Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Confuse the Sinner

Every time I turn around these last couple of days, I'm running into something I need to write about. Gods, I'm seriously considering hiding under my sofa for a few days to catch a break from being pissed. Unfortunately, I have dust bunnies. And that would annoy me.

Today's anger comes in the form of a blog an old family friend posted in which he stated:

[T]o say that one's sexual orientation -- a characteristic that connotes action, in other words, one must choose to act upon one's sexual preference-- is the same in kind as the color of one's skin -- a thing that is unalterable by the act of the will -- cheapens the human understanding of sexuality and ethnicity.  

This is, so far, a fair argument. There really isn't a good comparison between sexual orientation and race beyond the fact that both are discriminated against. I'm gay, but I can butch up (somewhat) and no one will know. My skin does not declare me a part of a minority, nor am I so declared by any outward, immutable sign. 

Unfortunately, this argument is made in support of this one:

This line is meant to imply that the term "non-traditional family" should include gay couples. As one who comes from a "non-traditional family" -- black step-father and white mother -- I resent this comparison.  This clip equates race with sexual orientation.

The essential problem here is the confusion of what's actually being argued. In fact, the whole post reads like this. Towards the beginning, Foshee states that he finds several issues with the show that prompted his blog post, including women's rights concerns and the dehumanization of children. But he also states that, for brevity and clarity, he will confine his argument to the "race issue."

What follows is 282 words about how offended Foshee is at what he believes is an implication that gay couples inclusion under the heading "non-traditional family" equates sexual orientation with race. 

I am now, officially confused. Also slightly hurt in my turn, but mostly confused. 

First of all, let's break down the argument from the first premise: that inclusion of LGBT (specifically gay) couples under the heading of "non-traditional family" somehow makes a connection between the issues faced by gay couples and the issues faced by interracial couples, single parents, grandparents caretakers, adoptive parents, foster parents…

Hmm? Oh, no, he was only speaking of interracial couples. As he himself states, he is the child of a caucasian woman while his stepfather is African American. Problem is, he's using a very narrow definition of "non-traditional" to form this opinion. 

So, Merriam-Webster defines a tradition as "an inherited, established or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (as a religious practice or a social custom.)"

H-uh. Ok. So, based on roughly 225 years of established "American" social custom, with a couple hundred years more of British social custom behind that, a traditional family consists of: a strong male head of house who earns the sole income for the family; a female companion that runs and governs the house in the male's absence, does not work outside the home, and should defer to her spouse; between one and 15 children; and any parents or siblings of either the male or female leaders of the house who may be invalid, aged, or single. The final caveat is that, with the exception of any children born out of wedlock, all members of the family should have roughly the same skin color.

On the other hand, good 'ol Merriam defines the prefix "non-" to mean "not, other than, reverse of, absence of <nontoxic> <nonlinear>."

So, a "non-traditional" family in the strictest definition would be any family that doesn't have the exact structure, or some slight variation of the structure, that is described above.

Frankly, I'd have to say that covers a lot of ground. There aren't a lot of families that fit that definition. It should be noted that, culturally, the definition has be flexed a bit to include families with working mothers and female heads of house as long as there is a heterosexual racially homogenous couple as the center of the household. But even with that expansion, there's way too many family structures to try and make any definitive statements about the category as a whole. 

So to say that two selections within that category are similar beyond their inclusion in that category because they are included in that category is nonsense. The only similarity that can be drawn from their simultaneous inclusion is that they are both non-traditional family structures. And definitively speaking, that is a correct statement.

Quick summation: there is no inherent comparison implied or made by the inclusion of gay couples in the "non-traditional" family group. Further, it is a matter of definition that such couples are inherently a part of that group.

Still with me then? Excellent. Let's take this to the next step. 

The basic argument of "racesexual orientation" is a sweet bit of rhetorical real estate. There isn't a good counterargument, the statement is true on a 1:1 value, and there's a lot of charged dialogue that can be generated from it. The arguments for it even make themselves, as evinced above.

Unfortunately, Foshee decides to take a flying leap to another topic entirely to make this simple point. 

Sexuality must be actualized by the will, and because of this, is one of the most humanized actions we are capable of doing.  In other animals, it is simply instinct.  Whether or not one is born with homosexual tendencies does not take from him the ability to choose to act upon his sexuality.  He can choose to reject it, accept it, flaunt it, suppress it... etc.  Choice defines this aspect of our lives.  I should know; I'm choosing to live a celibate life as a priest.

Ok. This is an old, old argument. Ever heard the old saw "love the sinner, hate the sin"? This is the grown up non-Aesop-y version of that. What we've got here is the acknowledgement that being gay may or may not (despite lots of evidence for 'not') be a choice. 

