Thursday, December 6, 2007

Romney, faith and "moral conviction"

I was completely unaware of Mitt Romney's impending speech this morning when I had the idea to write this post. (Most of my awareness that morning was focused on the fact that the bus driver who didn't stop for me though I chased after the bus for 3 stops, shouting and waving my arms, was an asshole.) The idea came from my earlier post about the Sacks and co. was (and still is) intended to lead into a discussion about how "because it's the right thing to do" is never enough justification.

Then I saw Melissa McEwen's take on Romney's speech, specifically this paragraph:

It is important to recognize that while differences in theology exist between the churches in America, we share a common creed of moral convictions. And where the affairs of our nation are concerned, it's usually a sound rule to focus on the latter – on the great moral principles that urge us all on a common course. Whether it was the cause of abolition, or civil rights, or the right to life itself, no movement of conscience can succeed in America that cannot speak to the convictions of religious people.

As Melissa points out, it's totally false.

This post was originally going to be about how we don't have a vibrant national dialogue about morality in America, the way we have dialogues about public policy. But Mr. Romney provided such a fine opening, I can't not take it.

We *don't* share a "common creed of moral convictions" precisely because the majority religion in America, Christianity, co-opts and preempts moral convictions. We never get to talk about morality; instead we just talk about what the Bible or a particular authority figure says and pretend that's the same thing - but it's much, much closer to the opposite. Or if we don't want to involve religion, we eschew questions of morality as well in order to dwell on legalism and consequentialism.

Here's how an exploration of moral conviction can work. Method #1 (let's call it the Axiomatic Method) is to start with an ethical axiom, and explore all the ramifications of that axiom, rejecting it or conditionally accepting it based on the conclusions drawn. This method seems to me to be the more common form of non-religious moral reasoning, but it's one that's relatively inaccessible. Though you find this a lot among philosophers, divinity students and libertarians, I suspect the average person doesn't really employ this form of moral reasoning in his or her life.

Method #2 is what I'll call the Mindy Method. Start with a moral observation - "X is good." Then ask "Why?" Now you've got a new moral principle. Again, ask "why?" and now you've got another. The goal of this version is *not* necessarily to arrive at a moral axiom and then to build back up from there. Rather, it's to reach an understanding with other moral agents, and to see where we differ. This serves two purposes: (i) we can find common understanding with people who might disagree on particulars; and (ii) we won't get duped into alliances with those whose goals are superficially similar but fundamentally opposed.

It's precisely because Christianity has so completely co-opted morality that "no movement of conscience can succeed in America that cannot speak to the convictions of religious people." Christianity, at least as it's practiced throughout this country, explicity rejects the Mindy Method - you generally can't ask "Why?" more than once or twice before bottoming out at "God said so," at which point most inquiry ceases. "Why should we do something just because God said to?" is a question that's reserved for theologians whose general faith is deemed beyond question; the folks in the pews don't typically get that luxury. Even when the question is asked, the answer tends to be consequentialist - either referring to personal consequences for the moral agent in this world, or the next.

Because Christianity avoids the question of "Is this the right thing?", substituting the question of "Is this what God wants?", the domination by Christianity of the moral sphere results in no real discourse about morality. And because the question of why the Christian God's purported wants should be obeyed is answered with an appeal to personal consequences, our discussions of policy tend to follow suit.

Of course, Romney's speech isn't really about moral convictions; it's an appeal to power. It's about defusing concerns among the Religious Right that electing a Mormon president would reduce their influence.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Size on the subway

Over at Miss Conduct, the following question is asked:

Frequently I’ve seen overweight and obese people insist on squeezing themselves into subway and bus seats that are too small for them. This results in their arms and legs landing on top of the people sitting on either side of them. This is very uncomfortable for the riders being squished, who often just get up out of their seat because it's too awkward to say anything to the person with the weight issue. Nobody seems to know how to handle this. What do you suggest?

I ride the bus out here in Buffalo regularly, though the ones around here aren't usually crowded the way a Boston subway car can be. I've also been a regular user of public transit when I lived in New York City and Honolulu, so I think I've got some idea what I'm talking about.

  • It's not just fat people. I'm not particularly fat; I fit just fine in a bus seat. However, I'm a lot wider at the chest and shoulders, which means that on the typical two-seater I have to (a) pull my shoulders in and hunch over; (b) sit sideways; or (c) get more intimate with my seatmate than I typically care to.
  • Unless Boston is significantly different from other cities (including NYC), this example of the fat person shoving the already seated person out of his or her seat isn't something that happens regularly enough to warrant much consideration. More often, what happens is that someone sits down, and if the bus is crowded they'll be touching. If that someone is fat, people react differently - they're more grossed out by the contact, or they think that "if this person weren't fat, then I'd have more space." To which the only valid response is: get over it. You're not going to catch the fat off of them, and you'll be off the bus in a while anyway. The idea that "nobody seems to know how to handle this" is bunk - what the questioner assumes is that everyone else is as uncomfortable as he/she is, and just won't say anything. The question isn't how to handle it - plenty of people handle it fine - it's how do we change social expectations so that my discomfort is more important than their right to a seat?
  • One of the main reasons this happens on non-packed buses is a phenomenon I call "checkerboarding." People sit with one seat's worth of space between them and the next person over, in an attempt to maximize the cushion of space around them. (It's also annoying when you want to sit with a friend.) In situations like this, I again can't be too sympathetic with the person who complains that their space is being invaded, when they've relied on others' reluctance to do so to deprive them of room.
  • One of the other major evictors of people on a bus are wheelchair users. The way buses are set up, a bench that normally seats 2-3 must be folded away to accommodate 1 wheelchair. But we feel (rightly) that this is okay, because the alternative is to say that wheelchair users can't ride the bus if it's crowded, and that's not an acceptable alternative. (No, it doesn't matter if someone's fat because of genetics or through some fault of their own, just as it doesn't matter why someone's in a wheelchair.)

Basically, it comes down to whether it's okay to make fat people second-class citizens, and once it's put that way I sure as hell hope the answer's obvious (but fear that, for many people, it's not).

Kate Harding over at Shapely Prose also has a post up about this.

Who likes songs that are repetitious?

Carol of the Bells.

The theme from Halloween.

How alike.

And yet, how not.

What's not to love?

One of the interesting facets of subscribing to "blog searches" on subjects like feminism is that they don't discern viewpoint; anti-feminists show up as well. One such search led me to Glenn Sacks' post about the California National Organization for Women launching an I Love Consensual Sex campaign. This strikes me a great idea, as it takes ammunition away from anti-feminists who want to claim that anti-rape activism is anti-sex.

It's also a great idea because it's a hell of a lot more accessible than your typical anti-rape message. I mean, who doesn't love consensual sex? And if you don't, then you don't have to have it - that's what that "consensual" word means!

Nevertheless, Sacks and his commenters are loath to give any unqualified support. Sacks is quick to get in a jab at how "some feminists have had a hard time acknowledging [that] women enjoy having sex with men." (Except for lesbians, presumably, but we'll come back to that.)

