusion, we must accept that self ownership means that individuals should not have limitations placed upon what they do. However, very few world views hold that individual should act without limitation, and here I regret that I have not studied Nietzsche's philosophy more. Most tellingly, even the presenter's argument placed limits on what individuals should do, namely, individuals should not infringe upon the ability of others to utilize their property however they see fit.

If I truly own myself, from whence does this caveat arise? During the presentation the speaker asserted that ethics was more than a matter of preference, a point I, as an ethicist, find rather attractive, so I shall not argue it, although I am not sure that it is true. However, if it is true then the speaker must posit some moral obligation on us forbidding our interference with the property of others. If the source of said obligation cannot be discerned, then it seems reasonable to expect that it may present further restrictions upon our actions.

What I mean is the following: if something obliges us to let others do what the will with their property, now with the caveat that this extends only as far as others follow this same principle of non-interference, then what is to say that this something, shall we call it ethics, respect, or politeness, further obliges us to provide for the health of those about us, insofar as it does not infringe upon our ability to provide for our own health? Indeed, as long as this obligation stems from an unspecified source, one has no hope of nailing down what other obligations we may or may not have.

This seems to leave two options if one wishes to salvage this line of argument. One might discern the origin of our obligation to let others do what they will with their property, then outline whatever auxiliary obligations this original cause also entails. Or one might simply give up on the obligation to let others do what they will with their property entirely, but this seems to lead to one of the nastier forms of anarchy, wherein might makes right and people do entirely as they will if no one is able and inclined to stop them. I think either case highlights the difficulties inherent in making atomizing statements like, "everyone should be free to do with their property as they will," in a world where we are all so fundamentally interconnected. This, to me, is the foundational flaw with all reasoning in this vein, our actions cannot be considered in a vacuum, they will inevitably have repercussions on others, so giving one individual sovereignty must necessarily diminish the sovereignty of others.

Since the school week begins again tomorrow, it is not clear when I shall continue with my response, but rest assured, I have more thoughts on this topic to present for your scrutiny.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Anarchy Without Adjectives: Unjustified Justification

On Tuesday I attended a talk about "Anarchy without Adjectives," hosted by the local chapter of Students for Liberty, instead of going to the beginner swing lesson. A little out of my current character, perhaps, but one's mind, body, and soul all need stimulation, and I've been dancing a lot anyway; plus, I have a passing fondness for the political ideals of anarchy, so I thought it would be a worthwhile expenditure of time. Although I disagreed with most of the talk, I think it inspired some interesting points of thought, and I wanted to put them here in an attempt to further work them out. I shall try to keep everything accessible to the amateur philosopher; which is what all of us are, right? If something doesn't make sense, please feel free to ask for clarification, I abhor communication failures on my part, and I sincerely love it when people respond to points or make me aware of weaknesses in my reasoning, it is how I grow as a thinker.

In order to explicate my reaction to the talk, I should begin with a summary of the presentation. I shall try to do it justice. The speaker began by arguing that if a person has property, they should be the only person allowed to determine what is to be done with it as follows. We begin with the assertion that each individual owns them self, that is, each individual is the only person who can decide what they should do. Then each individual owns things that they create or harvest by their effort, or their property. The speaker concluded that this implied that we ought to do away with government, as everything a government does tends to including telling people what they must or cannot do with their self or physical property, which I believe the speaker called assaults on property.

Then the speaker rather abruptly shifted into a paean (or song of praise and exaltation) of privatization. While this seems like it ought to follow from the previous topic, as reducing governmental functions usually is accomplished through privatization of said functions, the manner in which the segue was effected made the shift seem incongruous, as I shall address later. In support of privatization and free markets he did make some very good points, such as the increased knowledge available to distributed decision making as compared to centralized decision making (in one school each student decides what they want to wear in the morning, in another, the principal tries to pick out the outfit that will make the most students the happiest, in which school do you think more students like their outfit) and the tendency of free markets to encourage efficiency.