"But even if it isn't, having gay sex or relationships certainly is! So there! It is a choice to 'be' gay, because you can choose not to express it! HA!" says inner straw man.

For those that can't see me, I'm doing a Spock eyebrow right now at my inner straw man.

This is actually a fabulous argument, rhetorically speaking. Some people are going to throw things at me for this, but it's fabulous because, definitively speaking, it is in fact true. Any action requiring conscious deliberation and consent by the actor before action can occur is made by choice. 

But a person born of a certain ethnicity does not have the ability to choose anything about his race.  He simply is black, white, latino, asian... etc.  Sure, you can try to change things -- the way you dress, how you act, even cosmetic changes.  But you can't act upon your ethnicity.

I went on with the quote before completing this argument because it needs context to be clear. Again, I'm not entirely sure why the comparison is being drawn between these two very different groups based on an umbrella term that encompasses both, but we'll go on anyway.

While it is true that there is no element of choice in racial heritage, and it is true that any action taken is definitively a choice on some level, this is where the "choice of action" argument hits a snag.

This would be it. I give you the 2005 National School Climate Survey

Listen to how this sounds for a moment: "you're a good and wonderful person. But unless you find someone that you aren't attracted to that you can live with, you must spend your life alone and celibate, because any action you take that follows your inclinations is inherently sinful."

At any point during that, did you stop hearing "don't sin" and start hearing "you're broken, and must die alone if you want to avoid the wrath of God"?

I did. And to paraphrase Foshee: I should know; I'm a gay kid raised Catholic, who had to learn to support that argument in apologetics classes. 

And the best bit is, that's a summary. Since the statement is only very rarely made in total, it never sounds that bad to the person saying it. And on the off chance that a kid puts all the pieces together and then has the guts to ask if that is that actual total statement? 

Cue an hour long explanation of why God loves us enough to give us what is essentially a near free ticket to heaven, as long as we spend life without intimate companionship. And intimate can definitely mean relationship here. Sure it's possible that two gay guys might live together, love each other, and never have sex. But there's this fun little clause known as "the avoidance of near temptation." Basically, it means "don't get in situation that might tempt you to sin." 

Which in turn means the "celibate companion" option is either never brought up, or decried if it is.

What all this boils down to is that there is no mercy shown by the "choice of action" argument. It's a way of intentionally or unintentionally cloaking the same argument of "gays are TEH EVULZ" in ways that make it sound somewhat palatable at first glance.

By way of my own out-of context comparison though, I feel the need to make a point of my own as a conclusion to this mess. Foshee says in his  closing line:

Sure, you can try to change things -- the way you dress, how you act, even cosmetic changes.  But you can't act upon your ethnicity.

Fair warning: what follows is a nasty, ugly argument made for the purposes of rhetorical comparison, and only for those purposes. 

Technically speaking, and by the very definition Foshee uses to allow for gay people to be human while still demonizing any homosexual action taken, yes you can. After all, if there is a "choice of action" in acting homosexual, there is an equal "choice of action" in acting black or Latino, or Chinese. 

No, the color of the skin can't be changed. Throughout history, however, there have been horrific attempts to "whitewash" cultures and languages. By the definition of "choice of action" as used by Foshee, all ethnic individuals that embrace their cultural heritage are "acting on the choice" to be who they are. The fact that it can't be hidden is immaterial. Any such individual could "choose" to abandon their heritage and culture, and attempt to be "as white as possible."  

End Comparison. You were warned.

But if I was to seriously suggest that the best way for any ethnic minority to avoid discrimination was to "whiten up"? I'd be lynched, and rightly so.

Now please…explain to me the difference between discrimination and hate based on the color of skin, and the "whitewash" solution — and discrimination and hate based on who one loves, and the "don't act gay" solution?

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Pageant Of Arrogance and Hate