The larger issue that Sacks has is, of course, with the definition of consent. There's no specific definition given, as far as I can tell, but Sacks is sure that whatever it is he'll take issue with it. And I suspect he will, as any definition of consent beyond "she didn't scream no or fight back" - i.e., the "whatever I can get away with" definition - tends to be resisted as placing an unreasonable burden on men, as well as granting power to those women whom the MRAs just know are lined up at police stations around the country waiting to file false accusations.

Sacks also brings up the idea, common among contemporary social conservatives, that feminism was a noble goal at some point in the past, but has gone too far. However, instead of the usual "first wavers were in the right, but the second wavers have gone too far," Sacks cites the feminism of the 1970s as "more positive, male-friendly." (Does this mean that the MRAs will update their quote lists? One can only hope.)

There's also the problem Sacks so often faces when trying to sound like a voice of reason - his commenters. It's like the old analogy of crabs in a cookpot - rather than let him rise above the fray, his commenters act to drag the discourse back to the usual misogynist level. The reactions to this piece include:

  • More accusations that women claim rape in response to consensual sex they regret.
  • The accusation that "sex positive" is doublespeak, and that of course feminists hate "the male libido" (wait, I thought women had the hivemind?).
  • Continuing to associate feminists with conservative Christians as one big fun-spoiling mob. Heck, even the most vehement anti-porn feminists no longer ally themselves with the theocrats.
  • Complaining about a requirement of "enthusiastic verbal agreement" that's never actually stated as a requirement - and only by nitpicking that not all enthusiastic agreement is verbal.
  • An attempt to turn it into that primary issue of all MRAs, child support.
  • Fear that "I love consensual sex" will include sex among gays and lesbians. (Wait, we're the ones allied with Christian conservatives here?)
  • Blaming standards of consent for the difficulty in obtaining rape convictions - by saying that the standard for consent is too limited. (I'm not sure how this works. I guess the idea is that if only cases of violent stranger rape went to trial, conviction rates would be up, though convinctions would be down.)
  • Citing Dworkin's observations on the nature of consent in a patriarchy as evidence that feminists would not accept even enthusiastic consent as consent. This one would actually be a point worth discussing, if you could get rid of the people who insist that feminists believe "all sex is rape." The distinction is between ideals and reality. Ideally, sex would be something that could be more freely chosen than it often is today; however, in the world we live in enthusiastic consent is a "good enough" standard.
  • Complaining that it's too strict to suggest that both partners should be enthusiastic about sex.
  • Arguing that men don't get to consent, as if feminists have somehow claimed this was okay, or that men are okay with not consenting, so women should be too. (Pick one and stick with it, guys.)

The impression I get is that the Sacks/MRA conception of feminism is now stuck sometime in the mid-80s (which, to be fair, mine was until well into the 90s, when my only knowledge of feminism came from First Amendment discussions wherein feminism and the Religious Right were lumped together as the forces of oppression), and basically sees modern feminism as a cynical grab for bargaining chips in an adversarial division of sexes rather than a movement for social justice.

What it comes down to, I think, is that MRAs have demonized feminism to such an extent that any idea a feminist proposes must be rejected on principle. Besides, under a "bargaining chip" paradigm, any concession, even one you're predisposed to, is a loss of power.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

My Mental Killfile

(Probably part 1 of many.)

Contracept as a verb
Mary Daly as representative of all feminism
Equity feminism as distinguished from gender feminism
Fiat currency
Marilyn French
as representative of all feminism
Fourth wave feminism as an existing movement
Fox News as a news source
Ifeminism as a movement
"I know I'll get flamed for saying this, but..."
Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton as racial bogeymen
Wendy McElroy as a "good feminist"
Men's News Daily as a news source
Robin Morgan as representative of all feminism
NOW as a stand-in for all feminism
Personal responsibility as something that other people need practice more
Erin Pizzey as a "good feminist"
Political correctness used unironically
Reverse racism or reverse sexism as something as severe as the non-reverse form
Glenn Sacks as a news source
Valerie Solanas as representative of all feminism
Christina Hoff Sommers as a "good feminist"
Success objects as the equivalent of "sex objects"
World Net Daily as a news source
Cathy Young as a "good feminist"

You Mean A Woman Can Open It?: The Woman's Place In The Classic Age Of Advertising

There are some interesting excerpts from a new book about outrageous advertisements from the past, and the gender stereotypes they furthered. (It lends some perspective to the common MRA complaint that the sitcom stereotype of the childish, slovenly family man is "just as bad" as the media's treatment of women.)

Unfortunately, they're being featured in the Daily Mail. Their take is basically that these are titillatingly "outrageous" (in the sense of "out there" rather than "provoking outrage") rather than actually offensive. The implication is that we as a culture have lost something in that we can't make sexist jokes any more without the butt of the joke having the audacity to complain about it; it's "political correctness" gone too far.

I'd rather live in a century without that kind of crap, thank you very much.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Rational Actor's Libertarian Fête

This poem from litbrit is utterly brilliant.

Sex and the College Girl

Via Feministe: there's an incredibly interesting reprint of a 1957 Atlantic Monthly article on sex and relationships in college, the general reaction being "this is the sort of thing social conservatives want to go back to?" (And this is a story from the upper class white folks.)

One of the things that really struck me was that, despite being from the 1950s, it's a very different 1950s than we typically see (Silent Generation, indeed). Our cultural narrative of the latter half of the 20th century is almost uniformly from the perspective of the Baby Boomers - it's Forrest Gump as documentary. So the 1950s are a decade of childlike innocence, and sex is pretty much absent because the people telling the story haven't discovered it yet. Which, in a way, could explain the fascination with the 1950s so many social conservatives have - it's a return to a childhood state where we were blissfully unaware of other people's problems.

I was also struck by the uncanny but unsurprising resemblance to Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons; though there are superficial changes (integrating the universities, cellphones and computers, Wolfe's attempts at modern slang, etc.), the characters' attitudes are much closer to the ones described in this article than those of the college students I know. (Not surprising - Wolfe's own college days predated Ms. Johnson's by only a few years.)

Monday, November 19, 2007

Mac and Cheese

Made mac and cheese this weekend, a variation on the recipe I usually make. It's incredibly easy, because I cheat by using Velveeta and pre-made spice mixes. Here's the recipe for both versions:

Jack and pepper sauce (what I made this time):

1/4 cup butter
2 cups milk
2 tbsp flour
8 oz. Velveeta
1/2 cup Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp creole seasoning

Buffalo Wing cheese sauce (my usual recipe):

1/4 cup butter
2 cups milk
2 tbsp flour
12 oz. Velveeta
1/4 cup bleu cheese, crumbled
2 tbsp hot sauce
1 tsp salt

For either sauce, just add all the ingredients and heat over low heat until the butter and cheese is melted, then pour over 1 lb. cooked pasta in a 9"x13" baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

Next time: a variation with Italian cheeses, sundried tomato and garlic.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Issue Framing 101

How to frame an issue in eight easy steps:

1. Compose an "ethical dilemma" hypothetical that narrows down an issue into a single "yes or no" question.

2. Demand that your opponents answer the question with a simple yes or no.

3. Accuse anyone who doesn't give a yes or no answer of evading the question.

4. Accuse anyone who does give a yes or no answer, and then goes on to point out how stupid the question is, of evading the question.