However, in his examples of things that could be done privately he includes courts and stolen possession recovery. In specific, he gave an example wherein a person had their skateboard stolen. The private institution with whom they contracted for possession security would then catch the culprit and recover the skateboard and some restitution. Here we see that, while the evil of government which required its abolition was, ostensibly, the assault against possession, in forcing the skateboard snatcher to return the board and make restitution we have again created a system wherein assault against property is a regulatory mechanism, by which I mean we threaten to take people's stuff and freedom away to make them act how we want them to. In this vein, I feel that the speaker's talk devolved from a rather high minded stance of freedom from coercion into a laissez-faire capitalism freedom of the rich.

To be fair to the speaker, here I should note that he did specify that people ought be do what they will with justifiably obtained possessions so long as it did not infringe on the ability of others to do the same. Unfortunately, the explication of how one justifiably obtains possessions was woefully inadequate. The illustration he provided was straight out of the philosophy of John Locke, an individual setting forth into a world of unclaimed, or perhaps underutilized, resources and wresting forth the items they wish from nature through the sweat of one's own brow. Thus ownership is justified through effort. A quick historical problem with this philosophy can be attained by remembering that it was instrumental in justifying the atrocities committed against the indigenous people the Americas. The were not using their land, they were simply living on it, so when Europeans came and colonized it with their efforts they gained rightful ownership as they were using the land "better". This is simply one, historically relevant, problem with letting effort lead to ownership. For another, consider, suppose I walk through the woods every Sunday, appreciating the splendor of nature (hmmm... that sounds like a good plan actually!), does this prevent you from cutting down one of the trees in the forest to make yourself a cabin, because through the effort of my walk I use the woods for aesthetic appreciation, and your removal of the tree will impair that use?

Perhaps a more pragmatic objection arises when one attempts to locate any of these "unclaimed resources" in the world around us. Litter and garbage repositories are about the only sources of unclaimed resources that I can think of in our society. I would imagine that you are not even supposed to cut flowers in public parks (fortunately you can still find very pretty flowers discarded by the side of the road, so maybe litter is a better resource than I give it credit for being). Nevertheless, the point is that one sees that this philosophy does not, in fact, create a framework for liberty, but rather one of serfdom. Some people have put forward that they have justifiable claims to all the resources we need to support ourselves, which forces the rest of us into agreements with them as to how we are to access these resources. Or, to put it in terms with which a Marxist might be familiar, some people control the means of production and the rest of us are forced to supply them with labor in order to obtain the resources needed to reproduce our way of life.

Finally, is there any reason we settled on this particular form of justification for ownership? I think that a society could run quite successfully in which having the skill to snatch the skateboard from your neighbor's yard without harming them constituted a justifiable method of acquiring a possession. It seems to me that the speaker justified possession in the way he did to justify excess, having enough possessions to carelessly leave them strewn about, as per the now metaphorical skateboard. The apparently pathological and arbitrary, or perhaps more accurately culturally contingent, that is, seeming natural merely due to the particular make up of our own society, rather than any universal principles, method of justifying possession makes up the first of my major objections with the content of the "Anarchy without Adjectives," presentation.  The other two are in the assumption that we "own" ourselves and in the speaker's assertion that we seek restitution from the skateboard thief. In order to keep this post at a reasonable length, I shall address those concerns in a separate post at another time.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Es tut mir sehr leid

I have been trying to update about once a week, as per ElfArmy's suggestion. For those of you keeping score, that is not happening recently. For one thing, I have my comprehensive exam on Wednesday, so that sort of kills the mood for deep thought. Life has also been quite... impossible... recently, so I've been thinking a lot about that, and I try to keep my life out of my blog, for the most part.

So, I hope to have something more interesting, oh, say on Thursday. And next week is Spring Break, maybe I'll roll up my sleeves and post twice!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Sex: Is it secret? Is it safe?

This post will focus much more on the latter question than the former, I just felt the need to make a Lord of the Rings reference. If thinking of Gandalf and sex in the same thought has an adverse effect on your libido, just consider that my little Valentine's day gift to you. If it does not, well, consider it a gift anyway ;) Anyway, considering that it is Valentine's Day, or was, and the major kerfuffle going on in United States politics, I thought it would be appropriate to take today to talk about contraception or, more understandably, birth control.