Once upon a time, in the land of Naïvète, I believed trolls existed only in their purest form on the Intarwebz. Never, ever have I been so wrong. Nor have I ever been so frustrated at being wrong.
Lets get some background, shall we?
There is this group in Oklahoma (and a few other places, though I don’t know if the various groups are affiliated) called the Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ. Every so often, you’ll be out driving in OKC and run across this fairly large group of African American guys in black fatigues and combat boots. Over this, they wear white surplices (clerical garb, ok?) and stoles of various colors. Also, funny hats. But hats are awesome, and should never be mocked, even if they make me go “huh?”
If there’s more than four of them, they’ll have a big sandwich board with a Star of David on it, and contact info and so on for their church and what they believe, etc,.
I don’t listen to them. For the most part, it’s a question of convenience. They set up by roadways and gas stations, and there’s really no good place to park and listen. Also, the places they can be found are places that I’m only likely to be while on my way to somewhere else in a hurry.
All this giving you a picture in your head? Good. Last fact, before we move on: there are no winners in this blog. The Israelite Church is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group of the Black Separatist variety. Immensely long story short (and made slightly inaccurate in the shortening) black separatists want segregation and/or all individuals of African descent to go back to Africa. Don’t ask why, I don’t know, nor do I particularly care to speculate. If I ever meet one, I’ll ask.
So, there is troll numbah one: a group preaching a return to racial segregation in the name of a god.
Now, I pull up for gas with my husband at a 7-11 and they’re out on the corner yelling into the wind (literally) and doing their thing. Got no clue what message they’re preaching, cause I can’t hear them, but there’s people honking, and taking pictures and video. Any spectacle in Oklahoma is a major win, even if it’s bigoted crap. Often, especially if it’s bigoted crap. So they’ve got an audience.
Enter troll numbah two in the form of a dumpy little woman. As I walk into the station to pay for my gas, I see this little fat lady waving her purse and shouting about Jesus. This being Oklahoma, people shouting about Jesus are not uncommon, and I ignored her as well.
By the time I get out of the station, this little lady is standing in front of the Israelite Church congregation, screaming at the top of her lungs to drown them out. Not even a coherent argument, but just over and over “He died for us all!”
I have never seen such a ludicrous display. Ever.
On the one hand, we have a group of individuals shrouding bigotry and separatism in the trappings of religion. I’ve noted before that spirituality is important to me; taking a gift of faith and perverting it to spread hate or fear is one of the few things on this earth that truly disgusts me.
But standing in front of them, on the other hand is a woman who is fairly clearly attempting to represent a faith system that is one of the most dominant in the world. And she is representing it by screaming at the top of her lungs, seeking to invalidate an argument simply by repeating one of her articles of faith.
For those not into theology, an article of faith is defined as an precept or belief that is believed not because it is supported by rational validation, but because one has faith that it is true.  In other words, this woman is trying to disprove their argument by repeatedly screaming a “fact” that is only true to her because she believes it is!
The worst bit? She won.
Now this isn’t the worst bit because I agree with black separatism; nor is it the worst because I dislike Christianity. This is the worst bit because she demonstrated the kind of intolerance that gives fuel to the fires of discrimination, bigotry and racism. Her victory made the Israelite Church’s point for them. And both more clearly and more sharply than any hours of preaching could ever have accomplished.
And, worst of the worst, it proved to watcher’s that there’s no need for a rational debate. There’s no need for accord or compromise. If you hold a majority belief, you can simply scream at a minority until they shut up and go away. Again, I do not condone their belief, but it was their gods-given right to stand on that corner and preach whatever they wanted short of incitement to violence. And this one woman shut them down by screaming to the point of near incoherence, repeating a belief.
Is this it? Is this how we solve debates in our country now? Mud–slinging and name calling, and screaming to drown out opposing views until the loudest voice stands alone?
Watching that display, I have never been so ashamed to call myself human, and even more to call myself American. Because I saw in that moment every stereotype that I’ve heard about our “great” nation encapsulated perfectly. I saw the bombastic voice, unheeding and uncaring to have it’s closed mind opened. I saw hate preached on a corner, for the sake of hate. I saw a crowd of people watching, laughing like maniacs and recording this for the value of entertainment, to show their friends and laugh at the idiots.
I saw a pageant in miniature of all the things the world must see in us. And I saw, to my shame, that they’ve all got more than a grain of truth.

Friday, September 21, 2012

All The News You Want To Hear

As I was driving into work today, I listened to NPR to get my daily dose of whatever horrors mankind can come up with, in sprightly tones and sound bites. Given that I live in America and it’s a an election year, the horrors of war and death were largely set aside to make room for the horrors of politics.

This is where the rant kicks off. I am rapidly losing all respect for professional American news media outlets. Yups, the journalist is biting the hand that feeds!

See, throughout the various chats with pundits, commentators, pollsters, and the like, no one mentioned any names but those of the candidates for the big parties. Yes, there are others, for those that wondered why I made that distinction. And there have been other candidates this whole time. Yet the only ones getting press have been the Republicans and Obama. 

Heck there’s an independent libertarian candidate right now. Ever heard of Gary Johnson? Unless you liked him already, probably not. As far as the world is concerned, the race is between the Republicans and Democrats courtesy of their flag bearers. 