5. Accuse anyone who does give a yes or no answer, and then goes on to explain how their reasoning would change if the hypothetical changed, of evading the question.

6. Demand that your opponents who answered the question in the way expected to answer a "follow up question."

7. Accuse anyone who gives a simple answer opposite from the one your leading question or follow up leads to of being an extremist.

8. If someone asks where the questions are leading, deny that there's any ulterior motive.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

We are not your fetish: race and relationships

A post over at Jezebel stirred up a lot of comments at Feministing and Pandagon on the subject of racial fetishization (specifically, fetishizing Asian women) in relationships.

I've been on both sides of this. My first girlfriend was Chinese-American, and we got a lot of flack from everyone - her folks, who we had to keep the relationship hidden from because I wasn't Chinese; other Asian-Americans who assumed I was a fetishist, and I was very defensive. On the other hand, lots of white folks also assumed I was a fetishist, and when they thought they'd found a kindred spirit they said all sorts of horribly racist things.

I do think there's a difference between a fetish and a preference. I think people wearing glasses are attractive; even if I jokingly refer to it as a "glasses fetish" it's more of a preference. I'm aware here that I'm using the term "fetish" in a particular way, and it is commonly used in other ways as well, most notably as denoting exclusivity rather than inclusivity; that is, any trait that you absolutely require in order to be attracted to someone is a fetish.

With respect to race, it gets complicated (as it always does) because there are direct physical preferences, and there are trends, and there are stereotypes. Saying "I think fair skin and dark hair is attractive" is a preference. Saying "I like Asian women because they have fair skin and dark hair" is a trend. Saying "I like Asian women because they're demure and ladylike" is a stereotype.

All of these kinds of posts bring out the defensive types. The typical argument they make is "I'm not racist for having a physical type!" But as tps12 pointed out on the feministing thread:

These of course are considered attractive traits in our society in either sex, so without even having to check whether they actually are more common among Asians, the larger claim is pretty well falsified by the fact that you see way more white guy/Asian girl couples than white girl/Asian guy.

Of course, that whole gender disparity opens a whole other can of worms that I'm both unwilling and unqualified to comment upon. Though I will say that Daniel Dae Kim and Sendhil Ramamurthy (and, at least among my friends, Grant Imahara and Masi Oka) seem to be doing rather well at changing some of those perceptions.

What happens next is typically that the defensive folks acknowledge racial fetishization, but claim that their personal exclusivity is different, more noble somehow. Usually it's "I like the culture" (when it's not a rant about how feminism has "ruined Western women"). The idea is apparently that it's okay not to treat someone as a person if you think highly of the abstraction you reduce them to, or if that abstraction's not physical or sexual.

Personally, I find fair skin and dark hair attractive, the reverse (i.e., hair that's lighter than the person's skin) not so much. It's by no means the overriding factor in my dating decisions, but it's definitely a preference. I can trace some of it back to growing up in Southern California and having bad experiences with folks with blonde hair and suntanned skin, and later moving to New England and fitting in with geeks, but I'd be in denial if I didn't acknowledge that at least part of the preference is based in cultural concepts of whiteness and beauty.

So what do we do about this? Our best. Seriously, I think that trying (or more likely pretending) to adopt a Colbertian "I don't see color" doesn't work, but that doesn't mean we don't have some responsibility to try to do right by people. Personally, if the only things attracting you to your potential partner are traits shared by large groups, I feel you could probably do better (at the very least, someone who has all those traits plus individual ones that appeal to you), but if you're insistent on remaining within your "type" at the very least I'd say you have a responsibility to make sure your potential partner is on the same page, and is okay with your motivations.

Not only that, but examining exclusive preferences can improve your own life. A hell of a lot of the things we decide are mandatory in a partner aren't things that make us happy, but instead are things we insist on for stupid reasons like "I want someone my peers will acknowledge as attractive." Eliminate those, and you only increase your chances of finding someone with the traits that are really important. (Whether the important traits are "a gentle spirit" or "a nice ass" is an exercise left to the reader.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What, no mention of Amanda Marcotte?

Conservative columnist Dennis Prager has a rant up about how awful liberals are for eroding public discourse through the use of swear words.

Prager goes on to quote a few "leading cultural and political figures" (Jane Goodall, Bill Maher, and Cornel West - yeah, that's who I'd pick too as my triumvirate of leading leftist thinkers) who don't curse in their interviews but still evidence "absence of serious thought", apparently because they made statements that he doesn't agree with. Serious thought, one concludes, happens by accepting without question what conservatives tell you. Go fig. (Or don't.)

What this says to me (and I'm certainly not the first person to point this out) is that conservatives value appearances over content. (Hence all the church-going family men in the closet?) Ann Coulter, David Horowitz, Michelle Malkin (among others) say horribly sexist and racist things on a regular basis, but as long as they don't say "fuck" it's okay? Of course, when Cheney says it it's okay because it was a whispered. And Coulter saying "faggot" doesn't count, apparently - perhaps it was because she pulled the rhetorical trick of "I'm not saying this," though I suspect it had more to do with targeting John Edwards with the slur.

I'll take my foul-mouthed people who stand up for what's right over squeaky-clean bullies every time.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

And now, to ruin your day...

Via Shakesville comes the singularly awful story of a teenage girl who committed suicide after being verbally abused by an online friend, and her parents' reaction to finding out said "friend" was the fictitious creation of some adult neighbors.

I posted this to reddit as part of my ongoing crusade to make the typical privileged Internet crowd think about things outside their immediate interests, and it's been interesting to read the reactions there. Most of them are identical to the reactions everywhere else - this is horrible, the perpetrators of the hoax are awful people, why would someone be so mean - but there's a contingent (tangential to the 4chan/SomethingAwful/Encyclopedia Dramatica crowd, I'm assuming) that's basically casting about for someone else, anyone else, to blame. The parents (by which, of course, they mean the mother) is to blame for letting her daughter onto MySpace (even with supervision), and for leaving her alone for a whole twenty minutes. The victim is to blame for being too thin-skinned to handle discovering that the boy who said he liked her was lying about everything. But the neighbors themselves? Not their fault. Because if it were, then they might have to look at their own actions and the harm they cause. Someone suggested that the "anon" crowd is different because they go after the "guilty" - they don't. They go after the easy targets. Sure, one of the ways to become an easy target is to be so reprehensible that nobody will defend you, but it's not the only way or even the most common.

This sort of thing is bullying, and there is no excuse for it. If your "fun" involves being cruel and hurtful to other people, find a new fun.