Some politicians are trying to mandate that employers provide their employees with health care plans that cover birth control. This is quite in line with the "American way," of requiring employers foot the bill for health care. Furthermore, since employers are not allowed to hand their employees a box of band-aides and call that their "health care," I imagine there are current standards for what health care plans must cover. This simply adds birth control to said list.

Problems arise because some religious sects within our nation feel that birth control is immoral. And I don't just mean that using birth control is immoral, but apparently buying it is also immoral. They are consequentially claiming that being required to provide their employees insurance that covers birth control is a violation of their freedom of religion.

While I am a fan of religion being a person, rather than public, matter, I feel that we already have certain limitations on freedom of religion. No matter how devout I am, human sacrifice is just going to be illegal, because the government's mandate to respond to harm to its citizens outweighs its mandate to let them do whatever they want in the name of their beliefs.  I feel that hiding behind a pulpit as one tries to manipulate women and dictate what they may or may not do in the name of reproductive health is a similarly odious example of religious abuse. To use a perhaps less inflammatory metaphor, this would be like a religious group arguing that their teachings encourage physical health, so they should not be forced to provide health plans to their employees covering treatment for type II diabetes or heart surgery. If their employees were all kool-aide drinking initiates then this might be acceptable, but insofar as a religion employs people from outside the fold they have a responsibility to treat them in a manner that society deems respectful.

That said, I do sympathize with the opposing view on some level. I do agree that paying for contraceptives should not be a church's responsibility, or Microsoft's or any employer's. And I think the same thing about heart surgery and cancer treatments. If we claim to be an enlightened, civilized culture, the healthcare available to our citizens should not be used as a stick to bully them into employment, and their health should not be made contingent on finding a job. At the philosophy conference I attended last weekend a radical Marxist made the following comment regarding Occupy Wall Street's efforts to reform capitalism, "Reforms can only show the limits of the system to be reformed." As soon as he said that my mind jumped to the contraceptive debate, as whatever validity the religious objectors have only stands as a criticism of the current, employer provided, healthcare system. However, as the US is unlikely to have a compassionate epiphany in the near future and attempt to reason out what alterations to the healthcare system would be required to extend its coverage to all our citizens, let us, for the moment, concentrate on expanding the number of women who have their own control over their reproductive health. If they, subsequently, use this freedom to adhere to the teachings of some church or another, then I say that they are truly expressing their religious freedom.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

SparX Recap

I spent the month of January concentrating on improving my lamentably shabby Lindy Hopping abilities. To this end I attended a wonderful four week intermediate Lindy series by Swing Ann Arbor on Wednesday evenings. The culmination of my month was attending the SparX workshop in Cleveland, OH last weekend. In the hope that you will find my misadventures amusing and that I will be better able to remember the weekend, I feel I should record the weekend happenings before I go dancing this evening and forget it all.

We departed East Lansing around 5:30 but, due to an error in the Google directions, we went a bit out of our way on the approach to Cleveland and didn't make it to the hotel until a bit after 10. However, we managed to get checked in, then promptly got lost trying to get to the dance hall. In my defense, I was trying to locate it using a map on which it was not marked, furthermore, when I asked for directions I was sent off the wrong way, despite being kitty-corner to the building at which I was attempting to arrive. Soooo close, maybe I should just be a better stereotypical guy and just stop asking for directions. Finally, around 11, we managed to find the dance hall, in time to catch the finals of the Solo Jazz competition and social dance for a few hours.

I wimped out and left early, at around 1:20 AM, so I could beat the group back to the hotel and grab a shower. My plans changed on the way back when my stomach reminded me that the only food I'd had in the last nine and a half hours was a strawberry strudel stick on the ride down. At the hotel I was told there was a 24 hour McDonald about 4 blocks away. It turned out to be more like 10-20 blocks away, and only the drive-thru (sic) was open 24 hours, but a 40 minute walk alone through sketchy Cleveland neighborhoods at 2 AM was a good way to cool down after dancing, and I think it makes a rather amusing story. Failing to find food, I showered and went to sleep.