Why? Cause the media says so, dangit. “That Johnson dude hasn’t got the chances of paper cup in a hurricane, so why bother covering him?”

And so no one learns he exists. 

The shift in the way news is reported has been happening for years. Thirty, even twenty years ago, news was delivered dispassionately by men and women whose sole job was to tell the friggin’ facts to people. There’s always been bias, depending on word choices and which stories made it to the air, but the facts were still fairly intelligible. 

Nowadays, that’s not so much the case. We have what’s called “advocacy journalism” which basically means “pick a side.” The facts are still the basis of news, but the structure and content of news is now determined by network or publisher views, with a goal of informing people of the facts, while also informing them of how the reporter or anchor feels about the facts. 

Don’t believe me? Go, right now, and find a story that both Fox and NBC covered. Compare and contrast, a là college Comp I. I friggin’ dare you.

Now, for fun, stop and think of this: Bill O’Reilly, Rachel Maddow, Nancy Grace, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert are viable news sources. Think on that for a second. Every person on that list hosts a show where the biases are out in the open. 

Tuning into their shows means you get something that looks and sounds like news, and often actually is news. And you don’t have to worry about being mislead, because they’re absolutely clear on the fact that they’re either strongly biased for their own side, or making fun of the other side. 

(Except maybe Colbert. Apparently, he falls victim to Poe’s Law fairly regularly.)

But what’s worse is that, while advocacy journalism can be handled by moderating your news sources (using several at a time to get a whole picture), there’s a strong shift back towards sensationalist news in response to the growing prevalence of non-professional “citizen journalism” through “new media.” Basically, the interwebs.

For anyone that hasn’t taken a mass comm class yet, sensationalism is the reporting style that flourished during the Hearst-Pulitzer publishing wars of the late nineteenth-early twentieth century. The whole point of sensationalism is to sell the product, be it a paper, web subscription, or XM radio station. It means that instead of reporting what is important, or reporting it with absolute factualism, viewers only get the news they’re willing to watch. And they get it in a way that overdramatizes it, making it more palatable to an entertainment driven culture. 

Why is this bad? Well, the bottom line here is that as the news shifts to become more and more yellow, the facts become less and less important. After all, to you do your best to be absolutely factual when you’re telling your friends or family a story, or about your day? 

Of course not. Because your goal is to rant, or entertain. Which is also, more and more, the point of the “news.”

So get out there and keep your ears to the ground. But just make sure you get a lot of different voices telling you the news, cause any one of them could be just telling you a bedtime story to sell advertising, instead of a news story to keep you informed.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Coming Down in Three Part Dissonance

If you know me, you know I'm difficult to offend. Sure I rant, and the stupidity of humans angers me, but I don't often take offense. My buttons are about a millimeter wide and protected behind a 5 inch shield of lead-like apathy. Just about nothing gets to me on a personal level. 

Anyone that called this as a lead up to "but this one thing…" may now have a lollipop. (Disclaimer: Lollipops not included. Readers must provide their own.)

Of all the things I thought might ever offend me, however, a math textbook would never have made the list. And yet, it happened just yesterday.

So I'm working along on statistics problems, when I come to a problem that asks me to match a set of histograms with a set of questions that were used to generate the data the histograms are based on. No numbers, just the shape of the 'grams and guesswork to go on. It's not a hard question, since two of the inquiries are binary. Two responses only, which are entered into the data set as 0 or 1.

The binary questions are as follows: "are you right or left handed?" and "are you male or female?"

Well, I know the proportions of right-left handedness in the general population, so that's a snap. But then comes the attached critical thinking exercise.

"Figure 5.18 shows histograms of the student responses, in scrambled order and without scale markings. Which histogram goes with each variable? Explain your reasoning. Would the 0–1 coding scheme work for someone who is ambidextrous (or transgendered)?" (COMAP 198. Emphasis added.)

I freely admit that I almost didn't catch this. I was buzzing along, saw the word ambidextrous, and was all prepared to say "nope, wouldn't work." Thankfully it was a critical thinking exercise, and I realized my mistake. And then I got to thinking about it, and became mightily offended.

The implication here, for anyone that missed it, is as follows: ambidexterity represents a third option in handedness, since by definition an ambidextrous person is neither left nor right handed. Following that train to it's inevitable wreck, a transgender person represents a third option because they are neither male nor female. 


I actually didn't finish my freaking homework, I was so pissed. Since my math prof (who didn't choose the book) doesn't want, need, or deserve a manifesto-like tract about discriminatory questions in textbooks, I gave him a paragraph about why the question is flawed, and left it at that. But the fact that I would even see that question in my textbook is freaking insane. This is a godsdamned college textbook. Why am I seeing discriminatory questions in a freaking college textbook?