Study: Joe's joe arrives 20 seconds faster than Lottie's latte

An undergrad study which showed that women wait longer for their drinks at coffee shops has been picked up by the blogs. Slate, Consumerist, and Jezebel all have articles on it.

One of the most interesting things about this study to me is looking at all the bullshit excuses people come up with to justify the difference:
  • "20 seconds isn't a big deal." Actually, it's about 20% longer.
  • "It's because heterosexual male baristas want to look at the women for longer." Oh, well, that's all right then.
  • "Women order more fancy drinks." Never mind that the study controlled for that.
  • "They don't do it on purpose." Oh, well, that's all right then.
  • "Women are more likely to complain, so the barista takes the time to get it right - this is really discrimination against men for getting an inferior product!" Um, yeah, sure. You want to conduct that study, feel free. (I'm still trying to reconcile this with the idea that the pay gap is due to women *not* complaining enough about their salaries.)
  • "Well, *I've* never noticed it." Unless you get coffee both in and out of drag on a regular basis, I doubt you would. That's why we do studies.
  • "The methodology isn't good enough. I don't know what it is, but it's not good enough." Unless there's something glaring, which I don't see, that's not really a valid criticism until you conduct a better study.
Now, I'm plenty critical of a lot of scientific studies out there (particularly the evo-psych "just so stories"). I will ask "did they control for everything?" the way a lot of the detractors did. However, I recognize that that's speculation, and not a reason to totally ignore the finding. More often, what I dispute are not findings, but conclusions (evo psych is notoriously bad on this front). But this study didn't appear to actually *make* that logical leap - it just pointed out the difference. (To be fair, some of the dismissals were about drawing conclusions rather than disputing the findings - I just don't buy those conclusions or find that they justify the disparity.)

EDIT: Zuzu at Feministe has more here, making the same point about observation versus conclusion, only more elegantly.

EDIT #2: There's further discussion at Feministing, though most of that seems to be stuck in the "the study must be wrong, we just have to figure out why" stage.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The myth of "more visual"

Amanda has a good post attacking the cultural narrative/evo-psych hypothesis that men are more visual.

In my experience, the reverse has been true - my female friends have a much easier time finding eye candy than I do, but I recognize that that's not because of any innate biological trait so much as the fact that women in the media get selected for a specific "look" which doesn't particularly appeal to me, whereas the range of men in the media is much more diverse. (Not to mention the fact that men in television and film tend to get to play more interesting roles than the "designated hot girl.")

Friday, November 9, 2007

More on... what a more on.

Apparently Dr. Spurr (she of the women in relationships need to lie back and think of England article in the Daily Mail) also published a similar article in the Times Online. Gee, think she's got a book out or something?

The article pretty much says the same stuff as the other article: lack of sex is destroying relationships, and it's feminists' fault for having the audacity to suggest that women enjoy it rather than consider it a chore. But the follow-up commentary on the feminist blogs has been better on this one. Feministing takes the piece on, as does The F Word. Hugo Schwyzer has two posts on the topic.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Ron Paul, Libertarianism and Abortion

Shakesville War II appears to have begun over the political phenomenon that is Ron Paul and the larger question, asked by Melissa McEwen, of how people who profess to hold a consistent libertarian philosophy can be anti-abortion.

I know folks I consider good people who identify as libertarian, including one that's run for political office as such. But they tend to be in liberal communities like Boston and San Francisco, rather than conservative communities like Orange County, and the libertarian movements in these communities (being small, and in need of more supporters) tend to take on the political positions of the people around them.

In the case of liberal communities, it means an emphasis on the wrongness of criminalizing drugs, and support for gay rights and reproductive freedom. Some of them say the state has no business involved in marriage, but they concede that if it's going to be it certainly has no business telling some people they can marry and others they can't.

In conservative communities, it means an emphasis on the wrongness of taxes and gun control, and support for anti-abortion laws and increasing the power of religion, with justifications that have always seemed like handwaving to me.

The most popular form of handwaving these days seems to be federalist buck-passing: candidates for national office declare that positions they can't justify under a libertarian philosophy should be left to the states; candidates for state office (if they can't get statewide support for their measure) say it should be left to local government. I'm not all that sure what candidates for local government do - pass the buck back up to the state/fed by claiming that the protection of rights by those levels of government is interfering with the democratic process?

In the case of reproductive freedom (a term I use to encompass both abortion and contraception), I'm just going to plagiarize myself and use language I originally wrote for the Shakesville thread, in response to someone making the typical attempt to reconcile anti-abortion with libertarianism by calling it a use of force (the words used in the original reply, as will become obvious, were "life or death situation"):

When they call terrorism a life-or-death situation, and advocate reducing liberty to fight it, they're not libertarian. When they call health care a life-or-death situation, and advocate reducing liberty (if you call taxation reducing liberty, which they tend to) to promote it, they're not libertarian. When they call drug abuse a life-or-death situation, and advocate reducing liberty to discourage it, they're not libertarian. When they call shooting people a life-or-death situation, and advocate reducing liberty to control guns, they're not libertarian.

But abortion is different. You can call it a stark life-or-death situation, and advocate reducing liberty to outlaw it. Guess what the difference is?

What it comes down to is that, in my experience, libertarianism is a very self-centered philosophy. Not that libertarians are all self-centered as we typically understand the term, but the choice of issues, and the positions on the issues, reflect only that which is important to their overwhelmingly white/straight/male/rich (I've met libs who weren't all of these, but never any who weren't at least two out of the four) base. Hence the enormous emphasis on the guns, drugs and taxes trifecta, and the relative indifference to issues of abortion, gay rights, racism, sexism, etc. (except for the parts of those issues that could conceivably affect them, like child support, hate crime laws, affirmative action, anti-discrimination laws, etc.)

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Cerise: Let's Talk About Sex

The November issue of Cerise, focusing on sex in gaming, is out. I particularly recommend Latoya Peterson's Immaculate Reception:

Gamers are getting older but our games are still rated PG.

I think this is a little bit of a problem....

Think of Lulu and Wakka from Final Fantasy X. The entire game they remain a respectful distance apart, with Lulu remaining cold and aloof. (Yes, I know, grieving for Chappu, but still!) The game ends, Lulu and Wakka are in love…and she’s still aloof. Then they give birth to a child, Vidina.

To be honest, I would not have been surprised if SquareEnix had mentioned that sex was not involved in the conception of little Vidina. Obviously, Lulu and Wakka cast Babyaga, and after the third perfect cast, they were rewarded with a child.


Twilight Heroes

There's a new free online RPG out called Twilight Heroes. It looks similar to Kingdom of Loathing, but with a superhero theme and a more subdued sense of humor. It's timing out a lot for me right now, but it looks pretty cool when it's running.

Municipal Wi-Fi: A Promise Unfulfilled?

Jeff Merron at InformationWeek writes about the unfulfilled promise of municipal WiFi. His main complaints appear to be (a) spotty coverage, (b) insufficient consumer demand, and (c) inability for the networks to turn a profit. His perspective is much more that of the service provider than the user, which probably explains why his issues with municipal WiFi are so different from mine. (Of course, these differences may be part of the problem - the providers don't seem to have a good idea of what the users want.)