The next morning ostensibly there were try-outs for workshop tracks 3 and 4. We arrived, watched the people who wanted into level 5 tryout, then were informed that anyone who wanted to do level 3 was welcome to do so. I found this somewhat disappointing, because I really did want to know if I was "level 3 material," whatever that means. I guess I am not immune from desiring external validation (which is why you should comment). However, just guessing from my ability to follow the lessons and from the follows with whom I danced, I think level 3 was a fine place for me.

The first lesson was on finding places when dancing to improvise and be yourself. Although I didn't really take too much away from this one, Karen and Andrew were very amusing instructors and it was quite the enjoyable lesson to attend. We did a variant on Sailor Kicks (that destroyed my quads, by the way), a pass-by that ended with interpretive flair and worked on improvising in the space between hand-to-hand Charlestons. The second lesson was also by Karen and Andrew, so more fun, and it concerned dancing without physical connection. We did a toss out from hand-to-hand into a scarecrow slump, and some sort of variant on a free spin after a tuck turn that I should ask about tonight, because I am a bit blurry on that move, but I enjoyed it.

After the "morning" lessons we went and got lunch. This was at almost 2:00, if you are keeping track you may have noticed I didn't mention a breakfast, so I was very happy to get to lunch. We went to a delicious smoothie place north of campus, and I got a turkey/guacamole sandwich and a orange/mango/strawberry/banana smoothie that was the first smoothie that was everything I have wanted from a smoothie since I moved out of the dorms and stopped going to Main Squeeze as an undergraduate, nigh unto five years ago. Like I said, I was very happy to get lunch!

Following lunch we had the final track workshop for the day, this time taught by Kevin and Jo (happy Birthday Jo!!!). They were amazing! The entire time was spent drilling the difference between leading half counts (a step every other beat), full count (a step every beat), and triple steps (three steps every two beats, did you really need that one explained?). While this may seems like a very technical detail, I think being able to communicate nuance through connection is one of the most important and fulfilling things to develop. Once you are able to cleanly lead stylistic changes, then you can really do a ton of interpretative things secure in the confidence that your point will come across in your connection. Unfortunately, I have a lot of work to do on my connection, including toning it down, but I always take joy in drilling a technical detail.

Enough gushing Kenny. We had our first elective next. While I started out in Aerials, because the class was quite daunting I ended up in Solo Charleston, which finished off whatever quad strength I had left. I would like to eventually go through the Aerials lesson, because I think it is an interesting and visually appealing part of swing dancing, but I was quite happy to finally learn how Jump Charleston works, because it is also quite fun to watch! The Charleston lesson threw a ton of moves at us, some of which I actually sort of could do, but most of which I will have to work on a lot more if I want them to feel right.

Dinner was a mediocre shawarma wrap, but I'm starting to get the feeling that all shawarma is mediocre, because when I got it in Corvallis I was similarly unimpressed. I guess I just don't like shawarma, but it was fun to see more of Cleveland near the campus. After dinner was open dancing and the Jack and Jill competition, both of which were fun. There was also a great Shim-Sham where I grabbed an amazing follow after the routine on accident, so much fun!!! My one peeve was that they kept doing show off circles during songs fast enough to be challenging single-time swings. However, I cannot complain too much because watching people Lindy Hop to a song that I forced to stay on my toes to single-time to is incredible. This was also when the instructors would really strut their stuff, and boy did they have stuff to strut.

After the main dance in the dance hall ended, we went to the later dance. There I got to break out a bit of West Coast as the DJ played some contemporary pop music. However, I was quite exhausted, so I ended up just going downstairs and listening to live blues. On a related note, I am somewhat excited to learn blues at Pirate Swing next month, as long as I can avoid uncomfortably close dancing with people I don't know well. This ended Saturday's festivities, at around 3 AM.

Sunday we had our last track lesson, which started blessedly after noon. This was a routine designed to highlight using one's own position and momentum to lead a move. However, since the movie was rather involved and challenging, I had enough trouble remembering what I was supposed to be leading without worrying about trying to lead it correctly. By which I mean, if I remember what is supposed to be happening a beat or two too late, no matter how well my lead goes, it will not be well led. Oh well, more to work on! Just so I remember, the routine was a tuck-less tuck-turn with a hand swap, followed by a linear tuck-freespin where I turn against my frame's rotation (which was the first thing causing me trouble), picking up in left to right for the oppositional triples, to a hand pass into a tuck-freespin for each of us, finishing left to left for a passby and another tuck-freesipn.