Now, most of you might know why this is wrong, but I'm going to spell it out as best I can anyway. This is one of those things that I'm going to have trouble explaining, not because it's a hard concept, mind, but because it's so bloody basic it catches me off guard when I have to explain it. So please bear with me.

A transgender individual is born one biological sex, but is actually the gender associated with the opposite biological sexual characteristics. (Simplified explanation is simple. Go read the documentation if you want details, ok?)

So, a woman is born with a male body, or a man is born with a female body. The key point here is: fuck biology. The mind of a transgender person isn't out of place, the body is. So a transwoman is a woman, full stop, end of sentence, no further freaking qualifiers. Just a woman. Same goes for transmen. That's a man, done, end of story. 

There is no third option. There is no in-between state that magically appears because some loser with a bias doesn't have enough brain cells to store anything but the Bible verses some lunatic uses to denounce what ever makes him hard.

I've heard about and read about discrimination against trans individuals based on their "real gender" (read: congenital biological sexual characteristics.) And that's horrific unto itself. I literally cannot comprehend the pain that it must incur to look in a mirror and see the wrong person staring back. These are individuals whose bodies are the wrong everything. Not just "I think I'll color my hair, cause the color isn't me" or "I think I'll get my teeth whitened and straightened" but the whole freaking enchilada. Nothing matches. 

And yet there are still people who will insist on mistreating trans individuals based on their congenital sex. Not all trans individuals get a perfect transition, if they can get one at all. So in some cases, an observer that's already primed to discriminate might see a congenital biological male or female standing in front of them instead of the woman  or man who is clearly standing there. 

But my textbook goes that one step further, beyond cruelty and into the realms of horror. It implies that because the gender is one, and the biology is another, the person is neither

Again: what.

What in the name of all the gods above and below gives anyone the right to decide a person is not a person?

Do we not remember slavery? The decision to call an entire chunk of our race sub-or-abhuman because of a skin color? How about pre-suffrage women's rights? You know, when women couldn't own anything and were treated as baby machines and free labor? Cause they were women?

What the hell is wrong with these degenerate, xenophobic, misbegotten trolls?

No-one gets to make those decisions! No-one gets to declare that a person is not a person, for whatever reason! Gods-damned ax-murderers get the basic respect of being treated as human beings, and we can't extend that courtesy to someone that has enough freaking problems without putting up with bullcrap from some bigoted worm turd?!

Taking deep breath now. Blood pressure too high already.

For anyone out there (though I doubt you'd read this if you were) who has decided that their opinion matters more than the mental, emotional and physical health of a human being: screw you. 

You don't get to decide that. You can have your shortsighted, close-minded, ignorant opinion. But don't you freaking dare take it out on transpeople. Your lack of functioning brain cells are not their problem.



(COMAP. For All Practical Purposes. 9. W. H. Freeman, 2011. 198. Print.)

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Creative Solution, a La Noir

Today, I'm skipping the social sarcasm in favor of lighter fare. What follows is the result of telling an exhausted journalism major (who is known to have a vindictive streak) that you do not care that they have no resources to go purchase something and review it. 
That you just need something by deadline. And that "it can be anything. Just write something."

Oh, you poor person. You've known me longer than that. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

There are a great many uses of color in our world. Our eyes use it to distinguish outlines and form, artists use it to express emotion, clothiers use it to enhance the appearance of the various styles and outfits they create. And while all colors are useful, and have a place and time, perhaps the most versatile is black.
The old fashion saying that black goes with anything is incredibly accurate. A splash of black in a garden, using pavers or paint, highlights bright flowers, or delineates the borders clearly. Using it in mobiles or getting a black gazing ball adds just that hint of elegance that can elevate a garden. Black gravel and sand used to create a Zen garden adds a hint of mystery to a peaceful meditation spot.
Used indoors, black can create relief for the eyes in a brightly colored room, drawing the eye from oasis to oasis and calling attention to various points. Slipcovers or table cloths in black can bring disparate furniture together for those on a budget. They’ll also match more readily and have less chance of clashing as they fade than printed patterns, or bright colors. 
For clothing, black is fantastic for everything from a full outfit, to just a few accents. Black head to toe can give an impression of neatness and professionalism, even if it’s jeans and a polo. It’s a bit easier to hide stains in most black fabrics, making it a good choice for those who might be working with materials that can stain. It’s supposedly slimming, though I’ve yet to see firm evidence of that. Accents, such as jewelry, watches, bandanas and so on, are easier to use when black, since they swap and mix with nearly any outfit. 
Black has found its way into so many aspect of our lives. It’s the color we write and print in most commonly, making it the primary color of our language. It denotes authority and power, being the color of many police cars, the color associated with the Secret Service, the color of SWAT officers in action. 
It’s also the color of rebellion, of leather, and motorcycles, or tattoo outlines, and metal band t-shirts. It’s the color of night, and sleep, and can mean peace.
No matter what the fashionistas might claim, black is the new black. Also the old black, and the current black. Accept no substitutes.
Rating: A
Community Writer