Buffalo's municipal WiFi is pretty unusable for me; it has so many protections against abuses of the service that all use is rendered difficult. First off, the service is limited to web use. Files can't be downloaded. Instant messaging clients don't work. The web service itself is horribly slow. And, most damagingly, it's heavily censored, with what appears to be a really heavy-handed keyword approach. If I want to use WiFi downtown, my only real choice is to find an institution (like the public library) that offers real access.

Further discussion at Slashdot.

Daily Mail advises women to put out or get out

According to the Daily Mail, a "leading female therapist" says that women need to learn to say yes in the bedroom. Because it's apparently easier to solve these problems by fiat, and of course it's not going to lead to any sort of resentment on behalf of the person being asked to make such accomodation. Oh, and it's always women who are the ones who say "no."

The therapist goes on to blame feminism for making women "selfish" enough to think that sex is something they should enjoy too, with all sorts of leaps of logic I can't really follow - but even I know enough history to know that this sort of thing didn't start in the 1960s.

I'm not sure what makes one a "leading" therapist, anyway. In general, it seems to be media exposure, which - get this - is going to be influenced by how saleable your message is rather than how much you help people. And there's a contingent of society who's eager to find authority figures to lend their imprimatur to "those evil women need to stop refusing me sex."

As a non-therapist but a human being with an interest in seeing people avoid miserable relationships in favor of happy ones, I'd suggest that any solution to this sort of problem which doesn't address the underlying reasons for the difference is doomed to failure. A unilateral decision that one partner should just agree to lie back and thing of England on a regular basis is going to provoke as much resentment (if not more) than the decision that the partner who is dissatisfied with the frequency should just deal with it on his/her own.

Really, I should just add "was published in the Daily Mail" as another indicator that something isn't worth taking seriously.

Further discussion on Reddit, if you don't mind the rampant misogyny.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

"Advice Goddess": Marrying the Hatchet

There's a column from Amy Alkon, "Advice Goddess," that's getting a lot of discussion on Reddit today. An advice-seeker writes in:

My husband of two months has always treated me very well, and is usually thoughtful. But, one week before our wedding, he broke a promise. I hate the whole stripper thing, so he agreed to a coed party at a dueling piano bar. There was a strip club next door, but he promised he wouldn’t go in. All was well until I learned that he and his brother (who’s nothing but trouble) were at the strip club. I went over and went crazy and tossed an ashtray at his head. I was kicked out, they followed, and his brother yelled at me. I wanted to call off the wedding, but we still got married. Since then, I keep bringing this up and he keeps begging for forgiveness, saying he’d never been so drunk, and he didn’t know what he was doing. I just can’t understand how he could hurt me this way.

The discussions that follow are exemplars of clashing narratives. On the one side, we've got the misogynists complaining about how women are controlling harpies, and how they're as abusive as men. On the other side, we've got folks (forget being neutral, let's call them "voices of reason") pointing out that, while her violent response was unacceptable, two wrongs don't make a right, and it doesn't excuse his own broken promise.

Alkon, unsurprisingly, sides with the misogynists. The bulk of her reply is about the ashtray sentence - his breaking of his promise is dismissed with a "Bummer, human nature happens." After that, she pretty much verbally abuses the woman for having a problem with her fiance going to a strip club, implying that she went through with the marriage out of greed, that she's just trying to control him. (Then there's the random fat-bashing at the end, which came out of left field.)

This sort of thing is Alkon's bread and butter. Her angle as "Advice Goddess" is to be hipper than Dear Abby, Ann Landers, etc. by (a) being snarkier and (b) being more about entertaining the readers than helping the advice-seeker. She also tends toward the Ann Coulter style of gaining currency by being a woman who tells misogynist men what they want to hear - in this case, that breaking a promise isn't so bad, and that women shouldn't be able to ask anything of men they're in relationships with.

Here's my advice, not that anyone asked:

If your partner asks something of you that you're not comfortable with, you don't agree to it and then break the promise. You tell them it's a problem, and you try to work out a solution that's acceptable. Maybe the solution is that it's not enough of a big deal to one partner, maybe it's a compromise promise, maybe it's deciding that this is an irreconcilable difference. But you don't get to have your cake and eat it too by telling your partner you're okay with the condition and then breaking it.

Now what's done is done, and you have the choice of what to do about it, which basically boils down to staying or leaving. I suppose there's a third option, which is trying to use the broken promise to effect some other concession from him, but I really abhor the idea of bartering misdeeds, which is why the whole thing about the ashtray doesn't exculpate the fiance. This is a relationship, presumably, not a hostile negotiation.

Welcome to the Dollhouse

Apparently Joss Whedon is going to be creating a new series. This one's to be called Dollhouse and will star Eliza Dushku in a kind of Pretender/Matrix hybrid. It actually looks quite awesome - I might be more skeptical with someone else at the helm that it would turn into another cleavage 'n' kung fu series, but Joss has the feminist cred, and I trust he'll go beyond that. Actually, my biggest reservation is that it's on FOX, and I don't know if they learned their lesson from Firefly about being too quick to cancel genre shows.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Men and attractiveness

The theme of the day seems to be the idea that heterosexual women, despite the label, aren't actually attracted to men.

Samhita at Feministing and Jill at Feministe take on this post from Craigslist. It's nothing new, just another in the long line of misogynist screeds about how women don't care about attractiveness, but just want guys with money and power.

Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon and Kyso Kisaen at PunkAssBlog take on Joel Stein's piece on Halloween saying that "neither gender wants men to try to be sexy." (As PunkAssCommenter junk science points out, "Of course they do. They just don't want them to fail at it.")

I've never thought of myself as particularly attractive on a purely physical level; never have been, probably never will be, though the reaction varies quite a bit depending on whose gaze we're talking about. (On the other hand, in a society that frowns on women being open about who they're attracted to, how the hell am I supposed to know?

I think this is one of the places this idea comes from (besides good old wishful thinking): there seems to be much less of a socially forced standard of attractiveness with respect to men's appearances. Women are able to honestly disagree among themselves about who they find attractive without catching too much shit for it; men are supposed to agree that the hottie du jour is highly attractive, and any debate is merely over ranking.

This idea also a pernicious way of taking agency away from women: if women aren't attracted to men, then their choices with regard to relationships and sex are presumably based on other factors. Since we as a society have decided that attraction is a primary component of love (and vice versa), a relationship not based on attraction is presumptively less valid, and so their decision that they're not interested can be disregarded.

Dragging up old debates: keyboard vs. mouse

Reddit turned up some interesting UI articles from Bruce Tognazzini, UI guru at Apple, from the late 80s/early 90s on the keyboard vs. mouse.