Last two lessons were both by Kevin and Jo. First was on slides, which made me want to pick up some proper dancing shoes. However, my worn nearly away street shoes were slippery enough for me to biff it on a slide when one of my legs shot out from under me as I was trying to switch which foot was in the lead, earning me my sliding dust and a gold star. The second lesson was much more up my alley, as it focused on the nitpicky, technical, and seriously important skill of counterbalancing. As someone in the car noted on our way home, everyone should be required to attend such a lesson.

This ended the workshop portion of the weekend. There was one last, small, social dance filled with exhausted dancers trying to get in just a little last dancing. Then we left and came home. Unfortunately I forgot to bring my newer shoes with me, which is sad, but my older ones are more comfortable anyway, as long as the ground stays dry so their many holes don't become an issue. It was a quiet, tired car that returned to East Lansing, but what an absolutely wonderful weekend!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Searching for the Stretch

The instructor at Wednesday's lesson said that when he dances Lindy Hop he is always looking for the stretch, or it is all about the stretch, or something to that effect. I really liked that statement, because it works on multiple levels. Purely pragmatically, I want to get better at Lindy Hop so I should be paying attention to getting good stretch where it ought to be. More metaphorically, the stretch is how dancers communicate, so this might be interpreted as looking for communication. I think this interpretation is quite interesting, as well as heartwarming, because stretching is achieved by both parties settling away from one another; so communication  is mutual and is obtained by a slight withdrawal.

Anyway, I thought that phrase was awesome, so I made a post with that as the title. I kind of wanted to make a blog about dancing and entitle it that, but I have enough trouble keeping up with this blog, and I'm not sure that I have enough to say about dancing... we'll see. Without further ado, what your dance style says about your personality:

East Coast: Fun loving and silly. Like, really really silly. So silly that it becomes problematic if people take you entirely seriously. I probably belong to this category, so keep that in mind when deciding how seriously to take this list.

Lindy Hop: Fun loving and silly... but a bit of an elitist.

West Coast: Thinks being serious and somber is sexy. Probably watched too many vampire movies as a child.

Charleston: Just wants to groove with it, it's no big thing. Happy to dance with someone or alone, because dancing is awesome. Every day I'm just shufflin'. (Note: link is not to Party Rock Anthem, I like to think that I am classier than that, even though there is Charlestoning in the music video.)

Collegiate Shag: Probably has some sort of drug issue, no one has that kind of energy naturally.

Balboa: Wants to grope their partner.

Blues: Wants to grope their partner whilst also grinding on them.

Salsa: Flashy and smooth. This is the dance of trumpet players.

Bachata: Wants to grope their partner whilst also shaking their hips like mad.

Meringue: Just wants to shake their hips like mad, preferably while doing something incredibly silly and grinning like its no big thing.

Tango: Thinks being serious and angry is sexy. Probably a closet emo.

Foxtrot: Likes big band music, but is too serious to deign to Lindy Hop. Alternatively they are on their second set of knees after wearing the first out bouncing.

Waltz: Likes music in 3/4, and this is the only thing they can dance to that.

Dances too much to feel affiliation with one specific genre: Probably is awesome!

I know there are other forms of dancing, a lot of other forms of dancing, but I am restricting myself to social dances. Even so, I missed a lot of styles, but I just don't know anyone I would consider a Rumba-er, or a Samba-er, etc. If you are offended, I am sorry, I tried to keep it positive (nothing inherently wrong with wanting to grope your partner... I guess) and silly. Except Tango-ers, I am not sorry if I offended you one bit, you know you like it you angsty blighters.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Many sites are taking today off to strike against SOPA/PIPA, in an attempt to foreshadow what sort of Mad Max-ian dystopia we would be left with online if websites were blacklisted on the say so of entities who's Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) had been allegedly violated. And I do mean allegedly, under the current versions of SOPA/PIPA action is taken against sites claimed to be violating IPR, or even supporting the violation of IPR, on the say so of the accuser. While they may be "innocent" until proven guilty, the US government is ok cutting off payments to presumed innocent sites purely on the word of IPR holders, because the RIAA and MPAA have never shown themselves to be the judicial equivalents of schoolyard bullies.