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Tales from Facebook: The Idiocy of Social Political Media

Gather round kiddies, it's time for Uncle Jeremy to yell about the problems in the world again. What shall we yell about today? 

Politics. Yay! That subject that can make the veins in Uncle Jeremy's neck stand out and destroy his vocal cords as he shouts and raves for hours and hours. Fun for the whole family!

Joking aside, I've noticed a distinct trend lately in my social media. Namely, that a full 3/4 of my feed on Facebook is being filled with ideological grandstanding in the form of catchy memes and flat statements. Now, I love each and every one of you, but with a few exceptions  (for people I know to be serious political junkies, or smart enough to stay out of it) I find myself driven to ask.
Did all of you sleep through civics!?

I mean really, there's thisthis one's a gem, have yet another and oh, these are real crowd pleasers. What the bloody blazes are you people on?

Now before you get all grouchy, the reason most of these are pro-Democrat would be because I know a lot of Democrats. But to be absolutely clear, I hate both parties. But we'll get to that.

So, this. Wow. This is idiotic on so many levels I could cry tears in such abundance, and expressive of rage so strong, I could use my tears as acid and melt a small country. That's not a party platform, nitwits. That's a list of nice things the Democrats have said they'll do. This, right here, is the Dem's party platform. Please note that it's thirty-two pages long, and includes far more than that adorable little meme. For fun, here's the GOP party platform.

So, when you post that meme, and then say you agree with the Dem's party platform, it's roughly equivalent to signing a cell phone or work contract, and only reading the page that says "have a shiny phone," or "we'll build you a dream house."

Unless you agree with everything in there, don't freakin' say you agree with their whole platform. You might like elements of their platform, you might agree with a large part of it. But quite frankly, for all you know there's a sub–clause that plans to give aliens the right to your firstborn in the event of an invasion. And you wouldn't know, because you haven't bloody well read it.

Onwards to meme numbers two and three! These represent what is perhaps the most infuriating part of inter-party warfare: nonsense statements, outright lies, manipulation, and pre-school name calling serving in the stead of rational thought and clear discussion about the issues.

Meme number two is a rather horrific little toy. It claims to depict a racist bias at the Republican National Convention, and a lack of such bias at the Democratic National Convention. The basic message, as some of the comments below the picture clarify, is that you are a racist pig if you vote Republican. This is a load of bull.

First of all, the pictures were most likely screen captures from live footage. The RNC had anywhere between 2,300 and 4,500 delegates and alternates present; the DNC has about 6,000 delegates over the whole event. That doesn't include support staff, delegate staff, speakers and their staffs, and any of the host of reporters, bloggers, writers, pundits, celebrities, and all of their staff members and support crews. A freaking child armed with iMovie could find those shots. 

And they mean nothing. Not one. Damn. Thing. 

I can, right now go and find footage that, properly edited, would present evidence for: Obama being racist, Romney being gay, Mary Poppins being the Antichrist, and Barney the freaking Dinosaur taking out Rambo.

Seriously, think about all the YouTube videos that take lines from Harry Potter and make the dialogue depict a relationship between any of the male leads. It's convincing if well done, to the point that someone who hasn't seen the movies (I'm sure there's someone, all right?) might think it was a scene from the movie.

And that's editing video, where it all has to line up to lead the eye, where the sound has to match, where any one of a dozen little things can blows the whole game away. Still images? Dude, even without Photoshop or any of it's knockoffs, just choosing the perfect frame to convey a message is child's play if you know what you're after.

Editing is a beautiful, terrible tool, and when it's an edit meant to capture a single frame of a video, there's very little that can't be done. Especially if there's a vast sea of raw footage to choose from!

Meme number three comes at the problem from the other direction. It asserts that rather than Obama being "stupid" for not "fixing" all the issues, rather the people that voted for him are stupid. The implication is that there's no reason to bother with anything the Democrats are saying. Because they're stupid. And who listens to stupid people?