Tog's test was as follows:

The test I did I did several years ago, frankly, I entered into for the express purpose of letting cursor keys win, just to prove they could in some cases be faster than the mouse. Using Microsoft Word on a Macintosh, I typed in a paragraph of text, then replaced every instance of an "e" with a vertical bar (|). The test subject's task was to replace every | with an "e." Just to make it even harder, the test subjects, when using the mouse, were forbidden to just drop the cursor to the right of the | and then use the delete key to get rid of it. Instead, they had to actually drag the mouse pointer across the one-pixel width of the character to select it, then press the "e" key to replace it.

Hell, I could've told you that, given your average user, the mouse would easily win. Here's how I suspect the users handle the tasks:

Typical mouse user: Uses mouse in the right hand to select the "|" symbol. Types an "e" with the left hand to replace it. Moves to next.

Typical keyboard user: uses the arrow keys with the right hand to scroll to the "|" symbol. Types delete/backspace and "e" to replace it. Moves to next.

The mouse was approximately twice as fast. I suspect most of the difference had to do with the very simple fact that the narrow text cursor is much tougher to track than the mouse pointer (and consequently usually has a slower "top speed").

Personally, I would have just used the search/replace function myself, as it's at least an order of magnitude faster, but that apparently wasn't the option. Barring that, I'd probably use the mouse for this one, because it's easier to track down those characters visually than either use the arrow keys or the more sophisticated keyboard shortcuts to move the cursor around. (Selection of an individual character is one of those things that a mouse is far superior to a keyboard in, because of the aforementioned ease in locating the cursor/pointer.)

Tog's claim is larger than that example, though - he posits that the mouse is generally faster because it takes around two seconds. Other writers have pointed out that muscle memory significantly reduces the time involved. In my case, I *don't* bother taking two seconds to figure out a keyboard shortcut - if I don't know it immediately, I go to a menu. But I know a *lot* of shortcuts, and if I find myself repeating a task that could be improved with a shortcut, I'll look for/create one. It's a method that works pretty well for me.

The biggest annoyance with my PDA, and why I'm looking to replace it, is how slow input via a touchscreen (which should ideally be as fast as/faster than a mouse) can be. Entering text is a chore no matter how many ingenious methods (handwriting recognition, Dasher, TenGo, Fitaly, etc.) are designed. On top of that, screen estate is at a premium (thank you, stupid Windows Mobile bars), and making buttons big enough to be easily pressed with a stylus means less room for the rest of the application. Give me a keyboard!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Predatory cellphone scamming

From MSNBC: Price for 'premium' text messages? $10,000.

Watching Degrassi and other teen dramas on "The N", I see ads for these services all the time. They offer music, jokes, games, horoscopes, etc., through text messaging. What's not very apparent from the advertising, however, is the cost. Not only do the messages cost more than your typical text message, but the messages are part of a subscription service that will keep billing you until you manage to unsubscribe. There's a bit of fine print on the screen to that effect - though it's really hard to read it on my TV for the brief period it's up - but that's it.

This is not legitimate business. It's predation, plain and simple, and there are too many businesses out there that could easily put a stop to it but don't, because they get a share of the profits. The cell phone companies could allow account holders to opt out of these premium messages, but they don't, because they get a share of the revenue. The cable companies or networks (I'm not sure who the advertising is being bought from) could refuse to sell ads which are meant to scam kids, but they don't want to lose revenue either.

In the various discussions of this, there's generally an attitude out there that the people who get suckered by this deserve to be bilked, because they're (presumably) not as smart as the commenter. It strikes me as very similar to some of the other "social libertarian" attitudes common to (young, white, male) geekdom - that wealth ideally correlates with intelligence, and that the scammer does the world a favor by parting fools from their money.

Maybe this case will mobilize some consumer activists or legislators to get this under control. Or at the very least, I could see a class action suit arising from this.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Now you're thinking about portals.

I've started playing Portal. It's a ridiculously fun platform puzzler that's really well designed (some jumping is tough for me to execute, but failure doesn't usually set me back very far). And there's all sorts of neat little touches (the cake is a lie!) to lend atmosphere to what's pretty much a series of boxy puzzle rooms .

Shamus Young has some speculations on portal physics, building off of his review of the game. Really, this is like the various conundrums about time travel; when you break the laws of physics in one way, there's no reason to expect the rest of it to accommodate that breach. But it's still fun to think about. (I've been wondering why I didn't slice my character in half when I tried walking into the portal's edge, aside from the fact that doing so would make the game fiendishly difficult, because every just-missed jump would result in the character's death.)

The Outsourced Brain

David Brooks writes about how we externalize information, using a GPS to get around and becoming reliant on it for directions. For Brooks, this is a mixed blessing, if not altogether a bad thing. (And yet, so many people disagree, to the point where Apple can have a commercial about using the iPhone to surreptitiously look up an acquaintance's name on her wedding site.)

Where Brooks goes wrong is where he tries to make the leap from using these devices as prosthetic memory to claiming that he's losing his autonomy by relying on recommendation engines to make personal judgments for him. He cites the fact that using the iTunes recommender has resulting in him listening to a lot of music he's never heard of. Again, this is a bad thing? Pre-iPod, I doubt Brooks' aesthetic judgments were entirely his own. He writes of being "one of those people with developed opinions about the Ramones," but why the Ramones, and not some other punk band? Because the Ramones were getting exposure from the mainstream media. (I suspect that's a secondary motivation for Brooks' rant - he's now part of that mainstream media that's waning in power.) Music recommenders like Launchcast and Pandora have clued me into a lot of music I may otherwise never have found, but the decision about what I like is entirely my own, perhaps even more so than when I was limited to choosing among what was on the radio. If Brooks is losing autonomy, it's not the

Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon points out that this isn't really anything new, and dates back to Socrates complaining about how writing is a crutch for memory. Similarly but more recently, I recall arguments about whether calculators should be permitted in math classes, and to what extent students should be asked to memorize information rather than work "open book." (I get the impression that the calculators have won, at least in middle and high schools, and the textbooks aren't far behind.)

There are really two sorts of informational issues going on, I think. One is the use of "supplemental memory," ranging from all of the "GTD" cultists on sites like 43 Folders and Lifehacker to microcassette recorders and Post-it notes to pen and paper. This is mostly what Brooks is talking about - using a GPS instead of learning local landmarks, using a calculator instead of long division.

The other issue is that of managing all the information out there - the stuff we go out and find, as opposed to the stuff we produce. This is where most of the fabricated "library war" takes place, with people talking about using Google and Wikipedia as an "exocortex." Personally, I don't bother much with electronic devices to store "my" information (I store phone numbers on my cell, and books to look for on my PDA, but that's about it), but rely to a great extent on the ability of research methods to make me a "15 minute expert" on whatever I'd like to know about.

There's so much scaremongering on both sides here ("Libraries don't have any relevance!" versus "If you use Wikipedia, you're blindly accepting unauthoritative sources!") that it's easy to overlook that it's really a conflict of strawmen - the stodgy librarian who won't touch a computer versus the naive techie who takes everything on the internet as truth. Really, we should know better.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Degrassi of the Dead

This Degrassi Halloween special is made of awesome.


Finally ascended in Kingdom of Loathing. Going for a teetotaler run next.