However, as one of my Facebook friends pointed out, how much of a difference will it make if I black myself out online? If I were to put The Middle on strike I would have to purposefully link to it for more than one or two people to notice that it was down. I suppose I might get a little more attention not posting Facebook statuses, as I tend to be a fairly vocal participant in the Facebook culture. However, out of sight is out of mind, so who knows if people would notice my absence. And, even if my absence was detected, would people realize that I was blacked out in protest of SOPA/PIPA?

So, instead of shutting down today, I am going to do the exact opposite. I will declaim SOPA/PIPA as loudly as I can with my internet-voice, while I still have that ability. I kicked the day off by sending an E-mail to both the Michigan senators and my representative, my Facebook posts will be nothing but links to anti-SOPA sites, and I am writing this post. I neglected to save myself a copy of my E-mail, since I sent it through the politicians respective "contact me" pages, but I highlighted the fact that SOPA starts punishing site owners before they have had a chance to state their case, which seems antithetical to fundamental American tenets about justice, and that holding site owners responsible for third party content seems like it will inevitably lead to an internet with fewer places for people to express themselves. If I could be held legally responsible for your comments, I probably wouldn't allow them either.

Whatever your stance on IPR, I think we can all agree that we shouldn't sacrifice the modern information technology industry on the altar of an antiquated business model like the entertainment industry seems to be asking us to do. Well, I think I did a marvelous job framing the previous sentence in an unbiased manner. Should you agree that SOPA/PIPA are bad ideas, here are some links you may find interesting.

An excellent explanation on why industry representatives talking about the damages to the economy due to piracy are either seriously apathetic to reality, or are lying, lying liars

Wikipedia, normally a repository for all sorts of useful and interesting information, has decided that today what is most important for you to know is how to contact your representatives. So, enter your Zip code and find out how to make your voice, sort of, heard.

Google's anti-SOPA/PIPA petition, don't you miss the friendly Google banner?

More information about SOPA/PIPA. If you head over to ElfArmy's blog, you will see their handiwork and what a striking webpage looks like; striking, isn't it?

Monday, January 16, 2012

We Shall Overcome, Someday

Michigan recently passed a bill to prevent public institutions from providing benefits to couples who are not legally married; here is an article on the topic. Although the bill is being challenged and I hope it is overturned, I am not interested, or able, to discuss its legality. I did not study to be a lawyer, I studied to be a philosopher, so what I want to talk about is how very wrong this bill is!

It seems clear that some of the support for this bill originates from an antipathy toward same sex couples; insofar as this antipathy wells out of some sort of Christian sentiment, this makes me sick. There is an incredible hypocrisy within the American "Christian" political movement when it comes to sexual mores. Although premarital sex and adultery are condemned from the pulpit they are ignored when Christians go political, in fact, I have noticed a surprisingly widespread sentiment among Christians that premarital sex "isn't that bad" or "is a fact of life." Perhaps premarital sex and adultery are easier to accept as facts of life because they are things that heterosexuals might desire, making this a classic case of trying to remove the splinter from the eye of the homosexual community whilst ignoring the plank in our own. To make it absolutely clear, I am NOT advocating that anybody attempt to legislate against premarital sex or adultery, simply that people who have somehow accepted that these things should be dealt with in the realm of morality, not legality, extend that understanding to same sex couples. Finally, I must admit that comparing homosexuality, premarital sex, and adultery is not the fairest of comparisons. Adultery seems, by fair, the most harmful and disrespectful of the three, so why are we taking benefits away from same sex couples and blithely permitting them to adulterers?

At best this bill might be described as a way for the state to save a little bit of money, which is something states always seem to need to do. However, even in this more charitable interpretation the bills supporters do not end up looking terribly moral. Now, instead of passing the bill in order to hurt a group of people with which they have a difference of opinion, they are simply looking for a group they perceive as unpopular enough that they can summarily divest them of benefits without office threatening repercussions. Less disgusting, perhaps, but still disgusting.