Well, if that kind of thinking takes hold, there goes any hope of fixing anything. Politicians really don't work well together, mostly because they don't actually work that often. 90% of their job is selling themselves for the next vote coming up. And when they do work, the best way to get noticed is to raise huge social concerns, then offer sweeping plans that may or may not work to fix these issues.  Or, better yet, block such an initiative from a counterpart in the other party.

But since the House and Senate have to agree to some extent to get anything done, we the people are fairly screwed, because they spend so much time playing games "for the good of the nation" that they don't actually solve very many of the issues they are constitutionally bound to deal with. 

And no, throwing one of the parties out wouldn't do jack for us either. A single party in power would essentially be a oligarchy. The platform, every little nick and ding, would probably get passed, there'd be little competition, and very little ideological discussion or growth. More parties might help in the short run, but then they'd just form coalitions and factions. Which, as I think about it, would at least be entertaining to watch.

The second, implication, by the way, if the obvious one that anyone who votes for Obama is a nitwit that should be strung up by their heels and shot for having the audacity of putting an incompetent in the White House. I'm not even going to get into this, because I've covered it a little before. But to lay this one out in brief, it's not actually the President's job to fix anything. That would be Congress's job. Don't believe me? Here: have some links. Go check. I'll wait.

Read all that? Well, then it's probably been a couple of hours since you've been here, at least. So I'll move on now. One more to go.

 polls, which take advantage of the model set out by the wonderfully useful Change.org, essentially call for potential voters to come and "stand by their candidate." 


Let's kick this off by clarifying something. And then you can go bloody well look it up yourself.  The people do not elect the president. The people have next to nothing to do with electing the president. The president is the representative and executive of Congress. We can elect congresspeople, which is great. Seeing as how they're actually the one's in charge, and all. But while we might nominate candidates, the delegates selected by Congress choose the president.

So, "your candidate" is pretty much some guy you don't really know who's being chosen by some other guys you don't like to do a job you don't understand. And those polls are asking for two things: first that you walk up to these guys you don't like, and tell them how great this one guy you don't know would be at a job you know next to nothing about. 

Second, as long as you're backing a guy you don't know for a job you don't understand, why not kick in a few bucks so he can convince a few more people to come tell his prospective bosses how great he'd be?

Oh, and the way they ask you to "sign your name?" That's nothing to do with asking you to show your party pride, and everything to do with getting you on their mailing list. Once you've told these people you hate how great this guy you don't know is, the guy's people will bury you in reminders about how awful that other guy is, reminders about how great this guy is, and hey, we're a bit broke again, spare a $5?

Long story short, and in summation: if you honestly believe that the soundbites you pick up from press releases of politicians saying what they think you want to hear are the sum total of what the party backing them wants, you are a moron. Before you back a party's play, go friggin' find out what you're backing, you numbskull.

If you believe the best way to ensure quality information flow about the nation's issues is through lies, manipulations, insinuations, and insults you are missing the point. You might actually go find out what it is that you're arguing for or against. You might check your numbers. And above all, you might recall that "I know you are, but what am I?" is the fallback tactic of seven year olds.

And if you believe that signing petitions and then spamming same to your friends and family serves any purpose but to offer dubious recommendations from the average person and line the pockets of the party circulating the petition, then you are delusional, and should probably just go lie down. 

Now. For the love of all that's holy: take at least thirty seconds to sit and seriously consider whether or not you know what a given social media post means, and whether or not you can actually endorse it. If you can make it through that, then click share.

Or you could just mindlessly share everything you find politically amusing. Because there's nothing funnier than watching the lot of you express the opinions that have been force fed to you, and thinking yourself smart for holding them.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Astronomy, Monogamy, Polyamory: Relating Relationships