Friday, October 26, 2007

And now, the fake news

Apparently FEMA decided to fake a press conference, got called on it, and tried to cover their asses:

We pulled questions from those we had been getting from reporters earlier in the day." Despite the very short notice, "we were expecting the press to come," he said, but they didn't. So the staff played reporters for what on TV looked just like the real thing.


If you hold a press conference and people don't show up, you don't have your confederates pretend to be reporters and give you easy propaganda questions. You make a statement that's totally above-board, 100% from your organization. This isn't a matter of "oh, nobody showed up so we had to throw the party ourselves"; this is a case of deliberate misrepresentation. Sadly, all I expect to happen is that there'll be a brief moment of outrage before everyone with the power to do anything about it ignores the story and returns to business as usual.

Webrunner and Prism

Mozilla has a couple programs out that have been getting attention. I'm not sure whether to call them Web browsers or not - what they are.

Webrunner is a stripped-down HTML displayer that has no menu, no address bar, just the HTML canvas.

Prism seems to be a program that automates the creation of these webapps, creating shortcuts to be run in XULRunner. (I'm not sure if there's any difference between the Prism XULRunner and Webrunner.)

There's been some debate out there as to whether these are useful programs to run web-based applications or not. I've given it a quick try with a few sites (Facebook, Meebo, Gmail and Kingdom of Loathing), and it's pretty nice for the sort of "stand alone" sites that otherwise just sit in a tab. I haven't tried it with Google Docs yet, but that could be the killer app for this thing. And Webrunner works great on Xubuntu, where opening Firefox just to check my email is a pain.

There are a couple drawbacks so far, though - no Adblock and no easy way to send off-site links back to Firefox. But it's a good start.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


After Bad Monkeys, I had high hopes for Clifford Chase's Winkie. The premise - a teddy bear arrested for being a terrorist! - was promising. The execution, though, left something to be desired.

There's really three separate stories here. There's the story of Winkie's life as a stuffed animal passed down among a family. It's an interesting perspective, but the family life itself is pretty humdrum. I'm not sure how much of this part was supposed to be biographical/autobiographical, but if you have to name the characters after yourself and your family to make the narrative have meaning, it's not going to work for other people.

There's the story of Winkie coming to life, living out in the woods, and giving birth to, raising, and losing a daughter. Baby Winkie is an impossibly perfect plush madonna that basically gets treated as an object rather than a "person" by everyone involved in the story - even the author. I get the sense that this part was supposed to be some great allegory, but it's far too vague and abstract to make any sense.

And, of course, there's the story of Winkie's arrest and subsequent trial for terrorism. This was the selling point of the book, and the book's strongest point. The trial is appropriately surreal and Kafkaesque, but as satire it falls short because it's lacking in specifics. If I just want a Kafkaesque story about a trial, I'll read "The Trial." But despite the marketing, Winkie isn't about the trial, so much as the Big Great Philosophical Points the author's trying to make.

The whole thing struck me as the sort of navel-gazing you find in a college creative writing class short story, padded (stuffed?) out to novel length. (Being compared to David Sedaris and having a quote from someone in the Magnetic Fields does little to dispel the illusion of pretentiousness.)

I'm not sure how I'd have reacted to Winkie if it were billed more as a story about modern life viewed through the eyes of a teddy bear, rather than as the political satire it wasn't. I probably wouldn't have bothered picking it up (hence the reason for choosing the marketing angle they did), but if I did I might have enjoyed it a bit more.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Health is not a moral imperative

Echidne of the Snakes writes on the conflation of health and morality, specifically as it relates to the "obesity epidemic".

Good health is a right (at least insofar as nobody else has the right to take it from you), but it is not a marker of virtue. Health is not an excuse to take away someone's rights "for their own good." It shouldn't be a source of disapproval, and it especially shouldn't be cited as such when the real disapproval is aesthetic/social. If you've got a problem with the way someone looks, own up to it (and then STFU) rather than pretending it's genuine concern for their health.

A scandal for school

Melissa McEwan has a great analysis of The So-Called Public School Plague, and how the hysteria-generating approach isn't a productive one.

What I most want to know is that, if 90% of the offenses are committed by men, they use a photo of Mary Kay Letourneau to accompany the article? It serves to reinforce all sorts of cultural narratives about sex and education (but not sex education, never that). What's the agenda behind this?

In the comments, "'Fair and Balanced' Dave" notes that the statistics thrown out there included around a third of the cases which didn't involve "young people." Nobody seems sure what this means? Harrassing other teachers? Consensual sex among teachers on school grounds? Being outed? Being pregnant and unmarried?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Sports game design issues

Speaking of game design, I read a lot about designing RPGs and strategy games, but not so much about other genres. There's some book from Adobe Press, but that's pretty much it.

What brought this to mind? Power gauges. You know, that interface where you hold down a button, the gauge fills up, and you release the button, and how full the gauge is influences the power of your throw/hit/jump.

If you think about it, it doesn't make sense. When is the last time you actually threw something considerably harder or softer than you intended? Accuracy is the difficult part. (There are some games where high power makes accuracy more difficult; I think this is the way to go.)

Some other sports game-specific issues:
  • In a game based on real athletes, how much of the result should depend on the athlete's skills and how much should depend on the player's? Sim games (where it's all dependent on the athlete) are fun, but a game where Barry Bonds and Julio Lugo are equally capable hitters is just pointless.
  • What should the range of performance be? Should a great player be able to reliably outperform a sport's records?

Assassin's Creed and game AI

There's a gameplay video of an upcoming game called Assassin's Creed. Apparently it's a big deal. I'm only an incidental gamer these days, and this is a game in a genre I don't play for a system I don't own, so I hadn't been following this, but the video is interesting - thought not in the way the designers intended.

I'm not sure about the setting - it appears to be a city in the Middle East around the time of the Crusades, which I half suspect is intended to cause controversy, as you're killing the European crusaders. The folks who complain about games like Grand Theft Auto are going to have a fit if you're playing an Islamic assassin. But the dialogue was so nonspecific that any interesting aspect of that was lost.

I've also heard that the game involves multiple time periods (whether through time travel or multiple characters a la Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem, I don't know)

Though I don't typically play shooters or "sneakers," I've played enough to know that this isn't an impressive demo. The gameplay appears to consist of the following elements:

  • Observe "cut scenes" of the figures talking (since you can move around during these, there's an interesting design decision - how do you ensure the player gets all the relevant information he or she needs?)
  • Prince of Persia-style climbing and jumping around.
  • Instantly lethal thrown weapons that apparently never miss. But instead of using these on the actual target, the player jumps down into a crowd of soldiers to kill the leader.
  • Fighting enemies with tactics out of Hercules or Xena - stand around and wait your turn to fight one on one.
Now a game about assassination *could* be interesting. Ideally, it'd engage the moral arguments, and be much more difficult (though a lot of the difficulty is escaping afterward). But this doesn't look to be it; they've gone for the historical-fiction hitman approach instead.