This bill also highlights why marriage for heterosexuals and domestic partnerships for homosexuals is not an adequate, effective, or moral solution. As long as different couples have different commitments binding them it will be easy and, therefore, tempting to set different standards and benefits for them. Perhaps we will simply have to abolish marriage as a civil institution and issue all couples domestic licenses to reach a compromise with the hard line religious movements, which, insofar as marriage is a religious ceremony, ought to be done anyway according to the Constitution. In the end, two different types of "marriage" for two "different" types of couples is morally untenable, separate but equal is still inherently unequal.

In my last sentence there is an implicit comparison between the Gay Rights movement and the Civil Rights movement of the 1960's, which is why I am writing this post on Martin Luther King Jr. Day specifically. I think that such comparisons are quite warranted, in fact I would be willing to call the struggle for Gay Rights the Civil Rights movement of our era, since it is, at heart, just that, a struggle for civil rights. By making this assertion I do not mean to imply that we have accomplished our struggle for racial equality and now we can move on. ("But we have a black president now, we must be done!" "No, BAD reductionist! The fact that we consider Obama black is itself something worthy of unpacking.") I simply mean that Gay Rights have been the focus of much public attention and legal action recently.

Although the struggle for racial equality may still be ongoing, I think it is entirely appropriate highlight another struggle on MLKJ Day, so long as one does not try to diminish the importance of racial equality, or any other form of equality. To borrow a concept that I have heard attributed to the Third Wave Feminist movement, in order for any of us to be free from oppression, we must all be free from oppression. I can think of two worthwhile ways to interpret that off the top of my head. As long as anyone is oppressed we must still accept the idea that oppression can be justified, which opens everyone up to the risk of becoming included in an underclass. Or, as long as anyone is oppressed, we must find ourselves entangled in the system of oppression, even if as unwilling oppressors, and systems of oppression hurt all moral beings, be they "oppressed" or "oppressor." I rather favor the second interpretation, but both are interesting.

So, today let us dare to dream of a future free of oppression, then do what we can to move toward such a bright future. We shall overcome, someday.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

MoBloYoFoMo and Beyond!

You may have noticed that as soon as December ended I took a couple of days off from blogging. Yes, I was getting a bit tired of putting out a daily post. Actually, I got tired of putting out a daily post within the first week. But, I thought a few of them were good, and that's probably a few more good posts than I would have written if I hadn't pushed myself to write (almost) daily.

However, clearly a post per day is more writing than I would prefer to commit to, and, to be honest, it's probably a lot more than you would prefer to read. Accordingly, I need to figure out how to approach writing in my blog in this, the new year. I have noticed that one common trait my favorite blogs to read have in common is that they produce new content fairly regularly. In fact, some blogs that I really liked *cough* Hyperbole and a Half *cough* I stopped reading just because I lost interest in checking back to find no new posts. So, while I do not feel that I necessarily need to update on set days, I do think that I should try to update on a pre-set schedule.

Since I, unlike authors of math text books, write things in order that they be read I thought I should see if there is any input as to what kind of update schedule you would like to see. It also helps me live up to commitments if I feel an external obligation to see them through, so any input would be helpful!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

New Years Party Episode III has been a blast, and has had three important parts, in increasing order of importance to me: beach, board games, and best friends, or buddies, I was just going to call them friends, but that would break the alliteration. There was also dancing! This year we needed an even bigger house, and the least time we could rent it was 3 nights, so our party was actually one day longer than it had previously been, no complaints here!

Beach: Pretty self explanatory. The house is right by the beach and has nice big windows, so I spent a lot of time admiring the sights and sounds of the surf. We also walked some on the beach. Highlights include finding two geo-caches, fording a stream by climbing over rocks and driftwood, and wondering if people who decided to ford an ankle high stream got swept into the ocean. There is a limit to my recklessness, climbing around might get me dirty (it did) or hurt (it didn't), but wading across a stream would get me wet!