Well, I'm not sure about my readers on my college's blog page, but my recent blog on polyamory was well received here. Which, while I'm pleased to see, causes a tiny problem.
I wrote the closing of that blog in a bit of a hurry, as I was late for class. Reading back over it, it seems to make the case (despite my intentions otherwise) that I believe monogamy to be flawed, or wrong in some way. It does state that I do not feel that way, but I have no doubt those that don't know me well might have mistaken a hurriedly typed disclaimer for sarcasm.
And not two days later, I came across a blog on another site that was very much a scream of rage about the way poly individuals look down on monogamous individuals.
Now I stand by what I said in my earlier post, but I feel it could use a bit of expansion:
Monogamy and polyamory are not different. There. Coffee, anyone?
What? Oh, more expansion. Right, sorry.
As ridiculous as it seems, there really is very little practical difference between the two. My concern, badly expressed earlier, is when individuals who might want or need poly in some form are in mono relationships because they've been taught that poly is wrong.
But I have an equal concern when individuals who are or want monogamy try to be or have poly because they feel pressured to seem evolved.
I know, for anyone out there that's just tuning in to the madhouse that is my life, that seems ridiculous. After all, multiple relationships are wrong! Society hates them! No-one would dare to feel so proud of their multiple relationships as to make others feel un-evolved!
Well, in my world it can happen. The various alternative communities that aggregate to make my world have a lot of poly people in the mix, and poly can seem to be more "normal" in my world than monogamy at times.
Having reduced my opening statement to the relative clarity of lead soup, I will now explain why I believe there's no difference: every single relationship ever has one thing in common. 
It's a relationship. 
"Yes, thank you Captain Obvious," someone just said. 
Let's break that down for a moment, though. We sling the word around so fast these days, it's easy to forget what it means. 
It's the act or choice or fact of relating to another person in some way. It's the word that means the dozens of subtle connections that form between two people, two planets, two molecules, two galaxies, two electrons. It's any effect on a person caused by another person. In a very real way, everyone who's ever had any effect on your existence has had some small relationship to you.
But there's the key: to you. Not with you. To have a relationship with something, both objects have to be involved. For example, the sun may have a relationship to us, but we're not exactly big on its list of concerns.
Back to some semblance of a point, though. Monogamy and polyamory aren't two sides of a coin; poly isn't the advanced class on mono; mono isn't the spiritual leap from poly; "insert claim of definition about the differences between mono and poly here," then know you're almost certainly wrong.
It's a relationship. To give an idea of why there's no difference, let's look at a type of relationship that can bear strikingly similar properties: gravity.
Now, off the top of my head, I can't think of any truly perfect two body gravitational systems. But that's only because (pay attention! disclaimer ahead!) everything connects to everything else. So, to clear any confusion, think of the universe as a room full of people. All those other things tugging on two body systems? Those are friends, co-workers, family. 
Settled, then. So, the Earth and the Moon are a good example of a two body system. They orbit each other, spinning delicately around a single point in space as they twirl around the Sun. The Earth holds the Moon steady and maintaining its stable orbit [citation needed]; the Moon's passage creates slight shifts in gravity that allow for tides, and weather. 
They affect one another in subtle ways, locked in a system of reaction and counteraction so complex it took hundreds of years to get to the point of understanding it enough to predict it. And we still don't know precisely how the force that allows for it works! Sounds like love, no?
On the other hand, let's look at Jupiter. Oh, Jupiter. That planet has a freaking harem of moons. Lots and lots of little heavenly bodies spinning and dancing around and about each other, responding to their closest dance partner and to the planet's gravity. And Jupiter is affected by the little planetoids and planetesimals in turn, brewing up the huge clouds and storms and auroras that coruscate around and over its surface all the time.
"Whoa, whoa," I hear someone saying. "Time out. That sounds a heckuva lot more complex that the Moon and Earth. And way different!"
Nope. See, that right there is the fun bit. The only practical difference between the orbits of Earth and its Moon, and the orbits of Jupiter and its dozens of moons, is that it's harder for an outside observer to grasp the latter!
That's all! The difference is not internal complexity, but observer complexity. The observer sees something they don't understand, or can't make good assumptions about, and poof, we have what appears to be a highly complex system. And there are two body systems (binary stars come to mind; comets and suns, also) that are wildly complex, dancing in variances and elliptic that make Jupiter's little kingdom seem tame! 
But within a system, everything works. Objects and people find their balances and come to a state of equilibrium; or they don't, and spin away to find somewhere else to be, or sometimes slingshot off into the depths to find somewhere far, far away to be. 
Sometimes rogues spiral through working systems and unbalance them; sometimes the systems capture and tame the rogues. Sometimes the rogues whirl through and the system settles down behind it without much of a fuss.
A relationship works or it doesn't. The people involved work at it or they don't. If it works better with two people, or five people, or fifteen people, or one guy/girl and a stack of magazines (don't hate, I know a few) it's still a relationship in some form. At the end of the day, a successful relationship is people affecting people in a way that makes them happy. And regardless of what an outside observer sees or understands, if it works, it works, and that's all that matters.
So, the next time y'all poly's out there look at a mono and sigh for the lack of evolution, remember: two people is just as complex and subtle as five. It's just easier for the outside observer to make assumptions about where the pieces fit.
And the next time y'all mono's feel put upon by poly's, remember: it ain't Relationships 201 you're looking at. It's just a relationship that has a few more connections involved.
This has been my clarification for the day. Now go forth and orbit, swiftly and all over the place!