Bad Monkeys

I've just finished Matt Ruff's Bad Monkeys, a mere twelve hours after checking it out from the library. (Hey, it's only a little over 200 pages, and I missed my bus home.)

The novel struck me as a cross between Daniel Handler's The Basic Eight and Robert Rankin's Brightonomicon. Which is probably completely unhelpful unless you've got my exact reading habits. Other folks have compared it to Philip K. Dick and Thomas Pynchon, if that helps. (There are explicit parallels to Philip K. Dick that I missed upon reading, but discovered through others' reviews. I'll leave them for you to discover on your own.) It also reminded me of some of the more surreallistically paranoid interactive fiction I've played (specifically, "Little Blue Men").

I'm not sure what to make of the ending - I'm going to keep this spoiler-free. I thought things weren't wrapped up as tightly as they could have been - Ruff took the Philip K. Dick/Alfred Bester tack of having the world unravel, rather than the more Serlingesque (Shyamalanesque?) approach of shining the harsh light of objectivity over the proceedings, a revelation that typically requires you to go back in order to catch all the clues you missed first time around.

This goes onto my list of books that I'd recommend to everyone on the basis of their criminal underexposure, joining Adam Cadre's Ready, Okay!, The Basic Eight, and Ruff's own Set This House In Order.

Next up: Clifford Chase's Winkie.

Friday, October 19, 2007

It's kinda like giving the hitting title to the guy with the most plate appearances.

Marcella Chester at abyss2hope weighs in on the study about feminism and satisfaction in sexual relationships:

So often when people refer to "being good at sex" they really mean "being good at getting the sexual contact they want" and who is better at this than a sexual predator who doesn't let the law or someone else's boundaries get in the way. It should be no surprise however that predators get negative or lackluster responses when they aren't actively manipulating someone. Nowhere on their success metric is the opinion of the person they targetted.

There's certainly immense pressure on men to "be good at getting the sexual contact they want" (not to mention the pressure to want particular forms of sexual contact). And there's certainly the assumption out there that the skills involved in finding a partner (extroversion, attractiveness, etc.) are the skills involved in pleasing a partner, which never made much sense to me.

How do we overcome this idea without sounding like we're whining at being the sexual have-nots (which, okay, I am doing to some degree)?

Oral Sex

This transcript of an Oral Roberts sermon wins the award for most brain-breakingly disturbing thing I've read all week. (And this was in a week with the MRA War.)

Xubuntu 7.10 released

In other Linux news, Xubuntu 7.10 is out. As are Ubuntu 7.10, and presumably Kubuntu, Edubuntu, etc., but I prefer Xubuntu because it's light, clean, and can run on my eight-year-old laptop.

I haven't been able to upgrade my laptop to the new version, though; update-manager keeps giving me error messages. I don't know if there's a bug in the updater or if the servers are just getting hit too hard right now. (I'd use the LiveCD, but the CD-ROM drive doesn't like burned CDs very much.)

A moment of avarice

I know I should be saving everything I can for library school, but this laptop is oh so appealing.

Then there's the Nokia N810, which is more expensive, has a smaller screen (same resolution, though) and has a more unwieldy keyboard, but fits in a pocket. It's like my Axim, only with Linux and a keyboard.

A Modest Proposal: The Thorny Issue of Sexual Consent

PortlyDyke over at Shakesville responds to the same discussion about sex and consent (part of the MRA war comments) I did, in A Modest Proposal: The Thorny Issue of Sexual Consent

Her advice is of a more practical bent than my "big question," but I think both the practical and the abstract moral dimension are vital to discussion of this topic. I still think the question of whether your partner actually wants to have sex with you should always be primary, but the practical advice is necessary so we can best navigate uncertainties and imperfect information.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The big question

Leaping into the ongoing MRA flamewar did manage to get my position on consent distilled into a single pithy question:

Do you believe your partner wants to be having sex with you?

If the answer to that's not "yes," something's wrong.

Unfortunately, it seems for a lot of people the answer isn't "yes," but "I don't care."

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Gene blocking birth control

According to BBC News, a form of birth control involving RNA "gene blocking" is on the way.

My reactions:

* Where are all the forms of birth control men have been promised? RISUG, the male pill, etc.

* Would this be reversible? If not, it might not be seen as worth developing.

More at PunkAssBlog.

The Battle of Shakesville, Day 6

Jeff Fecke's post about men's rights activists is up to 1400 comments and still going crazy.

It's led to an interesting back-and-forth between Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon and Ampersand at Alas, a Blog:

Amanda: Casting unfair guilt by association on meals ready to eat and magnetic resonance imaging

Amp: Men's Legitimate Complaints

Amanda: But really, what about the menz?

CDC doesn't have to pay MLB for stats

A fantasy baseball company wins a case against Major League Baseball for the right to use statistics without paying for a license. Reports at Baseball Primer and Baseball Musings, with the actual opinion here [PDF]. Personally, I'm a little disappointed they didn't reach the copyright question - ever since I read NBA v. Motorola in law school I've wondered how sports leagues got away with licensing their statistics.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


There's an interesting article at Destructoid about The Endgame Syndrome, or why we abandon games without completing them. (Actually, I tend to abandon most games in the midgame.)

Ann Coulter's site hacked

"I've been participating in a charade for nearly eleven years, now. Quite frankly, I'm sick of it. You have all been a part of a sick joke that I began considering shortly after first getting on the air. At first, it was quite interesting to see how people would react when I would use twisted logic and poorly masked bigotry." The site's down, but there's a discussion at reddit.

Feminism is good for you

Lots of folks in the feminist blogosphere (Pandagon, Feministing, Shakesville, and Hoyden About Town) post about a new study that finds that "having a feminist partner was linked to healthier heterosexual relationships for women," and that "[m]en with feminist partners also reported both more stable relationships and greater sexual satisfaction." The main reaction: "duh." (Feminism: it's not just the right thing to do, it gets you laid.)

Lifehacker: Ubuntu 7.10RC1

Lifehacker has a screenshot tour of Ubuntu 7.10RC1. Looks nice, except that the computer that could take the most advantage of it is my desktop, which runs XP full-time for gaming and TV recording.

To walk or not to walk

Josh Kalk at The Hardball Times looks at intentional walks this post-season. Of course, walking Ortiz falls into the "sometimes you push the right button and get a bad result" category. Bah.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Vending Machine Murders

qntm reminds you not to rock the vending machine.

On rape and power

Jill at Feministe writes On Rape and Power, focusing on a serial rapist whom two separate juries exonerated (but two others convicted), and how our broken views about sex and sexual assault help this happen. (It also occurs to me that some rape apologist somewhere is going to count those two acquittals as "false accusations.")

IFComp 2007!

I'm about two weeks late with this one, but the 2007 Interactive Fiction Competition is underway.

Obesity as bad as climate risk?

Shapely Prose: Quick Outrage: "Obesity 'as bad as climate risk'". I suppose it's just a coincidence that the announcement comes immediately after Gore wins the Nobel Peace Prize.