Board Games: In no particular order, I played Arkham Horror, Twilight Imperium, Quarriors, Galaxy Trucker, Chinatown, Power Grid, and RoboRally, perhaps some others that I cannot remember as well. Arkham Horror, Chinatown, and Power Grid I had played multiple times previously, so I suppose it is safe to say that I must enjoy them, since I knew what I was getting into.

I have to admit I'm not sure if I enjoy Arkham Horror. It is a complicated game, which keeps me interested, and it is cooperative, so it is something fun to do WITH friends rather than against them. But it is soooo long!!! I think part of the problem might have been we had a full game, with eight players. However, by the end of the four or so hours of play we were a bit... fatigued. I'm not sure how eager I will be to play this next year, just because there are other games I know I really like that I did not get to play.

Chinatown is one of my favorite games. It is about trading and building up one's area, both of which are practices that I enjoy. However, because I am enthusiastic about trading, I sometimes annoy people with my... thrift... when trading. So, I enjoy Chinatown, but I should restrict how often I play it.

Power Grid is another of my absolute favorite games. It has a very interesting and fun market mechanic for purchasing materials to fuel one's power plants. The placement of power plants on the game board adds a geographic element and there is also a bidding component for getting new power plants, so it is a rich, complex, and seriously fun, game.

I had played Galaxy Trucker and Twilight Imperium once before each. Galaxy Trucker I really enjoyed, one builds a spaceship then tries to survive a voyage throughout space. I suppose the actual objective is to make as much money as possible, but I'm not quite that good, and I was really just hoping that my ship didn't get destroyed. As I mentioned, I enjoy games that let me build things, and it is entertaining to watch ships, usually mine, get pieces chipped off of them. I actually was supposed to have this game, but Tanga couldn't manage to successfully ship it to me, so I don't have it, and that is sad.

Whereas Galaxy Trucker is simple enough that I feel like I understood it the first time I played it, so I have no excuse for how poorly I did today, Twilight Imperium... is not. I had played it once before, about a year and a half ago, and that was enough that, by the end, we knew sort of what we were doing. But this time we had two people from that last game and four people who hadn't played before, so we needed to re-teach it. The game moves much faster when people know what is going on, so I don't think the six hour playing time is indicative of how long it should really take. However, it is an amazingly fun game, you are building and defending a space kingdom, so there is building, which I still like, and strategic combat, which I also like; although I managed to make it through that game without really attacking anyone once. I would like to play this one again, even if it means skipping playing a few quicker board games that I also like.

I am not enamored of Quarriors. It is very quick and based completely on dice rolls, so not terribly strategic. It does seem to be a good game for people who are drunk, exhausted, or otherwise easily distracted... no reason I know that. The dice, while pretty, are not high quality, so I noticed a lot of the numbers were hard to read due to chipped paint. I might end up buying it just as a good way to get people interested in games, much like Settlers and Ticket to Ride, but it isn't something that I would play much given my druthers, so I am not inclined to pay money for it.

RoboRally was a seriously chaotic game, with robots careening wildly around the course, shoving each other off track and causing nearly random laser mayhem. As you might imagine it ranks low in the strategy category, but because there is so much interaction between the players and the catastrophes are so much fun to watch it is still quite an enjoyable game. I don't know how much opportunity I would have to play it in Michigan, but I still may consider getting it because it does seem like a really fun, non-intense game.

Friends: There just really isn't much to say about these amazingly wonderful people. I've known a lot of them for almost nine years. And I don't mean just any ten years of my life, starting with college, so I've been doing a lot of thinking for these ten years, and been very aware of thoughts and people, not wasting it being a small child then forgetting everything I experienced. Side note: terrifying thought, I've been doing college for closer to 10 years than 5 years.

We just had a long, deep philosophical conversation and I knew almost everything that one of the other people was going to say. Not the details, but what position he'd take on the issues. Because we've talked about them, many times, in great depth. And it is wonderful to be around people with that level of familiarity.

And we had new friends, which is good! That's why we get to have these conversations again! In between these two extremes there are a bunch of other friends, and they are wonderful too. So, to friends old and new, near and far, hope you have a wonderful new year, and I look forward to seeing the nearer friends again in a year!